Thursday, 30 August 2018

Changing geopolitics: New order is emerging

Satish Kumar

The world order that emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War under the leadership of the United States had, in the words of Henry Kissinger, the following features: “An inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, forswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance”. It was rooted in the Westphalian consensus of 1648 which comprised “a multiplicity of political units, none powerful enough to defeat all others, many adhering to contradictory philosophies and internal practices in search of neutral rules to regulate their conduct and mitigate conflict”. Thus, the post-war system had two basic components: “a set of commonly accepted rules that defined the limits of permissible action, and a balance of power that enforced restraint where the rules break down, preventing one political unit from subjugating all others”.

The first major jolt to the post-war balance of power was when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, leading to the emergence of the “unipolar” world led by America. But this was challenged when a non-state transnational actor struck at the heart of America’s sovereignty on September 11, 2001. Since then the world order has been in flux. Global norms are being violated. Territorial conquests are being undertaken. The national sovereignty of other nations is not respected. The world is seeing the birth pangs of a new balance of power. The shape it will take remains unclear.
The most significant development is China’s rise in the 21st century. China’s economic growth, spurred by Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 economic liberalisation, brought miraculous results by the beginning of the 21st century. China’s GDP jumped from 2.3 per cent of the world total in 1980 to 7.3 per cent in 2000, 17 per cent in 2015 and is estimated to be 18.5 per cent in 2018. By 2017, it was the biggest exporter, capturing 13 per cent of world exports. Exports constitute 38 per cent of its GDP. In 2017, its military expenditure was 13 per cent of the world total, making it the second biggest arms spender. China’s growing power led Xi Jinping to enunciate the “Chinese Dream” concept in 2013, that implied restoring China’s “national glory”, making it the sole superpower by 2049, the centenary of its 1949 revolution. China’s global behaviour acquired arrogance and aggressiveness, which became manifest in the South and East China Seas and the India-China border. China rejected the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s award in 2016 which upheld the Philippines’ view that China’s claim to the nine-dash line was invalid under international law. China continued to reclaim the strategically located islands in the South China Sea and build military structures on them, violating the principle of freedom of navigation. Chinese behaviour thus reflected attempts to make territorial conquests, violate the national sovereignty of others and disrespect the rule-based international order. The next important dynamic was Russia’s resurgence in the 21st century, which is really the Putin era. He has been Russia’s President since 2000, except for the 2008-2012 period. Mr Putin sought to reassert Russia as a great power and to restructure international order, which he believed was heavily tilted in favour of the US. He strove to build a robust military able to project power and safeguard Russia’s strategic interests. Russia’s defence spending, which was $27 billion and just 2.4 per cent of GDP in 2006, reached $61 billion in 2016, that was 4.5 per cent of its GDP. Russia annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 without any Western resistance, and continued to intervene in Ukraine to not allow it to become a part of the Western bloc. Russia’s military intervention in Syria has successfully strengthened its ally Bashar al-Assad, forcing the West to accept Russia as a power to be reckoned with. But Russia has clearly shown its ability to commit territorial aggression and violate the sovereignty of other nations with impunity. The rule-based international order is thus fractured.

The third obvious power contributing to the breakdown of the post-war order is the US itself. The US is doing the maximum damage to the international system by proclaiming the “America First” doctrine under President Donald Trump, which cuts into the very spirit of “collective security”, the basis of the United Nations. Mr Trump’s “unilateralism” and arrogance derive from the fact that US remains militarily the most powerful nation in the world. Mr Trump’s unilateralism is evident in his withdrawal from the Paris climate change pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Iran nuclear deal and his admonition to Nato members over inadequate military expenditure. His humiliating remarks to Nato leaders, imposition of tariffs on European imports and bouts of coziness with the authoritarian leaders of China, Russia and North Korea have weakened the Western alliance. The fact that neither he nor his predecessor thought it prudent to militarily resist China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea means that violation of national sovereignty is now being seen as permissible.

The increasing importance of the Indo-Pacific region, China’s attempts to dominate it and the rise of the “Quadrilateral” to counter the domination is another set of variables which have disturbed the existing balance of power. About 25 per cent of the entire seaborne oil traffic, amounting to over 15 million barrels per day, is handled by the Malacca Straits. China and Japan are dependent on it upto 80 per cent and 60 per cent of their needs respectively. The rising energy needs of China and India make the Indo-Pacific region a fiercely competitive battleground between China and India. The coming together of the US, Japan, Australia and India to collectively ensure freedom of navigation in the entire region is therefore an important strategic initiative which is likely to impact the emerging world order.

