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)