Friday 20 May 2011

Why India is not America? (PO)

M D Nalapat

Immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad, some military chiefs in India expressed confidence that they too were capable of carrying out a similar operation. Soon afterwards, India’s mild-mannered Prime Minister had to point out the obvious, that India was “not the US”, and therefore that it was not possible for Delhi to replicate the feat of Washington. Around the same time, in a predictable reaction to the posturing of the Indian military, ISI chief Shuja Pasha warned that “targets were prepared” for a strike, in case India carried out a US-style mission. This is, of course, no secret, that Pakistan will retaliate to an Indian strike in contrast with its acceptance of a US one. On the Indian side, even the monkeys that infest the precincts of South Block (the headquarters of the Defense Ministry) are aware that nineteen locations within Pakistan have been identified for a retaliatory attack, should there be a nuclear adventure against India. Such a sequence of action and inevitable reaction is the reason why a nuclear war between India and Pakistan is outside the realm of possibility, and why even a conventional war is almost impossible. Neither side would have much to gain from such a conflict, even should it finally prevail, and a lot to lose.

Neither India nor Pakistan are front-rank military powers, except in terms of manpower, a factor that proved of little use to Saddan Hussein in Kuwait in 1991,when tens of thousands of his troops were cut to pieces by US aircraft and missile strikes. Both depend on outside sources for critical spare parts and fuel supplies, and while India has a much bigger economy than Pakistan, a conflict with its western neighbour would make vulnerable some of the country’s most valuable assets. An example is the huge refinery at Jamnagar, which is less than five minutes flying time away from the Al Badr air base in southern Pakistan. As for a missile launched from within Pakistan,it would take only a few seconds to reach the facility. The truth is that neither country can afford a war, which is why it is all the more distressing that at least a “cold peace” is not allowed to descend on the subcontinent. Interestingly, the US - which incessantly talks of peace between two countries whose bickering has given it great leverage over both - supports hardliners such as COAS P A Kayani, and connives at moves that weaken the few doves in the Pakistan establishment, such as President A A Zardari.

For a brief while, President Zardari pointed out the very truth that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh never fails to mention, which is that both India and Pakistan need to enter into a period of stable and peaceable relations, with neither side seeking to destabilize the other. Analysts estimate that such tranquility between the two South Asian giants would add about 5% to Pakistan’s rate of growth, and more than 1% to India’s. This columnist believes that more and more people across both sides of the border appreciate the folly of seeking concessions from the other side that are politically impossible for them to accept. There is a need to formulate joint strategies against terrorism and economic and social backwardness, rather than keep away from genuine cooperation. Interestingly, these days the powerful Punjabi politcian, Mian Nawaz Sharif, seems to be articulating just such a viewpoint. Sharif has been realistic in his acceptance of the need for peace between India and Pakistan, and of the immense benefits that this would bring to both.

Should there be greater cross-border trade, both sides of Punjab can develop at a much more rapid pace, as indeed can other parts of both India and Pakistan. Sadly, apparently because he is wary of being seen by the military as too soft on India, President Zardari has distanced himself from his earlier views, and is talking in harsher tones about India. Within India, only Prime Minister Singh has the courage and confidence to continue with a positive line on Pakistan, at a time when the international community seems to be placing Islamabad in the dock for the numerous acts of terrorism committed by individuals based in Pakistan.

However, these days, there is very little appetite within the broader public for a policy of adventurism towards Pakistan, of the kind indulged in by A B Vajpayee, who spent more than $3 billion keeping hundreds of thousands of troops in strike position near the border, without once having any intention of ordering an attack. All that the mobillisation did was to allow those negative to both India and Pakistan to once again claim that the two countries were on the cusp of a nuclear exchange. Given that the establishment in both countries is rational, this is an impossibility. Of course, a fresh terror attack such as the 2008 Mumbai massacre will once again lead to diplomatic tension between the two powers. While Pakistan is identified as the source of the problem, it needs to be remembered that it is corruption and incompetence in India that has enabled so many terror attacks to be carried out ,as against the fact that there has been no attack on the US since 2001. Unlike the US, which has taken numerous steps to shut down funding networks for terrorists active against that country, in India the major “hawala” operators continue to get the patronage of both the ruling as well as the opposition parties. As these channels are used not just by terrorists, but by businesspersons, officials and politicians, these latter protect the networks, thereby preventing the capture of the terror networks that usually run such illegal money transfer Mechanisms.