The Helsinki summit between Presidents Trump and Putin on July 16 reinforced these trends. It also further widened the rift within US politics and weakened the Western alliance. On the other hand, Russia’s stature got elevated. As a result, the Russia-China alliance will get greater salience.

In this volatile international situation, one can only discern the contours of the emerging order which may need some more years to take shape. It is very clear that the United States will no longer be looked upon as a dependable partner. Alliances and partnerships will be a thing of the past. Relations will be conducted on an ad hoc basis. There will be a power sharing struggle between the US, Russia and China as major military powers. They will dominate global decision-making in matters of peace and security. Europe, India and Japan as significant economic-cum-technological powers will emerge as the “swing” states, casting their votes in accordance with their national interests. So also will be the behaviour of most regional powers. The UN Security Council, whose permanent membership may remain unchanged in the foreseeable future, is likely to be disregarded more than ever before because of a lack of consensus among the major powers. As far as India is concerned, it has to register much faster economic growth and military modernisation to graduate to the status of a principal actor from a mere “swing state”.

The writer is editor of India’s National Security Annual Review, and a former professor of diplomacy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The Asian Age, August 1, 2018

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

India’s National Security Dilemma

India has allowed an image to be created in the chanceries of the world that it is a reluctant power, unwilling to use force in defence of its national interest. Over the last fifteen years, it has taken a beating at the hands of Pakistan and China, and has not been able to develop a suitable response to Pakistan’s aggressiveness and China’s coerciveness. Even when it was victorious in a war, it failed to take advantage of its victory by extracting the fruits of victory in 1947-48, while successfully preventing Pakistan from capturing the state of Jammu and Kashmir, we stopped short of recovering the whole territory from Pakistani occupation.
In 1965, we won the war, but returned the strategically important area of Haji Pir Pass after occupying it while signing the peace agreement at Tashkent in January 1966. In 1971, we won the war and delivered independence to Bangladesh, but failed to get the ceasefire line in Kashmir converted into an international border while signing the Simla Agreement in January 1972. In 1999 during Kargil War, we drove the enemy back across the Line of Control, but did not cross the LoC to destroy the terrorist training camps in PoK.
When India’s Parliament House was attacked by Jaish-e-Mohammed militants in December 2001, we mobilised around 5,00,000 troops and three armoured divisions under the code name of “Operation Parakram”, but decided not to attack Pakistan because of the US intervention.
When Lashkar-e-Tayyeba militants attacked Mumbai in November 2008, we again decided not to take any retaliatory action for fear of getting involved in the war which might lead to crossing the nuclear threshold. More recently in January 2016 when Pathankot airbase was attacked by Jaish militants, we drew enormous satisfaction from the fact that we succeeded in killing all the militants and the thought of any retaliatory action did not even enter our minds, particularly because we were basking in the glory of Prime Minister Modi’s surprise visit to Lahore on 25 December, the birthday of Nawaz Sharif.
Ever since the development of nuclear weapons capability by Pakistan in 1987, we are paralysed in the formulation of our response because Pakistan threatened to unleash their nuclear weapons against India if India used its superior conventional might in the event of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. Our paralysis at the military front encouraged Pakistan to continue its terrorist attacks. After every terrorist attack, we suspended bilateral dialogue with Pakistan and made its resumption conditional on concrete action against terrorists. That action never came. Nor will it ever come. Our policymakers must understand the reasons to be able to get on the right track with regard to Pakistan.
Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, the organisation responsible for the 26/11 attack, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the outfit which carried out the Parliament attack and the Pathankot airbase attack are both Punjab-based organisations, heavily admired and protected by the people of Punjab. The biggest value of these organisations is that Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Jamaat-e-Islami rely on them for mobilising votes and providing muscle power at the time of provincial and national elections. While this is a strong enough reason for the civil and military leadership not to touch them, the fear of death to anyone opposing them compounds the situation. The high popularity graph of these organisations in Punjab is explained by the charity work done by them, which in turn is funded by the industrialists and traders of Punjab. And of course, the security establishment which floated these organisations would like to continue to use them for strategic objectives in Afghanistan, Kashmir, rest of India and against the US, the Jews and so on.
