Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Dangerous liaisons: The story behind Indian think tanks

Think tanks in India are in the midst of a controversy. They are accused of being agents of foreign powers, of being personal fiefdoms of a few individuals and of being run like Masonic cults. Is there any real truth in these charges? If so, should the government take action against these think tanks? What place, if any, should think tanks have in pluralistic democracy?
As in most vibrant democracies, India has a huge number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in almost every sector. For a country that has aspirations of becoming a great power, however, there are just a few organizations that could be loosely termed think tanks. While the number of NGOs all over the country would run into hundreds of thousands, the number of think tanks would probably not touch even 100. This is in keeping with the definition of a think tank, in the Oxford dictionary, as a "body of experts providing advice and ideas on specific national and commercial problems."
Think tanks in India fall into four categories. First are those organizations that are autonomous in their functioning, but are dependent almost completely on government funding for their survival. Then there are the thinks tanks that are identified with specific political parties. Unlike in Germany where foundations sponsored by political parties are extremely influential and well funded, think tanks closely associated with Indian political parties, with the odd exception, are rarely high profile and their influence is limited to the party they are linked with. In this sense, they resemble a caucus or a pressure group within the political party.
There are also the "umbrella" organizations that focus on the whole gamut of policy issues, ranging from economics to ecology, science and technology to security. There are not many bodies like this, and the few that exist are also now seeking to carve out a particular niche. Finally, there are think tanks devoted to specific issues. These usually work on economic problems or themes related to governance, security or defense.
Economic think tanks usually work on macro issues. These are probably the most influential of think tanks. They are generally supportive of liberalization and view globalization as a challenge and opportunity for the country. There are of course a few that are still supportive of 'swadeshi' and autarkic economic policies, but these are closely connected with tendencies within political parties. The former are often accused of supporting a World Bank-IMF driven policy agenda.
Think tanks working on governance usually focus on Center-State relations, the possibilities of decentralization and devolution including the merits of the 'Panchayati Raj' system, and the problems of specific regions such as the North East or Kashmir. In addition, some may also examine the problems posed by corruption, criminalization of politics, human rights abuses and the need for constitutional and electoral reform. Again, these think tanks are charged with strengthening centrifugal and separatist tendencies.
Finally, we have think tanks working on security issues, and, these are seen as being the most controversial. Many of them were set up during the 1990s, though there are a few that have been working on foreign policy issues since the 1960s. Researchers from within these bodies have often taken positions that go against the country's existing policy on the nuclear issue, relations with Pakistan or China. Not surprisingly, they are often openly accused of being American agents.
Many think tanks do take positions that go against government policy and the existing order. Does that make them anti-national? In a democracy, are individuals and organizations expected to conform to the government line? Isn't debate essential to true democratic functioning?
Consider first how these bodies are set up. A think tank cannot be started without registering as an NGO with the Registrar of Societies, who has to establish whether it will promote public interest. The think tank has to have properly codified byelaws that have to be consistent with democratic norms of functioning. There needs to be a governing board of at least seven members, whose interests are related to the aims of the think tank. All accounts have to verified and certified as correct by a registered chartered accountant at the end of every year.
Many independent think tanks also depend on the government for projects, or on government-sponsored funding agencies like the Indian Council for Social Science Research. They cannot get foreign funding unless the project and the funding is cleared by the Department of Economic Affairs, which one presumes also gets clearance from the Intelligence Bureau and the Ministry of External Affairs. No seminar can be organized, in which there is foreign participation, unless prior permission is obtained from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Home Ministry and the ministry directly concerned with the subject being discussed.
Admittedly, a sophisticated operation run by a foreign intelligence agency can still circumvent the lengthy bureaucratic procedure, and there may well be think tanks run by agents of foreign powers. But to what end? It would mostly mean a waste of huge resources, even if funded by intelligence agencies. Indeed, a systematic survey reveals that Indian think tanks have rarely changed policy on any issue of substance. Security think tanks, especially if run by analysts who are seen as dissenters, are rarely taken seriously even by officialdom.
An easier way for foreign intelligence agencies is to secure the services of those directly working within the government. This will buy them both information not publicly available and influence, neither of which any think tank can provide them. In other words, think tanks are a red herring; the real enemy is probably somewhere no one suspects it to be.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Monday, October 23, 2000

Notes From A Diplomat

An Afghan Diary: Zahir Shah To Taliban, J.N.Dixit, Konark
MOST of us academics imagine that diplomats, especially ambassadors, do little more than party, sleep, scribble a few lines to headquarters (a telegram if you have a hangover, a longer dispatch if you are sober), and then party again.
Dixit's Afghan Diary proves how wrong this stereotype is. The former foreign secretary's study is largely a reproduction of a political diary he kept when he was Indian ambassador in Kabul from 1982 to 1985. The book chronicles events during that critical period and as such will be valuable source material for future historians and foreign policy analysts.
If you are, however, looking for a narrative history of Afghanistan, this is not your book. In that sense, the book title is misleading; there's just a brief summary of events from Zahir Shah's reign, through the coup by his cousin Daud in 1973, to the so-called Saur socialist revolution accompanied by the Soviet intervention in 1979. Nor is there much on events following the Soviet withdrawal, or on the Taliban's rise.
Yet, despite the limited scope, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the Afghan conundrum or the making of India's foreign policy during those difficult years. It was obvious even by 1983 that the socialist revolution had not found roots. Consider this passage written by Dixit in November 1982: "The more I live here the more I feel that the Saur Revolution was and is the result of non-Pushtoon tribes and nationalities against the Pushtoons and the feudal Farsiwan who have dominated this country since 1737.... Another aspect I discern is that the revolution has been brought about essentially by a group of middle and lower middle-class educated urban radicals."
Why then did India continue with the policy of supporting the Moscow-sponsored Afghan government, despite repeated warnings even by Badshah Khan? Why did we have to put all our eggs in the Soviet basket? Are we not reaping today the follies of our Afghan policy, left as we are without any influence or leverage there? Does Afghanistan not represent the greatest failure of our foreign policy, and Pakistan's greatest triumph, as it successfully continues the virtual conquest of its traditionally difficult neighbour? There are no easy answers, although Dixit attempts at providing some, but there was at least one diplomat, who, as India's permanent representative at the UN in 1980, disagreed with India's official stance and was forced, as a result, to move to Africa. That officer was Brajesh Mishra!
Dixit's book is not, however, just about dry politics. The encounters, anecdotes and asides alone make it a good read. Take Dr Anahita Ratebzad, the "heavy, high-breasted, heavy-thighed" politburo member, who described Pakistan as an "abortion bred by colonialism and imperialism"; or the Anand Marg swamiji who arrived from Cyprus wanting to teach the Afghans yoga; or Afghan premier Keshtamand's belief that only the Indian hair tonic Pantene could cure his baldness.

