Towards an Indian Grand Strategy

Towards an Indian Grand Strategy

by Jaideep A Prabhu - Mar 7, 2012 04:42 AM +05:30 IST
Towards an Indian Grand Strategy

There is no clear definition of grand strategy that is fully satisfactory. The more one thinks about it, the more one realises how complex, uncertain, and even ephemeral its environment is to hazard embarking on such an endeavour. The Prussian military theorist, Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, explained this experience of mental clumsiness,

…the way out of this difficulty is to argue that a theory need not be a positive doctrine, a sort of manual for action…it is an analytical investigation leading to a close acquaintance with the subject; applied to experience – in our case [strategy] – it leads to a thorough familiarity with it. The closer it comes to that goal, the more it proceeds from the objective form of a science to the subjective form of a skill.1

An essential prerequisite for thinking about grand strategy is a knowledge of history – only the past holds the secret (and not so secret) prejudices, unpleasant realities, motivations, and long-term goals of states that have shaped the present and will inform the future.

Grand strategy, then, requires the willingness to think about the future and goals of an entity, and to match its aims to its resources. It requires a flexibility to adapt as political, economic, and military conditions change over time. Above all, grand strategy must be rooted in the realisation that it is the political will that must drive the economic, social, and military towards the ultimate ends. All these requirements must be founded in a realistic appraisal of one’s own nature – devoid of myths, sophistry, and truisms – as well as others.

Given the importance of preparing for the future, one would assume that there is a long history of texts on the matter, from which modern scholars and policy makers can draw and compare. Oddly, this is not the case – in the Occident, Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian Wars is the only work that pontificates on grand strategy. Others, such as Tacitus, Niccolò Machiavelli, Antoine-Henri Jomini, von Clausewitz, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Basil Liddel Hart, and Guiliho Douhet were tacticians and strategists of war more than grand strategists. Very few figures have been grand strategists The West’s first true grand strategist after Thucydides was Adolf Hitler, over two thousand years later, even if his weltanshauung was utterly inflexible and led to his ultimate destruction. Undoubtedly, there were many practicioners of grand strategy in the intervening years – Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, Abraham Lincoln, Otto von Bismarck – but few left behind a body of work that those who came after could use to guide them. As a result, George Kennan is considered the modern Urvater of grand strategy.

Similarly, the Occident has only Chanakya (also known as Kautilya) to offer, but since then, has been silent – at least in written form – on the subject of grand strategy until K. Subrahmanyam (KS), again in the twentieth century. Like the West, the East has had many tacticians and strategists – Sun Tzu, Wei Liao-tzu, Wu Tzu, Huang Shih-Kung – and practicioners of grand strategy – Ashoka, Chandragupta II, Rajendra Chola, Akbar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Zhou Enlai – but few had articulated or deliberated on their thoughts.

It is said that India lacks a strategic culture. George Tanham, perhaps the first to study Indian strategic culture, is accredited with making so bold a claim in his famous essay, Indian Strategic Thought: An Interpretive Essay. Although this has spurred a wave of Indian scholars (Amitabh Mattoo, Kanti Bajpai, Sumit Ganguly, Varun Sahni) leaping to criticise Tanham, the fact remains that even if India did have a strategic culture, it is at best “implicit and inchoate.” It is sad that Shivshankar Menon, National Security Advisor of India, entirely missed Tanham’s point when he cited the Arthashastra and India’s two epics (!), the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, as evidence of Indian strategic culture at the recent Subbu Memorial Lecture in January 2012. Tanham’s point, perhaps better articulated by Alastair Johnston’s Thinking About Strategic Culture, is that the most important ingredient in any strategic culture is the production or introduction of new knowledge. In simpler terms, nations learn to think strategically by being forced to do so repeatedly and rigorously. The Government of India’s absolute refusal to declassify its documents as per the thirty-year rule and the needless difficulty in gaining access to policy makers has crushed any hope of this. Until recently, independent India had produced only one intellectual who could think not only in terms of strategy but grand strategy as well – KS.

Given this lacuna of thinking about grand strategy, one dare not ask if India has a grand strategy, or what an Indian grand strategy should look like. As KS points out, India already had a grand strategy at independence – non-alignment, or in updated jargon, strategic autonomy. Unfortunately, as is wont to happen in personality-cult obsessed India, this grand strategy ossified into an ideology, hurting India’s interests as well as her standing in the world community of nations. Since 1991, India has had what some might consider a sort of grand strategy – economic growth. The thinking in New Delhi seemed to be that India should first raise her per capita income to a certain amount, say $10,000 in purchasing power parity (PPP), and then she could start playing a global role. However, that is not how the world works; while India has been raising her gross domestic product (GDP), the world around her has changed, requiring different responses and affecting India’s growth prospects. In any case, as discussed earlier, grand strategy operates in the nexus between the political, economic, social, and the military, and India’s somewhat naive growth ‘grand strategy’ does not fit the bill.

In an ideal world, grand strategy would be concerned only with maintenance – the aim would be simply to retain the status quo. The era in which we live, however,  induces rapid change. India’s institutions, which had been set up to function in a world accustomed to the Hindu rate of growth – slow, steady, and predictable – are inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with this new era. In a world that is changing so quickly, it makes little sense to create grand strategies for the century or for the next fifty years – in such long time spans, there come into play too many variables and too much can change. An effective grand strategy in today’s environment would look ahead not more than ten years. In the next decade, barring fundamental changes to the world order, India will remain a regional power with global ambitions. Therefore, an Indian grand strategy today must preoccupy itself with Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China in India’s immediate mandala, and the United States, Russia, Japan, and Australia in the second circle of states. Other regions of the world – the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and South America – will remain sources of vital resources but will not be areas of primary concern for India. For while India would wish to maintain good relations with states in these regions and boost bilateral trade, their present role on India’s immediate political horizon is limited. In India’s immediate mandala, she has to balance threat, food and water shortage, economic stagnation, increased fundamentalism, and communal fissures.

