Sunday, January 4, 2015

Look West: Formulating a politico-strategic doctrine to solve the Pakistan problem

Wagah Border Flag Ceremony
Part 1: The search for a political endgame to the Pakistani threat

Madness has been famously defined as doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results. Going by the evolution of the Pakistan policy of India since 1971, it would seem that the entire Indian political establishment, strategic think tank and the “parallel diplomatic circuit” is infused with a madness that Lewis Carrol himself would have been proud to conceive. How else can one explain four decades of inaction which allowed this eternal enemy (make no mistake, Pakistan is one) to shake off a crushing military defeat, build strategic partnerships with two world powers, arm itself with stolen nuclear bombs, gifted fighter jets and copied missiles, incite massive insurgency in Kashmir that directly leads to ethnic cleansing of the Pandits, create a jihadist infrastructure on its soil, carry out minutely planned terrorist strikes incessantly and have the audacity to pass the blame on to “Non State Actors”? Our official policy in regards to Pakistan over the last twenty years has been reactive at best, confused at worst and a failure at all times. Between the endless bouts of track two, track three dinner parties, diplomatic stand offs and meaningless tokenisms, very little thought has been given to actually solving the Pakistan problem once and for all.

Another anniversary of the outrage committed by Pakistani terrorists on one mildly chilly November night in Mumbai passes this cathartic nation by – candles are lit, speeches are given and TV channels are flooded with faded photographs of the hapless victims. A sense of closure is attempted by hanging Ajmal Kasab, the only perpetrator who was caught alive by the Indian authorities. However, while the punishment was much deserved, in terms of impact it was similar to applying an antiseptic cream to a cancer tumour. It is clear to anybody who can read the warnings of history - as long as the Jihadi terror factories across our western border continue to operate under state patronage, India will struggle under the heavy burden of this asymmetric warfare. 

The time is ripe to form a fresh, long term, pro-active roadmap to solving this eternal crisis using our overwhelming economic superiority and conventional military edge. However, this issue cannot be solved by military might alone, especially since the nuclear card is on the table. A long term political vision has to be the basis of all future actions of the Indian state, regardless of the regime in charge at New Delhi. We need to take a fresh look at the underlying social fabric of Pakistan, drawing from the experiences of 1971 and the situation in Balochistan, Sindh, Waziristan, the Pashtun Valley and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
A strategic doctrine also needs to encompass a wider geo-political vision beyond the immediate objective of dealing with a troublesome neighbour. We must define three goals that it will work towards – military, strategic and economic. Together, these goals will dictate the Endgame to the story of Pakistan.

The first and foremost goal will be military - to achieve long term regional stability and ensure security of Indian citizens from Pakistani Jihadis. India, as a nation, cannot be held hostage to the whims and designs of Rawalpindi backed terrorists. No self-respecting country bearing ambitions to be treated as a super power will accept the senseless, perennial human cost of this proxy war. This perennial tension between India and Pakistan acts as a drag whenever New Delhi attempts to take a more assertive stance in the world stage – notice the border skirmishes which flared up during the Prime Minister’s recent address to the UN General Assembly, or the recent attacks aimed at derailing the successful democratic electoral process. The primary, non-negotiable goal for the Indian state must be the total and complete annihilation of the Pakistan backed terrorist leadership and infrastructure. 

The second, strategic goal is one of power projection and regional hegemony. Right now India finds itself in the unenviable position of being surrounded by overtly or covertly hostile states on all sides. This constricts India, denying her both breathing and living space in the region. Strategic and tactical manoeuvres are only possible when one is acting with a friend – and in this case, that friend is Afghanistan. India needs a direct access to a rock solid ally on either one of her flanks – history and current global power structure dictate the rest of the course to us. The wider economic prospects of India can only be served by the re-opening of the ancient Silk Route and extending our sphere of influence west, where we have civilizational ties from antiquity. In the same token, the land beyond the Himalayas have always been out of the Indian civilizational sphere. Even in Mahabharat, the legendary warrior Arjuna did not proceed beyond the Himalayas during his journeys. The paramount consideration for India on the east must be consolidation of its borders, and deepening ties with China. Thus, the new politico-strategic doctrine for India will lie in non-confrontation with Chinese interests in Tibet, and the creation of an Indo-Afghan axis in west.

Finally, the long term economic goal of India should be to create a stable trade and goods link to friendly regimes in Afghanistan and Iran, as well as initiate deeper ties with the resource rich Central Asian Region. This is essential to not only get access to raw materials and energy, but also to create markets to be flooded by Indian goods. A nation aspiring for superpower status needs a strong, virgin export market for its consumer goods and civilian industries, especially infrastructure, manufacture and transport.
Based on the above goals, a new political re-organization of the subcontinent needs be imagined. Achieving that reality will require unprecedented political will and long term strategic vision, something which is perennially in short supply our country. However, that is the one miracle which one must hope for.

Part 2: The path to Victory

The “Two Nation Theory” espoused by the erstwhile Muslim League in the run up to the partition of the British Indian Empire has been proven to be a failed doctrine. The survival of India as a secular, multi-cultural democracy, warts and all, and the creation of Bangladesh as an independent nation in 1971 underscore the fact that mere religion cannot be the basis of the formation of a country in the context of the subcontinent – a strong cultural and social identity is as important to create a sense of belonging to a political entity.

