Wednesday 30 November 2011

NATO vs Shias: A geopolitical miscalculation (Gateway House)

By M D Nalapat
Saudi Arabia has celebrated its “diamond jubilee” and Pakistan the “golden jubilee” of a strategic partnership with the U.S. In both cases, it was the United Kingdom (UK) that was crucial to the birth of both countries. The resulting close relationship has endured; except that since the 1960s, the United States has supplanted the UK as the dominant power in Riyadh and Islamabad.
Although some recent gestures have been made by the Saudi establishment to dilute the stringent codes of behaviour that characterise the state religion of Saudi Arabia, i.e. Wahabbism, the creed continues on its global mission of converting the Muslim Ummah to its relatively harsh and antediluvian ways of thinking and living. Such proselytisation has been greatly facilitated by the financial and diplomatic muscle that comes from being fortunate enough to have both immense oil deposits as well as be the country in which Mecca and Medina are located.
The two together have given the Saudi state and its Wahabbi adherents immense influence across the Muslim Ummah, displacing the more tolerant Sufi Islam even in its homeland of Turkey. Turkey's ruling AKP's (Justice and Development Party orAdalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) ideology may get passed off as “moderate,” and in line with the country's Sufi ethos. But closer examination shows it to be ‘Wahabbi Lite.’ The theology ensures that Ankara follows Riyadh in fulfilling the core objective of Wahabbism, which – regionally – is to overthrow ‘apostates’ from authority. That means the Shia forms the largest single component of this category (if we use the Wahabbi definition) in the Islamic world. Hence the constant Wahabbi activity against the sect, seen for example in the way the Shia is suppressed in the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that their home province produces the major share of that kingdom’s oil.
In a reflexive reaction to the 1979 takeover of power in Iran by Ayatollah Khomeini – who has fashioned a theology much closer to Wahabbism than to traditional Shia Islam – the NATO powers have backed the Wahabbis over the Shia. That support was made NATO’s policy in the first decade of the 21st century, formulated by the Cheney-Powell line of adopting the Saudi definition of Friend-or-Foe. It was also the Pakistan army definition of those two categories in both the first (1979-89) and second (2001-present) Afghan wars, which the U.S. adopted. This means that NATO’s diplomatic and military assets have been officially put at the service of the Wahabbis in their (generally covert, at least as far as state agencies are concerned) crusade against the Shia, which comprises 16% of an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide.
This is an error in geopolitical policy that threatens to create the same tragic circumstances for the major NATO powers, as it has for Israel. Starting from its involvement in the Lebanon civil war in 1982, Israel preceded NATO in adopting a policy that sees the Shia as an enemy. By taking sides against the Shia and in support of the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, Ariel Sharon, then Israeli defence minister and later prime minister, became responsible for the fact that his country is the only one in the western world that is the target of Shia extremists.
Unlike the Wahabbis – and in particular, the more  extreme variants that have grown since the 1979-89 Afghan war – who target countries across continents through acts of terror, the Shia have thus far refrained from any such activity. That includes acts against the so-named ‘Crusader’ states of the U.S. and the European Union (EU) which are militarily active in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim-majority states.
Had Sharon confined the Israel Defence Force’s operations during 1982-83 to expelling the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon, it may actually have won for itself substantial goodwill within Lebanon, most of whose inhabitants looked askance at Yasser Arafat’s formations. But Sharon went further, inserting Israel into a tussle for influence between the Shia and Maronite Christians that turned violent once the Israeli army was involved.
Israel’s generous provision of supplies, logistics and finance to the Maronite formations, including to those involved in the killing of weaponless Shiites, generated the birth of Hezbollah, an armed militia that used Shia force against Maronite force. Viewing Israel as the principal backer of the armed Maronites, Hezbollah began targeting the Jewish state from the start. Since then, other Shia groups have picked up the threads, becoming part of the governance mechanism in Lebanon, and targeting Israel in missile and other strikes designed to punish it for assisting those involved in the killing of hundreds of Shia during the 1980s. Sharon’s unfortunate policy of taking sides against the Shia in an intra-Arab conflict is responsible for much of the terror attacks that the Jewish state has been facing for the previous three decades.
Noteworthy now is the way the U.S. and its other NATO allies are following the Sharon copybook, creating a foe that is likely to unleash against them a second track of terrorism – this time, Shia-driven –  in addition to the already active Wahabbi terrorism. While the origins of the ‘Sharon Line’ (of backing anti-Shia groups) are obscure, the anti-Shia path adopted by NATO seems to be a result of the close strategic ties between the alliance and Wahabbi powers such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Adding to the toxic mix is the historical reliance on the (Wahabbised) Pakistan army in dealing with threats and challenges in South Asia (including Afghanistan).