The Immediate Mandala

A grand strategy is more of a weltanshauung than a strategy – insofar as offering a concrete plan of action, it does not. This is primarily because, as Helmuth von Moltke (Karl Bernhard Graf, as opposed to his nephew, Johann Ludwig) explained, “No plan of battle survives contact with the enemy.” The following must be taken in a similar spirit, as a warning of where New Delhi must pay attention, and what the general tenor of available options might be, rather than a formula. It is the job of strategy and logistics to carry the state through the winning stretch, which are more suited to adjusting for local and temporal particularities.

Another point to be made is India’s systemic deficiency in the exercise of power – over the millennia, India’s ethos has been a welcoming one. Indians welcomed foreign ideas, foreign trade, foreign religions, foreign people, and even foreign armies, and in so doing, left their imprint on the foreigners. Culturally, Hinduism places a great premium on restraint and reconciliation as the epics richly illustrate. Even today, the civilian government is clearly separated from the military. While this is a good thing for a nascent democracy (in that it puts a dampener on the military’s adventurism), it is not a suitable state of affairs for a state looking to take its place at the big boys’ table. As a result, Indians are not used to decisive action; but to engage in world politics, Indian leaders must not only understand the utility of power but appreciate its exercise.

Bhutan: A predominantly agricultural country, Bhutan remains among the least developed countries in the world. Exports to India of hydropower have boosted growth in recent years, and since the eradication of anti-India (ULFA) rebels in the southwest in 2003, relations with India have been strong. Bhutan’s relations with India have always been ambiguous and the Bhutanese have worried that India might annex Bhutan as she did Sikkim in 1975. However, after the Chinese plot to assassinate Jigme Singye Wangchuk was exposed (China hoped to blame India and alienate Bhutan from India), Thimpu kept little contact with Beijing, reducing India’s worry of a Chinese foothold this side of the Himalayas. Bhutan transitioned from a monarchy to a bicameral parliamentary democracy between 2008 and 2011. Presently, the pro-monarchist, conservative Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) control 45 of the 47 seats.

However, an issue that may cause some turmoil in Bhutan is the issue of Bhutanese refugees (mostly in Nepal) of Nepali origin and new ideas such as political criticism have been greeted with unease. India needs to watch for threats to the nascent Bhutanese democracy, particularly from Maoist (and possibly pro-Nepal/China) forces in Nepal acting in concert with the refugees. Indeed, Thimpu may well start looking to Beijing again to create some breathing space for itself. To cement Bhutanese ties to India, New Delhi should strengthen trade, provide economic assistance, and increase cultural exchange at various levels but particularly educational scholarships – providing Thimpu with an Indian weltanshauung will reduce some of the apprehensions the Bhutanese might feel regarding the survival of their traditions.

Maldives: India has traditionally enjoyed good relations with the Maldives but the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the coup must concern New Delhi. India has already bungled in an appropriate response to the coup in February 2012, but it may be able to salvage a little dignity yet. India’s primary worry is the further increase of Wahhabism in the tiny archipelago and its influence on the government, particularly with so many Indians and Indian-owned businesses in the Maldives, not to mention its strategic value.

To prevent a further erosion of Indian influence in the Maldives, India has few options. Close relations with the government and economic aid are no guarantee of amiable relations as US relations with Pakistan for the past 65 years have proven. Outright hostility will only make louder whatever anti-India voices exist in the government and in the country. India’s only available policy would be to wait and watch – and hope for promising results in the elections next year. A key development would be the opposition’s reactions to the elections and the results, which India could maximise on.

Nepal: India’s relationship with Nepal has also been fraught, as one would expect in any relationship between two countries with enormous and ineliminable disparities in power. Nepal’s people have always seen Indian officials as rude and condescending, treating Nepal almost as another Indian territory. India’s annexation of Sikkim (which Nepal sees as part of a ‘Greater Nepal’) worried Kathmandu and King Birendra Shah pushed for a reform of the trade and transit treaty with India. The issue was finally resolved in April 1990 after a complete blockage of Nepal by India. Not surprisingly, Nepal has made overtures to China and Pakistan and even purchased weapons from the former in violation of the 1950 treaty with India. Nonetheless, India attitudes towards Nepal have forced Nepal to seek greater autonomy. Although relations between India and Nepal are cordial today, the tiny Himalayan state chafes at India’s natural but unwanted influence over Nepal’s politics and society.

A brutal decade-long civil war rocked Nepal from 1996 to 2006 in which the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)  – now the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN(M)) – came to power. Drawing inspiration from China’s Mao Tse-tung and the Peruvian Sendero Luminoso, it is no surprise the party has been accused of horrendous violations of human rights and is on the terrorist list of several European countries and the United States. The CPN(M) has been overtly anti-India since its split from the Communist Party of Nepal (Unity Centre) in 1994. In 2001, it coordinated with other communist parties in South Asia and formed the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), which included terror outfits such as the People’s War Group and the Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Despite arming the monarchists, Indian assistance to Nepal, mainly small arms, did not swing the tide of battle. Refusing to get bogged down in a guerrilla war on foreign terrain may have seemed wise (an allergy the Indian army acquired after the mishandled Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) mission in Sri Lanka), but the political ramifications today are not much better. An overtly anti-India group that has links with the Naxalites holding power in Kathmandu is no recipe for peaceful sleep in New Delhi. At this point, India would be best served by offering generous economic packages and increased trade and cultural ties. The CPN(M), despite winning the war, won the elections held in 2008 with only 33% of the votes – cultivation of other parties and some indulgence in bilateral relations could weaken the CPN(M)’s anti-India card with the voters.