The oft derided “Unity in Diversity” motto that India adopted post 1947 has acted as a credible safety valve which allows a federation of dissimilar states to function, survive and somewhat prosper as a modern nation state. However, in the Pakistani context, we see an overbearing dominance of the Punjabi faction in the majority of political, cultural and military discourse, and of militant Saudi funded Wahhabism in terms of religious influence. From its very founding, the powerful in Pakistan have inexorably veered towards homogenisation attempts of a diverse cultural landscape under a Punjabi-Wahhabi umbrella. This is the phenomenon which directly led to the separation of the eastern arm of that country. The exclusion of the Sindhi, Baloch, indigenous Kashmiri and Tribal populations of modern Pakistan from the power structure is documented widely. This trend has led to marginalisation of alternative schools of thought like the Sufis, sectarian conflicts against the Shias and the Ahmadis, marginalisation of minorities and mistreatment of the Mohajirs. Above all, it has led to the perception of Pakistan as a radical Islamic banana republic armed with the bomb. 

It is through this lens of sub-surface cultural and ethnic tensions that we need to relook at our strategy of dealing with the Pakistani state as it exists now.
The problem of Pakistan is not that it is a Muslim state bordering a secular India – the problem is that hatred for India is one of the fundamental pillars keeping Pakistan’s various deprived factions united under a single alpha group i.e the Wahhabi Punjabis. The biggest flaw in Indian foreign policy (apart from sheer naiveté and ineptitude), during peace and in times of crisis, has been to deal with Pakistan as a single homogenous state even after 1971. The very fact of the successful creation of Bangladesh should have told us that the Endgame with regards to Pakistan lies in the opposite direction.

That Endgame, quite simply, is the dissolution of Pakistan as it exists now, and the creation of three new, independent states – Sindh, Balochistan and Waziristan. These will exist along with a rump Punjab and the semi-independent protectorate of Kashmir, which will share an open border with India in lieu of the existing Line of Control.

The “Akhand Bharat (Greater India)” idea, something which excites a lot of Hindu right wing political formations, is politically unachievable as things stand. The reality of partition is a baggage that cannot be discarded as of now. If there is one thing that history teaches us, it is that a decisive military victory is impossible without a favourable political situation – case in point the 1971 Bangladesh campaign. The Baloch and Sindhi population will be less than enthusiastic about embracing an Akhand Bharat – however there will be natural space in their local polity for an idea of independence from the current Pakistani state. The creation of a self-balancing neighbourhood on the western border will give India the much needed strategic options to consolidate its western arm and open up a stable channel to Afghanistan and Iran. 

The roadmap to bring about this Endgame will involve waging three different types of war – cultural, political and finally, military.
First of all, India must start a cultural and propaganda war using any and all means at her disposal – from speaking at the United Nations to releasing successful Bollywood romances that highlight the division within Pakistan and the plight of the Sindhi and Baloch populations. The objective will be to create awareness of the aspirations of the Sindhi and Baloch populations across the world and get recognition form the international community that these are “disturbed, oppressed” regions. 

At the same time, India must give overt political, financial and covert military assistance to Baloch and Sindhi separatist movements, and work with Afghan tribals to incite the Waziristan region. Indian leaders must be seen overtly interacting with Baloch and Sindhi leaders – leading to official formation and recognition of Sindhi and Baloch governments in exile. This will prop up India as a stakeholder in the conflict, as well as give legitimacy to the military action which will follow.

This existential crisis will invariably escalate to a final, desperate showdown – and this is when the Indian military must give a death blow to the Pakistani state and complete the above mentioned political objectives. This war must start and end at India’s choosing – a period of building up war fighting capability, including military presence in Afghanistan must be embedded with the overall plan. It will be up to our armed forces to decide how to effectively win this final war without allowing the subcontinent to go nuclear.

The biggest threat to these operations will come not from the Pakistani army, but from the international pressure that China and USA will bring. One must count on our Russian friends to block any shenanigans in the Security Council. Solving the diplomatic tangle that will arise is beyond the scope of this piece – but human nature teaches us that the powerful can be told to look the other way if they get something precious in return. At no point should India be in a position to have to fight a two front war – a series of trust building exercises with China - military, financial and political, is a must in the lead up to the final showdown.

The path outlined above is not easy, nor is it a quick fix to the issues at hand. However, adopting this long term plan will give India a political goal to aspire to and build towards – something beyond empty rhetoric and knee-jerk reactions of “teaching Pakistan a lesson.” Status quo in India-Pakistan relations, as it stands, will only end up harming both countries. India must seize the initiative and ruthlessly execute a long term vision, potentially spanning decades, to solve the problem once and for all. That is what “super powers” do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy "Independence" Day

Yesterday we celebrated our 64th Independence Day. Unfortunately, the shining IT fueled economic success of recent years sometimes hides the fact of how far we have to travel before we can realize Tagore's vision of India.

"Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Mumbai 26/11 - CST

Mumbai 26/11 - The Taj
Where knowledge is free;

Police action against student protests in Bangalore
Self Immolation in protest against Mandal Commission 
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; 

Protests in Kashmir
Raj Thackarey's thugs beating up a taxi driver in Mumbai
A Naxalite encampment in Chattisgarh
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; 

Caste politics still dominate the nation

Manoj and Babli, who were murdered in cold blood on the orders of Khap Panchayats
Child marriage is still widespread

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake." 

Half of the children in India are underweight

Happy Independence Day.