(Source: Outlook, 23/10/00)

Monday, October 16, 2000

The Jerusalem syndrome

Jerusalem is a city of stark contradictions. There is no other city in the world that is more fascinating, that has as much faith, culture and civilization associated with it. And yet, there are few cities that are in such dispute, have as much bitterness and violence associated with them.
On a first visit to Jerusalem, in relatively peaceful times, you initially notice only the serenity of the old city. Within its walls you discover the holiest Jewish site, the Western Wall, which is part of the structure built by Herod the Great in 20 B.C. and which was subsequently destroyed by the Romans. You encounter the third holiest Muslim site, the Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount, from where Prophet Mohammed rose to heaven. And you see the Christian sites, where Jesus was tried, crucified, buried and from where he finally resurrected.
But even as you begin to be overwhelmed by the intense spiritual experience, you begin to notice the tension, the conflict, the bitterness and the deep division among the people.
These two contradictory experiences can violently shake you up. In fact, every year hundreds of visitors have to be taken to the Kfar Shaul hospital, the state psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of western Jerusalem. There is also a phrase to describe the illness that affects visitors whose minds are torn between these two contradictory experiences: the Jerusalem syndrome.
Imagine then what it must be to live in the city permanently. Imagine then how reckless was the decision by the Israeli government to allow the opposition leader of the right-wing Likud Party, Ariel Sharon, to visit Muslim religious sites in East Jerusalem, including the third holiest Islamic shrine. The protests by the Palestinians, which led to the violence, were provoked by this visit. Only one motive could have inspired Sharon, a known hardliner who even supported the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in the early 1980s, to make this provocative gesture: To demonstrate Israel's continued sovereignty over the Muslim sites in East Jerusalem.
Palestinian protests erupted as a direct consequence of Sharon's visit. They were limited not just to the West Bank and Gaza, as had been the case during the "intifada," but included Arabs living within the territory of Israel. What is unpardonable, however, is the use of force by the Israeli government that was totally out of proportion to the scale of the protests. It is believed that helicopter gunships, tanks and anti-tanks missiles were used to crush the protests.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's attempts to demonstrate that he was not soft on the Palestinians backfired. Not only has Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian National Authority, regained the moral high ground that he lost after he was blamed for the collapse of the Camp David Summit earlier this year, but also has Barak lost considerable support in the international community -- even among traditional supporters of Israel.
In the circumstances, the Palestinians are perfectly justified in demanding an international commission of inquiry into the incidents and have rightly rejected the deadline to arrive at a ceasefire, sought to be imposed by Barak.
It is, however, important for Arafat to also realize that sustainable peace in the region can be achieved only if all the leaders of the region have the vision to go beyond tactical considerations. The continuing tragedy of the Palestinians demonstrates that there is no alternative to a dialogue and only in a strategy of forgiveness, reconciliation and compromise is there a way out.
The frightening violence that has been witnessed in Israel and the West Bank, over the last two weeks, threatens to derail the peace process to such an extent that it will be extremely difficult to put it back on track again. It is critical, therefore, for all those who have influence and leverage over the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, especially the United States, to exercise maximum pressure to ensure a return to the negotiating table.
It must, however, be clear that the responsibility for the present crisis lies firmly on the shoulders of the Israeli government, and they must be persuaded to provide the healing touch. More than a hundred people have been killed during the violence, and - apart from a few - all of them were Arabs.
The summit in Saudi Arabia, which U.S. President Bill Clinton will attend, is only one way forward. The real summit must be between the people, who must organize themselves in such a way that politicians will not seek to divide them further.
For India the challenge is equally acute. On the one hand, it must develop a policy consistent with its traditional support for the Palestinians. On the other, it must ensure that its policies do not damage its new engagement with Israel. In other words, a balance must be struck, and that can only happen when New Delhi is seen to be speaking with honesty and integrity and not being dictated purely by tactical considerations.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Tuesday, October 10, 2000

