- Posted October 11, 2012 by
The Theatre of Absurd – India’s Foreign Policy Lacks Strategic Vision
So great is the lack of strategic vision in India that it is no longer cute or even incompetent, but is now a cancer eating away at the state's stability. It is a combination of absurdities abroad, and keeping mum at home.
Last week, the United Nations General Assembly was the scene of yet another tantrum between the Indian and Pakistani delegations. The focus of this latest exhibition was, as in many previous cases, Kashmir. In essence, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari declared Kashmir a symbol of failure of the UN system and expressed Pakistan’s support to the people of the region in choosing their own destiny. Although there was nothing new about such facile and disingenuous utterances from Islamabad at the UNGA, India chose to respond to Pakistan’s provocation at a much higher level than usual.
SM Krishna, India’s insipid foreign minister, rebuked Zardari for the “unwarranted reference” to Kashmir. The Pakistani delegation responded with its usual delusional rhetoric — that Kashmir is not and has never been a part of India, and was in return reminded by India of the irony of Pakistan, the cause of misery in Kashmir, using the example of Kashmir as a symbol of failure. Not to be outdone, Pakistan’s Deputy Permanent Representative Raza Bashir Tarar raised the issue of UN Security Council resolutions that India and Pakistan had both agreed to, hoping these would confuse the status of Kashmir.
In the UN format, each country has two rights of reply, and India had the final word on the matter for the day, falling back on its own rhetoric of the peaceful adoption of democratic institutions and preference for India by the Kashmiri people. There is little that is new in this exchange — both sides have made similar points in the past, and there was neither a hardening nor a softening of positions by either Islamabad or New Delhi. Perhaps the only reason the incident made any waves in the media was the proposed trip by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan later this year, which now stands cancelled (though conspiratorial voices would have it that it was a minor distraction from Congress’ present domestic woes). Yet since India-Pakistan verbal exchanges are in the nation’s attention span, it would behoove us to take a quick look at New Delhi’s track record on the matter.
Indian leaders have historically been soft on Pakistan, which they probably see as an errant sibling rather than as a key node in international Islamic terror. This softness was on display not only in Shimla in 1972, but also in Atal Behari Vajpayee’s overtures and the ham-handed efforts of Manmohan Singh’s ineptocracy. In their negotiations with Pakistan, the Government of India has consistently diluted its stance, settled for symbolism and words, and failed to hold Pakistan accountable for its broken promises.
SM Krishna’s declarations just before the 2009 Sharm el-Sheikh summit are an exemplary examples of contradictions in the present government’s vacuous policies:
May 30: Pakistan must demolish the terror infrastructure and punish those guilty of the attack on Mumbai before the dialogue could resume.
June 5: We will not talk unless they take concrete measures to prevent terror attacks emanating from the soil of Pakistan aimed against India. The release of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed only shows that Pakistan is not serious about terror and all that terror spells out.
July 1: India is not afraid of talking, Pakistan should take concrete and visible action against the terrorist group responsible for the Mumbai attacks and ensure that such attacks would not reoccur July 5: We want the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to be brought to justice. That is the only thing India is asking for and we are waiting.
July 9: The meeting will discuss what Pakistan is doing and can do to prevent terrorism from Pakistan against India and to bring justice to those responsible for these attacks, including the horrendous crime of the attacks in Mumbai.
July 14: India would like a visible response from Pakistan. I think Pakistan should give us an undertaking that they will not let their soil be used for terrorist activities directed against India. Such dilution is not the monopoly of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress Party in power, declared in July 2009, “We support the resumption of the dialogue process with Pakistan, but only after it has demonstrated its seriousness to bring justice to the perpetrators of the Mumbai terror attacks to justice, and to prevent its territory from being used to launch terror attacks on any part of our country.”
