Friday, 25 November 2005

Religious Supremacists (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Thanks to the extraordinary burst of innovation and enterprise created in the countries of Western Europe during the previous five centuries, the world came under their tutelage. However, those from the region who lacked the characteristics of rationality, resourcefulness and drive that resulted in the west leading the world fell back on the absence of skin pigment to distinguish themselves as superior from the rest of humanity. In this, they were merely following an ancient precedent. For example, the very Sanskrit word for India's 4,000-year old tradition of caste is "varna," meaning: color. Indeed, the Slavic peoples used this characteristic to name the lands in which they resided. Thus, "Russia" means "Land of the Blonde" while "Belarus" goes even further, signifying the "Land of the White Blonds." Small wonder that notions of racial supremacy grew in Western Europe, sometimes even crossing the bounds of color, as for example in much of the European continent during the period when those belonging to the Jewish faith were discriminated against and finally, sought to be eliminated altogether. The Holocaust has been the vilest depth in human history of a deformed social consciousness that survived in the modern era in locations such as the segregated south of the U.S., and countries such as South Africa, where "racial supremacy" was the norm.
Today, neither does segregation exist in the U.S. nor apartheid in South Africa. The notion of racial supremacy has become an international outcast, even though sporadic manifestations of old attitudes linger, as for example in the recent German political formulation, "Kinder statt Inder," which implied that people coming from India were less than human. However, in practically all of western societies, discrimination based on color has practically disappeared, even though there are occasional "glass ceilings" that limit the upward mobility of those with a higher level of cutaneous pigment. Once identified, these are pulled down. The result has been that in advanced western societies such as the U.S. and Israel, those whose ethnicity comes from India have frequently bested others from locations in Europe.While "Race Supremacists" have been under attack from the civilized world, and are either extinct or on the defensive, another brand of hate crime flourishes undisturbed, even in countries that are the allies of the West. This is "Religious Supremacy," the belief that those practicing a particular faith have the same "right" to discriminate against others that "White Supremacists" in the past saw as their God-given privilege to consign the rest to a permanently inferior status. In states governed by religious supremacists, those belonging to other faiths lack the freedoms enjoyed by the privileged. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, those who do not belong to the Wahabbi creed lack the elemental right to build their own houses of worship and to openly pray in them. There are mosques in Israel and the U.S. that have Wahabbist elements in them, but no trace of a synagogue or even a church in Saudi Arabia. In another such country, Pakistan, the legal and electoral system itself discriminates against minorities. While in the past color was the engine of injustice, these days it is creed. What is taking place in countries that discriminate against minorities is as vile as what was seen - and demolished - in the segregated U.S. south or in apartheid-era South Africa.
Indeed, while the United Nations General Assembly has several times discussed apartheid and racism in general, it has thus far been as silent as western and other chancelleries in identifying the discrimination and segregation that takes place in "religious supremacist" countries. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, those who are Shiite, non-Wahabbi Sunni, non-Muslim or women suffer severe discrimination, and are denied the rights that are given to adherents of the Wahabbi creed, who alone are permitted to set up houses of worship and who are given preferential treatment in several ways. This is a "hate crime" as noxious in its logic and effects as racial segregation. Indeed, in that particular country, even Wahabbis do not yet have the right to vote. The entire authority within the state adheres -- naturally -- to close relatives of the founder of the Saudi faith, Abdul Ibn Wahhab. While Khomeinism in Iran is a close cousin of Wahabbism in its world-view, there are Sunni houses of worship in Iran, and even a few synagogues, although in other respects the two countries are alike. In both, an unelected group controls the government, and bases this usurpation of power from the hands of the people on religious grounds. Indeed, Khomeinism is as much a perversion of Shiite Islam as Wahabbism is of Sunni Islam. 

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Ekalavya’s Thumb (The Asian Age)

By M.D. Nalapat

The Mahabharata has the story of Ekalavya, a youth who learnt archery on his
own, but accepted Dronacharya as his guru. When the teacher saw that this
lowborn youth was far more proficient than Prince Arjuna, he demanded
Ekalavya’s thumb as his dakshina, thus cutting away the competition. In the
assembly of nuclear weapons states, India the underdog has consistently been
pressured by the United States, China and the EU to cut off its nuclear
thumb. Nine Prime Ministers have refused to succumb to that demand.