India looks east

If there is one region that promises to become vital to India's national interests in the years to come, it is South East Asia. Historically, South East Asia has been part of India's civilizational frontiers. Even today, there are several versions of the Indian epic Ramayana that are performed in various countries of the region.
But during the Cold War years, most of the prosperous countries from the South East that had formed the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were closely aligned to the United States, while India had a special relationship with the Soviet Union. Hence, India and the ASEAN countries drifted apart.
With the end of the Cold War, however, there has been some effort by New Delhi to look afresh at the region. The 'Look East' policy was part of this new vision. ASEAN made India its Sectoral Dialogue Partner in 1992 and its Full Dialogue Partner in 1996. Subsequently, India was invited to join the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the "ASEAN-driven multilateral, security dialogue platform." With the inclusion of Myanmar, India and ASEAN are more than just maritime neighbors, they also share an over 1,600 kms. land boundary.
This engagement with ASEAN is part of a clear recognition -- on part of India's elite -- of the strategic and economic importance of the region to India's national interests. However, there remains a disjunction between thought and practice and New Delhi's engagement has still not acquired the thrust, or indeed the institutional requirements, to be able to pursue its interests in the region in a systematic and purposeful manner. India's efforts to engage ASEAN must become more determined in the years to come.
Instead of a single image of ASEAN that prevails in India, there is plurality of inter-connected images through which the Indian elite has constructed ASEAN. Four images are the most popular: as a pivot in India's 'grand strategy'; as a zone of economic opportunity; as a role model; and as a region of cultural and civilizational confluence. It is the first two images, however, which are of vital importance.
ASEAN is slowly emerging as central pivot in the Indian view of Asia and its future, and essential to the construction of a security order that will be in India's interests. This is not only because the view of the Asia-Pacific as a zone of increased threats, potential turbulence and unbridled great power rivalries, is gaining increasing currency in India, but also because ASEAN potentially shares a range of common military and non-military threats and concerns, including those related to issues as diverse as energy, economics and sustainable development.
Quite obviously, deeply concerned about the uncertainties of the future, including but not only over China's role, India is beginning to recognize the limits to which New Delhi can unilaterally "contain" a potentially belligerent Beijing and other security challenges. It would like to fashion a multilateral security order in the Asia Pacific in partnership with ASEAN.
In other words, India is not just deeply concerned about potential instability in Asia, but also willing to adopt a more active role in the future.
Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh's speech in Singapore in June this year is particularly revealing and illustrative. Jaswant Singh went on to specifically focus on Indian and Indian-ASEAN security concerns. He said: "India's parameters of security concerns clearly extend beyond confines of the convenient albeit questionable geographical definition of South Asia. South Asia was always a dubious framework for situating the Indian security paradigm. Given its size, geographical location, trade links and the Exclusive Economic Zone, India's security environment and therefore potential concerns range from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca in the West, South & East, Central Asia in the North-West, China in the North-East and South East Asia."
India's involvement in ARF, its increasing defense co-operation with individual ASEAN countries (including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand), and particularly the co-operation between the coast guards and the navy will grow, but it is the larger element of a comprehensive strategic dialogue and a broader strategic understanding that may fashion itself in the future.
The image of ASEAN as a zone of economic opportunity is also still a strong one, despite the ups and downs in the economic relationship since 1991, the financial crisis that affected most of the ASEAN countries and India's own sluggish pace of economic reform.
India is cooperating with ASEAN countries in various fields including trade and investment, science and technology, tourism, human resources and infrastructure development. Such linkages are expected to intensify in the coming years. According to sources, "through the institution of dialogue partnership, attempts are being made to identify areas for focused interaction, including formulation of work programs and action plans."
In sum, India's engagement with ASEAN will grow steadily. While there is an obvious and growing potential within the economic arena, New Delhi will seek to cultivate the ASEAN countries, politically and strategically, more than ever before. India's presence and contribution in the ARF and Track II forums will be more regular and deeper than before.
Concern about China obviously provides an impetus, but engagement with ASEAN will be driven by larger considerations about stability in Asia and the belief that ASEAN and India share a range of common military and non-military threats, as well as largely similar perceptions of order in the region.
Bureaucratic inertia and the conservative mandarins of India's Ministry of External Affairs may not always show the energy and enthusiasm needed, but ultimately the obvious convergence of ideas and interests will ensure that India-and ASEAN will relate closely to each other in the future

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Perceiving a new world order