In the words of Mujahid Hussain, the author of a pioneering work on extremism in Punjab, “There are hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan who support Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and love their ‘jihadi performance’ and who firmly trust that India would disintegrate sooner or later if these organisations continue their present activities, and not only will Kashmiris but the Muslims of India will also get freedom.” Talking of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the author says that Bahawalpur, Rahimyarkhan and Bahawalnagar districts are its strongholds “as thousands of youth are recruited from these districts not only for jihad in Kashmir and for Al Qaeda and Taliban’s assistance in Afghanistan, but also for the sectarian killing spree within the country”.
Lack of evidence against LeT and JeM for acts of terrorism in India will continue to be the reason for Pakistani courts to not take any action against them. On this the Pakistani state and society seem to be firmly united. It is futile for India to keep waiting for action against them before holding the dialogue. While dialogue may or may not be pursued, Indian policymakers will have to seriously think of options in the realm of deterrence and/or retaliation in the event of a terrorist attack. The dilemma that holds India back must be resolved.
We find ourselves helpless in the face of China’s assertiveness and coerciveness as well. The well-known Chinese strategic dictum is “to win a war without having to fight a battle”. Constant coercion in whatever form possible and deliberate delay in resolving disputes with the adversary is the Chinese way of getting the best terms from the enemy at the negotiating table. That is why despite eighteen rounds of Special Representative Talks on the border dispute we are nowhere near a solution. Major border trespassings took place at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2013 and 2014 and minor ones continue periodically and are justified on the plea of different perceptions of the LAC on both sides.
China continues to lay claim to Arunachal Pradesh and insists that Tawang belongs to China being formerly a part of Tibet. It disregards the fact that Arunachal Pradesh is represented in the Indian Parliament. China continues to support the Pakistani occupation of Pakistan-held Kashmir and reinforces this occupation by undertaking development projects in that region. We lost our leverage vis-a-vis China by recognising Tibet as a part of China. There is nothing left in our strategic armoury to deter China from committing acts of aggression or coercion against us. China’s aim is to keep us down and out as a supplicant in the Chinese court begging for resolution of the border dispute.
The strategy of improving relations in other areas pending the resolution of the border dispute has also failed. There is no doubt that China has emerged as our largest trading partner but out of the total trade of $72 billion in 2014-15, the trade deficit against us was of the magnitude of $48.5 billion. There is no hope of the situation being remedied in the near future. Chinese FDI in India from 2000 to 2015 was barely $1.2 billion. China has not been enthusiastic about India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council and is totally opposed to India’s membership of the Nuclear India should be confident of the fact that it is a ranking power.
According to a study done by Foundation for National Security Research in 2012, India ranks 8th in terms of economic capability in the world and 7th in terms of military capability, as compared with China 2nd and 3rd respectively and Pakistan 27th and 11th respectively. Economic capability was computed on the basis of GDP, foreign trade and growth rate while military capability was computed on the basis of armed forces and equipment, defence expenditure and doctrinal issues.
In terms of GDP (PPP-based), India ranks number 3; in military manpower, India is at number 2. In defence spending, India ranks number 4, along with Germany.
If India lacks something, it is political will to act. There is something missing in our strategic culture because of which we are not able to act assertively. Our wish to emerge as a major power does not seem to be commensurate with our will to act to defend our interests and to play a due role in discharging global responsibilities.
The writer is editor of India’s National Security Annual Review and a former JNU professor