Now the tenth — Manmohan Singh — is on course to emasculate nuclear India,
through the signing of an agreement with President George W. Bush of the US
that, if implemented, will reduce India’s indigenous nuclear programme, both
civilian and military, to a state of dependency on the goodwill of other
countries and harmlessness towards those powers that have the capability of
launching a nuclear attack on the billion-plus population of a country that
Manmohan Singh has sworn on oath to defend.

Since the Singh-Bush nuclear agreement was arrived at on July 18 this year,
there has been a steady patter of articles from experts, almost all
laudatory. The writers are all honourable men, and with very few exceptions,
they have spent years or at the least several months in the US imbibing the
strategic thought of that remarkable country. It must have been painful to
accept the charity of foundations and institutes, and to always be aware
that India is a country much less powerful and very, very much poorer than
the US.

Small wonder that any sign, even a symbolic one, of recognition gets prized.
No surprise that the very act of stroking becomes a desirable reward in
itself. India is a Third World country with a middle class possessing First
World intellects, the owners of which go about with angst in their souls, an
ache relieved only by pats on the head, by promises that they will — at last
— be treated as serious people.

As one of the two Burnses (both US under-secretaries of state), who spoke at
a recent hearing of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, simpered
smugly (aware that his words would fall as honey on the respect-thirsty
strategic experts whose op-ed pieces are so necessary for Manmohan Singh to
sell his sell-out to the Indian people), India has at last reached, if not
adulthood, then teenager status by signing the nuclear agreement.

Once the country’s nuclear programme has been completely starved and gutted
in a decade, the same breed of officials will declare the country grown up.
The naked emperor would be humoured as though he had on attire more
substantial than skin.

According to domestic backers of the July 18 agreement, the deal “proved”
that the US had put the Cold War behind it, and graciously condescended to
overlook such peccadilloes as the Non Aligned Movement, the axis with the
USSR and Nehruvian socialism.

>From now onwards, realism and self-interest would lie at the core of India’s
foreign policy, not an Alice in Wonderland capacity to act as though the
imaginary were in fact the verities, a tendency to ignore the real in the
making of policy. Post 7/18, New Delhi would be treated on par with London,
Paris, Moscow, Beijing and of course Washington in the nuclear field,
although the change would be informal, there would be a live-in relationship
rather than a marriage, but there would be children, and these would have
full rights of inheritance.

In other words, India would have the same status as the P-5 in that little
matter of the Additional Protocol of the IAEA. There would be no hurdles on
its right to extract fuel rods from civilian reactors for military use, for
example. Meanwhile, Uncle Bush would make sure that the country’s nuclear
power industry was enabled to import technology and materiel as freely as
India’s rival in Asia, China, although Dubya drew the line when it came to
New Delhi’s exporting nuclear technology with the abandon of Beijing.

Indeed, exports were to be totally banned. But that, the experts assured us,
was hardly needed, for the country would need to keep for itself all the
technology it had developed, together with the bounty supplied by the
beneficence of Washington. Soon, energy shortages would become a
rapidly-lessening memory as the US-boosted Indian nuclear power sector
revved up.

In the next year, Manmohan Singh would stand alongside Tony Blair, Jacques
Chirac and Angela Merkel as one of the international Big Boys, so what if at
home he was merely a servitor (although one shown every external sign of
deference) of the Nehru family? As Burns 1 (or it may be Burns 2) lisped,
India was growing up. Hooray!

Alas for the cheerleaders, that was the only remark from the two Burnses
that could — by a wild flight of the imagination — be termed as favourable
to India. One after the other, they enumerated to the members of the US
Senate what Manmohan Singh had committed his country to do on July 18,
2005:l India would not have the same rights under the Additional Protocol as
those given to the P-5. Indeed, it would be Washington — acting through the
IAEA in Vienna — that would decide on which of this country’s nuclear
facilities was to be placed under fullscope safeguards.

Once having handed over its nuclear jewels to the very powers that had been
seeking to gut India’s nuclear programme for four decades, not to speak of
the clueless Manmohan Singh, no future government in New Delhi would have
the authority to snatch back these facilities from the slow asphyxiation
that fullscope safeguards would condemn them to. Of course, there would not
be any such condition imposed on the US.