Sri Lanka: Relations between India and Sri Lanka have generally been friendly, though a contemporary observer may find that hard to believe. In 1971, India helped quash a communist coup against Sri Lankan prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Although no official treaty was signed, Sri Lanka was understood to be under an Indian security umbrella in the 1970s and early 1980s. However, as clashes between the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority escalated, it is reported that elements of the Tamil Nadu state government, playing populist politics, funded, armed, and trained the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Indian government found itself dragged into the conflict as public anger in Tamil Nadu began to rise in response to Sri Lankan human rights violations and the flood of refugees started increasing. In 1987, India sent in the IPKF and brokered a deal between the Sri Lankan government and most of the Tamil groups. However, the LTTE rejected the deal and targeted Indian soldiers. Many Sri Lankans also saw the deal as giving India too much influence in Sri Lankan internal affairs. After 1,000 casualties, India withdrew the IPKF. As fighting ebbed and flowed, the situation became critical for the government in 2000. This time, and since, New Delhi has stood idly by, afraid of getting caught between Colombo and Madras (Chennai).

India’s inaction has been capitalised upon by Pakistan and China, the former in supplying weapons to Colombo in its war against the LTTE, and the latter in the development of Hambantota and Colombo ports. Although Pakistan’s influence has waned, China has veritably made Sri Lanka into another one of its pearls, a clear threat to Indian interests. Unfortunately for India, politics between New Delhi and Madras preclude her from engaging with Sri Lanka with a free hand. On the one hand, it has been suggested that India demand accountability from Sri Lanka over Colombo’s human rights violations against the Tamil minority during the 26-year long Sri Lankan Civil War. Another burr under Madras’ saddle has been the issue of Indian fishermen being apprehended or killed by Sri Lankan naval patrols in the Palk Strait (over 530 have been killed in the past 30 years). Tamil leaders such as Vaiko Gopalasamy and Jayalalitha Jayaram have accused the Centre of not doing enough to defend Tamil fishermen.

On the other hand, such bullying by India, however justified from New Delhi’s or international perspectives, will only push Colombo closer towards Beijing and Islamabad. It is keeping this in mind that South Block recently gave up India’s traditional fishing rights within Sri Lankan territorial waters. India has also been very active in development activities in Sri Lanka – medical camps for people displaced in the civil war have been conducted, the construction of 50,000 houses for displaced people has been undertaken, agricultural aid has been extended, railway lines, airports, harbours, and power stations have been renovated or constructed, small industry has been encouraged, trade has been strengthened, and agreements for cultural and educational exchange have been signed. Nonetheless, the issue of Tamil rights remains prickly so soon after the war, and India needs to treat carefully and not give in to interest groups, be they international issue advocacy groups or from Madras.

Bangladesh: For a country in whose establishment India played a pivotal role, relations have soured between India and Bangladesh faster than yesterday’s milk. South Block feels that negotiations with Bangladesh are not going anywhere while Dhaka feels ignored by India. There are a series of existing disputes between Bangladesh and India – Farakka barrageTeen Bhiga Corridor, illegal immigration, transit facilities, border security, territorial waters – but none of these are serious in themselves. Rather, they are a symptom of something far more worrisome for New Delhi, and the consequences have been irksome – India’s (or at least the Congress (I)) obsession with domestically fabricated issues (Emergency, nationalisation, economic obtuseness) and neglect of foreign affairs save the Washington-Moscow circuit. To India’s South Asian neighbours, who refuse to understand Indian ineptitude, it comes off as condescension by the biggest boy on the block. As Bangladesh’s former foreign secretary Farooq Sobhan explained,

Bangladesh should be important to India but it has been a relationship which has been relegated, in football terms, to the third division. We want to be back on your list of priorities…A lot of our problems, certainly on Bangladesh’s side, stem from a certain degree of ignorance. But, then, India also is so ‘obsessed’ with Pakistan that Bangladesh gets marginalized.

An Indian grand strategy needs to understand the engines of instability in Bangladesh over the next ten years, which will affect Bangladesh’s stance on India. India’s eastern neighbour is an unstable democracy – internecine battles between Sheikh Hasina’s Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) and Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have made development slow. In 2004, there was even an assassination attempt on Sheikh Hasina, which the intended victim has blamed on her rival, Khaleda Zia. From India’s perspective, although the BNP (and its Jamaat-e-Islami allies) are more centre-right and anti-communist, they are also more critical of India and take tougher positions on disputes (though their anti-India position did not garner them any votes in the 2008 parliamentary elections). The BNP is notorious for flirting with China (Chittagong port, deep sea facility at Sonadia island, transit facilities similar to those of India) to offset living in India’s massive hegemonic shadow.

Bangladesh’s population has almost tripled from approximately 65 million at the time of its creation to about 160 million today. Other than micro-states, the country already has the highest population density, and with economic growth at about 5.5% over the past decade, unemployment stands at 5% (and underemployment at 40%). Poverty and hunger abound – almost 65 million people live at less than $1 per day. This is a recipe for growth in crime, terror, and/or a massive influx of refugees into India, trying to escape to dire conditions in Bangladesh. A more stability-enhancing and responsible Indian grand strategy must take this into account and rather than push an Indian agenda out of national pride, help stabilise a neighbour teetering on failure. There is much both countries can gain from each other, and Bangladesh should want to grow on India’s coat tails as the Indian economy continues to roar ahead. A grand strategy must look past the tactical inconveniences to the larger gain.