Published in The Asian Age, 16 March 2016

Friday, 10 July 2015

Is South China Sea a Potential Flash Point?

The South China Sea dispute involving conflict of sovereignty between China and its neighbours over a huge mass of sea containing immense reserves of oil and gas is fast emerging as a global flashpoint more serious in implications than Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea. The closest parallel can perhaps be Ukraine. While China’s claim to the area defined by the nine-dashed line is considered to be exorbitant and without any basis in international law, the US intervention in the dispute by advocating freedom of navigation in international waters has raised the pitch to dangerous levels.
Strategic Importance
The South China Sea is among the most important waterways of the world. Trade passing through this sea exceeds $5 trillion every year, more than 20% of this being US trade. According to Chinese sources, the South China Sea may contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil. From other sources, estimates vary. One source puts it as just about 7.5 billion barrels or 1.1 billion tons. A US source puts the reserves to be 28 billion barrels. There is also a wide variety of natural gas estimates ranging from 900 trillion cubic feet to 2 quadrillion cubic feet. Besides, the sea has valuable fishery reserves.
Countries which have conflicting claims to sections of South China Sea are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei (ASEAN members) and Taiwan. The current round of tensions in South China Sea began in 2009 when Vietnam and Malaysia made a joint submission to the United Nations with regard to a section of their extended continental shelves in the area. China responded by submitting an objection to the UN Commission on the Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) criticising Vietnamese and Malaysian infringement of its claims. The Chinese claims were defined in the form of an ambiguous map that covered nearly the entire sea. This map consisted of nine dotted lines disjointed from each other but circling the entire sea at a certain distance from the coastlines of all the countries situated on the sea. It has come to be known as the Nine Dash Line and has become infamous for reasons of its ambiguity.
Code of Conduct
In December 2002, China and ASEAN countries signed a “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea” reaffirming their commitment to the UN Charter and to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to other universally recognised principles of international law. They also committed themselves to the freedom of navigation in and over flight above the South China Sea and to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force. In July 2011, China and the four contesting countries, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei signed another agreement on preliminary guidelines which would help resolve the dispute.  
Recent flare-ups in the South China Sea originated from an incident between China and the Philippines in April 2012. On 8 April, a Philippines surveillance vessel spotted Chinese fishermen in disputed waters and moved to arrest them. A nearby Chinese coast guard vessel immediately came and challenged the Philippines vessel. In the resulting standoff, the Chinese used non-military vessels to create a physical barrier across the mouth of the reef. During the ten weeks that followed China used its economic leverage over Cambodia, then Chairman of ASEAN, to divide the organisation and create disunity among its members over the South China Sea issue.
China Objects to Indian Presence
On 22 July 2011, the INS Airavat, an Indian amphibious ship on a friendly visit to Vietnam was contacted 45 nautical miles from the Vietnamese coast by a party identifying itself as the Chinese Navy. It said that the ship was entering Chinese waters. As the Indian Navy did not see any ship or aircraft, the INS Airavat continued on its scheduled journey. There was no confrontation involving the INS Airavat.
In September 2011, the Oil and Natural gas Corporation of India (ONGC) said that its overseas investment wing, ONGC Videsh Ltd., had signed a three year agreement with PetroVietnam for developing long term cooperation in the oil sector, and that it had accepted Vietnam’s offer of exploration in certain specified blocks in the South China Sea. China, without referring to India by name, responded, “China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island [sic]… As for oil and gas exploration activities, our consistent position is that we are opposed to any country engaging in oil and gas exploration and development activities in waters under China’s jurisdiction. We hope that foreign countries do not get involved in South China Sea Dispute.” An Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman responded, “The Chinese had concerns, but we are going by what the Vietnamese authorities have told us and [we] have conveyed this to the Chinese”.
China’s Strategic Ambiguity
China is said to be deliberately following a policy of “strategic ambiguity” with regard to its claim to South China Sea by defining it in terms of Nine-Dash Line which is a vague and disjointed line not based on any recognised principles of international law. Some scholars believe that this line cannot be considered as a maritime boundary line because it violates maritime law which states that a national boundary line must a stable and defined one. The Nine-Dash Line is not stable because it was reduced from 11 to 9 dashes by removing 2 dashes in the Gulf of Tonkin at the behest of Chinese Premier Zhon Enlai without giving any reasons. It is also not a defined line because it does not have any specific geographic coordinates and does not explain how it can be connected if it was a continuous line. But this policy of ambiguity in defining its claim line seems to serve China’s purpose well. It allows China the flexibility to interpret its position to serve the occasion and the audience at hand. However, the Philippines and Vietnam have declared this line as against international law, particularly the UNCLOS. The United States too echoed that disdain. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a regional conference in Hanoi in 2010 said, “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
China’s Land Reclamation Increases Tensions
International media reported in March this year that China was “creating a great wall of sand” through land reclamation in the South China Sea. It was building artificial land by pumping sand on to live coral reef, some of them submerged, and paving them with concrete. This has aggravated regional tensions because this is seen as China’s attempt to pre-empt other nations which have competing claims to sections of the Sea. The US has been concerned too. Not only it compromises the rights of China’s weaker neighbours like Vietnam and the Philippines, it also challenges its recently announced policy of “re-balancing” its naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region and to make it a “pivot” of its naval strategy. With these concerns in mind, a US surveillance plane flew over these man-made islands on 27 May, in a sense questioning the legitimacy of China’s action, but in the process inviting warnings by the Chinese navy eight times during the flight asking the US aircraft to leave the area.
Is it a Future Flash Point?
In the wake of this incident, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that, “China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock”. The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter replied that, “There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows us, as we do all around the world”. There could not be a more forthright statement of the positions of the two sides, and there is no meeting ground between the two. In fact, China’s arbitrariness and assertiveness has transformed the South China Sea issue from a regional to a global conflict, jeopardising the freedom of navigation of many nations. China must realise that its rise as a powerful nation can be of great benefit to international order if it conducts its international relations in accordance with agreed principles of international law rather than through military assertiveness and coercion. If a conflict between China on the one hand and US and its allies on the other is to be avoided, it is incumbent on all stakeholders to address the issue within the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea before it is too late.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Soft Power in International Relations