If Dubya or any of his successors decided that even the peanut concessions
offered to New Delhi by the July agreement needed to be cut off, they could
walk away from the deal and leave India with its commitments intact, as any
safeguards set in place would need to be “in perpetuity.” That those close
allies, the US Arms Control lobby and China regard even the Bush-Singh deal
as overly generous to India shows the malevolence with which the two view
this country’s anaemic but persistent efforts to create for itself a
defensive capability against nuclear attack.

l India would have to achieve in practice what has never before been
attempted by any other power, and which is regarded as financially ruinous
and technologically impractical by those who have a better knowledge of
nuclear physics than two individuals who worked — overtly and otherwise —
both on the details of the nuclear agreement as well as on its selling to
the Prime Minister: foreign secretary Shyam Saran and Planning Commission
deputy chairman M.S. Ahluwalia.

As the US side would need to make its peanut deliveries only after this task
had been carried out to the satisfaction of Senator Biden’s friends in the
Arms Control lobby, clearly anybody who held his or her breath waiting for
this assistance would choke to death, the same fate envisaged for the
indigenous Indian nuclear programme. Even assuming that the impossible task
of civil-military separation were carried out by India, Washington would be
obligated to provide only “purely civilian-use” technologies.

The 7/18 agreement’s wordage is clear that any future nuclear-related
cooperation between the US and India would completely exclude any
cooperation that could in any way assist the development or production of
nuclear weapons. In view of the dual-use nature of much atomic equipment and
process, this would mean that bathtubs or at the most chemical toilets would
be the only big items to come in as reward for destroying the country’s
nuclear industry.

* In order to earn the heavenly privilege of clasping hands with Merkel,
Chirac and Blair (although as the fraction in the proposed
five-and-a-twentieth schema set out on July 18) as they waited for Bush to
emerge from his trout fishing, Manmohan Singh would have to ensure that
India unfailingly tagged along behind the US and the EU as the two went
about rewarding India’s tormentors (e.g. Pakistan) and tormenting New
Delhi’s allies (e.g. Iran).

As in the case of its own nuclear facilities, it would not be India that
would decide who its friends were and who foes, but the White House. As a
country with a stake one-twentieth of that enjoyed by Paris and London,
could not realistically be described as a US ally or even a quasi-ally,
India would revert to historical form and once again become a dependency,
certainly in the fields of foreign policy and nuclear technology.

* The increased costs of the (almost certainly futile) efforts at separating
civilian from military facilities and the blockages created by such a
differentiation would slow down and finally kill off the country’s
thorium-based fast breeder reactor programme. This would remove the best
chance India has got of ensuring a reliable and reasonably-priced energy
source within a decade.

7/18 would also gut the country’s R&D in the nuclear field thanks to the
IAEA-imposed barriers on almost all the country’s present nuclear assets.
This would rapidly make India as dependent on foreign technology and
assistance in the nuclear field as Brazil, South Africa or Taiwan. Whether
Manmohan Singh’s successors will remain invited to western summits after the
objective of destroying India’s indigenous nuclear programme is achieved is
an open question. Perhaps they would, for comic relief.

* India would also have to immediately and fully cap its fissile material
capability, thus becoming the first country in the world to — in effect —
accede to the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty. This would deal the final
blow to its military capability, which would anyway have become
significantly attenuated by the drastic separation of civilian from military
facilities, and the stopping of any help of the one to the other.

Any chance of putting in place a credible nuclear deterrent — even a
minuscule one, not to talk of a minimum stockpile — would evaporate. A
recitation of the extent to which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — who has
abandoned economics to Sonia Gandhi and the Communists and is these days
concentrating on foreign and security policies, about which he is amateur to
a degree dangerous to the country’s interests — would go, could go on for
much, much longer.

Suffice it to close with Iran, the country that — because of the obstruction
of US ally Pakistan — is India’s only land bridge to Central Asia, and which
is a primary source of energy supplies. Tony Blair, George W. Bush and
others responsible for the US-UK strategy in Iraq repeat endlessly that
Saddam Hussein “fooled the world” by saying that he had WMD, when in fact
the Iraqi dictator several times publicly admitted that he did not.

