Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MANMOHAN GETS LEMON, KIYANI BIRYANI

After 26/11, there have been a number of commentators who have been selling the line to ordinary Indians that a strong Pakistan in India's supreme national interest and that if the former implodes, India will have to face the frightening prospect of heavily armed Talibanis and other jihadis running into India and creating mayhem here. A strong Pakistan, according to them, will be just the dove that India wants as a neighbour; its democratic government, judiciary, page three junkies and journalists will be enough to ensure that its military and 'non-state' actors are kept in check, Kashmir will then become a border-less ocean of amity and 'Aman ki Asha' will cease to be a tamasha.

Coincidentally, Pakistan has also been selling the 'strong' line to the United States. However - and this is the crucial difference we always deliberately miss - it has not been doing it so that it can live in peace with India, but to ensure that it retains the military balance that is vital for it to continue to prosecute its jihadi agenda in Kashmir and the rest of India till India falls. Worse, it has not even pretended to use fake moralistic arguments, the kind India has all but patented. On the contrary, it has deviously fought against and simultaneously promoted various terror groups to ram home the message to the Americans that their war in Afghanistan cannot be won without the help of Pakistan. More importantly, it has also demonstrated with deathly effect that once the Americans leave Afghanistan, no one else but Pakistan can ensure that the territory of that nation is not used to launch attacks against American interests across the world as well as on the mainland, and violently demanded that India must have no role to play there.

India, on the other hand, has, as always, displayed a paralysis that does not befit a nation of its size and potential. All that it has done to secure its national interests and keep America on its side is to talk of democracy, shared values, NRIs doing well in the US and, above all, its willingness to play the poor friend in awe. Remember Dr Manmohan Singh's famous words to Bush: "Indians love you deeply"? Unfortunately, that, as we should have learned by now, is the surest way to ensure the exact opposite in the long run and remain almost helplessly trapped in the reactive mode that has repeatedly cost us heavily. In 25 years, China has moved from being in awe of the US to getting the US to begin to look at it in awe; in the same period, India has just gaped as China has gone well past it and as Pakistan has closed the power gap that had opened up as a result of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of contrived sentimentalism that drives India's frightening lack of response to the challenge that it continues to face from Pakistan. What does a nation do when a senior politician and former diplomat like Mani Shankar Aiyar says that Pakistanis are our own people but for Partition, an "accident of history"? There are many other influential voices, particularly in the media, singing the same song. No doubt there are a few such voices across that Radcliffe Line too - which we revel in highlighting - but the crucial difference is that unlike here, they do not drive or even remotely influence national policy and objectives, particularly as they relate to India. As a result, while we keep tying ourselves into doing virtually nothing as a nation, Pakistan's temerarious strategists operating behind the smokescreen continue to pursue their agenda, to surprise India with monotonous regularity.

The US discovered long back that the real power in Pakistan lies in the hands of the military and not the democratically elected government. Pragmatic as a nation should be, it wasted no time to get into a substantive engagement with Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani and the military brass, while ceremoniously humouring civilian leaders and giving them doles.

India, on the other hand, has stuck to the proxy route, not knowing how to deal directly with the military. The problem which India's policy makers have created for the country is that with the kind of structures that they have put in place with cadre rather than national interest in mind, India can deal directly with the military only if there is military rule. But when there is a civilian façade, then there is no one who can engage with and understand the language of the Army Chief and DG ISI. Since the long established balance of power in Pakistan is not going to change in the foreseeable future, India should have long back had, at the very least, a retired General as the National Security Advisor and a serving one as the DG of RAW. Then, not only would have the PM not have had to lament that he did not know whom to talk to in Pakistan, but the Pakistani military would have also known that it had serious business to attend to and not dismiss vacuous political statements that had no meaning whatsoever for it.