Turning NATO into a support force for the Wahabbis in their battles with the Shia and making it a policy objective, is the work of Vice-President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld. This is illustrated by their 2004-05 call for an “equitable” (i.e. non-proportional) share in Iraq’s oil wealth between the majority Shia and the minority Sunni – despite almost all Iraqi oil being produced in the Shia and Kurd areas (the Kurd are Sunni but overwhelmingly moderate and therefore non-Wahabbi). The anxiety for “equity” clearly did not extend to the Shia; Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld were conspicuously silent about the fact that less than 8% of Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth is spent in the Shia-majority eastern regions, despite this territory accounting for the bulk of the country’s oil output. Saudi Arabia treats its Shia population very differently from the way it does the Wahabbi segment. Bahrain presents an equally egregious example of discrimination against the Shia, although the sect is in a majority in that country.
Libya and now Syria are the latest triggers in the NATO decision to back the Wahabbis in the Middle East. Muammar Gaddafi was considered an apostate by Wahabbis, for the (in their view heinous) crime of permitting women to go about without a male escort or an abaya. That assassinated former ruler embraced an Islam very similar to the mild Sufi-suffused version favoured under the Turkish Caliphate.
Unlike the Saudis, who do not allow even a Shia mosque to be built in Riyadh – forget a church or a synagogue – Gaddafi allowed even non-Abrahamic faiths the freedom of worship, and openly mocked Wahabbis as being a sect that had nothing in common with Islam. This was heresy to the Wahabbi International; it waited for a chance to make him pay the price for such outpourings.
The opportunity arrived in early 2011, courtesy French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, when the duo decided on regime change in Tripoli in the guise of “protection of civilians.” That several times more civilians have been killed during and after the NATO bombing campaign in Libya – the latter in acts of revenge and tribal hatreds – has not dented the satisfaction of the two at having played a role in the Middle East similar to that played by statespersons in both countries during the period during World War I. The Wahabbi agenda of replacing Gaddafi with “true believers” has been fulfilled by NATO.
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is, in the Wahabbi theological lexicon, also an apostate. He is an Alawite, a sect which is not only Shia, but secular in its moderation, just as the (Sunni) Kurds are. The Middle East is riddled with regimes where groups that have only a small share in the total population nevertheless have control of the state. Bahrain is a more flagrant example. But it is only in Syria that NATO has been vocally concerned about such a “demographic injustice.” The alliance is now openly backing regime change in Damascus – something that has been on the agenda of Wahabbi groups across the Mideast since the 1990s although these have seldom been as open as the key NATO partners have, about such an intention.
AKP-ruled Turkey too favours the ending of the Assad dynasty in Damascus. The party has adopted the Wahabbism Lite of its progenitor, the Islamic Virtue Party, and is “moderate” only because such a stance helps it in incrementally pushing for a more conservative agenda within the country. The grand plan includes the establishment of a conservative state with its own version of Sharia Law replacing the secular code.
Groups within Turkey are actively helping Wahabbis in Egypt in their on-going street battles with the (secular) military in that country. The Egyptian resisters to the army have taken their inspiration from Turkey where, with NATO backing, Prime Minister Erdogan has pushed the secular generals out of the core of the governance mechanism, aware that the lower rungs of the military are riddled with those of their own persuasion. Unlike the Wahabbised Pakistan army, which – also with NATO backing – still calls most of the shots in Islamabad, the Turkish military has been weakened to such an extent that it is presently unable to prevent the creeping Wahabbisation of their country.
For NATO then, clearly both the secular and Shia are out, and only the Wahabbis merit across-the-board backing. This is a geopolitical miscalculation that will have tragic security consequences for the alliance within a decade.
Even before Assad has been killed or captured in Syria, Iran is now in the sight of the NATO powers, with a succession of sanctions and warnings of an attack. The country has an overwhelming Shia majority, a fact which makes it the theological foe of Wahabbi states such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia. Neither would feel any regret were Iran to be attacked by Israel or NATO, or both.
Such an attack now seems inevitable. The mullahcracy in Tehran is a collection of fanatics that has much in common with its Wahabbi foes, at least so far as attitudes to women or personal freedoms are concerned.
NATO joining Israel in an attack on Iran may be the trigger that causes a second front of terrorism – this time from the Shia – to open in Europe and in North America. Israel has less to lose from an attack on Iran, given that the Jewish state is already the prime target of Shia terror; NATO has thus far escaped this scourge, but is now forewarned.
There is still a window for NATO to course-correct. Rather than joining hands with the Wahabbis against the Shia, NATO needs to be even-handed in the dialogue and conflicts going on within the Ummah. Most importantly, it needs to team up with genuine moderates in the Muslim world against the spread of the well-funded Wahabbi International and its ideology across the globe.
Should NATO follow in the path mapped out by Ariel Sharon in 1982, it would at least have the benefit of ending the three decade-long isolation of Israel of being the only country to experience the full fury of Shia terrorism. But given the speed at which NATO is operationalising a policy of global antipathy to the Shia, and the eagerness with which the alliance is assisting foes of the sect, a Sharon-style blowback may not be long in coming to NATO shores.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