In the same mendacious way, the same clique claims that Iran is “in breach
of international obligations,” when the reality is that Tehran is not (thus
far) in violation of the NPT. The centrifuges imported by Tehran from
Pakistan are technically unable to produce weapons-grade uranium, a fact
known to any physics graduate. Of course, while the proliferating Pakistan
is rewarded, including very generously by Manmohan Singh, Iran is getting
readied for slaughter.

Till today, the Shia community worldwide has almost totally kept aloof from
the type of violence that has brought such a bad name to a great faith. This
may change. Shias may join Sunnis in the terrorist brigades, while Manmohan
Singh jets off to London for that delicious photo-op.

[Original link dead, can also be found on: ]

Thursday, 4 August 2005

India and the U.S. as Allies (Beijing Review)

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently visited the United States, where his country won a strong endorsement as a rising power. The two countries issued a joint statement, pledging that they will cooperate in hi-tech and space exploration industries. In an interview with BEIJING REVIEW, MD Nalapat, professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India and UNESCO Peace Chair, commented on the closer ties between India and the United States.

BEIJING REVIEW (BR): Could you give your comments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States and the development trends in India-U.S. relations?

MD Nalapat (MN): Although there have been many favorable comments these days on the “rise” of India, the fact is that it is still a very weak country. More than 300 million citizens are close to starvation levels, and around that number are still illiterate. The physical infrastructure in India—roads, airports, energy, ports—are still of very low standard, while several bureaucratic obstacles to development continue. In India, the media and the courts consider it suspicious if quick decisions are taken. As in the case of every big project, there are interested individuals who make allegations of corruption, even when the project is in the public interest. As a result, big monopolies and dishonest business groups bribe officials to delay or even destroy new proposals floated by rival companies. Crooked politicians and bureaucrats can collect a lot of illegal cash for blocking projects, while at the same time, nobody will bring them to account. In India, delay is seen as normal.

The fact is that even in 2005, India has not reached the level of economic reform that China, under the wise leadership of Deng Xiaoping, enjoyed by 1985. Despite this, I am highly optimistic about India’s future. The reason is that both the sources of wealth as well as the geopolitical situation have at last moved in favor of India.

Increasingly, services and “knowledge industries” are displacing manufacturing as engines of prosperity. These do not need the same amount of physical infrastructure as manufacturing, so India’s handicap does not matter so much. Secondly, although some unwise minds in the Union Finance Ministry are seeking to place constraints on the information technology, services and knowledge sectors, they have not been affected by a slowdown in growth, the reason being the expanding demand for services that the highly trained, English-speaking Indian people are well equipped to provide.

In my view, relations between the United States and India are likely to develop into a full alliance, such as what the United States has with Japan. Although some political parties in India oppose this, the rising middle class in India welcomes such a development and will give it strong support. The new “Cooperation in Farming” announced by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh will help convince farmers also to support this, while industrial workers will be happy at the extra jobs that will come when New Delhi and Washington become close allies. Hence, in my view, those opposing an India-U.S. alliance will not be able to succeed in stopping what geopolitical changes are making possible

(BR): It seems that the United States is now aiming to boost India as a counterbalance against China’s rise. However, Singh said at the end of his U.S. visit that close India-U.S. ties would not come at the expense of Pakistan or China. How do you evaluate the U.S.-China-India triangle?

(MN): Rather than stand by and do nothing while a single power grows in Asia to a level where it becomes as influential as the United States in the Americas during the 19th century, many policymakers in several countries would like to see India reach as close to China as possible, and would be ready to help such a process. Thus, while China will have the disadvantage of a “headwind” caused by a negative reaction to its rise, especially military, India is beginning to get the benefits of the favorable “tailwind” caused by a desire in many to see that the country does not lag behind China.

In my view, it is the “China factor” that has played the biggest role in the increasing international attention given to India by the United States, although this will be denied by the officials of both countries. You will remember that when the United States and Pakistan were active against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan, they denied to the end that they were in fact doing what they were doing, ensuring the defeat of Moscow. Of course, there are other reasons as well, including the importance of India as a source of skill for the Knowledge Economy. Has the fact that India is the world’s most populous democracy played a key role in the transformation of attitudes by Washington toward New Delhi? I do not think so. India has been a democracy since 1947, and yet has been discriminated against by the United States repeatedly, including the transfer of technology. Prime Minister Singh has got the benefit of the shift in U.S. attitude and priorities in favor of India, though it is a fact that he himself is a brilliant scholar who recognizes the substantial benefits that India can get out of partnership with the United States.

