In the recent LoC incident, many TV channels indulged in competitive hysteria and opposition too went overboard demanding ten heads for one! This contrasts glaringly with the mature support the national media and opposition in USA extended to its Government over 9/11. There is a need therefore, to educate media persons who deal with foreign policy and security issues. Thereafter, it should be Standard Operating Procedure that, at the earliest after a crisis erupts, the media, opposition leaders and relevant cabinet members/bureaucrats are briefed and brought on the same page – that of national interest.
We have been particularly incompetent in dealing with our nuclear neighbours – Pakistan and China…
The primary goals of a nation’s foreign policy are to mould the external environment to promote national security and to safeguard national values. However, our current policy has singularly failed in achieving these goals. After 65 years since Independence, it has only succeeded in creating the most insecure neighbourhood of any major nation and exposed our people to gruesome attacks within our homeland. We have been particularly incompetent in dealing with our nuclear neighbours – Pakistan and China. The recent fiasco over the outrage on the Line-of-Control (LoC) is illustrative. The Pakistani envoy was called to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and handed a demarche for Pakistan’s grave provocation and human rights violations. Immediately afterwards he launched a counter-tirade on Indian Television, painting India as the aggressor. In New York, Hina Rabbani pulled off a remarkable media blitz. Within 24 hours, she appeared on the Council for Foreign Relations, the Asia Society and the Charlie Ross Show, where on the world stage, she presented her country as reasonable and peace-loving and India as an aggressive, warmongering bully! Our MEA was projected to be flat-footed, inept and stodgy.
Caught napping by the media outcry and the rage of the Indian Army at the pathetic response by the government, during the Army Day celebrations on January 15, the Prime Minister of India made the understatement of the year, ‘no business as usual’. However, it was the Army Chief’s tough line that caused Hina Rabbani to tone down the rhetoric and offer to resume peace talks. Only four days later, Salman Khurshid returned to ‘business as usual’ stating that peace talks are back on track! But the Raksha Mantri’s assertion differed from that of Salman Khurshid.
These deplorable contradictions and U-turns are nothing new. It has been our foreign policy trademark at least since the capitulation over the Kandahar hijacking. At first, the government displayed some resolve in resisting demands by the hijackers, but soon wilted under pressure from competitive breast-beating by the media after the killing of a hostage. Consequently, three top terrorists were released, including Masood Azhar and Omar Saeed. Each new provocation thereafter has been met with first by simulated outrage followed by quick reconciliation. Many concessions have been gifted despite complete absence of reciprocity, often resulting in more provocations.
The primary goals of a nation’s foreign policy are to mould the external environment to promote national security and to safeguard national values…
Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Lahore initiative of February 1999 was snuffed out by the Kargil Aggression only three months later. But Agra still followed! Similarly, in 2005, the Indian government, in a $120 million boost to the Pakistan economy, allowed import of certain goods. Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) responded in July 2006 with the Mumbai train blasts which left 200 dead and 1,400 injured. Then, on November 26, 2008, the ISI launched its infamous carnage in Mumbai. The ensuing outcry did put a halt to hostilities but just till Sharm el Sheikh, barely eight months later.
The Indian government had contemplated a military response after the assault on the Indian Parliament in 2001. However, unfortunately the government developed cold feet, blamed one of Corps Commanders of the Indian Army for nearly triggering a war and used it as an excuse to call off the operation. This step alone destroyed the credibility of any military response in the future.
The Indian propensity to pretend a ‘tough’ stance in response to a crisis and then pull back is not only against Pakistan. It is even more pronounced in the case of China. In 2010, the Chinese government denied a visa to an Army Commander who was leading a defence delegation to participate in an exchange programme. The resulting suspension of such ties lasted for only a year and it was business as usual after some vague assurances by the Chinese government. Soon after that, the Chinese government refused a visa to a Group Captain of the Indian Air Force because he belonged to Arunachal Pradesh. However, the delegation still went ahead without the Group Captain thereby implicitly conceding the legitimacy of Chinese objections!
We routinely blind-side intrusions across the frontiers with the unconvincing justification that ‘perceptions of the alignment of the international border differ’.
Hence, the message to our neighbours is loud and clear. Far from responding effectively to the affront, India lacks the will to even draw an inviolable red line. We routinely blind-side intrusions across the frontiers with the unconvincing justification that ‘perceptions of the alignment of the international border differ’. The consequences are plain to see – India is the most terrorised nation, according to a US State Department report. Not that India lacks the experience of effective response. In 1986, Chinese troops crossed the Thagla Ridge and occupied it. The then Chief of Army Staff, General K Sundarji immediately ordered the airlifting of troops and occupation of a parallel position at Sumdorong Chu, taking the Chinese completely by surprise. According to Shyam Saran, immediately thereafter, the offensive and overbearing tone of Chinese diplomats mellowed to polite and civilised.