The US is laying out the red carpet for Pakistan's Army Chief as he visits the US this week. Although the delegation is headed by the Foreign Minister, no one is in any doubt about who the real boss is. And no one - except a few romantic Indians and fewer similarly inclined Pakistanis - is disturbed about this mockery of democracy. Kiyani has a huge shopping list of arms, the objective of which is completely unambiguous: India, six times Pakistan's size, must not be allowed to disturb the power parity that Pakistan has painstakingly established over the last few decades. And he is not pleading to America's love or sense of fair play or some such nonsense to accede to his demands. As has been mentioned above, shorn of semantics, he is talking cold barter, if not old fashioned blackmail: he will help the US out of the Afghanistan imbroglio, but at a steep price.

The expensive war in Iraq followed by the economic slowdown has weakened the US more rapidly than anyone could have imagined when Bush was in the White House. Far from being able to fight two wars without feeling the pinch, the US is now not in a position to sustain even the war in Afghanistan for long. It has to pull out in the next three to four years. But without being seen to be defeated. It is primarily because of this constraint that the US has changed strategy mid-course and looks set to adopt what would have been its least preferred, almost unacceptable option a couple of years back. That is why a non-assertive, confused and almost pleading India is not only finding itself out of the loop, thanks to some brilliant maneuvering by Pakistan's military that has read the situation well, but is also going to find itself under increasing US pressure to yield ground to Pakistan on Kashmir.

The situation is changing so rapidly that the US is now reportedly actively considering giving to Pakistan the same exclusive Nuclear Deal that it has to India. This has got some analysts to condemn Dr Manmohan Singh for signing the deal with Bush. They overlook the important fact, among many, that if the deal had not been good, Pakistan would not have been demanding it for all these years. The deal does not become bad if Pakistan gets it too. What will become distasteful then is that India will lose the advantage that it had got by signing it, and get hyphenated with Pakistan again. India's leaders and policy makers need to be castigated for allowing this to happen, if it does. It is only coincidental that the Congress is in power at the moment. Be sure that nothing would have been any different had it been the BJP or any other party. It is a systemic failure because as a nation we yet have no strategic vision, no strategic objectives, no idea about how our backyard, our neighbourhood, our sphere of influence should look like and behave.

There is also strident criticism of President Obama for being 'anti-Indian'. While the imprint of a President's personality cannot be denied, let us not forget that in the US the President does not take decisions affecting national security based on the advice of an ill-informed kitchen cabinet or on a personal whim. The changes that we are witnessing now in America's Af-Pak and India policies have emerged after factoring in America's visibly reduced economic might and ability to wage war post the Wall Street collapse. Just last month, Fareed Zakaria had given an indication of the impending shift in US Af-Pak policy by giving it another spin altogether. Since India failed to exploit the golden opportunity provided by 9/11 to decisively settle problems created by Pakistan in Afghanistan, Kashmir and the rest of India, the US is now left with little choice but to prop Pakistan, the creator of the problem, and bribe it to become its solver too. This must teach India that timeless lesson about "permanent interests", but will probably not, again.

These developments cannot be good news for India at all. All those who have been romantically and brainlessly clamouring for a strong Pakistan are, if things continue in the direction they appear to be moving in now, going to have their wishes more than fulfilled in the next few years. Then we will not have leaderless jihadis of a weak nation or nations attacking India, but extremely motivated killing machines wreaking havoc here, guided by a powerful military that believes it can bloody India's nose should it take the fight into Pakistan, and helped by an even more petrified Indian leadership that will be thinking not about responding "swiftly and decisively" but about giving even more concessions to buy temporary respite and wish the immediate threat away. But the growing monster won't go anywhere, not when it is ready to 'fight for a thousand years'. Or till its ability to wage war is destroyed.

No use blaming the US for giving Manmohan a lemon and serving biryani to Kiyani. No use blaming even Pakistan for doing what it believes is in its national interest. It is we who are inviting a horrific disaster to unleash its fury on us. Eyes wide shut.
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