China and India: Partners, not foes (China Daily)

By M D Nalapat
If you google "China and India", you can find headlines such as "China a threat to Indian hegemonic designs", "US regional initiatives could impact China-India relations", "India lags in construction of roads along border with China" and "South China Sea crucial to India's energy, security interests". These will give you the impression that China and India are rivals, which is exactly what the West wants you to believe.

It's true that China and India have had frictions, but so have other countries and their neighbors. The fact, however, is that Beijing and New Delhi have shown remarkable similarity of views on important issues such as World Trade Organization negotiations and climate change.

Being large developing countries with high rates of economic growth, both have a confluence of interests that ensures a common policy. Both are victims of the high commodity prices, raised artificially by speculators operating from developed countries.

Although much is made of the "higher standards of financial integrity of the developed countries" compared to China and India, the 2008 financial crash revealed the greed and malpractice in the developed world, which cost investors more than $4 trillion in assets. It was theft on a scale many times bigger than financial scandals in the rest of the world put together.

Indeed, London and New York are the homes of "vulture funds", which use the legal system of advanced countries to force poor countries to pay them huge amounts as "repayment of loans", most of which were usually spent on the salaries of expatriates from the very countries giving the loans, as well as on manufactures and services from the rich countries. Iraq and Afghanistan are examples of countries where American and European Union suppliers charge very high prices.

Monday 28 November 2011

Can Rahul do a Narasimha Rao? (Sunday Guardian)

AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi at a rally during his Jan Sampark Yatra in Balrampur, UP on Thursday. PTI
haring power with "outsiders" is not a trait associated with the Nehru family, and Rahul Gandhi has been focusing on strategies whereby his party can once again rule the country on its own. To his way of thinking, it was Nehru who brought democracy to India and Indira Gandhi who protected it. As for Rajiv Gandhi, he was deprived of his legacy (and his majority) by jealous foes who spread vile calumny with the sole motive of gaining power. Rahul shares Sonia Gandhi's view that people of India need to have the strong, protective hand of the (Family-run) state, if they are to be preserved from chaos. That the only people worth taking seriously are loyalists who follow the course mapped out for them by the ruling segment of a family which alone has the wisdom and the charisma needed to keep this country from fragmenting. The Nehru family holding on to power is therefore not at all a personal goal, but a key national priority.
Only Mayawati can boast of a cadre as loyal to the boss as the Congress party. Partly, this result comes out of triage, as those of suspect loyalty are mercilessly excluded from top positions. However, the major reason for such devotion is that fealty to The Family is immensely profitable for an individual and his clan, as witness the rise and rise — and rise — of Vilasrao Deshmukh. Farmers may commit suicide in their hundreds, administration may become so soggy that Maharashtra now is closer to pre-Nitish Bihar than to neighbouring Gujarat in effectiveness of governance. Family members may cavort in Dubai with dubious elements, some of whom had Indian passports before these were thrown away. Officers known for graft may flock to the portfolio held by the regional strongman. Complaints may arrive with the frequency of snowflakes in an Arctic winter. No matter. The only attribute used to form a judgement is Loyalty, with a capital L. Sonia and Rahul are fiercely loyal to those fiercely loyal to them.
Sonia Gandhi has clearly attained a fluency in handling her party, a gift passed on to her two children, Priyanka, and Rahul Gandhi, who has retained the loyalty of his chosen team in the manner of his mother and grandmother. Unlike his father, who switched the personnel in his team almost as often as he changed Chief Ministers. The Rahul cohort follows the example of Ahmed Patel in being discreet to the point of secrecy, and in ensuring that one's head be constantly kept below the radar. They keep out of the media spotlight.
Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru, who stressed policy over politics, Indira Gandhi acted in accordance with the axiom: Politics in Command. For her, turning left or right in policy, rewarding an individual or punishing another, was always on the basis of political impact. While policies could get tweaked or changed, the fundamental principle of politics — power — was never lost sight of. While Rajiv Gandhi was in a mould of his own, Sonia Gandhi has returned to the Indira Gandhi model. The NAC, for example, has been filled with admirers and acolytes, and her backing for any specific policy is always with an eye on its impact on politics. She and her chosen advisors have been good at dreaming up schemes that entail huge expenditures, without once bothering about how the country will grow enough to afford such outlays.
The increased complexity of the global environment, added to the needs of a huge population, mandates a shift away from a politics-filled model to a model of Policy First. Of course, India in 2011 is very different from what it was in the 1950s or the 1970s, and hence policies that are 21st century relevant will need to get formulated and implemented. While some of Rahul's (all too few) policy speeches have been in the Indira-Sonia Politics First mould, others (in the past) have honed in on policy issues, sometimes at the cost of "politics as usual". The brushing off of an alliance with Lalu Yadav during the last Assembly elections and the broadsides against Mayawati show a Jawaharlal-style contempt for the axiom that each gesture, each speech, has to be based on present day political ground realities. Rahul Gandhi seeks to ensure that the Congress party takes away enough of the votes of the secular parties to make them marginal. However, he is attempting to do this the way his mother does, by throwing open the exchequer in the manner of Indira-style loan melas. A flood of cash has erupted from the RBI, drowning all efforts at lowering inflation, while government spending has ballooned together with a vigorous Raid Raj by the Income-Tax authorities.
ndira Gandhi made no real effort at improving the quality of governance. Instead, on the same model as Vilasrao Deshmukh's Maharashtra, she presided over a system of patronage that depended on grease for its salience. As the anti-corruption movement is showing, the public at large has had enough of Politics as Usual. They want sound policies, and the will to implement them. During 1992-95 (till the split in the Congress party paralysed him), Narasimha Rao changed the policy matrix in a way that semi-transformed India. Does Rahul Gandhi have the will and the wisdom to do a Narasimha Rao at a time when reform has disappeared from the lexicon of his party? Or will he continue the Indira-Sonia politics (sorry, policies) that have since 2004 converted the manufacturing economy of India from growth to stagnation, and threatens to do the same to a once-vibrant services sector?

Sunday 27 November 2011

Animosity between PC, Swamy spans decades (Sunday Guardian)

