The determination of the military to deter or resist the enemy is unquestionable.
India’s national security environment has been deteriorating for some time past causing anxiety among the people. This is obvious from an unusually tense situation vis-a-vis China since the Doklam crisis and no-dialogue with Pakistan since January 2016 Pathankot attack. The determination of the military to deter or resist the enemy is unquestionable. The declarations of the government that no aggression will be tolerated are also well taken. But the ground reality needs to be tested in terms of who are our friends when the chips are down.
This may be done by having a closer look at the external security architecture of India. For the sake of analysis, this architecture can be said to consist of four concentric circles, borrowing the concept from Kautilya’s “Mandala” theory, but modifying it to conform to the Indian reality. The first concentric circle, to be called the “Arc of Hostility”, includes two of our neighbours, China and Pakistan. The second circle, consisting of countries from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits would be called the “Arc of Stability”. Most of these countries are friendly with India. Because of ethnic overlap, economic interdependence and geographical location, their stability and security is important to us, and our support is important to them. The third circle can be called the “Arc of Security”. This includes major powers, our net security providers in terms of defence cooperation, technology transfer, trade, aid and investment. The fourth circle could be called the “Arc of Global Governance”. This includes global institutions like the UN Security Council, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the NSG etc., which are supposed to provide equal security and development opportunities to all nations of the world.
A careful look at this architecture would lead us to the conclusion that there are gaping holes in it which need to be repaired with all the instruments at our disposal — diplomatic, economic and military. If we look at the Arc of Hostility, we find that the graph of hostility of both China and Pakistan has moved upward by 60 to 70 per cent in the last one year. Our encouragement to Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in April and our refusal to attend the BRI conference in Beijing in May this year angered China so much that it got enough justification in its mind to bare its aggressive teeth in Doklam. The high decibel threatening propaganda spouted through official media against India gave us and the world a taste of how China would behave when it acquires the stature of a world power. China also gave enough indications that it can extend its strategy of testing Indian nerves in other areas along the LAC at the time of its choosing. China has strengthened its strategic alliance with Pakistan through CPEC. Its objections to India’s permanent membership of the Security Council and of NSG, and declaring Masood Azhar as a UN designated terrorist will continue.
China’s comprehensive support to Pakistan has emboldened the latter to sharpen its hostility against India. Surgical strikes of 29 September 2016 made no difference to Pakistani behaviour because Uri type attacks continued for many months after that. Pakistan has used LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen to give more virulent shape to Kashmiri unrest. The formation of Milli Muslim League by Hafiz Saeed with the encouragement of the establishment has altered the internal dynamics of Pakistan severely against India.
Let us therefore examine the constituents in the Arcs of Stability, Security and Global Governance in terms of their reliability during crisis. In the Arc of Stability, the countries that matter most are Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives. While we have improved relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE, we have to be watchful of Saudi Arabia which has been massively funding Wahabbism in Pakistan and India resulting in promotion of extremism and terrorism. We tend to take Iran’s support for granted because of civilisational ties but we don’t realise that Iran has many wooers despite US hostility, as is obvious from the fiasco pertaining to Farzad B gas field. In Afghanistan, we have shown a high degree of reticence in supplying military equipment despite their repeated requests. Nepal’s is a classic case of a friendship lost because of our over-zealous interference in its internal politics and our stinginess in contributing to its development.
Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina repatriated terrorist and insurgent leaders and strengthened its own secular fabric. However, hostile Hindutva elements in neighbouring Indian states have pushed Bangladesh to feel more secure about its relations with China. In Myanmar, we need to work much harder to counter China’s increasing influence in internal politics in the form of addressing insurgencies.
Sri Lanka which struggles to maintain a tough balance between China and India requires a very diligent mix of diplomatic, economic and military instruments on our part to safeguard our strategic interests.
Maldives is already more than half in China’s pocket and India needs to rethink its approach to this tiny geopolitical enigma.
In the Arc of Security, the most important countries that come to my mind are the United States and Russia, even though some others like France, Britain, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Australia play significant role in promoting India’s security.
Talking of the United States, President Trump’s South Asia policy announced on August 21 has pleased some Indian hearts. But his hard line against Pakistan is meant to prevent Pakistan from sending militants into Afghanistan, not India. His exhortation to India to contribute more to the development of Afghanistan on the specious plea that India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States is something which India is already doing on its own. The US statement on the Doklam issue on July 22 was too late, and perhaps too little.
Russia has been antagonised by India’s emerging closeness with the United States since the nuclear deal.
Unfortunately, India did little to heal the frayed nerves of Russia.
This resulted in Russia straying in directions not palatable to India. Russia’s “friendship” with China certainly tilts the balance against India. Russia’s decision to supply arms to Pakistan and Taliban in Afghanistan is nothing less than horrendous to India. Attention needs to be paid to finding ways of strengthening ties with Russia.
The Arc of Global Governance represents international institutions which are meant to ensure that world peace and security are maintained.
India has already emerged as one of the six or seven most powerful countries of the world, going by the combined index of economic and military power and other variables.
But this stature is not being allowed to be reflected in global institutions like the Security Council and the NSG. India needs to change its strategy in this respect, and resort to a more vigorous and persistent diplomacy, perhaps through the appointment of a special envoy.
The writer is editor, India’s National Security Annual Review, and former professor of diplomacy at JNU, New Delhi