April 18, 2008

India and Its External Security

Vikram Sood

There was always more than one India living together for most of its history. Today at least two Indias are growing together. A traffic jam at the 32-lane highway toll tax plaza as motorists leave for work with the occasional Bentley and its sole occupant gliding by the gates is not unusual. Nor is it unusual to see a camel drawn transportation system not too far on the side road close by or a three wheeler scooter rickshaw carrying sixteen passengers to work. This is the new India on the move – young, confident, buoyant, corporate and also a demanding 350 million consumer class. It signifies an awakening after years of colonisation that stifled and socialism that did not deliver.

According to some Pakistani calculations, two of the country’s biggest industrialists, the Ambani brothers have enough resources to buy off the Karachi Stock Exchange with money to spare and four Indian industrialists can buy of the entire produce of Pakistan, the region’s second largest economy, also with money to spare. Progress at this rate needs resources and markets and political and economic stability in the neighbourhood. India’s neighbours thus have a choice – either they can ignore the rise of India or become part of this new journey that will take them to new vistas.. Whatever happens, they remain subjects of concern for India because India lives in a difficult neighbourhood.

A Difficult Neighbourhood
The Failed State Index for 2006 prepared by the Washington-based Fund for Peace, lists Pakistan (9), Afghanistan (10), Myanmar (18), Bangladesh (19), Nepal (20) and Sri Lanka (25) as the most dysfunctional states in the world.. Six of India’s neighbours are thus listed in the top 25 dysfunctional states. India’s three other neighbours -- the gigantic and powerful China and the diminutive Himalayan state of Bhutan and the atoll republic of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean -- are the exceptions to this categorisation.

This is not to suggest that collapse of these states is imminent or that this will occur in the order listed. Equally, it is unlikely that the Fund for Peace will change this unflattering and worrying depiction of India’s neighbourhood for 2007. This is because all these states have continued to exhibit classic symptoms of failed states in varying degrees. They have failed to provide basic security and good governance to their people and have lost control over the use of force within their own boundaries.

Multiple Challenges
In considering India’s external security the country’s policy makers have to bear in mind the economic backwardness and political instabilities of its smaller neighbours, the continued inimical relations that Pakistan has maintained with India. It has used terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy and as a force equaliser. India has to contend with the intentions of a powerful China that would seek to be the paramount power in Asia. External security would demand assessment of conventional military threats but in addition, terrorism, energy security, environmental degradation, demographic changes and access to natural resources including water and markets are the new factors. The nature of threats that emanate from the weakness of the smaller countries and those from the intentions of the bigger countries, China and Pakistan, are different and need different responses.

The Smaller Neighbours
A billion Indians, with enough problems of their own, thus live in a troubled part of a troubled planet. They live in an era of exploding expectations with limited resources and in economies of shortages across the entire South Asian region. The region continues to remain economically backward and politically unstable. Pakistan and Bangladesh, two of India’s most populous neighbours, are rapidly slipping into religious obscurantism. India will continue to face demanding challenges from its neighbours.
These are Nepal’s continuing domestic turmoil as it struggles to introduce democracy in the midst of a violent campaign led by the radical left wing ‘Maoists”; Bangladesh’s recession into a thinly veiled military regime after its troubled experience with democracy and slide into Talibanisation; and, Sri Lanka’s unending fratricidal war arising from the inability of the Sinhala majority to reconcile to the demands of an increasingly violent Tamil minority. Myanmar, with whom India has a long land frontier, has largely been an aloof and distant neighbour although there are signs of a thaw in the midst of fears that China may have become the relevant power in that country. A little further away but strategically relevant to India in the context of Pakistan and access to Central Asia, is Afghanistan which continues to slide into unending chaos.

The largest Muslim concentration in the world, about 450 to 460 million live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Of these, about one third is in India. This makes them the largest number of Muslims living in a democratic set up for the longest time, any where in the world today. The rest have been under an increasing influence of dictatorships and Islamic radicalism at a time when state policies have weakened liberal societies while an anti-American sentiment has grown sharply. The challenge here for India is to keep its own Muslims immune from external influences where attempts are undoubtedly being made not only to suborn them but also simultaneously, to provoke a Hindu backlash.