How does India's strategic elite view the world? What are its fears and hopes? What kind of threats and opportunities does it recognize in the international system? Who does it view as its potential partners and allies? What kind of a role does it want to play in international relations?
A study, which I was involved in, sought to understand India's strategic perceptions through the views of nearly 70 decision-makers or potential decision-makers. These conversations with India's strategic elite, mostly formally structured interviews and some free ranging discussions, were carried out from Aug. 1998 to May 2000.
There are three factors that need to be highlighted at the outset. First, India's strategic elite is consciously and fairly systematically thinking about India's international relations and its place in the world. For all those who suggested that the Indian elite rarely thinks about strategic issues, this finding should mark a departure in their analysis. This new awareness and fresh activism on strategic issues seems to be have been provoked considerably by the May 1998 nuclear tests as well the war in Kargil a year later, but is rooted in the developments over the last decade -- including the end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the troubles in Kashmir.
Second, while the Western electronic media, particularly CNN and BBC, and Western news agencies, including Reuters, AP and AFP remain the principal sources of information about foreign affairs, the opinion and editorial pages of Indian newspapers and Indian television channels are the main sources of analysis (especially on Indian perspectives on international issues) and seem to play an important role in shaping opinion.
Third, there is a remarkable convergence of views, on key foreign policy issues, within what may be described as the core of the strategic elite. This core, which is mostly located in Delhi, with a sprinkling in other metropolitan centers, is quite remarkable in its character. Less than 100 strong, it includes journalists, retired civil servants, former admirals, generals and air marshals, academicians, scientists, politicians and businessmen.
Often, this core group is the main source of advice on foreign policy issues to even the major political parties like the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which continue to have only a few members really interested in foreign policy issues.
If the views of the elite are good evidence, India's strategic worldview is clearly shifting from an emphasis on moral speak to realpolitik based on acquiring and exercising power. In this sense, there is a clear transition in evidence from the Nehruvian view of the world that has continued to dominate the form, if not the entire content, of India's foreign policy for the last 50 years.
Indian interests, it is now felt, have often been compromised because of woolly-headed policies that were out of tune with realities of international politics. From India's decision to take the Kashmir issue to the United Nations in 1948 to the restraint exhibited after the nuclear explosion in 1974, all of this has been viewed as one long saga of "spineless policies" -- in the words of one newspaper editor.
This is one of the strongest trends in evidence. And, in as much as there was an Indian "exceptionalism," based on a less-than-realist foreign policy posture, rooted in Nehru's worldview, it seems to be breathing its last.
Also, precisely because India seems to have come to terms with realpolitik, it is going to be easier to predict its behavior as an emerging power. Bluntly put, the search for military and economic power, rather than attachment to any specific "idealistic" norms will primarily shape its behavior in the months and years to come.
India's strategic elite considers the world to be unipolar and dominated by the United States. The international system is anarchic and based on the cardinal principle of self-help. Nation-states are here to stay and the possibility of a world government -- often stressed by Nehru -- is seen as being negligible.
India's primary quest seems to be to acquire the strategic autonomy that will allow it to be secure in an "unfriendly neighborhood" and give it the capability to make independent, even unpopular, choices in the international system. Deterrence and balance of power are seen as vital instruments for promoting national and international security. Regimes and international institutions, more often than not, reflect great power interests rather than shared norms.
Despite poor governance and mounting internal problems, India's strategic elite is confident that India will emerge as a key economic and military player by the first decade of the new millennium. Order and stability, as Kanti Bajpai, an associate professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, has emphasized in a similar essay, will be a product of a concert of five or six democratic powers, including India that should share responsibility for the management of the international system. As he argues rightly, a genuinely multipolar world structured around a co-operative security system is the best guarantee for peace.
India's strategic elite continues to be suspicious of the U.S., and broadly speaking, Western policies toward South Asia. They are deeply resentful of the manner in which the U.S. and its allies seem to have "hijacked" international institutions, including the U.N., and feel that the "new world order" is little more than an extension of American foreign policy.
However, despite such apprehensions about the U.S., there are few who want a confrontation with the Americans. Instead, there is strong support for engaging the only superpower in a meaningful relationship and for building a strong, pragmatic partnership with it. The term "natural allies," often used for India and the U.S., has a deep resonance with India's strategic elite, and this feeling is strongest in respondents who are less than 50 years old. Shared concern over China's future role and the fight against Islamic terrorism are viewed as key factors that bind the U.S. and India together.
U.S. support for India's position on Kargil has dramatically increased the appeal of the U.S. even within the traditionally anti-American sections. Economically, the U.S. is India's largest trading partner and vital to its recognition as a global player. A modus vivendi with the U.S. is not only desirable, but also a necessity, if India has to translate its aspirations into reality.
It is China that is consistently identified as the most likely source of insecurity to India and the greatest potential threat to Indian interests in the medium-term and long-term future. The principle strategic rationale for the construction of a credible and effective Indian nuclear weapon posture is to provide a hedge -- an insurance policy -- against the possibility of a belligerent China in an uncertain anarchic world.
Many, even within the Left, admit to the possibility of a future clash of interests between India and China over trade and influence in Asia. Few take the idea of a U.S.-China collusion against India seriously. Nor, however, is there much support for an Indian role in an U.S.-led containment of China, although many feel that the U.S. will begin to rely on India as a key balancer in Asia.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Monday, September 18, 2000

The binding terror of 'jehad'

