The strategic triangle in Southern Asia is unique. Pitted against two closely aligned nuclear neighbors, China and Pakistan, puts India in an extremely hostile two-front security environment. Pakistan’s primary focus is India. India views China as a long-term security challenge. The Chinese reference point is targeted to achieve the status of a super power. Pakistan wants parity with India. To China any equation with India appears derogatory as an emerging world power.
Beijing therefore devised methods to tie down New Delhi in strategic knots south of Himalayas. New Delhi unwittingly walked into this trap. What India does in strategic terms to maintain parity with China impinges on Pakistan. China’s strategic moves for unrivalled power in the international arena have ramifications for India. Keeping in view the larger regional security portrait, particularly China, the nuclear tests conducted by India impacted on Pakistan. By the same token, our security canvas is affected by China’s ambition to achieve a super power status. Chinese realized two facts early in the game.
To China any equation with India appears derogatory as an emerging world power. Beijing therefore devised methods to tie down New Delhi in strategic knots south of Himalayas. New Delhi unwittingly walked into this trap.
First, India is the sole Asian power that can frustrate Chinese design of unrivalled supremacy in Asia. To nullify this peer competition in Asia, it is imperative that India be tied down to sub-serve long-term Chinese policy objectives.
Second, to effectively constrain India, raising indirect threats through neighbors was considered a far superior strategy and cost-effective method than a direct confrontation. Thus there exists a natural synergy between the Chinese aim to tie down a definite rival in Asia and Pakistani objective to balkanize India. With this economical and yet effective mode, China reaps two advantages. First, it allows China to pretend that it is not hostile while permitting China to act as a troublemaker unhindered. At the same time, a troubleshooter, enhancing its role in Asia through innocent strategic lookdown, which demands a resolution of conflict between India and Pakistan. Second, it contains India effectively within the sub-continental strait jacket diminishing the chances of possible rivalry. This nuclear tipped two-front hostility directed against India restricts maneuverability, strains its resources and attempts to confine it as a sub-regional power within the subcontinent.
Raising indirect threats through neighbors or by pitting one set of people against another is an age-old game to cause fissures, disturbances or splits. A handful of British could rule India with that device! Later their Officers in the Pakistani army egged Rawalpindi to grab Kashmir through tribal invasion — what an expensive/extensive mess they left India in! The West (particularly America) in the last fifty years has kept India bogged down within the subcontinent by simply equating India with Pakistan. Majority of the seminars organized, research undertaken or books written under Western patronage by Indians are with India-Pakistan orientation and not India-China or others. India continuously through subtle means (of media, lobby or published versions) has been directed (and thereby kept busy) to limit its focus on Pakistan.
Similarly, today India’s gaze is being primed to look beyond and absorb new threat perceptions from China! At a point of time in recent history, India’s strategic and military community was entirely engrossed in studying star wars as if the basis for the next outbreak of hostilities in this region depended on such bogus parameters. Dynamic lethargy! The Kissinger Transcripts, (The New Press, New York, 1999) reflects the extent to which the Nixon Administration worked to egg China on to save Pakistan by attacking India in 1971.
However, China has consistently believed (and sensibly) that it is a cheaper option to disallow collapse of economies of North Korea to restrain Japan, and Pakistan (which they consider as their Israel) to contain India than to confront these two nations directly.
Kissinger told the Chinese Ambassador in the UN when Pakistan was on the verge of defeat in East Pakistan that “…we think the immediate objective must be to prevent an attack on the West Pakistan army by India. We are afraid that if nothing is done to stop it, East Pakistan will become a Bhutan and West Pakistan will become a Nepal. And India with Soviet help would be free to turn its energies elsewhere… The President wants you to know… if the People’s Republic were to consider the situation in the Indian subcontinent a threat to its security and it took measures to protect its security, the US would oppose efforts of others to interfere with the People’s Republic.”
This virtual invitation to China to attack India by the Americans could not be cashed as at that stage Indian conventional forces retained an edge. The Chinese, in addition, would face the going tough in the winters. However, China has consistently believed (and sensibly) that it is a cheaper option to disallow collapse of economies of North Korea to restrain Japan, and Pakistan (which they consider as their Israel) to contain India than to confront these two nations directly.
That China intends to fight India to the last Pakistani is a truth New Delhi cannot ignore. However, the fact remains that since Independence (and in spite of almost one thousand years of subjugation by foreign powers) India neither learnt to contest for power nor induced strategic conditions, which would force others to contest for power and space with it! The drum beating of good intentions of others carried New Delhi, like an ostrich, away.
Overlooking their capabilities that can be used effectively to blackmail India or reduce it to a sub-regional power within the subcontinent at any point of time. Convenient. Naïve. Ignorant. Bereft of any clue to the conduct of international relations. The American assessment in late seventies that by the turn of the century China and India will be the fastest growing powers that needed to be watched was correct. China being an autocracy, Americans could do little about it.
However, they were convinced that India could be halted in its track. If the West (particularly the Americans) and Chinese managed to encircle India, the fault lies with New Delhi and not them. Our national security managers have not only wasted their energies in internal squabbles but also walked into the trap limiting India’s vision (thereby effectively containing India from breaking out towards Central Asia) to Pakistan. In real terms, funnily, the security advisors at New Delhi, since Independence have unwittingly been defending Western interests instead of furthering our national interests!
Constructive engagement with the West, inter-action with Israel, developing meaningful relationship with Myanmar, rolling out the red carpet for Iraq, renewing close links with Russia, and efforts to restrain Pakistan from indulging in cross-border terrorism are a refreshing policy change by the foreign office. They should be implemented with vigour. Indian national security managers not only need to understand the grave implications of the games nations play to outwit others but also learn to employ such tactics as part of superior power play.
This article was first published in IDR Vol. 15 (4) Oct-Dec 2000.