India cannot help its size or strength and has to live with the title of a regional hegemon or even a bully at times accused of arrogance and intrusiveness when trying to help or being haughty and indifferent when trying to stay away. India baiting thus is common in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. It is perhaps natural that some of them seek comfort wit the distant power against the local power. Some of the neighbours do not wish to share in the prospects of mutual prosperity that India might offer but are willing to share poverty. These countries seek their own security by isolating themselves from India defying the logic of geography.

Consequently, nations of the sub-continent are unable to maximise economic complementarities and opportunities to the extent that they hardly trade with each other. Transit routes are denied, common rail and road links are virtually non-existent. It is this lack of common economic and security perceptions among the neighbours which have hamstrung multi-lateral organisations like SAARC, unlike the EU or the ASEAN, which function as a common platform for diverse interests they represent. The other problem is that India is being globally recognised as a rising economic power but the region is slow to recognise and take advantage of this evolving new situation.

For India, the nightmare is a failed state in its neighbourhood and the influx of refugees with their socio-economic impact as India, despite its economic size, does not have the capacity to bolster the sagging systems in all these countries for all times. The choice is whether or not to become a totally dysfunctional state is the individual choice of the state yet how this is handled will be a major challenge for India in the future. Bangladesh, for instance, surrounded on three sides by India and crucial to India’s economic development, has the choice to become the birthplace for the next Islamic revolution or a reasonably modern economic state. Closer economic and trade tie-ups with India would generate employment and reasonable prosperity within the country. India could become an important stake holder in Bangladesh’s prosperity but is hampered by that country’s domestic political compulsions which seek sustenance in anti-India rhetoric. The same principles apply to Nepal where its political future still seems uncertain as the mainstream traditional political parties battle it out for space with the radical Maoists who seek a complete overhaul of the system. Sri Lanka seeks better political and economic ties with India but is constantly being pulled down by its own ethnic problems and the occasional urge to balance India with China. Bhutan has successfully amalgamated its economic system with India and has benefited from this. Myanmar has been difficult to prise it open for Indian interests but objects to any suggestion that it allows China a freer hand than other countries.

Pakistan—Slipping into a Jehadi mindset
The assassination of two-time Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007 typified not only an extremely violent year for Pakistan but also signified the kind of dangerous political impasse into which that the country has slipped. In 2007 there were 1442 terrorist attacks and incidents of political and sectarian violence inside Pakistan. More than 3000 persons were killed up against 657 similar incidents in 2006 in which 907 persons were killed. 232 army men, 163 para-military troops and 71 policemen were killed in terrorist attacks and of the 60 suicide attacks 41 were directed against security forces. This indicates not only the anger against them but the absence of fear. Of the 1636 persons shown as arrested for terrorist activity the largest component, 740 was from the restive province of Balochistan where, mostly unknown to the rest of the world, a fierce battle for independence is being fought by Baloch nationalists. All this is blowback – the unintended consequences of unacknowledged actions in another country. One of the most dangerous blowbacks for Pakistan has been that there is an incumbency fatigue against the Army and it has lost much of its sheen in recent years.

This has been the cumulative result of decades of incorrect policy both by Pakistan and its benefactors. Pakistan’s leaders, both civilian and military, have not been able to reconcile to the reality that theirs is a smaller country and has fewer resources than India. They have constantly sought to justify the creation of a Muslim homeland on the sub-continent. Insecure against a ‘Hindu’ neighbour, Pakistan’s leaders from very early days, sought security outside the region and the Pakistan Army, which has ruled the country, directly and indirectly for most of the period, refuses to give up historical grudges and ambitions -- to avenge the creation of Bangladesh that undermined the two-nation theory, and to create more Caliphates in India.

There is a very real fear in Pakistani ruling circles that a secular democratic India which is also economically successful on its borders would undermine the ideology of an Islamic Pakistan. Jehad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and terrorism in India were the result of these warped policies. While the Soviets may have left, India was not going to go away. The result has been that today Pakistan faces the danger of being consumed by its own creations – jehad abroad and the Taliban at home.