If there was a single theme, which dominated Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to the United States, it was terrorism. In all three of his formal addresses, at the Asia Society, at the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, and at the joint session of the US Congress, it was the focus on terrorism that caught everyone's attention.
During his speech to Congress, Vajpayee pointed out that no country had faced as ferocious an attack of terrorist violence as India had over the past two decades, and - in an obvious reference to Pakistan and Afghanistan - he emphasized, "No region is a greater source of terrorism than our neighborhood."
He cautioned the US, " Distance offers no insulation. It should not cause complacence." While some may be uncomfortable with the continued focus on Pakistan in the PM's speeches, there is no doubt that the specter of terrorism struck a chord with the American policy community.
In the recent past, the US has witnessed a spate of terrorist attacks on its missions abroad, some of which have been reportedly sponsored by Afghanistan-based Saudi businessman Osama Bin Laden. In addition, terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the dreaded Lashkar-i-Tayba, have threatened to wage 'jehad' against both India and the US.
While Washington may still not be willing to directly implicate the government of Pakistan, there is obviously room for greater bilateral co-operation against terrorism at multiple levels. Not surprisingly, India and the US have formed a joint working group to combat terrorism, and co-operation should get a fillip after the PM's visit.
Terrorism may not be a new phenomenon, but its current expression in the form of the Islamic militant threat is probably the most dangerous. Indeed, the word terrorism first appeared during the French Revolution (1789-1799). Some of the revolutionaries who grabbed power in France adopted a policy of violence against their enemies. The period of their rule became known as the Reign of Terror.
An American group, the Ku Klux Klan, used violence to terrorize African Americans and their sympathizers after the end of the American Civil War in 1865 and during the 1900s. In the 1930s, dictators like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin used terrorism to discourage opposition to their governments.
There was a revival of terrorism in the 1960s. Terrorist groups that surfaced included the Red Brigades in Italy and the Red Army Faction in West Germany. Both groups sought the destruction of the current political and economic systems in their home countries and the development of new systems.
Before the independence of Israel in 1948, a Jewish group used terror to speed the end of British rule in Palestine and create a Jewish homeland. Since the 1960s, various Palestinian groups have carried out a campaign of terrorism aimed at the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
In Northern Ireland, Roman Catholic and Protestant extremists have used violence to push for, respectively, the end of, or the continuation of, British rule. Terrorists from many other countries around the world continued their campaigns into the 1990s. And we have known terror in Punjab and the North East.
However perverse those causes may seem to observers, terrorists are deeply motivated individuals committed to their goals. A new dimension has, however, been added to the genre of terrorism: the Islamic 'jehadi.' Unlike, other terrorists whose goals are definable in distinct political terms, the goals of the 'jehadi' are no less than to establish "Islam" all over the globe, and especially to liberate regions, which were once ruled by Muslims.
It is this religio-civilizational dimension that the 'jehadi' brings to the vocabulary of contemporary terrorism. It is this new force that is today at the forefront of the militancy in Kashmir. But, it is not just in Kashmir. From Sudan through Egypt through Kosovo and Chechnya and much of Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan till Indonesia there are numerous local battles being fought as part of a global civilizational war, as Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington puts it.
Kashmir, as everyone knows, was for centuries a symbol of cultural and religious harmony. Not only did Kashmiri Hindus, Kashmiri Muslims and Buddhists live in harmony but also created a composite cultural identity - Kashmiriyat, from Shaivism, Sufisim and Mahayana Buddhism.
While the concept of 'jehad' is controversial and a subject of much debate many Muslim theologians believe that it is incumbent on every Muslim to fight a war against the infidels and the unbelievers. The infidels have the option to either embrace Islam, pay 'jaziya' (special tax) and remain a minority, or face the sword.
According to some, if someone dies without participating in 'jehad' then he is a hypocrite. Some Muslim theologians, however, believe that the real 'jehad' is against one's own lust. Most of the 'jehadis,' however, do not subscribe to this philosophy.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Monday, September 11, 2000

Beyond The Pir Panjal

Faultline Kashmir, Christopher Thomas, Brunel, Middlesex, UK
Almost every week someone somewhere publishes a book on Kashmir. This is not an exaggeration. More than 500 volumes have been published in the last ten years; as long as peace remains elusive Kashmir will continue to inspire words, words and more words. Much of what gets published is, as anyone can guess, pure drivel: usually crude propaganda, self-indulgent memoirs or tacky verse.
Journalists are often the worst offenders. A week every year at Aahdoos Hotel in Srinagar, a sharing of confidences with the waiter, a guided tour in a taxi, an off-the-record briefing by the local security chaps, a pow wow with local journalists, the mandatory aadab to the militant leader and you have the reporter from the plains, or more likely from Madras, converted into your resident Kashmir expert. Good for national integration, no doubt, but god forbid if the hack decided to extend his 600-word report into a book. The tragedy of Kashmir would be compounded, and indeed it has, several times over the last decade.
Luckily for us, Christopher Thomas is no longer a journalist. He reported for The Times (London) for 28 years (10 of those from India), but is now a full-time writer. However, Thomas is not able to easily break from his past, and there is more than just a trace of professional schizophrenia. Parts of the book are straightforward reportage, fluent but predictable and not new for anyone who has followed Kashmir over the 1990s. The valuable parts, however, are the historical chapters that suggest that Mr Thomas's scholarship has gone beyond the newspaper clippings department of The Times.
Though so much has been written on Kashmir, much of it covers the same ground; a vast terrain remains unexplored. Few biographies exist of the central protagonists of the Kashmir saga. We have to be grateful to Thomas for providing rich insights into the personalities of two of them: Hari Singh Bahadur, the last Maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir, and Sheikh Abdullah, the foremost leader of modern Kashmir.
Often caricatured in most accounts of Kashmir, Mr Thomas writes about the last Maharajah with a greater sense of balance. Hari Singh, it is often forgotten, was a pioneering social reformer and a ruler who challenged British authority with greater gall than most of his contemporaries. Sheikh Abdullah, who has been lionised in most accounts, emerges as a more complex person.
Thomas even claims, based on his interview with Abdullah's former press advisor Amin Pandit, that the Sher-e-Kashmir received substantial Pakistani funding after his dismissal in 1953. Said Pandit: "Messages would arrive [that] so many eggs had been sent." An "egg" meant 100,000 rupees. In sum, Thomas has provided us with a readable, if eccentric, account of the tragedy of Kashmir.

(Source: Outlook, 11/09/00)