Yet neither Sonia Gandhi nor the Parliament voiced any opposition as dialogue resumed without any action from Pakistan’s side. Later that year, in November 2009, another senior functionary of the UPA government, P Chidambaram, issued a warning to Pakistan, “We have been gaining strength day by day to counter terrorism from across the border. I have been warning Pakistan not to play games with us. (I have told them that) the last game should be Mumbai attacks. Stop it there… If terrorists and militants from Pakistan try to carry out any attacks in India, they will not only be defeated, but will be retaliated [sic] very strongly.” Two months later, blasts rocked Pune, and the Government of India was silent yet again.
Sadly, such impotence is in vogue among India’s commentariat. “Our anti-Pakistan hawks have a single refrain: Pakistan and India are destined to be enemies; no reconciliation is possible between them given the history of three-and-a-half wars, the military’s dominance in Pakistan, and the festering of any number of disputes, ” Praful Bidwai thundered in his columns in The Hindu and Rediff in July 2009. This is a “totally illiterate and a-historical judgement,” he opined, citing the example of harmonious relations between France and Germany. As Soman points out, this is simply asinine — France enjoyed somewhat harmonious relations with Germany only after Germany was obliterated and occupied after World War II and not allowed to have a significant military afterwards by the victorious Allied powers. In fact, France has vigorously opposed German rearmament even within the ambit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Furthermore, Germany never waged terrorist attacks on France over Alsace-Lorraine.
Another journalist, Siddharth Varadarajan, explained, perhaps unintentionally, the rationale behind New Delhi’s hankering for talks. “If you are talking,” he wrote, “you can always suspend talks. But if you are not talking, there will be enormous political pressure to react in ways that might be counterproductive.” In other words, as Soman explains Varadarajan’s inadvertent truth-byte, the purpose of talks for the GoI is to deflect public demands for accountability for the terror attacks, not to actually further India’s interests. Thus, if talks were scheduled during or soon after an attack, they can be cancelled as a “stern” measure of India’s disapproval, never mind that no other tangible action would be taken against actually preventing the next attack or bringing the perpetrators of previous attacks to justice.
Such is the lack of strategic vision in India. It is no longer cute or even incompetent, but is now a cancer eating away at the state’s stability. What India ought to do with a problem like Pakistan is beyond the scope of this article. Nonetheless, it was vital that Indians saw the government’s latest braggadocio in its recent historical context. The UPA has, over the past eight years, found it easy to dish out tough rhetoric but has not even once come close to delivering. Upon questioning, Indians are always fed the line about moderation in action being a virtue. Well, there is a caveat to it that the establishment seems to be unaware of — moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative
Mouthing absurdities abroad, silent at home!
On August 30, 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a speech at the XVI Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran. While the summit received wide international attention due to the continuing Iranian imbroglio, it has received, pace a journalist’s brief observations on tyrants and her wardrobe, little attention in India. Part of me is tempted to let it remain so — after all, what has Singh said that is remotely interesting or original in the last eight years?
Another part of me cringes at the nonsensical play-acting India engages in at NAM. The Congress’s theology of non-alignment, supported by its craven allies and forced upon a helpless — admittedly ignorant — nation, has so far been mere rhetoric since India mattered little in the international system. However, with the forced adoption of free market ideas, even incompletely, India has shown promise to be one of the Great Powers once again. If only New Delhi’s prattling could be silenced for a while. So…
Signor Primo Ministro, io ti accuso
Quo usque tandem abutere, Manmohan Singh-ji, patientia nostra? Quam diu etiam furor iste tuus nos eludet? Quem ad finem sese effrenata iactabit audacia?
(When, O Manmohan Singh-, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?)
Signor Primo Ministro, io ti accuso!
(Mr Prime Minister, I accuse you!)
In 1947, when India gained independence, it was a poor country. Burdened by 190 years of stagnant real GDP growth, illiteracy, and a myriad other problems typical of developing countries, the only thing the country had going for it was the hope of its teeming millions. By 1954, at Bandung, and by 1961, the first NAM conference, there had been only marginal improvement. Perhaps in those days, for a complex web of reasons I will not go into here, non-alignment had some merit.