Many Pakistanis see Musharraf as America’s stooge and anti-American sentiments are high in the country. Any attempt to roll back the Taliban/Islamic Emirate in the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan is being fiercely resisted with an element of the security forces unwilling to engage in battle against fellow Muslims and tribesmen. Sharia courts have been established and an Islamic taxation system has been introduced. The movement has spread further inland into other parts of the country. Violence and extremism in the name of religious ideology is now directly linked with the US-led was in Afghanistan and the Pakistan army crackdown against these forces generates further hatred. The increased targeting of the armed forces by suicide bombers is an indication of this. Yet the hard truth is that the Pakistani establishment, especially the Army, has been so deeply involved with the various terrorist organisations in their country and for so long that it is now difficult for them to disengage.

Their jehad is now targeted not only against the “infidels” occupying Afghanistan but also against the “infidels” that rule Pakistan or propagate secularism. The political situation is complicated because in the absence of any stable institutions there are no constitutional shock absorbers to cushion the tremors in a country caught up in internal ethnic and religious turmoil.

The other effect has been the outward movement of jehad from centres in Pakistan. Jehad had gone international during the Afghan jehad days and its immediate fall out was in India in the Nineties. The time to arrest the growth has now gone and events in September 11, 2001 or the Madrid train bombings, the London bombings later and again the arrests of suspected terrorists in Barcelona, all have a Pakistani connection.

China – Harmonious rise or impending challenge
India is blessed with two neighbours both of whom are nuclear weapons states and of which one, Pakistan has remained an implacable foe while the other, China has had frosty relations for long spells with a thaw setting in recent years. Today, the world’s two largest countries, in terms of populations, with the two of the largest armed forces, nuclear weapons and with the highest growth rates are separated by unmarked 4057 km long border. There are prospects of peace and prosperity and should the two get together they would become the largest and the richest economic powerhouses and military powers. This would be a situation unthinkable among Western strategists. However, so long as the border question remains unresolved, genuine progress on major strategic issues is unlikely. There could be co operation but more likely there will be competition and even confrontation although conflict seems unlikely. Beijing, however, does not perceive India as a competitor only as a pretender to greatness.

While there is a vast economic stake in keeping the border tranquil the reality is that despite 27 years of negotiations, the border issue remains unresolved. India-China trade has grown phenomenally from a mere $ 2.5 billion a few years ago to $25 billion last year and growing. Growing economic and trade relations do not necessarily lead to political warmth as in the case of Japan and China. The slow progress in resolving this issue and China’s assertiveness regionally and on the border issue in recent times indicates a new approach by the Chinese. This is partly due to the perceived closeness between India and the United States but strategically and for decades, China has sought out balancers in the region. Consistent support to Pakistan militarily to the extent of supplying nuclear weapon and missile technology as well as equipment has been part of China’s low cost hedge against India. China too cannot afford to see the Indian model succeed and become a rival for influence in Asia which is seen by Chinese leaders as the sole preserve of China to exclusion of all, including the US.

Many Indian analysts feel that there is enough space for India and China to grow together. China has larger ambitions and its search for a greater role for itself sharpened after it became a net importer of oil in 1994 to meet its rapidly growing need for energy to sustain its economy. The US led Global war on Terror and the US presence on its neighbourhood in Central Asia indicated greater urgency for Chinese planners. China had to seek greater strategic depth for itself to ensure acquire land routes for its oil and gas requirements rather than the sea routes that were liable to interruptions. It has since then sought exclusive arrangements with various strategic energy suppliers globally, including India’s neighbourhood. It has used its closeness with the present Myanmar regime to exclude India from a gas supply arrangement. Elsewhere, China has opposed India’s attempts to seek membership of the P-5 or the post of the UNSG. It stance on the India-US civilian nuclear power deal remains ambivalent.