Madhav Nalapat, New Delhi | 27th Nov
P. Chidambaram
t was 1977 and the Janata Party had astonished media pundits by coming to power on the distaste created by the Emergency for the Congress party. A slim lawyer from Tamil Nadu shyly came up to the Stormy Petrel of the period, Subramanian Swamy, who had just been elected to the Lok Sabha from Bombay, the city his Parsi wife Roxna regarded as home. During the Emergency, Swamy had stealthily entered Parliament House, quickly signed the attendance register, and vanished before policemen could apprehend him. Swamy was, because of his opposition to the Emergency, one of that period's Most Wanted.
Although regarded with less than affection by A.B. Vajpayee, he was a favourite of Morarji Desai, and had come back to India after giving up a teaching career at Harvard. Palaniappan Chidambaram, the lawyer from Tamil Nadu, was one of the editors (together with N. Ram of the Hindu) of the Radical Review, a left publication strongly in favour of nationalisation of private assets (the Hindu and the Chidambaram family's assets presumably excluded). Chidambaram reminded Swamy that he was one of his appreciative Harvard pupils, only to get a cold stare from the newbie celebrity, and a "who are you?" look
Although it failed with Swamy, Chidambaram's youth and clipped accent, so different from the denizens of Mylapore or Egmore, impressed Rajiv Gandhi. He was inducted into the Central Council of Ministers in 1984, as Minister of State in the Home Ministry, no less. Some of his joy at the elevation in his status was probably tempered by the sight of the forgetful Harvard professor, who seemed to have won the affection of the PM to an even greater degree than Chidambaram. What was Swamy doing, meeting the PM? Discreet warnings about the opposition element who had "opposed Indira Gandhi" had little effect on Rajiv Gandhi, who liked to surround himself with those who had taken a political line different from that of the Congress party. Swamy continued to meet with the PM regularly, and even do secret missions for him, tasks that were not confided to the Minister of State by either Swamy or the PM.
The situation was made intolerable for Chidambaram by (the then Rajya Sabha MP) Swamy raising the Hashimpura massacre in Parliament in 1987. The killing of more than 40 Muslim youth by the UP Provincial Armed Constabulary had sickened the nation, and both officials as well as politicians sought to distance themselves from the foul deed. Swamy did not allow Chidambaram such a luxury. He accused the minister of doing an "aerial reconnaissance" of the killing field, the implication being that the lawyer-turned-politician was behind the massacre. This was crossing a huge red line, and it was dangerous to be so foolhardy with Chidambaram, whose memory for slights rivals that of a Pathan tribal elder.
Subramanian Swamy
Although on the record, backers of the current Union Home Minister deny any role in Swamy's travails, others claim that Chidambaram waited for an opportunity to strike back. He was clearly patient, holding his fire when Swamy briefly became Commerce Minister in the Chandrashekhar government. The Tamil Nadu politician, whether because of the presence within it of Swamy or not, was one of the most persistent advocates of the Congress party withdrawing support to Chandrashekhar, advice that Rajiv Gandhi finally took in 1991, forcing the election that caused him his life.
Palaniappan Chidambaram is aware that he is a gift of nature to humanity, and is generous with advice to acolytes. It must rankle that Swamy has never, not even once, turned to him for guidance. To Chidambaram's chagrin, although he was Minister of State for Commerce with independent charge in the Narasimha Rao ministry, Swamy was made chairman of the GATT Commission set up to assist in the negotiations with that international trade body. Worse, he was given Cabinet rank, a slight that Chidambaram held against Rao thereafter, finally breaking with the PM in 1996 in the company of his old benefactor, Govindaswamy Karuppiah Moopanar. When H.D. Deve Gowda formed a government in 1996, Chidambaram became the Union Finance Minister.
Soon afterwards, a chance presented itself to send Subramanian Swamy to jail. The stormy petrel of Emergency days had taken over in 1997 as chairman of a trust set up by "spiritual guru" Chandraswamy, after Dr P.C. Reddy (the founder of the Apollo Group) resigned after Chandraswamy was targeted by the Finance Ministry for FERA violations, the godman's real offence being his closeness to one of Chidambaram's betes noire, former Prime Minister Rao. Although Swamy had just been inducted into the trust, and therefore had no role in any of the transactions being investigated, an arrest warrant was issued for him. Was it to be checkmate? Would Chidambaram succeed where Indira Gandhi had failed during the Emergency? Unfortunately for him, before Swamy could be arrested, Prime Minister Deve Gowda learnt of the warrant, and got it cancelled. Till recently, Swamy had been Gowda's nominal boss as president of the Janata Party, of which Gowda had been the Karnataka state boss, till he quit to join hands with the Janata Dal.
While Chidambaram may be a Pathan in his outlook, Subramanian Swamy is Sicilian. Soon after escaping from the prospect of jail in 1997, he filed a complaint against Chidambaram, alleging that the Finance Minister had misused his position to get promoters shares in Fairgrowth, an investment subsidiary of a nationalised bank. The Delhi High Court issued notice to the minister, who admittedly had been allotted the shares. However, masterful arguments by counsel Arun Jaitley led to the court asking Swamy for a fresh complaint, because of a technicality. Fortunately for Chidambaram, the Lok Sabha elections took place soon afterwards, in 1998, and Swamy lost interest in pursuing the case. Litigation is a full-time job in India, not a task one can attempt in one's spare time.
Although there were rumours that Chidambaram would join the BJP in 2003, a year later he re-emerged as Finance Minister in the Congress-led government headed by Manmohan Singh. From that lofty perch, he could perhaps afford to ignore Private Citizen Swamy, who by the 1999 polls was out of both government as well as Parliament. However, the converse was not true, especially after 2008, when a group of Telecom Ministry officials secretly called on Swamy at his New Delhi residence and gave him details of what they claimed was massive fraud in the allocation of 2G spectrum. By the beginning of 2011, Swamy became convinced that the scam had been perpetrated by both Raja and Chidambaram, with the Congress stalwart being the "senior partner". According to Swamy, it was Chidambaram who told Raja about the escape route that the companies that had been allocated spectrum could take to get over the three year lock-in period. Rather than sell the spectrum, they could sell the entire company, and thereby the spectrum.
as Chidambaram told in writing by then Home Minister Shivraj Patil about security concerns regarding Etisalat and Telenor, the two foreign companies that bought two of the Indian entities that had been given 2G spectrum by A. Raja sans an auction? Are there minutes of meetings between Raja and Chidambaram that show that the decisions taken were arrived at jointly, rather than (as numerous media plants claim) Chidambaram opposing Raja? Swamy says yes. On 26 August 2011, Swamy went to the Supreme Court asking for Chidambaram to be included as a culprit in the 2G scam. The very next day, the Crime Branch of the Delhi police (which directly reports to the Home Ministry, headed by Chidambaram since 2008) registered an FIR against Swamy for an article that he had written in DNA. The game of Catch between the two Tamil politicians thus goes on, so far with neither man succeeding in sending the other to jail.