The roots of anti-Americanism

What explains the love-hate relationship that Indians have with the United States? On the one hand, America remains the most favored destination for Indian tourists, students and professionals for holidays, jobs, education and business. For the middle class the green card is still the ultimate currency of individual power.
Even the most anti-establishment intellectuals would rather be in the US than in any other country. This has been true even before India and the US began the latest process of engagement. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was favored by only the most ideologically committed or the most desperate.
On the other hand, the chattering classes, the foreign policy thinkers and the know-alls demonize the US. They have constructed the US as an evil self-interested power that would prefer a weak and unstable India.
Globalization, the opening up of India's economy, initiatives on Kashmir, the moratorium on nuclear testing, and the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbot dialogue are all seen as part of a devious American design to virtually re-colonize India. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), we are often told, has spread its network in almost every sphere of intelligent activity in India. Langley, declared a retired bureaucrat recently, is only the branch office: the headquarters are in New Delhi.
Engagement with the US is seen as the beginning of a process that will end with the emasculation of India. Thinly disguised references to a Samson-Delilah- like relationship, where the Americans will rob us of our strength just as we fall into their arms are all too common within India's academia and media, as is an identification of all those who have been softened by the Americans.
These views are being expressed not just by former apparatchiks or those seemingly caught in a time warp and nostalgic for a junket sponsored by the World Peace Council, but even by seemingly serious middle-of-the road analysts. Nationalism is judged, especially within the foreign-policy community, by your level of anti-Americanism. The easiest way of establishing your patriotic credentials is still by being abusive, not about Pakistan or China, but about America!
There are at least four factors that can be identified. First, of course, is history. Indians and Americans were on opposite sides of the Cold War divide and the legacy of that bitterness still lasts. Pakistan was an American ally, and Islamabad's present capacity to hurt and subvert India is directly related to US support to Islamabad during those years.
For many, the 1971 war was a formative experience. Nixon's hostility (and plans even to nuke India) toward New Delhi turned-off a generation of Indians. Moreover, for the generation of Indians born in the 1960s, American pressure on India to give up its nuclear option (and especially to sign the CTBT) prompted another resurgence of anti-Americanism, as did the US sanctions after the nuclear tests of 1998.
Another factor responsible for India's love-hate relationship is idealism. Even as Indian foreign policy makes the transition to real politik, there is still a great deal of latent Nehruvian idealism that inspires India's elite.
And within that worldview, America as the superpower, the hegemon, and the mother of neo-imperialism can do no good. In this narrative, the road of American imperialism runs from Vietnam through Central America and Indo-China to Yugoslavia. And India's elite, still rooted in an essentially Brahmanical tradition, like to preach lofty principles and ideals to the world.
Third, Indians do not really understand America. Most Indian elite would claim to be experts on America. But this expertise is based on CNN, Hollywood, Time and spy thrillers. By any standard, these mediums give only a limited exposure to the working of the American political system and the intricacies of policy formulation.
The state of American studies, especially on politics and economics, in India is pathetic. At the country's premier university, there are more than a dozen specialists on the former Soviet Union, and not even half that number of faculty members specializing on the United States. Expert writings on American foreign policy, especially within the public domain, are few and far between.
Finally, the process of globalization has rekindled distrust of America, and there is a convergence between the Left and the Right on this issue. Today, perhaps, Govindacharya - who has left the general secretaryship of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ostensibly study the impact of globalization - and Sitaram Yechury's views would converge on the dangers of globalization. CITU and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch would be united in their opposition to American multinationals.
But beyond these apparently rational reasons, Indian elite -after 200 years of colonialism - still live in dread of the outsider, the foreigner disguises his designs in the garb of a trader or a friend.
Is there a way forward? Can anti-Americanism be overcome for mutual benefits? Anti-Americanism is unlikely to die in the short-term unless there is a dramatic decline in American power. But, in the long term, Indians in America offer the best hope. As residents of the US and still attached to India, they can help lower the mistrust and suspicion that exists at the popular level. They can become the best ambassadors of the US to India. Moreover, the road to a better US-India relationship lies more through economic co-operation rather than the search for a convergence on security and strategic issues.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Monday, September 4, 2000

Old friends, now forgotten

The Russians are coming. A fortnight after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee returns from Washington, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in India. It is a sign of the times, however, that while the hype surrounding Vajpayee's United States visit started months ago, there is very little noise in the media or within the strategic community about Putin's visit.
This, after all, is the first Russian presidential visit in over seven years after Boris Yeltsin's trip to India in Jan. 1993 (a second visit by Yeltsin was postponed four times ostensibly because of his ill health).
A declaration on strategic partnership between India and Russia is expected to be signed during Putin's visit. Russian Prime Minister Primakov had agreed to this during his Dec. 1998 visit to India.
Official reports stress, "Indo-Russian relations are civilizational and time-tested." They argue that the importance attached to them cuts across party lines, is not subject to political vicissitudes, and, that there is a national consensus on the need for a strong and stable relationship with the Russian Federation.
But, in reality, Russia seems to be fast shifting to the margins of Indian elite consciousness. Opinion surveys reveal that only one-third of Indians believe that Russia is one of the three most important countries for India. And Moscow is among the least preferred tourist destinations for Indians. This is unfortunate.
True, India's relations with Russia may never be able to replicate those that New Delhi had with the Soviet Union, but Moscow is still an important partner and it is critical to further bilateral ties for a variety of reasons.
First, historically Russia has been a close ally, has stood by India during difficult times and continues to do so. The Soviet Union's veto on Kashmir in the UN Security Council, for instance, during the 1950s and the 1960s prevented the international organization from playing a more interventionist role in the dispute.
Even during the 1999 Kargil war, Russian fully supported the Indian armed forces and its efforts to clear the infiltrators from the heights that they had occupied. Russia has also consistently emphasized that the resolution to the Kashmir issue must be on the basis of bilateral talks within the framework of the Shimla and Lahore Agreements. And this has been New Delhi's position as well.
Second, Russia has also been supportive of India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. According to government sources, the Russian leadership at the highest level has repeatedly expressed support for an Indian claim. Russia supported India's candidature for the Non-Permanent Seat of the UN Security Council for the year 1997-98. During his Dec. 1998 India visit, Primakov described India as a "strong and appropriate" candidate for permanent membership of an expanded UN Security Council.
Third, the Indian armed forces are still critically dependent on the Russian arms industry, especially for spares. This relationship of dependence is unlikely to end in the foreseeable future. A Joint Working Group on Military Technical Cooperation has been set up to monitor Indo-Russian Defence Co-operation.
In the past, Russia had given assistance to India's fledgling space program as well. The Soviet side assisted India in the establishment of the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station and the launching of Indian experimental satellites Aryabhata, Bhaskara 1 and Bhaskara 2. The Indian remote sensing satellites IRS-1A/1B were launched by Soviet launch vehicles.
And there are, despite controversies and American opposition, also continued prospects for nuclear co-operation. Recall that the agreement on the construction of a 2x1000 MW nuclear power station at Kudankulam was signed between Rajiv Gandhi and Gorbachev in Nov. 1988. A contract for the preparation of a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the project was signed in Moscow on July 20, 1998, and - hopefully - there will some tangible movement on this score in the near future.
Finally, despite the deep inroads made by western pop culture, Indian culture is still valued in Russia. The days when ordinary Muscovites sang "Mera Joota Hai Japani" might be over, but Indian cinema, dance and music still appeal to a significant section of Russians. In addition, the strength of the Indian student community in Russia has grown from around 3,500 in 1993 to about 7,000 in 1998. For Russian visitors, including the more notorious ones that inhabit Delhi's Paharganj, India is one of the top tourist destinations.
In other words, there is still a lot that Russia can offer India, and vice versa. And relations with Moscow need not be any longer viewed, as they were during the Cold War period, in a zero-sum context, vis--vis New Delhi's relations with Washington.
Both Russia and India recognize the vital importance of engaging the United States, even while they continue with their quest for a multipolar world order.
It would, however, be nave to have unreal expectations from Russia. The Russian polity and economy are still in deep turmoil, and their foreign policy is still undergoing profound changes. Ideology and past relationships play little role in cementing present ties, and the Russians are obviously looking primarily toward the West for continued assistance in the resuscitation of their economy.
A down-to-earth pragmatic approach that recognizes the convergence of important interests today, rather than nostalgia for the past, should be the basis for building future ties between India and Russia.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Sunday, August 27, 2000