In 2012, India claims to be one of the world’s largest economies with a GDP of $1.7 trillion and a middle class aiming for the stars, hungry for prosperity and eager to compete globally. Though the memory seems distant, until a couple of years ago, India’s success story paralleled il miracolo economico. India is a part of an entire alphabet soup of economic groups — IBSA, SAARC, BRICS, ASEAN, SCO, and most tellingly, the G-20. To put the contrast more starkly, the G-20 accounts for almost 85 per cent of the world’s GDP, while NAM (120 countries) is responsible for just 14 per cent. India does seem an odd fit in the latter group.
Given NAM’s anti-West rhetoric, it seems to me, Mr Prime Minister, you are making India run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Like in your domestic politics, you seek power on the one hand, but on the other, wish to play the victim. Just as a subaltern cannot, by definition, speak, you cannot be a Great Power and a victim simultaneously. Let us take as an example your saccharine statement on an equally vacuous idea — “joint global governance”. Short of forgetting to take your dose of Clozaril, you cannot presume to lecture the world on governance from a NAM summit attended by despots, dictators, autocrats and leaders of banana republics of all hues — or given the malaise you have wrought back in your own country.
And oh – you attended the NAM summit but are skipping the United Nations General Assembly session?!
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
You speak of the Syrian crisis. Has that moribund institution, the Ministry of External Affairs, led by the able and doddering SM Krishna on your watch, ever contributed meaningfully to a discussion of the conflict? You speak of the humanitarian crisis in Syria but are uncomfortable with regime change — have you even once thought that this crisis has been brought about by Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship? Did you not abstain from condemning Syria’s atrocities in the UNGA resolution? Where was your concern for the poor, the enslaved, and the oppressed in Iran, Libya, or Bahrain?
You speak of the plight of the Palestinian people. While no one can reject the sorry state of Palestinian refugees, has anyone in New Delhi ever criticised Fatah, Hamas, or Hizbullah? What happened, faltering words? Has anyone from South Block ever offered viable solutions to the tragedy or is this all about criticising others who have tried and failed? Speak Sir, speak! How shall we solve the Palestinian question?
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
You imagine that NAM’s (and yours, by association) “collective voice and reasoned interventions…commanded respect and credibility”.
Where? When? Has NAM seen one, just one crisis through to resolution? Or are we expected to believe that it even has a unified voice? Mohammad Morsi would have us believe that NAM supported the people of Syria against their autocratic masters, while Ayatollah Ali Khamenei left little doubt that he stood with the Syrian Government. Iran’s nuclear programme received a similar mixed response, and while all states condemn terrorism, some of the NAM’s members are known state sponsors of terrorism. So please inform your people, kind Sir, which collective voice? Is it by any chance the echo from India ringing in your ears all the way in Tehran, “Congress hatao, desh bachao!”?
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
The agenda India put forth before NAM was “international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the menace of maritime piracy, the growing threat to cyber security, and the growing challenge of pursuing ecologically sustainable development while ensuring energy, water and food security”.
This is a most thoughtful agenda that you, Sir, have put forth. If we may please be allowed to suggest sub-committees, here are a few thoughts: terrorism – Pakistan; WMD proliferation – Iran; maritime security – Somalia; cyber security – China (although it has only an observer); food security – Sudan; water security – Ethiopia; energy security – India. I am sure your esteemed self has not missed the irony of putting these issues before nations that, in some areas, are themselves the problem. In others, they face problems, and India and the rest of the world must help them, preferably without vacuous speeches.
It is with great confidence that I can assure you that Indians are overjoyed at your succinct analysis of some of the problems. On food security, for example, you highlighted that “[e]xcessive speculation, structural bottlenecks and lack of coordination are fuelling food inflation at the global level”. The only problem is, where did you hide such wisdom back home? A recent newspaper article revealed that Ministers have siphoned off over $14 billion from food redistribution while Indians starved; o tempora, o mores! Food prices have shot up during your administration, beggaring the aam admi on whose behalf you love to work.