Afghanistan: India has enjoyed a long history of close political and cultural ties with Afghanistan, though that may not have always been seen that way – India was one of the few countries that recognised the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA), the puppet state set up by the Soviets after their invasion in 1979. Relations soured considerably under the Taliban, who took power in 1996 – India did not even recognise the government (only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates did). Afghanistan is of vital importance to India as it could provide yet another gateway to the Central Asian republics (the other being Iran) and their mineral resources, particularly oil, gas, and uranium. Obviously, Afghanistan also serves as a counterweight to Pakistan.

India has demonstrated true political acuity in dealing with Afghanistan, perhaps far better than it has with any other country in the world. While the Indian government extends aid to assist in the rebuilding of Afghanistan – schools, hospitals, roads, energy, the parliament building, telecom, health facilities – Indian soft power has won the hearts and minds of Afghans. The Indian soap opera, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, runs at 90% audience penetration in the war-ravaged country. In the information age, it is not the side with the bigger army, but the side with the better story that wins, and India has already got the better story.

The next phase in India-Afghanistan relations will be much trickier. While the Afghan on the street seems very pleasantly disposed towards India, the Taliban are a different beast. With the imminent US and European withdrawal and Hamid Karzai’s government being seen as weak, illegitimate, and corrupt, it is likely that the Taliban will return to power. The Taliban have never been friendly to India but as Ajai Shukla, an Indian defence journalist, argues, they had little reason to be so. From their perspective, leaving aside the jihadi talk, India has always backed the side opposed to them – the DRA, the Northern Alliance, the US-led coalition in 2001. Today, however, the Taliban is a much weaker entity and has also split into two factions, the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network. While the latter is an Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed group, the Quetta Shura has appeared genuinely interested in talks. Indeed, the US has already engaged with them to map out the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and a few voices in New Delhi not afraid to think outside the box have advocated this as well – in January 2010, when Indian Minister for External Affairs, SM Krishna, told then UK foreign secretary David Milliband that India did not recognise any ‘good’ Taliban as there were no ‘good’ terrorists, then Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao hinted at a rapprochement with factions like the Quetta Shura, saying that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include

those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.

India is not an imperialist power, and does not seek to impose her values on others. There should be no problem in talking to the Quetta Shura if it is willing to lay down its arms and engage in a democratic process – after all, India deals with much worse in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. New Delhi does not wish to dictate Afghan lifestyle or change long-held traditions. Its only goal is to ensure stability and prosperity in the country that has not known peace for over 30 years to the mutual benefit of both…and limit Pakistani, Chinese or other foreign influence in the country.

Pakistan: India’s history with Pakistan needs no introduction – cut out of India in 1947 due to demands for a Muslim homeland (oddly by secularists more than the religious groups), the Islamic nation has fought four wars with India in 1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999. Pakistan’s raison d’etre has been to be a Muslim opposite of India, and with such a flimsy basis for national cohesion, is today, teetering on the brink of failure. It is from this crisis of Muslim identity that all crises between the two nations has erupted – Junagadh, Kashmir, and Bangladesh (the sharing of the Indus system waters is perhaps one of the few issues not tainted by this). As a matter of tactics rather than principle, the problems of asymmetric warfare (Pakistani support of terrorists), the nuclear arms race, and trade barriers have arisen.

Pakistan’s threat that they would die if we shoot seems to have worked exceedingly well in putting a curb on any harsh measures planned against the state, by the US or India. The notion of nuclear weapons in the hands to Islamic terrorists justifies the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) assessment that Pakistan is the most dangerous place on earth. Indian foreign policy hawks have been egging the government on to conduct military strikes against Pakistan’s trump card, its nuclear facilities. That option is a mirage that only the most ignorant mention – first, any leak of radiation from Pakistani nuclear facilities will almost certainly affect India. Second, Pakistan’s uranium enrichment plants are far less radioactive than India’s plutonium enrichment laboratories – any retaliatory strike by Pakistan would hurt India more than anything India could inflict upon Pakistan. Third, Pakistani facilities are far more isolated (due to their military nature) than Indian nuclear sites – the damage to Indian cities is far likelier and deadlier than a similar attack on Kahuta.

Given the lack of the military option, India can take solace in her victory in another war – after years of appealing to the international community, it is widely accepted now that most leads on terrorism lead to Pakistan. Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s ill-begotten nation has lost all credibility with other nations, so much so that when Islamabad approached the US with a proposal to have a nuclear deal similar to that the United States had signed with India, US officials did not hesitate to bluntly reject the idea, saying, “India is a responsible nuclear power – you have AQ Khan.” The United States has tried to convince South Block that in a nuclearised South Asia, a stable Pakistan is in India’s interest too. However, the US calculus is entirely different from India’s. On the other side of the planet, Pakistan is in no way an existential threat for Washington, nor has the US earned the honour of being the ISI’s primary target. An Indian grand strategy needs to ask the following three questions:

  • Is Pakistan’s retrograde inevitable?
  • Will a secession of Balochistan and Pakhtunistan be to India’s benefit?
  • What will happen to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

Although statistically not impossible, Pakistan’s downward spiral does seem difficult to stop. The medicine is the most bitter Pakistani security forces will have to swallow – the dehyphenation of India and abandonment of a default anti-India stance as their raison d’etre in favour of a transparent, peaceful, and law-abiding political process and governance. It should be no surprise that any civilian government in Pakistan that has ever contemplated such a manoeuvre has found itself abruptly ousted. If the main fount of Pakistani power – the security apparatus – insists upon maintaining their old ways of supporting the Taliban, cross-border terrorism, and nuclear blackmail, India has no incentive to assist in Pakistan’s stability.

