Tuesday, 20 July 1999

India's Geopolitical Options after the Tests

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

To save a few hundred crores of rupees on developing a strategic
arsenal in the 1960s, Jawaharlal Nehru set India on a course that
has thus far bled the country of thousands of crores as well as
lives. Its "soft" image has encouraged not merely China and
Pakistan but even Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal to
connive at groups that commit terrorist acts in India.

Such disregard of India's security concerns is a consequence
of the policies followed by successive governments, including
those of non-Congress parties such as the ones led by Morarji
Desai and V. P. Singh. Apart from the 1977-79 Janata government
(that saw Pakistan gain entry into the Non-aligned group and re-
entry into the Commonwealth on India’s hacking), it was the
Narasimha Rao government that during 1991-93 made the greatest
compromises on national security in the post-Nehru family age.
For example, border forces were thinned on sensitive sectors of
the lndia-Pakistan border as a confidence building measure.
While New Delhi implemented such understandings, Islamabad
reneged after a short while, using the lower Indian deployment
to push in more terrorists.

It took the 1995 Hank Brown amendment—which rewarded
Pakistan for drug-running, terrorism and promotion of religious
extremism by gifting it a billion dollars worth of India specific
weaponry—that woke Narasimha Rao to the danger of relying
on Robin Raphel for India's security doctrine. Post-Brown,
critical programmes were once again unfrozen, though they
were speeded up only after the combative H. D. Deve Gowda
became Prime Minister in 1996. To his credit, Inder Kumar
Gujral too followed the dictum of soft talk with hard action,
refusing to heed the finance ministry's plea that India should
heed Washington's orders to cap and then roll back its missile
and bomb programme.

The other western power that consistently took an anti-India
position was the United Kingdom. As the creator of Pakistan,
Britain clearly felt a sentimental bond towards that country. As
a result, it has lost almost the whole of the goodwill that could
have been present in India for a democracy which has close
cultural connections with us. Even today, the BBC talks of an
imminent denial of high·technology items from the "civilised"
world, neglecting to inform its viewers that all such items from
the US and the EU have been frozen since 1974, even though they
flooded China, Japan as usual, has been content to tail behind the
western countries.

Should there be 'sanctions', it would be an indication that the
western powers and Japan are rejecting New Delhi's positive
stance on a strategic alliance. This would especially be the case
were the sanctions to cover private companies as well.

Paradoxically, such a move may leave India with little option
other than to develop the strategic alternative of an India-Russia-
China alliance that would challenge the western world across
four continents. Within both Russia and China, a growing school
of thought is emerging that sees the solidarity of the three
regional giants as essential to the dominance of Asia in the

Thus, in place of the old India-USSR pact, there would be a
New Delhi-Beijing-Moscow entente. Given the unreasonable
attitude of most western powers to India’s security concerns, and
the imposition of sanctions that may make the sale of strategic
technologies imperative to retain the 5 to 7 per cent growth rate
needed for social stability, this alternative scenario needs to be
put on track. Indian interests are paramount, and alliances hinge
on the conditions prevalent at the time. Although strategic
linkages with fellow democracies may have a higher comfort
level than those with authoritarian powers, New Delhi may be
left with no choice, should Washington and the EU (once again)
follow the Pakistani prescription on India.

Further, the purpose behind building a screen that includes
Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia would not be for
the containment of China. It would simply serve to deter any
future authoritarian regime there from using muscle-power to
achieve its territorial and economic objective. The aim of this
"friendship necklace" would be to preserve the peace in East
Asia. After a dozen years, when China will have the ability to
flatten the continental United States, any deterrent value based
on an alliance with Washington would be nil. The eastern Asian
powers will need to work out a defensive system that does not
rely on a power that is thousands of miles away, and which has
political constraints against expenditure of human life in Asia.

New Delhi is equally critical in both the Gulf and Central
Asia. As a status quo power in these regions, India would like
to buttress moderate regimes there, and help them prevent
extremist takeovers. It would like to ensure the free supply of
labour into the region, and the exit of oil at reasonable prices. In
defence of democratic strategic interests in the Gulf and Central
Asia, New Delhi can commit an enormous volume of armed
manpower untainted by fundamentalist rhetoric. As in the
Maldives a few years ago, such deployments would inevitably
take place only on the invitation of the lawful regimes of these

As for Pakistan, that country has long been touted by non-
proliferation "experts" as being on par with India in the
development of missile and bomb technology. How these analysts
believe that a country incapable of producing a decent lathe can
manufacture strategic equipment is unclear. Unless China gifts
a bomb to Pakistan—just as it did two missile systems—there is
no way Islamabad can detonate any device that is not essentially
a firecracker. Should China thus help Pakistan, any prospects of
future co-operation between India and Beijing would of course
go up in a mushroom cloud. However, Islamabad is likely to
make a virtue of its impotence by demanding goodies to exercise
a "restraint" that its own lack of technology has forced on it.
However, the armed forces in Pakistan ,can be expected to
significantly increase their share of the country’s budget, despite
the billions being earned through the drugs trade.

With its second round of nuclear testing, New Delhi has
made clear that it is among the World’s major powers. Its future
alliances will hinge on the response of the other major powers to
this uncharacteristic self-assertion, for which every citizen of this
country needs to thank the Vajpayee government.

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