About statements, I always look at “facts on the ground” rather than statements. The facts on the ground are that India is trying to compete with China in markets such as the United States, seeking for example that Wal-Mart source more of its supply from India, securing energy supplies and technology and attracting foreign investment. The relationship between the two countries is more competitive than collaborative.

(BR): The U.S. policy toward India’s nuclear ambition has changed a lot. Opponents said that Bush’s proposal would undermine global nuclear safeguards. What are your comments?

(MN): Global nuclear safeguards have been shown to be ineffective in stopping proliferation. Both North Korea and Pakistan have shown that the existing non-proliferation regime is often unable to stop the flow of dangerous material and technology across borders. India has an indigenous nuclear and missile program that cannot be affected by sanctions. The United States has understood this, and has cleverly decided to work with India in order to stop New Delhi from selling nuclear technology or developing its own “fast bred thorium-based” reactors without any U.S. leverage. Although some scholars say that the Bush-Singh nuclear accord is a defeat for the non-proliferation lobby, the fact is that the United States has no other option. Thirty years of sanctions have failed to stop India from developing nuclear technology. It is good that they have accepted this reality rather than behave like Don Quixote tilting at windmills on his donkey, which is what the non-proliferation “experts” are doing in the case of India.

Both Washington and New Delhi will, I expect, work closely together to ensure that cross-border proliferation gets stopped. All sincere friends of India should welcome getting India on board as an ally in the battle against the spread of dangerous technologies.

(BR): How would India balance its relations with Russia and the United States? Is there a preference or a priority?

(MN): Russia will always remain a close friend and brotherly ally of India. There is no contradiction between a new alliance with Washington and the old alliance with Moscow. In my view, as India develops as a result of the favorable international situation, Russia will find it of more value as a partner than if New Delhi were to remain backward and isolated.

(BR): How do you view India’s role in the UN? What are your opinions on India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat?

(MN): Frankly, I find it difficult to understand why the government of India is spending so much money, time and attention on becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. India has risen despite the fact that it has only a very small formal position in the present UN structure. Of course, bureaucrats will be happy [if India becomes a permanent member of the Security Council] because a few more of them will get high-paying UN jobs. But this will be of no relevance at all to the population of India, especially the poor. Of course, if France, Russia and Britain can be members, India too deserves a seat. However, to me the expansion of India-U.S. cooperation or the greater understanding between India and China are much more important than a UN seat, and I wish the government of India would pay more attention to such issues than spend so much effort begging the international community to accommodate India in the Security Council.

(Beijing Review, Vol.48 No.31, 4 Aug 2005) [Interview]

Tuesday, 21 June 2005

America's China Blindness (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

NEW DELHI, June 21 (UPI) -- Hard times are tough, but good times can be even worse. Since the Vietnam defeat in 1975, the United States has not suffered a serious overt blow to its military power, with the result there has been no serious effort at reconfiguring strategies in a context in which India and China displace Europe as the geopolitical pivot of the Eurasian landmass.
Over the coming decade, the "European premium" that has enabled the countries of the West to enjoy a standard of life far in excess of their productive capacities, or future potential, will gradually erode. Only the countries of East Asia and West Asia are victims to this premium now. For the most part, both Arab and Sinic societies are in a time warp. They are unwilling to accept that the center of excellence is shifting from Europe to Asia and North America.
However even they are changing slowly so a secular decline in the standard of living within Europe seems inevitable.
Due of the momentum created by its size, the United States has been able to shrug off the effect of mistakes in policy, creating for itself the illusion it still has time on its side. The fact is 2005 is the equivalent of 1905. The world is about a decade from a possible major international conflagration, one that is likely to be centered in East Asia.

Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Oil Conspiracy Theory (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat
MANIPUR, India, May 31 (UPI) -- Nature and the "street" both abhor a vacuum, and even after Sept. 11, 2001, it is those active in the "War of Revenge Against the Crusades" who are more adept at crafting tales designed to link the United States with the unemployment, rage and perception of helplessness that provides recruits to the jihad.
While conspiracy theories that seek to "prove" that the United States -- together with those familiar villains, the "Zionists" -- is engaged in a war against Islam, thus far such street gossip has permeated only the Muslim countries, principally Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. The rest of the world has not been infected with this virus.
Indeed, a case can be made that the United States is more popular today in the poorer parts of the globe than it is in Europe. Unlike the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, when the United States was the target of the resentments and insecurities felt by those recently freed from colonization, from the time cable television spread in the mid-1980s,"street" perceptions of the United States outside the Muslim world have improved steadily. In the words of Jairam Ramesh, an Indian economist, while the cry may still be "Yankee, go home!", to this is added, "but take me with you."
For a superpower, the United States has been demonstrably inept in factoring in psychological attitudes and reflexes in countries visited by U.S. "experts" only in the safety of air-conditioned hotel and conference rooms. Thus, in Iraq the United States appointed an American "administrator" and Iraqi "advisers," when common sense would have indicated that it ought to have been the other way around.

Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Iran's Unlikely Champion (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, March 23 (UPI) -- Unlike its Sunni counterpart, the theology of which has often been used by autocrats to profess a divine sanction for their license, Shiite Islam had at its theological core the concept of the separation of mosque from state.
The philosophy was clear that until the 12th imam of legend returned from his occultation to take over governance, the clergy were to leave temporal matters alone. It took nearly a thousand years for this tradition to get diluted when, in 1501, the Safavids installed Shiite Islam as the religion of the state.
Almost a half a century later, the Shiite tradition of separation of temporal from spiritual got wholly subverted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who implemented his innovation of a "Velayet-i-Faqih." He -- in the same way as Sunni rulers -- had "divine" sanction to run the administration the way he saw it. This perversion of genuine Shiite tradition has resulted in a crisis of identity in Iran, where those who can be accurately described as "Khomeinist" rather than Shiite or even Muslim rule in the name of the creed they have rendered unrecognizable from its roots.
Given the tension that has existed between Shiite and Sunni Islam from the death of the Prophet Mohammad in AD 632, it is remarkable how closely "Khomeinism" follows in its chemistry and practices a like perversion of Sunni Islam that was invented by Abdul Wahhab, who died in the 18th century, and has now supplanted Islam as the state religion of Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Not Our Problem (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, March 1 (UPI) -- The Maldives is a tiny group of islands nestling in the Indian Ocean that got into the news only because of the Dec. 26 tsunami. For years it has been the focus of concerted NGO action designed to convert the regime into a genuine democracy, with political parties and a Westminster-style parliament where the two sides glower across the aisle at each other.
India has shown that multi-party democracy can work even in conditions of illiteracy and poverty. The country borrowed heavily from British political institutions, even while retaining most of the administrative and judicial infrastructure left behind in 1947.
Another country that could succeed in such a transformation is Iraq, which has a sizeable middle class and a national consciousness based on the centuries of civilization in the region, beginning with Mesopotamia. To interpolate from this that a similar graft would succeed in the very different scale of the Maldives may be a mistake.
A rough rule of thumb would be that it takes a minimum population of 5 million in order to create the diversity that is called for by a multi-party democratic system. A lesser number would not be able to sustain the spread of debate and contain it within bounds that do not result in widening fissures within the society.
To take the example of the Maldives again, it is a fact that the Maymoon Abdul Gayoom regime is paternalistic and lacks a significant machinery to monitor and respond to public opinion. It is equally a fact that the Maldives is a moderate state with an overwhelming Muslim majority, and that President Gayoom has thus far succeeded in keeping in check Islamists funded by Pakistani, Malaysian and Saudi Arabian religious charities. It is this visible secularism that has motivated such intervention, which has succeeded in creating a small but very vocal group of democracy activists that are calling for an Islamist state.

Thursday, 10 February 2005

India and the Tsunami (Beijing Review)

New Delhi has clarified that assistance is welcome, “provided it is given in a form that is politically acceptable to the broad masses of the people and not just to the section directly affected by the disaster.”