While there are several apparent attempts made to roll up such hawala networks, the fact is that all this is an eyewash. For example, even a cursory glance at the two Letters Rogatory sent to Singapore and Hong Kong by the Prevention of Money Laundering authorities in India show such a disregard for grammar, spelling and actionable information that it will be difficult for the authorities in either location to do more than smile at the amateurish approach of their counterparts in India. From the introductory para ( “ Criminal Case ECIR/ MZO/02/2006-07) under the (sic) Provissions of Prevention of Money Laundering....” onwards, the Letters Rogatory have been prepared in as casual a manner as the list of 50 Most Wanted sent by India to Pakistan, where at least one of the individuals is living in a suburb of Mumbai. Unless of course the Union Home Ministry wants Pakistan to mount a commando operation to extract the person from India and then hand him back. Interestingly, those close to the investigations say that backchannel messages have been sent to Mauritius and other offshore cash havens telling them to ignore the Letters Rogatory sent to them, or to respond with non-specific replies, so that the guilty are enabled to escape, the way two Law Ministers in India enabled the Bofors bribe-taker, Ottavio Quatrocchi, to escape from both Malaysia and Indonesia. Both these worthies ( one of which is in the Congress Party and the other in the BJP) have suffered no setback in their career as a result of their deliberate incompetence, but have been rewarded for their zeal in protecting the secrets of the powerful, secrets that Quatrocchi is privy to.

This is not surprising. Although the agencies in India profess to seek to prevent crimes,yet in many (if not most) cases, huge bribes paid to politicians and officials result in deliberately slipshod briefs and requests being made, that get turned down by the other side. The experience of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the only individual caught alive after the 26/11 Mumbai attack, shows the incompetence of the Indian system in dealing with international terrorism. Given the vagaries of the Indian judicial system, it is very likely that Kasab will die of old age rather than the gallows, even though there is not a shred of doubt about his culpability. And Kasab is not alone.There are numerous cases of terrorists slipping through the cracks of the graft-ridden system in India that ensure the formation of support networks which block action against desperadoes.

Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, the mastermind of several operations in India that resulted in the loss of civilian life, is a living example of the manner in which the Indian establishment responds to a threat, or - more correctly - fails to. Had Dawood been a US citizen, he would by now either have been killed or in prison. However, because he is a citizen of India,and has access to vast sums of cash, at least six ministers in the present Maharashtra State Cabinet are regarded as close to him, as are two Union Cabinet Ministers. Dawood controls a business empire in India that is over $3 billion in size, and which is looked after by his close relatives, most of whom operate from within India in plain sight of the authorities and is indeed given official protection by them. Indeed, Dawood has more influence in the Mumbai police than the City Commissioner! While he has been sighted in Karachi, this has been denied by the Pakistan authorities, who may be unaware of him the way they were clueless about the presence of Osama bin Laden in the country since 2005. Will he ever be brought back to India? The odds are slim, for the reason that there are linkages between himself and prominent politicians, and these may be exposed, were he to be brought into the country. This being India, it is even possible that Dawood may agree to a plea bargain and return, the way some of his relatives did,and contest elections and possibly even join a future Union Cabinet. Certainly he has all the qualifications needed to be a successful politician in India.

Why, despite the incompetence and corruption of its rulers,is India still far away from catastrophe? The answer lies in the good sense of the Indian people, who carry the burden of a dysfunctional and oppressive state system with fortitude and who build their lives in a way that ensures overall progress. However, as Manmohan Singh admits, India is not the US. That country has ensured its security for a decade after 9/11,while India remains the playground of narcotics smugglers, terror syndicates and money launderers, all of whom have protection from a system where key elements seek only personal reward.

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