The idea of India in the U.S.

Next week, health permitting, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will undertake probably the most significant foreign 'yatra' of his political career.
This nearly fortnight-long trip to the United States could be a milestone in the history of bilateral relations, and yet it is a visit that that some have dubbed as unnecessary and irrelevant. Others have suggested that this new engagement with the U.S. goes against the principles that have traditionally guided India's foreign policy. All this is pure baloney, articulated by those who belong to the dustbin of history, or those apparatchiks who still yearn for the old days of Stalinist communism.
Let us face some hard facts. There is arguably no other relationship that is as critical to India today as the one with the U.S., and dubbing anyone who says this to be a CIA agent will not change the truth. The U.S. is the only real superpower in the international system, and its hegemony is unlikely to be challenged - even by a determined China - for the next 25 years.
Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has been a key player in the international relations of Asia and will continue to exercise a vital influence on the region in the future as well. Additionally, the U.S. remains India's largest trading partner, and is the single most attractive destination for skilled human capital from India.
Admittedly, while India and the U.S., the largest democracies in the world, have often been viewed natural allies, it is estrangement rather than engagement that seems to have defined relations between New Delhi and Washington through much of the last half century. Also, the Pokhran II nuclear tests by India in May 1998 reduced Indo-U.S. relations to a new low point.
Is this beginning to change? Strident anti-Americanism remains a feature of Indian public opinion and the U.S. still seems unwilling, it seems, to recognize those Indian security concerns, particularly over China and the nuclear nexus between Beijing and Islamabad, that find expression in its nuclear policy. But there are signs of change.
India and the U.S. have sustained a high-level strategic dialogue for nearly two years. During the Kargil war of 1999, the U.S. displayed an unprecedented sensitivity to India's security concerns. New Delhi and Washington, both key targets of Islamic terrorism, have formed a joint working group on the issue. More computer professionals from India were given H1B work permits in the U.S. last year than citizens of any other country, and Indians played a vital role in making U.S. industry Y2K compliant.
The extremely successful Indian expatriate community in the U.S. is playing an important role in bringing the two nations together. Both countries have a stake in the role that China plays in the Asia-Pacific region in the future and in ensuring the stability of Pakistan. Washington seems to increasingly be accepting India as a nuclear-weapons power. President Clinton's trip to India, earlier this year, was an enormous success.
In short, both the present and the potential future make the relationship with the U.S. vital for Indian interests. True, Vajpayee will be meeting President Clinton when he is virtually legless. In about two months a new president would have been elected, and in about four there will be a new occupant in the White House. But the Vajpayee visit must not be narrowly viewed in terms of engaging the current Democratic administration. The trip should be (and presumably is) about engaging America and cementing the gains made over the last two years.
The Vajpayee visit, more specifically, must be viewed in terms of four missions. First, it is about reaching out to American business. U.S. corporations, viewed for years as exploiters and unreliable partners, can become India's most vital allies if the relationship of mutual dependence that exists can find firmer roots.
The example of China should be of extraordinary significance. Perhaps the only real reason for American reluctance to take a harder stand toward Chinese irresponsibility on a score of issues, including their dubious record on nonproliferation, has been the relationship of enormous economic interdependence. It is relationship that a forward-thinking India could prudently emulate.
Second, the Vajpayee visit should also be about reaching out to Indian Americans. Indians in the U.S. are arguably the country's most valuable assets in America. They are on the verge of becoming a powerful economic force, and - with some direction - could emerge as a powerful lobby for Indian interests. While it is difficult to imagine Indian Americans having the same influence as, say, the Jewish lobby, there is enormous scope for them to play a role, and perhaps even a decisive one at that, in shaping U.S. policy toward India.
Third, the Vajpayee visit should also be about reaching out to the policy community, including, but not only, the lawmakers in Congress. Vajpayee is addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress, and his speech must reflect the vitality and the openness of the "new" India, and its willingness to share American responsibility in the management of the international system. India is ready to be a partner in the quest for global stability, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, which promises to witness turbulence in the years to come, and Vajpayee must stress this without mincing words.
Finally, Vajpayee must also engage the two most important presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W. Bush, and their aides. Meetings are scheduled with both Gore and Bush, and these occasions must be used to establish a personal bond, and put India on the road map for a future American president.

