Friday 7 August 1998

India's Defence-Capability, Must Match Rhetoric

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

Jawaharlal Nehru had his weaknesses - as readers of
Edwina Mountbatten's biographies know - but what
compensated for them was his vision of India. It was to be
secular, it was to be technologically advanced. Where he erred
was in using rhetoric that had no relation to the reality of a
dwindling defence strength. The off-the-cuff remark that he had
"ordered the Army to throw the Chinese out" of Aksai Chin was
ineffective in staving off that country's 1962 war on India.

Strategic Reason
The Chinese had strategic reasons for keeping Aksai Chin, such
as the need to provide a corridor between Tibet and Sinkiang.
Also, till 1960-61, when Indian rhetoric about Chinese
"expansionism" escalated, that country had not interfered in
internal Indian tensions. Afterwards, both in the north-east and
briefly in the Naxalbari movement, Beijing retaliated for what it
saw as Indian "encouragement" to the Free Tibet movement. By
1971, however, Beijing's obsession with domestic matters led it
to refuse to intervene when the Bhutto-Yahya Khan armies were
being defeated by the Indians.

For six or seven years prior to 1962, the Nehru government
had deluded itself into believing that diplomatic gestures and
tough talk were sufficient to avoid war. As a result, defence
capabilities got eroded, especially in the air and on the eastern
frontier with China. Believing perhaps that the Chinese were as
prone to words unmatched by action as the Indians are, Nehru
escalated the toughness of his language even as our defence
preparedness declined. Simultaneously, kinship—both genetic
and social—was allowed to become the dominating factor in top-
level defence appointments, General B.M. Kaul being the most
obvious example.

Looking at the belligerent rhetoric of Rajesh Pilot, the bold
statements of Pranab Mukherjee, the continuation in office of the
obviously dysfunctional General Krishna Rao and the consistent
inattention paid to Indian defence capabilities, there is a sense of
history repeating itself. Once again, an escalation in language
matches—though in reverse—accompanies a fall in defence
preparedness. Should such a policy continue for the rest of the
current decade, it will take a generation before Indian defence
technology once again approaches world standards. One looks
in vain for any national interest that will be served by such
sabotage, carried out under the guise of "shortage of funds".

There has been substantial comment about "pressure" from
the U.S. on India to throttle its nuclear and space programmes.
The Clinton administration, arguably the most pro-Pakistan
team in Washington since the Nixon-Kissinger one, cannot be
blamed for attempting to ensure that this country does not
develop a substantial defence capability on its own. The model
favoured by the U.S. is clear from the example of Saudi Arabia,
which—despite its huge capital inflows—is technologically
deficient. Such underdevelopment ensures dependence on
Washington as a source of armaments, a situation favourable to
the U.S. not just strategically but financially.

However, it is not Saudi armaments that are a reason for
worry within India, though the same unconcern should not be
shown to the Saudi money being funnelled to fundamentalist
organisations in India. Pakistan, as has been the case since 1947,
is the major security concern for India, a concern now multiplied
by the desire of the Clinton administration to rearm that country.
Despite the evidence that international terrorist organisations
are using Pakistan as a logistical base, the U.S. State Department
considers Pakistan a "moderate" state. As for Pakistan stealing
and buying nuclear technologies from outside, Washington is
seeking to reward this unique path to nuclear disarmament by
revoking the Pressler amendment.

Specious Argument
As long as India was "within the Soviet sphere" and declined to
join U.S.-inspired defence pacts; as long as fundamentalist
terrorism was considered a useful weapon against communism,
some defence was possible for the flow of U.S. arms into
Pakistan. However, this alibi no longer holds. The clear fact that
any transfer of arms to Pakistan can only be the result of a policy
hostile to India needs to be stated. The argument that "moderate
Islamists" will be better able to beat back "radical Islmists" 
through the revival of the U.S.-Pakistan arms link is specious.
Today the Pakistan army is among the leading backers of
"radical Islam". lt's very war cry is jehad. Thus the transfusion
on arms to such an organisation can only be taken as one of the
steps in a policy aimed at containing the development of India
as a major strategic force.

Apart from the US, the other enthusiastic player in such a
game-plan is the Indian government, in particular that part of it
which deals with defence. The absence of not merely strategic
but even tactical thinking in recent defence policies has resulted
in the ignoring of the positive impact of adequate defence
systems on security, and consequently stability. Just as a police
force promotes economic development by deterring crime, an
adequate defence system discourages hostile intervention. It is a
reasonable hypothesis that an India that had pushed ahead with
its nuclear and missile programmes would not have been so
attractive a target as it is today for Pakistani intervention. That
Islamabad is contemptuous of this country’s ability to defend its
interests is clear from the war the ISI is (publicly) engaged in.

An Example
South Korea is an example of how greater defence spending can
coexist with rapid progress. If the security of that country had
not been ensured by effective defences, its development may
never have taken place. The blows struck by Pakistan—whether
in Kashmir or elsewhere—are costlier, even in purely economic
terms, than the expense of developing strategic systems. Pakistan,
it is argued by its backers, has a difference of perception with
India only about Kashmir. On the contrary, should the ISI
succeed in that state, the consequent weakening of this nation's
integrity will lead Islamabad to intensify terrorist activities in
other Indian states. The mindset that breeds terrorism (or, in
Washingtonspeak, "moderate democracy") feeds on success and
does not stop until the enemy is totally destroyed.

While unapologetically taking care of its own security, this
country needs to engage the world’s biggest economy in a
friendly dialogue. There is much more to Washington than the
State Department or even the White House, and there is much,
much more to the United States than Washington. After the love
affair between the ISI generals and the Pentagon cools off,
Washington may finally notice that the only major armed force
in Asia that has remained non-fundamentalist and non-political
since freedom is India’s. In the meantime, this country needs to
build bridges with major U.S. interests, such as business, rather
than indulge in the luxury of alienating what could be a decisive
ally in the attempt to change American policy into an India-
friendly one.

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