However, a balkanisation of Pakistan is not an occasion for glee in India either. With the (probable) creation of Balochistan and Pakhtunistan, it remains to be seen if Pakistani Punjab and Sindh can tolerate each other either. While Punjab became the poster child of the new nation’s martial spirit, Sindh was home to a large muhajir community which has never been completely accepted in Pakistan; while the former has more fertile land, the latter has access to the sea. India could very well find itself across from two or four new states, and the question of the effect of an independent Punjab on Khalistani sentiments also must be considered. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Balochistan or Pakhtunistan will be friendly to India – indeed, Pakhtun ambitions may clash with Indian objectives in Afghanistan (part of Pashtun claims lie in Afghanistan), and Balochis are not known for a mild and tolerant version of Islam either.

The greatest worry India (and the US) has is the fate of nuclear weapons and technology were Pakistan to fragment. Already, the AQ Khan network has disseminated nuclear know-how to Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and further weakening of central authority may unleash even greater horrors. It is of note that while India and the US have lost much sleep over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, China has had little to say and even agreed to sell two more reactors to Pakistan in 2009, with negotiations on for a third. The US and India must make it clear to Beijing that China is partly responsible for any ill-conceived plan by Pakistan. Such impositions of responsibility are not new – during the Cold War, the US made it clear the Soviets understood their responsibility were Mao to ‘go off the reservation’ as it were. Similarly, North Korea has been made China’s ward. It is perhaps prudent for India to hold regular talks with the US, Israel, and even Russia on Pakistani nuclear  weapons.

Towards an Indian Grand Strategy

If Pakistan were to collapse, most of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities would fall in Punjab. Barring the Chagai Hills and Wazir Khan Khosa – the two desert test sites in Balochistan – only the uranium enrichment facility at Golra Sharif (Islamabad Capital Territory), the uranium mine at Lakki (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), and the Karachi nuclear power plant and heavy water facility (Sindh) fall outside Punjab. It stands to reason, then, that Pakistan’s second largest and most prosperous province be considered the inheritor of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and Punjabi politics receive much more scholarly attention. A cursory look, however, suggests that a landlocked nuclear Punjab (with half the income of a unified Pakistan) would find it harder to maintain and further its nuclear programme or arsenal.

While it is obviously beneficial for India to have a stable and democratic Pakistan as a neighbour, it must be noted that Pakistan is yet to renounce terrorism against India and continues to build up its conventional and nuclear forces. Furthermore, it has not held to any security treaty between India and itself. Therefore, while Islamabad and Washington could ask fraternity, cooperation, and assistance out of New Delhi, supplication is off the table. What? No, sorry…the ship for a nuclear-free Pakistan has already been set adrift by the US and China.

China: After India’s nuclear tests in 1998, George Fernandes called China India’s ‘Enemy No. 1‘ and there is not, to date, a better encapsulation of post-1962 India-China relations. Before independence, Nehru had been close to Chiang Kaishek and his wife; they exchanged letters and Nehru, ever the fuzzy idealist, spoke in terms of civilisational strengths and values. The first blow to Nehru’s aspirations for good relations with China came when the Communists took power in 1949. The second blow came soon after in 1950 when they annexed Tibet. China was now on India’s doorstep.

Fully aware that India could not win a military conflict with China, Nehru tried to befriend the Chinese leadership and win them over with professions of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. The slogan, Hindi Chini bhai-bhai, was shattered in October 1962 when Chinese troops struck across Aksai Chin and the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA). Since then, India has always viewed China with great suspicion, although she has reached out a few times to Beijing in an attempt to mend fences.

As of 2012, there are still skirmishes along the India-China border, China still claims Arunachal Pradesh and regularly makes difficulties for government officials from the state to get visas to China, Aksai Chin is still in Chinese hands, Beijing is the main obstacle in India gaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Gilgit-Baltistan has been leased by Pakistan to China and the latter is already moving troops into the region, Beijing maintains nuclear links with Islamabad, and continues to arm and assist Pakistan against India. Nonetheless, trade between the two nations crossed $75 billion in 2011 and is expected to hit $100 billion by 2015. Had the situation been less grim, it would be amusing to note that all this is carried out by China behind language similar to Nehru’s – said Wen Jiabao during his December 2010 visit to India,

India and China are two very populous countries with ancient civilizations. Friendship between the two countries has a time-honoured history, which can be dated back 2,000 years, and since the establishment of diplomatic ties between our two countries, in particular the last ten years, friendship and cooperation has made significant progress.

It is important for New Delhi to stop believing its self-perpetuated hype that sees India and China in competition – China is far ahead of India in almost every economic and military index. Worse is the utter nonsense about ‘Chindia’ espoused by Jairam Ramesh. The best example in recent history that resembles the India-China power dynamic is the equation between Russia and Britain in 1850 – Russia was no pushover as it would prove in the Crimean War three years later but the British Empire dominated the globe from Australia and India to Canada.