Saturday 26 November 2011

For China, Pakistan comes first (PO)

By M D Nalapat
In July 2010,the Kashmir factor led to India stopping all defense ties with China, including the sending of delegates to conferences. After having given him a visa, the authorities in Beijing abruptly cancelled - just before his departure for Beijing - permission to visit China for Lt-Gen B S Jamwal, chief of the Northern Command, whose area of responsibility includes Kashmir. Incidentally, the officer himself hails from the state. There was no reason given by the Chinese side for what was taken on the Indian side as a serious act of discourtesy towards a senior military officer. Informally, it became known that Beijing was reluctant to host an officer who had been active in operations in Kashmir.

It was suggested to the Indian side through informal channels that another officer, from a different army command zone, ought to be sent. Instead, an angry Defense Ministry cut off all defense links with China. Earlier, the Chinese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs had annoyed the External Affairs Ministry by giving only stapled visas to visitors from India who hailed from Kashmir. For some time, a discussion had taken place as to whether India ought to retaliate by giving stapled visas to Chinese visitors from Tibet, but finally the doves in the MEA prevailed over the hawks, and nothing was done. This may have led the Chinese authorities to believe that there would only be a pro forma Indian reaction to cancelling Lt-Gen Jamwal’s visit. Certainly there was surprise in Beijing at the sharp Indian reaction to the treatment meted out to one of the country’s most respected army generals.

The Defense Ministry is usually much more strident about China than the Ministry of External Affairs, which is usually very sensitive to Beijing’s concerns. After the Jamwal visa cancellation, the 
National Security Advisor of the Prime Minister, Shivshankar Menon, agreed with Defense Minister A K Antony that “enough is enough”, and supported the total snapping of defense exchanges in retaliation for the snub. Such a strong response had not been expected by the Chinese side, who tried for months to get such exchanges to re-start,but failed to persuade North Block (the Ministry of Defense). The Annual Sino-Indian Defense Dialogue, which had last been held in January 2010, got indefinitely postponed.

While on the surface there was a complete cessation of contacts, behind the scenes a compromise was arrived at in seven months. China gave a visa to the Lt-Gen in charge of the Northern Command, although by this time, Lt-General Jamwal had been transferred. Having made the point that a visa ought not to be denied to the Northern Command chief, Delhi restarted defense links. At the same time, Beijing had the satisfaction of knowing that the officer who had been rejected for a visa was not included in the Indian delegation. As North Block has once again restarted the defense dialogue with China, the next annual meeting of the two sides is scheduled on December 8,2011, with high-level participation on both sides.