(Source: indiainfo.com)

Monday, August 21, 2000

Gore versus Bush: Who will engage India?

In about two months the United States will have elected its new president. It is still not clear whether the eventual winner will be Al Gore or George W. Bush. Till recently, nearly every opinion poll had Bush leading Gore by more than ten points, and many analysts had almost assumed that the Republicans would return to power after eight years.
But that judgment seems to have been made prematurely, and the Democratic convention has lead to a major swing for Gore. Some opinion polls now have the Gore-Lieberman ticket running ahead of the Bush-Cheney one. On present evidence, this presidential election may be one of the closest in American history.
It is one of the ironies of American politics that despite the fact that the American people are generally experiencing unprecedented prosperity -- and economic issues normally dominate most U.S. elections -- it is by no means certain that Gore, despite this latest surge in his favor, will occupy the Oval Office next January.
Political pundits attribute this contradiction to two factors. First, public exhaustion (and disgust) with the controversies that surrounded Bill Clinton during his two terms, especially the sex scandal with Monika Lewinsky. Second, Gore's own lack of charisma.
While Gore is a gifted cerebral politician with an impeccable background and with fine political training, he lacks the warmth, the color and the verve to reach out to people who do not share his background.
The added irony is that had Clinton himself been running again, which is prohibited by the American constitution, he may have won again. The reason is simple. There has been rarely in any political arena a politician so brilliant as Clinton, or as charismatic as him.
We Indians cannot rubbish this. Recall the impact of Clinton's address to the joint session of the two houses of Parliament. Our parliamentarians nearly mobbed him and were clearly in such great awe of Clinton that one analyst suggested that had the American president asked the lawmakers to sign the CTBT then and there they would have done so without raising an eyebrow.
In other words, Gore is burdened by the Clinton legacy, but does not have the personal charm of the incumbent president to be able to transcend the controversies that surrounded the White House during the last eight years.
Not surprisingly, Gore has chosen Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, is regarded as the moral conscience of the United States and was a strident critic of Clinton during the Lewinsky saga.
But which will be better for India? A Democratic administration led by Gore or a Republican one under Bush?
In many ways, Gore is going to be more predictable. His stance on most issues is well known, and even leaders of other countries have become familiar with his style of working. But is this enough? True, there will be a greater continuity to the U.S-India dialogue if there is a Gore administration, but it will be without the benefit of individuals whose personal interest made all the difference.
It is highly unlikely that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot, for instance, will find a place in a Gore government. Talbot is a brilliant analyst, and has a fine understanding of the politics of arms control, but he was in government because of his close personal friendship with Clinton, which goes back to their Oxford days when both of them were Rhode Scholars at the University.
Gore, who probably recognizes Talbot's qualities, will still not keep him because of the overwhelming need to demonstrate that he is his own man and that the Clinton days are finally over.
Let us also be clear that it was Talbot who demonstrated the sensitivity and sophistication to not only engage India in a meaningful dialogue, but also to develop a personal relationship with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, which was vital to furthering Indo-US relations.
Without Talbot, it may well mean a return to the bad old days of absolutist positions, especially on the nuclear issue. Make no mistake: the Gore camp is full of the same kind of non-proliferation 'wallahs' who have been the bane of Indo-US relations through most of the 1990s.
In addition, Gore comes with the huge baggage of environmental issues, which might translate into problems in trading relations with developing countries and may even see the possible introduction of environment-related non-tariff barriers.
Add to this list the bleeding-heart liberals (so close to Gore) concern for human rights in Kashmir and elsewhere, and you may have the perfect recipe for a disastrous U.S.- India relationship under a Gore administration.
Where will US-India relations go under a Bush administration? Although it is difficult to chart a definite course, there seems to be some evidence that the Republicans may locate the relationship on a firmer ground. There are at least three reasons for this optimism.
First, the Republicans are more concerned about the future of China, and its possible emergence as a belligerent and revisionist superpower that will seek to challenge American influence and power, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Many Republicans are beginning to recognize that India, with its own deep concerns about China, could be one vital counter weight to the Dragon. This may mean that a Republican administration will be more sensitive to Indian security concerns, and more willing to accommodate India's own aspirations to be a great power.
Second, the Republicans, although no less concerned about proliferation of nuclear weapons, may have a less absolutist view of India's nuclear policy. Most important, given their own skepticism about the CTBT, the pressure for India to sign the treaty is bound to ease considerably.
Finally, while Bush may not have a great understanding of foreign policy, his team of foreign policy advisors is amongst the most scholarly and analytical in the U.S. This includes the former Stanford Professor, Condolisa Rice, and Richard Haas of the Brookings Institution. Both Rice and Haas have a healthy respect for India, and recognize the importance of forging a close strategic partnership with New Delhi.

(Source: indiainfo.com)