So what does India do when saamadaana, and danda are not possible and bheda is not applicable? A Kautilyan would suggest that India form an alliance with other powers until she has the means to enforce her rights. Our experience in the 20th century has taught us, however, that alliances are great instruments of war but are rather poor at maintaining a fruitful peace. It is not in India’s interest to commit prematurely to a clash without even knowing the parameters of the conflict. That does not mean that India accept Chinese suzerainty in South Asia. It is imperative that India strengthen her social, cultural, economic, and even military links with states in the region – the Central Asian and Southeast Asian states along with Russia, Japan, and Australia are vital in India’s balancing act with China. Any such ‘alliance’ India forges must take the shape of an entente amicale rather than an aggressive posture as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assumed against the Soviet Union in 1949. These agreements would be trade treaties, agreements for cultural and military exchange, and an understanding that a cooperative effort would make Asia an independent zone of prosperity that it could not be if each state were on its own. China has already tried to establish such a framework, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), with itself at the centre, but an alternative would be a welcome choice among China’s neighbours. In the past, India has squandered opportunities to become a rival centre of power in Asia through its incompetence, ineptitude, and indecisiveness (and lack of a grand strategy).

Indian politicians must realise that they do not need the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) permission to assume a greater role in Asia, and seek to create an alternative to the Chinese narrative. Without upsetting the apple cart, New Delhi must deliver on its promises (since the late 1950s) to build roads, bunkers, airbases, and other defence infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh; there is much need to increase indigenous defence R&D before a larger percentage of defence procurement can be made indigenous; supercomputing capabilities must be expanded and improved upon; space assets must be created; ballistic missile defence (BMD) must be improved and implemented; the nuclear triad must be completed and proven reliable. This will be achieved much faster through cooperation with other friendly states who wish to have another option to a Chinese century. If India wishes to become another pole in the world – Asian – order, she must give prospective investors something worth believing in.

The Second Mandala

With the states of the next mandala, India retains fair to good relations. However, complacency should not be the reason for good relations to erode and fair relations to whither away. India shares many common interests with Australia, Japan, Russia, and the United States, and New Delhi’s hand in this region will involve military partnerships, nuclear cooperation, membership to international fora, piracy, and acquisition of high technology.

Australia: India-Australia relations have been in an upward trajectory since India began to liberalise its economy in 1991. Although recently plagued by problems with Canberra’s refusal to sell uranium to non-NPT signatories and Indian students increasingly coming under attack, both problems have been resolved amicably. Growth in trade has been good, doubling from $5 billion in 2005 to $10 billion in 2011, and is expected to double again to $40 billion by 2016. From New Delhi’s perspective, not only is Australia a destination for Indian graduate students and a source of liquid natural gas (LNG) and uranium, it is also a partner with shared concerns about the world economy, climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the fraying of Pakistan, piracy, the rise of China, and the reshaping of the global and Asian diplomatic order. Both states also share, being products of the British Empire, similar forms of government and are fellow members of the Commonwealth. Both countries already have a history of military cooperation, taking part in the Malabar 2007 naval exercises along with Japan and the United States.

There is much scope for India to cultivate this blossoming relationship over the next decade. While India provides Australia with a market hungry for Australian energy and technology, Australia provides India with a strategic partner in the Indian Ocean for scientific cooperation, curbing piracy, and watching Chinese ambitions. Whispers of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) close to conclusion exist, which would significantly strengthen ties and boost both economies.

Japan: India’s relations with Japan have always been cordial, and the two countries share a culture of social conservatism and Buddhism. Since World War II, Japan has been India’s largest donor and is today the third largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India. While there has been a history of economic relations – India waived all damage claims from Japan in 1952, Japan has been a source of financial assistance to India since 1958, Japan was marked as the key partner in India’s ‘Look East’ policy in the 1980s – India’s position on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998 have caused some unease in bilateral relations. Nonetheless, India and Japan signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2010, and Japan is a major investor in infrastructural projects in India (Delhi-Bombay Industrial Corridor, Dedicated Freight Corridor, Indian Institute of Technology, Hyderabad).

The 2011 lifting of the Japanese ban on selling defence equipment to India has set the stage for even closer relations in the coming decade. With the Japanese economy shrinking in 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, Tokyo will welcome this move as much as New Delhi. While trade between the two countries will hit $14 billion this year, expansion of business into defence and nuclear hardware could see trade skyrocket, much to Japan’s advantage. Furthermore, India’s strength in software plays well to Japanese mastery of electronics hardware, and technology transfers could help the Indian economy leapfrog a phase of development.

However, Japan’s trade with China stood at $345 billion in 2011, and Tokyo would not want to disturb trade relations with its largest trading partner. This does not mean that the island is not watching the mainland closely – Japan has embarked on a military modernisation programme of its own and has increased its missile defence capabilities. Citing Chinese nuclear weapons (and delivery systems), military modernisation and growing defence spending as a global concern, Japan has increased the number of submarines in its navy from 16 to 22 and moved troops from the north to the south, across from China. The small island nation’s defence spending, though only 0.9% of its GDP, stood at $56 billion in 2011. Japan has already demonstrated its will, even eagerness, to invest in the Indian economy across a wide swath of sectors – infrastructure, electronics, automobiles, raw materials, defence. If India can build upon this economic cooperation, unofficial defence cooperation may not be too difficult to achieve in light of the common concerns.

Russia: Barring the United States, Russia is the only country in the world who can go toe to toe with China militarily. This behemoth of a country is a vital asset to India’s foreign policy, defence, and economic needs in the next decade. India enjoyed close relations with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and India still maintains good relations with Russia. A permanent member of the UNSC, Russia still carries some political clout in world affairs. Although saddled with corruption and a growing oligarchy, Russia’s economy grew at 7% from 1998 until 2008 when the global financial meltdown depressed growth to 4%. However, rising oil prices are sure to help the world’s largest exporter sustain a modicum of growth.