You speak of renewable energy such as solar power that is abundant in the developing world. Maybe you don’t think India is in the developing world any more, but let 1.2 billion people assure you that it is. If you will permit me an ounce of boldness, I’d like to point out that approximately 70 per cent of India’s solar energy is generated in States ruled by parties in opposition to you, primarily the BJP in Gujarat, led by the man you love to hate. India lives in darkness and despite ruling the Republic for a period that exceeds 80 per cent of its existence, your party has not even achieved full national electrification, let alone meet its power needs? What exactly is your message, ji?
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
We have engaged in pleasantries long enough, Mr Prime Minister, now we should discuss some real problems.
You have said on the world stage that you hope to reform the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, that you want to promote infrastructure development, and build a knowledge economy, an economy of the future. You even offered India’s assistance towards a NAM initiative of skill development. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was watching a video on The Onion or on a news site. Let us take this one by one.
What do you know of governance? The UPA has presided over some of the largest scams in the history of independent India. They say that we are a poor country, but it does not look it from the amounts stolen in your administration. Just the 2G Spectrum case and coal-maal are estimated to have set the exchequer back by nearly $75 billion, that too in a space of two years! I wonder if Mohammed Ghori or Mahmud Ghazni (a majority of Indians find them to be unsavoury fellows, in case your history books left that out) looted India that efficiently!
As Cicero exclaimed, “O ye immortal gods, where on earth are we? What constitution is ours?” The citizens of India humbly suggest that you look to your own party and the state of neglect they have left the country in, undermining its institutions, subverting the law, and reducing the most holy document in a Republic – the Constitution – to mere paper. The bureaucracy you preside over is no indication of your expertise that you can presume to even talk about reforming international bodies.
Next, you talk about infrastructure. How many children are drowned in India during the monsoons because the drains do not have proper manhole covers? The roads in Kuwait and Baghdad during the first Gulf War were in better condition than they are in peacetime India – if there are any roads to begin with. Thankfully, mobile telephone technology has liberated Indians from the tyranny of the state telephone agency, and the Internet has reduced our dependence on India Post. Our schools are dens of cheating, and as you no doubt know, Indian students were next to last in a recent international evaluation of middle school children. Is this what you intend to export to India’s NAM partners? I truly hope they do not see it as an unfriendly gesture!
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
Finally, on Africa – you invite others to prioritise aid to Africa, but clearly, you don’t read the papers (and we know how much attention you have given to India’s intelligence services). China is already a major player in Africa, as is Brazil, South Africa, and other countries. Though India has made some progress recently, it is in no position to invite others to Africa, for trade or aid. Quite importantly, as your bureaucrats will tell you, India simply does not have the ability to offer aid or investment to Africa on the scale China can. We have fallen behind, and as a report that your Government quasi-sponsored stated, this gap will only grow wider in the coming years.
Mr. Prime Minister, I accuse you
This century holds the dreams of hundreds of millions of Indians – that by the end, perhaps they can walk with their heads held high, that they need not make a fetish of products made abroad, that their children will also have good schools, nutritious food, clean water, good housing and infrastructure, that they won’t have to leave the country in search of those simple amenities such as the rule of law, a trustworthy Government, and a prompt judiciary. Mr Prime Minister, stealing that is to condemn hundreds of millions of people to poverty and wretchedness, and if that is not a crime against humanity, I don’t know what is.
What is there, O Manmohan Singh-, “that can now afford you any pleasure in this country? For there is no one in it, except that band of profligate conspirators of yours, who do not hate you. What brand of baseness is not stamped upon your life? From what corruption has your mind ever abstained?” We understand that pauperising nations economically, socially, culturally, and militarily comes to your party dynastically. But perhaps you can find it within you to be a bigger person.
Please, Sir, step down from power.
My impassioned protest is nothing more than the screaming of my soul. Please accept, Mr Prime Minister, the assurance of my deep respect.
Dr. Bikram Lamba, a political and business strategist can be contacted at 905 848 4205. Email:email@example.com