By M. D. Nalapat

Unlike the other countries hit by the last December’s tsunami, India refused foreign assistance even as New Delhi was sending relief to two of its three stricken neighbors, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. Many international commentators have viewed India’s reaction as a symptom of “great power arrogance” and an attempt to use the disaster and the accompanying “tsunami diplomacy” to reinforce India’s “big country” image. The reality is that it is only the continuation of a geopolitical philosophy that goes back to the struggle against British rule. It lies in the concept of swadeshi (self-reliance), or depending on oneself as much as possible for as long as possible.

The records on foreign aid to different countries will show that the 57-year-old republic has been among the lowest recipients of external assistance throughout its existence. Both per-capita and total foreign aid have been substantially lower than countries that are much smaller in size, such as Egypt. In fact, more than 87 percent of the foreign “aid” accepted by India has come in the form of loans that need to be repaid or grants that are tied to the purchase of goods from other countries. New Delhi has a record of never defaulting on a loan repayment, even in situations when the country had to mortgage a part of its gold reserves to pay back interest on foreign debt. India has shown that progress is possible without foreign giveaways.

In the scientific and technological field, India-though not by choice but by circumstance-has developed substantial capability in critical fields such as space applications and nuclear research. The United States, in particular, has a powerful lobby of “non-proliferation” activists who have targeted India for sanctions. As a result of the influence of this vocal group on U.S. policymakers, Washington has led the effort among the major powers to deny India access to high technology, a process it continues. If there seem to be moves now to relax the restrictions, it is because the United States realizes that it has only succeeded in ensuring that its target country has developed a strong base of scientific talent and institutions that owe nothing to other countries. While the former Soviet Union had a history of helping India, once it disintegrated, Moscow has largely gone along with U.S. desires concerning India, and even today are refusing to sell more atomic power plants to India, clearly under U.S. pressure.

In the economic field as well, the share of foreign trade in India’s total output is much smaller than for its giant neighbor, China. The flow of foreign capital into India is not even 10 percent of the amount flowing into China. In fact, for many years it was less than 1 percent of China’s level. It is therefore clear that “going it alone” has become second nature to India, and the stance taken by the Indian Government after the tsunami disaster is in line with this longstanding policy

In view of the decades-long U.S. activism in blocking technological cooperation with India and the massive assistance being given to the military in Pakistan, it is not possible for India at present to consider Washington a country that is friendly to India’s security interests. In the period ahead, the United States will need to choose between military assistance to Pakistan and a defense alliance with India. The two cannot coexist so long as the Pakistani army seeks to change the status quo by the use of force. Only by the Pakistani military removing the threat of conventional, asymmetric and nuclear force from the table can India accept a situation where one of its own military allies arms Pakistan.

Unless the United States were a full military ally of India, it would have been risky to have exposed two very sensitive parts of India-the Tamil Nadu coast and the Andaman Islands-to hundreds if not thousands of U.S. military personnel and equipment, coming into the area under the guise of “tsunami relief.” While several analysts would like to see a strategic partnership between the United States and India, it is a destination that has not yet been reached and may never be in view of the intense attraction that so many U.S. policymakers have toward the Pakistani military. Under such circumstances, it would be reasonable to assume that Washington may-in the hypothetical situation of another India-Pakistan war-seek to even the odds between the two sides by sharing information with Islamabad, the way the United States did with Baghdad during the 1980s war between Iran and Iraq. Only as a full military ally can the U.S. military be given the access and freedom it has in locations where it is involved in “Tsunami relief” operations. This is because of the fact that, along with the noble endeavor, it would be possible to gain information on terrain and population that would be of immense help in a future conflict, either to the United States directly or to its ally Pakistan.

While the risk of the Washington preferring Islamabad to New Delhi in a future conflict might be small, policymakers in the Manmohan Singh government will need to keep all deadly options in view and respond to each. Wisely, the Indian Government decided not to take the security risk of opening sensitive zones to foreign troops. Washington is now trying to have it both ways by continuing to give Pakistan the means to harm India, even as it attempts to strengthen defense links with Asia’s second-biggest country. Until New Delhi is certain that one country will desist from arming another that it holds as hostile, there will not be a military alliance between the two. And until there is such an alliance, the type of operations conducted by military units in the disaster zones pose a risk. Of course, this can never be directly stated officially.