India’s three most sought-after objectives presently are energy, defence, and geopolitical influence, all three of which Russia can provide in abundance. Although India does not share Russia’ concern about the United States to the same degree, Russian and Indian interests are allied in many respects. Both watch warily as China moves from one growth milestone to the next; both are worried about the rise of political Islam and the associated terrorism; both wish for stability in the Central Asian republics; both are looking to new groupings such as BRICS to boost their international profile and economy; both are worried about US unilateralism.

Admittedly, there are differences too. Where Russia sees China as the world’s largest consumer of energy and the second-largest importer of oil, India worries that energy links do not expand into anything more substantive – Russia had in 1998 signaled its favour of a Russia-India-China strategic triangle, and may decide to go ahead with one side missing. Similarly, where India sees an opportunity for technology transfer and the creation of India’s own BMD, Russia sees US expansion of BMD into Eastern Europe as provocative. Furthermore, India’s ties with the West have taken a chunk out of Russia’s exports – the Indian military, which used to comprise of 70% Soviet hardware, has now let it slip to 60%, and India has slipped from Russia’s largest arms buyer to its second-largest. Nonetheless, Russia’s readiness to supply India with strategic platforms and technology that no other country will part with – such as nuclear submarines, cruise missiles, fifth generation fighters, and Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM) – maintains for that country a niche in a lucrative strategic sphere.

Indian officials complain, however, that Russia has made access to its economy very difficult bureaucratically if not politically. India needs to push corporate India’s interest in doing business in Russia and investing there over the next decade. While India’s ties with Russia are fairly secure in matters of defence, energy, nuclear cooperation, and geopolitical interests, India’s business interests could suffer as India’s purchases from Russia increase with the addition of nuclear reactors and fuel.

United States: India’s relations with the United States has had one major obstacle which has coloured all other aspects of their ties – Pakistan. The Pakistani entry into the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in 1954 and US arms supplies to Pakistan have earned much ire from New Delhi. In America’s global chess game with the Soviet Union, Washington frequently overrode local concerns for (perceived) global gains. US pressure on India to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan while selling it tanks and fighter jets seemed to India as duplicitous. Despite US aid to India far exceeding its aid to Pakistan, Foggy Bottom was not able to cash in on the good will of their assistance.

When the Cold War ended and India opened her economy, there was some hope of better ties between the two estranged democracies. India’s nuclear tests in 1998 riled US President Bill Clinton so much that the nuclear issue became almost as big a contaminant in India-US ties as Pakistan. It was under President George W. Bush that relations between the two countries finally bloomed – Bush’s understanding that Pakistan’s support of terrorism and nuclear proliferation was a clear and present danger to the world and his offer of civil nuclear cooperation and high technology trade with India softened the hearts of Indians. While progress has been slower under President Obama and new discontents have arisen – Iran, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), linking the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir to US difficulties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, India’s civil nuclear liability bill – relations seem on the upward swing. India has even purchased military equipment from the US and plans on bigger purchases in the future.

For all the public rhetoric about Sino-American cooperation and coexistence, the US is worried about China’s rise. Were it a largely economic rise like Japan’s and West Germany’s after World War II, China’s growth would not have set off warning bells in the Pentagon. Growing Chinese assertiveness, its military modernisation, and increased defence spending have caused the US to return to Asia. Obama’s visit to Australia in November 2011 and the expansion of US military power there was a clear signal that the US was not willing to accede to growing Chinese influence in the South Pacific.

India’s primary concern with the US is not to get drawn into an alliance. The US has a habit of demanding too much from its allies, and US interests may not be Indian interests everywhere in the world even though the two countries share many values. This is why India has remained dovish on China in its conversations with the US, for New Delhi does not wish to alarm the dragon prematurely. India must avoid needless entanglements the US seems to have an affinity for, first in Iraq, and now in Iran. Over the next ten years, India should focus on boosting its trade with the US and acquiring high technology in the defence field as well as for civilian and environmental applications. While India would remain a bulwark against Chinese expansion, it would be on New Delhi’s terms, not Washington’s. It is also vital for India to make her way into as many exclusive international fora as possible – the US has already declared support for Indian membership into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Wassenaar Arrangement, Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Australia Group. Although the US has expressed its support for India’s permanent membership into the UNSC, the bid is currently held up by China’s objections.

It is in India’s interests that the US continue to hold the preeminent position in the world. Even though China is growing rapidly and will probably overtake the US in a couple of decades in at least some indices of development, it will not mean much until the wealth spreads beyond the CCP and a few hundred business tycoons to the Chinese people. Furthermore, the US has a huge technological edge over China which will buffer it for a little while longer. With US ability to attract international talent, there are many reasons for India to hope that the US economy will remain close to China’s, even if a little behind (its not the quantity of GDP but the quality of GDP that matters). In this capacity, India must foster close bilateral relations with the US – India’s rising economy needs US high tech and the US needs India’s markets. India’s economy and the US economy are at different phases – while one is in a labour intensive phase, the other is more services and technology oriented. This makes for a natural synergy between the two countries which New Delhi would be foolish to pass up.

Domestic pitfalls

No state can achieve any modicum of success unless its own house is in order. For India, the challenges that will beset it domestically are Herculean yet not impossible. The load-bearing pillars of Indian growth in the coming decade will be population, education, and energy. Undoubtedly, problems abound for New Delhi – defence, water, reforms of all stripes (economic, agricultural, tax, judiciary), communal tensions, terrorism. However, they will have a lesser footprint than the three horsemen of India’s apocalypse.

