Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Foreign policy sans military might
Is like a mouth without teeth;
Often it has to swallow,
Not once can it bite.


Tibet is on fire. Nearly 60 years back, the Chinese Army occupied that country, with India’s willing concurrence born out of total blindness to its disastrous strategic ramifications. That fatal blunder converted Tibet from India’s buffer against China to the latter’s buffer against India and placed Chinese troops literally on India’s head.

Tibet is officially an autonomous region of China. But, the autonomy is only in the name. Ever since the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India in 1959, China has systematically eroded all traces of autonomy and brought in large number of Chinese settlers who, according to most accounts, now outnumber Tibetans. In short, China is single mindedly bent upon consuming Tibet completely.

When the ongoing riots broke out in Lhasa and spilled into India, where most Tibetan refugees led by the Dalai Lama live, the Indian government went into its by now all too familiar petrified state, mortally scared as it was of annoying the Chinese. When Tibetan refugees in India planned to march to Tibet, the government swung into action to stop them and please the Chinese.

All this while, strong words of condemnation were pouring in from all over the world. Germany and France cautioned China, the latter even speaking about boycotting the Beijing Olympic Games. The US responded by sending Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to meet the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala and condemn the Chinese oppression in a visible, dramatic manner.

India too reacted dramatically but in the exactly opposite direction. It cancelled the Dalai Lama’s meeting with the Vice President, fearing China’s disapproval. China thanked “friend” India for its response and support, and a few chests swelled with pride in India’s foreign office for getting that epithet from the Chinese! How much of “friend” India is and what that country thinks of it was ruthlessly conveyed publicly when India’s Ambassador to China was summoned at an unearthly 2 AM to convey China’s displeasure over a few Tibetan protestors successfully scaling the wall of the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.

Many years back, the Chinese had slapped Nehru even harder, when he too had thought that his lofty talk of friendship and cooperation, buttered by his magnanimous gesture of literally gifting away Tibet to China without asking for anything in return, had earned him the friendship and respect of that country. Not satisfied with swallowing Tibet, China wanted a lot more real estate that India thought belonged to it. When it simply ignored Nehru and went ahead and occupied Aksai Chin, Nehru finally barked and threatened to throw Chinese troops out of Indian territory.

Nehru’s bark was toothless, and the Chinese are not one to be barked down and that too by an overexcited puppy which does not know its relative strength. The result was the Indo-China war of 1962 when India was militarily humiliated comprehensively. After that even the bark was lost!

Any self respecting nation, particularly one nearly as large as China and one which was economically at the same level in the sixties, will take every possible step to ensure that it never allows itself to be so humiliated again. What has India done? It has simply given up even the thought of acquiring a military capability capable of standing up to China, while the latter is now focused on ensuring that it can militarily stand up to even the US. This perplexing and beyond logic approach has been adopted even when China has doggedly refused to settle the territorial claims which, ironically, it has been making on behalf of the very Tibetans who want China out of their country!

Recently, Chinese President Hu Jintao asked the Chinese Army to become much stronger and take on many additional roles including the one which should concern India the most. Hu wants the Army to be able fight and win hi tech regional wars. The loud message to warn India is that China may, at a time of its choosing, decide to settle its border, or any other, dispute by fighting and winning a conventional war.

Even a child understands that strength respects only strength and that the meek and toothless will be indulgently toyed with and called “friends”, only to be kicked the moment they step out of line. Yet, the unexplained mystery is that India is not willing to even talk of building its military might to deter the Chinese from contemplating launching, much less winning, a conventional regional war. Perhaps it has something to do with the stranglehold that bureaucrats have acquired over the entire government machinery, particularly the military since Independence. Any development which threatens to disturb their positional superiority over military professionals is summarily dismissed, even if the loss is to the nation. With politicians being almost completely uninformed about these matters of national importance, their task becomes easy. Career bureaucrats and diplomats keep winning, even as the nation loses face again and again.

The current uprising in Tibet was almost the perfect opportunity for India to re-articulate its historically inaccurate and disastrous “friendly” position which has cost both India and the Tibetans dear. It may be worth adding here that Tibet has never been part of an independent China. The only time it was, was when China itself was a conquered nation.Yet, once again, India has had to swallow, like a toothless nobody who can do little else.

For a nation of 1.2 billion people aspiring to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and stake a claim for a seat on the table of the great powers of the world, a nasty reality check has been given by the Chinese. This should hammer home the realization that without matching military might, India can never have the bite to back the bark it must bark about its world view and its strategic and national interests.