Interestingly, on the Indian side, the talks will be led by Union Defense Secretary S K Sharma, a civil servant who - if we except a possible stint in the National Cadet Corps decades ago as 
a college student - has had no military experience whatsoever. India is the only major democracy that totally excludes serving military officers from holding posts in the Defense Ministry. Such jobs are the monopoly of generalist officers, who may come to the ministry after stints in the ministries of Fisheries, Sports and Culture. Their experience in mastering the intricacies of prawn cultivation in the backwaters and helping dancers travel on junkets abroad is expected to give them the expertise needed to take decisions on the purchase of key defense items.

Needless to say, politicians find it much more convenient to have generalists rather than specialists in charge of the procurement process, as the former can be more easily persuaded to buy expensive weapons systems that are best in fighting not the next war but the last. Often, substandard equipment gets purchased. As the 
officials in the Defense Ministry are in no danger of ever going near the front line of a conflict, they are unconcerned about the suitability or

otherwise of the weapons systems that politicians want them to buy. When compared to the equipment of a Peoples Liberation Army soldier on the Line of Actual Control between China and India, the Indian soldier has equipment that is often inferior. For example, night-vision capabilities are low, while body Armour is much heavier in the Indian army than in the PLA.

It was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who ensured the exclusion of the military from the Ministry of Defense. Both Nehru and his daughter (also Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi feared the possibility of a military coup. They ensured that the military was kept far 
away from those who make encourage such a coup, namely the US. Fear of a coup grew after the deposing and subsequent murder of President Salvador Allende of Chile in 1973,and the brutal murder of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and most of his family by junior army officers in August 1975. The killings shocked Indira Gandhi, and was taken by her as vindication for her June decision to impose a State of Emergency in India that took away fundamental rights, including the right to life, and which got lifted only 21 months later. It shows the inertia of the traditional system in India that the exclusion of specialists, including from the military, in the Defense Ministry is still continuing in an era when a military coup in India is even less likely than it was in the 1970s. The only time there may have been a chance of a coup in India was in 1959,when then Chief of Army Staff Kodendera Thimayya got exasperated at the cuts in defense spending implemented by then Finance Minister Morarji Desai (who, like Nehru, was a pacifist) and the hectoring manner of Defense Minister Krishna Menon.

It was no secret at the time that General Thimayya favoured a tilt towards the US, in place of the USSR-leaning policy of “non-alignment” that was the brainchild of Prime Minister Nehru. He saw the US as India’s natural partner, much better than the USSR. Whether there was any external suggestion to the army chief to launch a coup (the way General Ayub Khan did in 1958 in Pakistan) we will never know. However, the reality of a political organisation, the Congress Party, that was spread across the country (and which had seen off the once-invincible British Raj) ensured that Thimayya never put the plan for a military coup into operation. The situation in China is very different from that of India. Senior military officers are seeded within the Minuistry of Defense, and indeed run the department. Further, the Chinese
Communist Party has set up the Central Military Council, which too is filled with serving military officers,and is headed by the top leader of the country, now President Hu Jintao.

When the Chinese side sits down to meet with the almost-entirely non-military Defense Delegation from India, it will be headed by General Xiaotian Ma, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the PLA, and will comprise of military officers. Such a disconnect itself creates problems of perception and communication between the two sides, something not seen in the case of PRC defense dialogues with Pakistan, where uniformed personnel conduct the meeting from both sides of the table. The Chinese are unable to understand how and why the Indian side always conducts technical discussions with generalists. The same civil service officer ( who may hold an MA in Hindi Literature) may 
lead the Indian delegation on Climate Change at an international conference one year, before chairing the Indian team in WTO negotiations the next year, and in Defense the year after. If India is still progressing reasonably in spite of such a dysfunctional system, one that has no space for expertise even in complicated fields of governance, it is entirely due to the mercy of the Almighty.

India and China are too big for each other to neglect. Thus far, the PLA has been hesitant to establish closer ties to its Indian counterpart, for fear of annoying its old friends in Pakistan. Unlike the US, which has made no secret of its eagerness to develop close strategic ties with India, thus far China has openly adopted a policy that places Pakistan well above India in strategic weight, although for the record Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spokespersons say that they are pursuing a policy that gives equal weight to both. The CCP and the PLA have not followed the US in constantly asking Pakistan to “respect the security needs of India”. Clearly, he Chinese leadership believes that Islamabad is far more valuable as a partner than Delhi, trade and other factors notwithstanding.