Population: With the population at 1.21 billion and growing at 1.4%, India represents one of the world’s largest markets as well as one its largest impending disasters. The benefits of economic growth cannot spread as widely or as fast if India adds, in effect, a Chile every year. While the world population ages, the Indian population’s average age will be 29 years in 2020 and have a dependency ratio of just 0.4%. This has been seen by many as a decisive advantage, a youth dividend, which will keep India growing when other economies slow down. However, this is based on the assumption that all these young people will be gainfully employed – between 2010 and 2030, India will add 241 million new people to its workforce, a whopping 12 million per year. However, unemployment is at 9.4% according to government statistics and underemployment at least as high – the youth dividend could easily turn into a youth bulge. Another problem the Indian population faces is the sex ratio – 1.09%, meaning 917 girls to every 1000 boys (the world average is 1.01%), inviting all sorts of social problems.

It is vital that India step up measures to encourage family planning and discourage female foeticide by providing educational and other incentives for the girl child. Awareness about such social fractures must be spread. No doubt, the government has already started initiatives in this field, but manpower must be stepped up. Unfortunately, these initiatives take time but even one step in the right direction is a start towards solving a desperate situation. Creating employment for 12 million people per year will remain a challenge, for the private sector as well as the government. It is crucial that India turn into a manufacturing hub as well as a services centre. Unless there is a spurt in domestic consumption as well, there is little hope of providing jobs for so many people.

Education: Knowledge, not weapons, will be the currency of power in the 21st century, and technology will be the engine of growth. As we have observed in the evolution of warfare, armies have become smaller, smarter, and more diffuse. The next step, already here, can be seen in China’s massive cyber warfare efforts. India’s famed institutes of technology produce barely 3,000 graduates per year, many of whom go abroad for work. The rest of India’s education system is an absolute wreck. Many institutions suffer from incompetent management, incapable teachers, poor infrastructure, and an outdated syllabus; they are colleges only by the grace of semantic generosity. In a recently conducted study by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Indian students ranked 73rd out of 74 nations. As PB Mehta of the Centre for Policy Research (CPRwrote,

Nobody in the political system realises that the historical window of opportunity for putting in lasting changes is very small. In our case, it is 10 to 15 years given our demography. If we don’t lay the foundation for wealth and prosperity in the next 15 years, then the India story is gone forever. You will then grow old, before you grow rich.

There is much India needs to learn about education – it is not merely a matter of throwing more money at the problem. The Right to Education Act (RTE) passed in 2009 is a farce – it establishes a system of reservations and dilutes educational standards in teachers as well as students. Furthermore, the tax the government has collected as an educational cess sits unused. Recently, Finland‘s schools have shown promising results that India can try and replicate. Until education is made apolitical in India, results cannot be expected. India’s 12 million-per year workforce will not only be a big one but also an unqualified one.

Energy: India’s booming economy is an energy guzzler, and successive governments have yet to achieve anywhere near 100% electrification. At least 25% of Indians have no access to electricity. India desperately needs energy to sustain its industrial growth, adding approximately 1,200 GW by 2050 to its presently installed 185 GW capacity. The per capita consumption of electricity in India in 2011 was 778 KWh, while in the European Union, it is 6,200 KWh.

While the government has finally woken up to the impact of 8-hour load shedding on the economy, it has recently been impeded in its power plans by demonstrators against nuclear power at Kudankulam and Jaitapur. India’s energy plans need to be better than good to not only post an increase for industrial use but to make up for the less than full electrification at present (there is a 13% shortfall). Nuclear energy is not the only way forward but it is fastest and cleanest. India cannot meet its energy needs through thermal power plants as India has neither the mining nor the rail system surplus to deliver the coal to the power plant. Furthermore, the ash content of Indian coal is significantly higher than other varieties of coal, creating greater inefficiency and pollution. Renewable energy simply cannot deliver the volume of energy needed to power India’s growth. On the other hand, reactors can be built in India as well as purchased from abroad with generous lines of credit.

Power generation is not the only problem India needs to focus on. Approximately 32% of generated electricity is lost in transmission or theft, compared to a world average of less than 15%. Without sufficient power, the lights could very well go out on India’s economy.

* * *

It is not that India has no other problems than the ones discussed herein. Indeed, India has a plethora of difficulties to overcome – corruption, judicial delays, pollution, communal disharmony, divisive politics, economic reforms, legal reforms…the list is long. Neither does a state compartmentalise – for example, say, attempts to ameliorate pollution will not begin only after corruption has been tackled. All these heads of the hydra are to be attacked simultaneously. A grand strategy, however, steps back to lend perspective and streamline and funnel national efforts into critical fields. India’s domestic problems are no less serious than its foreign policy problems – in fact, if they are not addressed satisfactorily and soon, it will not matter what India does abroad. India’s immediate priority should be to secure her neighbourhood and consolidate the engines of her growth.

Grand strategy is what a state does when it has put its domestic house in order. India is presently too self-absorbed to give its full attention to such an endeavour. It has over a billion people to feed, clothe, house, and educate, and these people will need jobs, schools, electricity, and a thousand other things. Perhaps we should have patience with India…after all, the British had a few centuries of practice playing power politics before they forged their empire; and the United States had 80 years from 1865 when they were capable of acting on the world stage until 1945 when they truly did. Or perhaps not…for while time has been kind to Britain and to the United States and we are content to wait on India, the world is not. There is an old Sanskrit verse:

रात्रिर्गमिष्यति भविष्यति सुप्रभातम्
भास्वानुदेष्यति हसिष्यति पंकजश्रीः।
इति विचारयति कोषगते द्विरेफे
हा हंत हंत नलिनीं गज उज्जहार॥

Night will be over, there will be morning,
The sun will rise, lotus flower will open.
While the bee inside the lotus flower was thinking thus,
The lotus plant was uprooted by an elephant.

New Delhi should strive to ensure that India does not share the fate of the bee in that lotus.

Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.
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