Another reason why the situation in India is different from that of Sri Lanka and the Maldives is that while India had a powerful liberation movement that finally succeeded in removing British colonialism, the local population in Sri Lanka has never participated in a similar movement. In fact, relations between the British and the Sri Lankan elite were excellent throughout the period of colonization, unlike those in India. In the Maldives, too, there has never been an anti-colonial movement of the kind seen in India, Indonesia or Iraq.

It is this undercurrent of anti-colonial sentiments that has made the U.S. policy in Iraq so self-destructive. By setting themselves up as the overlords of the Iraqi people, resentment has been created that will affect the security interests of the United States for decades. The anti-colonial sentiments in India are still too strong to tolerate such a presence. The same situation applies to China as well, where the Chinese would never accept the presence of foreign soldiers on their territory. As for Indonesia, the new administration there is taking a calculated risk by permitting foreign troops to come to the affected areas, I would like to warn my old friend, Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, not to test the patience of the Indonesian people by permitting the presence of Australian or other soldiers in Indonesia for too long. Otherwise, the same type of radical element that gained in influence in Saudi Arabia in the 1990s will emerge in Indonesia.

Of course, unlike Indonesia, India has the good fortune of having a strong disaster relief machinery in place, which was created after the cyclone in Orissa and the earthquake in Bhuj five years ago. Since then, a disaster management program has been implemented in India, with district officials being given special training in handling calamities. However, a suggested coordination committee on disasters has not been formed, although during the tsunami havoc, an informal inter-departmental group was formed to coordinate action. Apart from the government, private institutions in India are now paying attention to disaster relief. For example, the Manipal Academy of Higher Education is in the process of setting up a disaster management center that will have the capability to intervene in health, earthquake, flood and nuclear disasters. It is because of such a well-knit indigenous anti-disaster capability that the ambassador of India to China was able to thank the many Chinese friends who offered to help, but requested them to focus their attention on countries with a greater need for foreign help.

Indonesia, however, will need to balance the benefits of foreign assistance with the important condition that anti-colonial sentiments not become inadvertently ignited. Fortunately, because of India’s strong capacity, the government in New Delhi did not need to confront the dilemma that faced policymakers in Jakarta. Those commentators (especially in the Western media) who show surprise at the “ungratefulness” of the Indonesians need to understand the anti-colonial sentiments there that result from memories of centuries of oppression. Indeed, while the British in India took about 1.5 percent of the country’s wealth each year, the Dutch removed as much as 12 percent each year from Indonesia. It is instructive to note that in the early 1800s, India accounted for a quarter of world output and China for a third. By the end of that century, both countries had been weakened by outside forces so badly that their share dropped to less than 5 percent. A similar decline afflicted Indonesia.

In countries with a history of resistance to colonialism, such as China, India and Indonesia, it would be politically risky to accept the presence of foreign troops, even those engaged in the noble task of disaster relief. Under the circumstances, the comments of some scholars that the decision of the Government of India to refuse foreign assistance, which would have come in a military form, was a symptom of “arrogance” are wrong. Indeed, New Delhi has clarified that assistance is welcome, “provided it is given in a form that is politically acceptable to the broad masses of the people and not just to the section directly affected by the disaster.”

Countries such as the United States, France, Germany, Japan and Britain need to keep in mind local sentiments so as to avoid the mistakes that have been made-and are being made-in the Middle East. France, for example, has become a country of controversy in Africa by its frequent military interventions there. Hopefully, the peoples of Africa will not go the way of some others in fomenting violence within France in retaliation.

An interesting offshoot of the Tsunami Crisis was the announcement by U.S. President George W. Bush that a “Core Group” was being set up comprising of India, Australia, Japan and the United States to coordinate relief. This was a public acknowledgement by the most powerful individual in the world about India’s capabilities, as even today, many within the U.S. establishment seek to downgrade New Delhi to a level far below Tokyo, while others-especially those in favor of an Asian NATO-accept that India is the only country that can form the southern prong of such an alliance the way Japan holds up the north. However, because the United States and India are not yet full military allies, the Indian forces did not coordinate with U.S., Australian and Japanese units the way these three did with each other in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

(Beijing Review, Vol. 48 No. 6, 10 Feb 2005)