As regards Pakistan, the public advice to the Indian Army to exercise restraint demonstrates that the political leadership has not cared to be conversant with ground realities even through interaction with the Indian Army. When one’s comrades are killed, their bodies mutilated, one can exercise restraint only at the cost of morale and further casualties. To save the lives of own troops, it is vital to impose dissuasive costs on the transgressors. Such responses are best left to the Indian Army, which has over six decades of experience of containing LoC conflagrations at local levels. They are the last to desire war.
The Indian government offers two explanations as the rationale for its ‘soft’ Pakistan policy. Firstly, that India must support democracy in Pakistan by strengthening the hands of its civilian government vis-a-vis its military rulers. Secondly, the alternative to continuing dialogue with Pakistan is war. Both these contentions are baseless.
The argument goes that there are two entities in Pakistan – the Army and the civilian government along with its ‘civil-society’ and that India’s response must be addressed to the peace-loving civilian entities as the Pakistan Army is opposed to peace. Actually, there are four entities in that country – the Pakistan Army, the civilian government, the jihadis and the public. But in matters of foreign policy, it is the Pakistan Army and not the civilian government that calls the shots. The Pakistan Army also controls the anti-India jihadis. As for the ‘civil society’, the section which desires peace is minuscule. The madrassa-literate hoi-polloi is staunchly anti-Indian, their hatred fanned by fiery mullahs like Hafiz Sayeed. The MEA, therefore, is actually addressing its policy to the wrong entities, the civilian government and the minuscule pro-peace chatterati. Neither has any say in matters related to national security or foreign policy.
In India, the military is not even consulted in matters of national security.
As regards the “dialogue as opposed to war” assertion, it is simply an excuse to continue the romantic pursuit of an elusive peace at any cost. In reality, there are many peaceful steps which can push Pakistan towards genuine peace and improved security for India. Foremost is that India’s diplomatic response must be directed at the correct entity in Pakistan which controls foreign policy i.e. the Pakistan Army. It is illustrative that the military is intrinsic to the foreign policy institution in China as well where Xi Jinping, while taking over as the new President has also assumed the Chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. In India, the military is not even consulted in matters of national security. Consequently, our diplomacy does not resonate with the decision-makers in both Pakistan and China.
Furthermore, Indian diplomacy lacks coherence as elaborated on earlier on. During the current crisis on the Line of Control (LoC), the Chief of Army Staff was not called upon to brief the Prime Minister – only the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the Defence Secretary were. Both these gentlemen, though erudite, lack the knowledge and understanding of ground realities on the LoC. If genuine peace on the frontiers is to be maintained, the government must act in consultation with the Service chiefs. After all, it is the lives of soldiers who are Indian citizens that are at stake.
The UN coaxes recalcitrant regimes by imposing sanctions. In a similar vein, India can certainly impose a set of calibrated economic costs on Pakistan. First, minimise the flow of river water into Pakistan by completely utilising our full share under the Indus water treaty. Second, ban export of livestock, which will spike the price of meat – a Pakistani staple diet. Third, increase import duties from Pakistan of selected items such as textiles, yarn, leather goods and organic chemicals, to impact their exports while giving a fillip to own industry. Finally, in response to any future provocation, deny Pakistani civilian aircraft from overflying India as was done during Kargil. It may impose some costs on air-traffic in India but will also inflict a prohibitive penalty on Pakistani flights.
Currently, Pakistan is developing Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) with help from China.
To underpin the diplomacy of a nation, a strong Army is essential, equipped to defend peace through deterrence. India needs better surveillance and stronger intelligence, particularly offensive intelligence. It is entirely possible to uncover some wronged Pakistanis, infuriated by jihadi excesses. They can be used to neutralise Dawood Ibrahim or other India-baiters. India also needs the capability for precision, stand-off strikes. Pakistan routinely dismisses terrorists as independent actors beyond state control painting itself as the bigger victim. We must exploit this fiction for launching stand-off fire-strikes at jihadi camps across the LoC in support of a nation ostensibly victimised by terrorism.
Currently, Pakistan is developing Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) with help from China. These are designed to deter and curtail conventional response by India. To infuse our diplomatic stances with credibility, it is essential to have the full spectrum of military options on the table. This calls for appropriate doctrinal changes and weaponisation of the Indian Armed Forces.
These measures are vital for both viable defence capability and credible diplomatic postures. The government must avail the benefit of professional military advice on every relevant issue and arrive at a comprehensively considered and coherent diplomatic stance aimed at the correct foreign entity. Some Indian political leaders have made statements abroad critical of the policies of their own government. In May 2010, while in China, Jairam Ramesh criticised the Home Ministry’s stand. Hence, not only is it vital for the MEA to have a consistent and coherent stance, all related government functionaries should be briefed regularly so that their statements are in sync with the official position.
In the recent LoC incident, many TV channels indulged in competitive hysteria and opposition too went overboard demanding ten heads for one! This contrasts glaringly with the mature support the national media and opposition in the US extended to its government over 9/11. There is a need therefore, to educate media persons who deal with foreign policy and security issues. Thereafter, it should be Standard Operating Procedure that, at the earliest after a crisis erupts, the media, Opposition leaders and the political and bureaucratic establishment are briefed and brought on the same page – that of national interest.