Today's Editorial

28 July 2017

Grave threat to India



Source: By Vivek Katju: Deccan Herald



There is no doubt that the China-Pakistan nexus constitutes the gravest external security threat to India. It has become more intense since their decision to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which adds a positive element to their ties which hitherto were based only on a shared hostility towards India. Both countries are acting more aggressively.


Chinese moves in Doka La are part of a pattern which includes its approach on Masood Azhar, founder and leader of the UN-designated terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, opposition to India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and its moves in the Indian Ocean. Pakistan's support to the Kashmir Valley agitation, its decision to give the death sentence to the retired India naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav on concocted charges and the continuance of promoting cross border terrorism shows its intent.


To counter the Sino-Pak nexus, it is vital that India's political and strategic classes stand together and send out a clear message of unity and resolve. This is especially because Chinese official and non-official comments on the Doka La stand-off show that it will continue to mount pressure. It wants to weaken India's nerve and create political fissures. Differences on how relations with these countries ought to be managed have to be reconciled behind closed doors. In Parliament and outside, political leaders must not give a view of fundamental discordance.


The signals that emerged from the China and Kashmir briefing of the opposition leaders by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj were encouraging. While opposition leaders did make some negative political comments, they appropriately underlined that they would cooperate with the government on national security issues. The unanimous emphasis on a diplomatic solution to the Doka La stand-off was important for the Chinese and the international community must get the message of Indian firmness but also of wanting to maintain the peace. As the Doka La stand is discussed in Parliament the same spirit that prevailed at the briefing should be replicated.


Politicians will play politics but a continuous dialogue between senior political leaders cutting across ideological and other divides will become increasingly important as India's security environment will inevitably become more complex. The challenge lies in reconciling the multiple viewpoints that are both inherent and healthy in a democratic polity and yet arriving at a core consensus in approach on critical issues. As a country have we been able to achieve this?


Independent India had to develop institutions to manage foreign, defence and external security relations ab initio. It inherited a fine army but there was no tradition of a strategic culture. The first generation of political leaders had under Gandhiji successfully led a largely non-violent anti-colonial freedom struggle but they were new to the ways of international relations. This was a field mainly left to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His ministerial colleagues and others in public life had ideas but there is no doubt that Nehru's will prevailed both in the formulation of foreign relations and strategic vision as also its execution.


A national consensus grew around the foundational principle of non-alignment and support for decolonisation. India's decision to pursue a socialistic path helped develop relations with the Soviet Union and its allies. The shadow of difficulties with Pakistan and that country's alignment with the Western bloc inter alia led to tensions with the US in the cold war. There was a small body of opinion that felt that India should not hesitate in cultivating comprehensive ties with the West but the consensus around the foundational principles held well for the three decades after independence despite three wars with Pakistan and the reverses in the 1962 border war with China. After Nehru, it was Indira Gandhi who introduced a clear element of realpolitik in security policy helped in shaping the consensus.


The end of the cold war with the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed the world. It coincided with an economic and financial crisis in India. These developments required a re-look at the framework of the management of foreign and security policies along with the economic model of growth. The digital revolution impacted on this process too. India's polity also began to get transformed with the inability of the national parties to form governments without the support of regional parties. This also impacted on foreign and security policies. Hence, a new national consensus in these areas was required and in the decades since that has been a work in progress.


Strategic autonomy


Some elements of consensus are clear. There is the acknowledgement that the era of non-alignment is over though the principle of maintaining strategic autonomy in foreign and security policy making is correctly accepted as a core pillar. There is no inhibition in developing full and comprehensive relations with all countries including the United States.


The old ideological hang up is over though the left parties continue to view at Indo-US ties through old lenses. The need to give primacy to relations with the immediate neighbourhood is also accepted though politics continues to be played in how these should be practically managed. Here the state governments and electoral compulsions have become important. With China, the basic policy framework was put in place in 1988 by Rajiv Gandhi. It mandated that New Delhi will not shy away from developing full relations with Beijing even as it maintains its position on the border. The political and strategic community accepts this model has served India well but ways have to be found to manage China's assertiveness.

The real difficulty lies in handling Pakistan and its pursuit of terror against India since the past three decades. Here there is a political and strategic desire to have friendly relations with that country. However, there is no consensus on how to achieve this in the face of Pakistan's relentless hostility. The default diplomatic position is that dialogue cannot take place as long as terrorism continues. However, successive governments have resiled from this position. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a stronger line for the past year. A consensus needs to grow around this position. It will be in India's interest to do so.