Unable to protect sea-lanes because of an inadequate navy, the Chinese needed alternative routes for energy supplies. Chinese began the construction of Gwadar, close to the vital Straits of Hormuz through which 40 per cent of the world’s oil passes and located on Pakistan’s Balochistan coast, at a feverish pace in 2002 and was completed in 2007. The port will have an exclusive SEZ for China and will eventually be linked through the Chinese built Karakoram Highway to Khunjerab Pass to Kashgar with a network of roads, rail links and gas pipelines. The Karakoram Highway has served as a route through occupied Kashmiri territories for covert Chinese nuclear and missile transfers and other military aid to Pakistan. Kashgar is linked to Xigatse, which will soon have a rail link with Lhasa. The road continues to run parallel to the Sino-Indian border and then south to Kunming from where a network of river, rail and road links lead to the Bay of Bengal.
Beijing thus has two strategic corridors on either side of India in a north-south axis — the Trans-Karakoram Corridor from western China stretching all the way down to Gwadar and the Irrawaddy Corridor from Yunnan to the Bay of Bengal that has brought Chinese security personnel to Burmese sites close both to India’s eastern strategic assets and to the Strait of Malacca. A third Chinese strategic corridor is in the east-west axis in Tibet across India’s northern frontiers. In addition the $6.2-billion railway from Gormu to Lhasa in Tibet significantly boosts China’s offensive military capability against India. A railway branch southward from Lhasa to Xigatse is nearing completion. China now has the logistic capability to intensify military pressure at short notice by rapidly mobilizing up to 12 divisions.
In the 20th century Xinjiang was the New Territory and Tibet was the New Treasure. In the 21st century, Pakistan is the New Territory and Myanmar is the New Treasure. In addition, China has offered assistance for development of Hambantota harbour in southern Sri Lanka. None of this is India specific by design but India’s encirclement will be complete and India’s influence restricted to its national boundaries.

In recent years, Chinese leaders have made several statements in their internal deliberations that indicate their worries. Commenting on China’s periphery after September 11, 2001, Hu Jintao said that the US had strengthened its military positions in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthened its alliance with Japan and strategic co-operation with India, improved relations with Vietnam and established a pro-American regime in Afghanistan. He also referred to the extended outposts – possibly referring to the 737 military bases around the globe – and that America had placed pressure points on China’s east, west and south. Premier Wen Jiabao also predicted that US military focus would shift from Europe to Asia-Pacific.

China will not however challenge the US directly in the foreseeable future but will seek to undermine its influence. It sees the US stuck in a strategic stalemate in Iraq which, for a superpower is really a strategic defeat, and sees this as an opportunity to move in to a perceived vacuum in the Eurasian region. The present closeness of Iran and China is part of a mutually beneficial arrangement at a time when the US is on the defensive in the Middle East. Apart from the various energy tie-ups that Beijing has worked out with Kazakhstan, Russia and other Central Asian states, it will now build twelve new highways connecting Xinjiang to major Central Asian cities to reach Europe eventually. China would like to position itself, not as a successor but possibly as an eventual competitor just as it has endeavoured to ease out the US from various arrangements in South East Asia.

The Future
India thus has to deal with a turbulent Pakistan where at times it looks as if no –one is in control as the country seems to slip into an extremist abyss. On the other border China is more assertive as it perceives India as part of a southern flanking move by the US.

The high–voltage stability of the bipolar world has now been replaced by the uncertainty of evolving multi-linear multi-polarities with the US still the primary power and non-state actors threatening existing stabilities. Interstate relations are now going to be more carefully calibrated and sophisticated with no clearly demarcated power blocs operating in a globalised world. Various triangulations are being configured, many of which exclude the US. Russia, India and China have been talking to each other trilaterally There could even be an Iran, Russia and China arrangement that effectively bottles up the energy rich Eurasian region or there could be a Russia, Iran and India arrangement. At the same time, at present and for the foreseeable future, no country, including India, China and Russia would want to jeopardise its relationship with the US for the sake of its new partners.

Handling new challenges for an India that is growing rapidly at a time when China is growing faster will throw up new challenges for India’s policy makers while old threats and problems remain. The most urgent is the eastward movement of the Taliban mindset from Afghanistan to Pakistan as Pakistan is consumed by its own creations - Taliban and jehad.

Source : La Vanguardia, Spain, April-June 2008

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