Defining Soft Power

Much has been made of the concept of soft power enunciated by Joseph Nye in an article in Foreign Policy in 1990. According to Nye, soft power of a state consists in its ability to get the desired outcomes vis-à-vis other states through the use of “co-optive” or non-coercive power. Other commentators have tended to expand and interpret this concept as the influence of a state vis-à-vis others caused by intangible factors such as culture, life-style, ideology, values, institutions, etc. The essence of this concept seems to be the influence that a state wields on other states and societies for reasons other than its hard power, i.e., economic and military might.
Some foreign policy experts have been taken in by this concept and tend to believe that soft power is as important as hard power, or perhaps even more important. They attach value to it in terms of conscious effort that needs to be made to promote soft power. I would like to emphasise that soft power has its effect not because of any special effort that is made in this regard but because it exemplifies the success of a system or an experiment that can be replicated elsewhere. There are, however, states which make special efforts to project their soft power through institutions which they like to describe as “Public Diplomacy” or “Cultural Diplomacy”.
In this context, a distinction can be easily made between “Demonstration Effect” and “Cultivated Effect” of soft power. Demonstration Effect implies the automaticity of an effect caused by the success of a political, social or cultural experiment. For instance, the success of democracy and rule of law in the United States and Western Europe becomes an example to be emulated by others. No special effort is needed to propagate the virtues of democracy in these countries. Cultivated Effect on the other hand involves the effort to send troupes of dancers and musicians abroad to acquaint other countries with one’s cultural achievements under the rubric of cultural diplomacy or, to invite delegations of intellectuals and civil society leaders from other countries to showcase them one’s history and culture under the rubric of public diplomacy.
While the Demonstration Effect can be easily seen in the form of efforts being made by other countries to emulate one’s example, the Cultivated Effect is not visible and is not easy to measure. I would therefore suggest that while soft power is important, too much effort need not be made to impress others with one’s soft power or to impose it on them. Soft power can at best be an intangible supplement to hard power but cannot be a substitute for it, nor can it compete with hard power in terms of its utility to influence other’s behaviour.

India’s Soft Power Potential 

The most important instrument of India’s soft power is the success of its democracy. For 68 years consistently India has held elections to its national and state legislatures without interruption. The participation in terms of percentage of voter turnout and diversity of ethnic and religious population has been an example to the rest of the world. Not only the countries in India’s South Asian neighbourhood but newly independent countries of Asia and Africa have drawn inspiration from India’s success in democracy. South Asian neighbours have in fact been seeking India’s assistance in drafting their constitutions and conducting their elections.
In this respect, the contrast with China and Pakistan is very telling. India ranks much higher than China in terms of global attractiveness of its political system. China’s one-ideology one-party based political system often remains a subject of ridicule, criticism, curiosity and probity. India’s system evokes admiration and its openness invites constructive comments, even if critical. The contrast with Pakistan is even more obvious. India and Pakistan have shared history and both were born as independent states on the same day. While Indian democracy has expanded its horizons and evolved into a rich and multi-dimensional framework of fairly inclusive governance, Pakistani democracy is still faltering and fledging at the fact of its military dictators and religious megalomaniacs.
Another instrument of India’s soft power that may be mentioned is secularism as a political value. India being a large multi-religious society, religious equality and tolerance were enshrined as a basic value in the constitution. It is difficult to say that India has fully succeeded in abiding by this value. But substantially it has, and to that extent it is the envy of the rest of the world.
India’s soft power potential also lies in movies, music and dance. Indian movies have had worldwide impact. Their popularity derives from their mass entertainment effect. Indian classical music and dance may not have a mass appeal but are greatly valued by elite audience abroad for their subtlety and refinement. Indian diaspora in developed as well as developing countries have acted as promoters of Indian movies, music and dance among the local populace.
It must be stated however that soft power has limited effect in countries where attitudes are pre-determined by ingrained antipathy. For instance, Pakistan is a country where Indian movies, music and dance are passionately appreciated. But this has not made any dent in Pakistan’s perennial hostility towards India.
India has a tremendous soft power potential. But its due stature in the world cannot be achieved unless its hard power is adequate to protect its own interest and contribute also to regional and global security requirements. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

If Pakistan Becomes Islamistan?

Will Pakistan become ‘Islamistan’? And how soon? This is the question which bothers many a mind in the whole South Asia region. People beyond the South Asian region are worried too, because its repercussions will be far and wide.
There has been a demand by the orthodox section of Sunni Muslim society of Pakistan that the State of Pakistan be run strictly according to the principles of Sharia, i.e. the Islamic Laws, of their interpretation. That the democratic constitution be replaced with a new constitution which will establish an Islamic Caliphate of Pakistan instead of an Islamic Republic of Pakistan. That the warriors of Islam will achieve this through jihad, which is a holy War conducted by means of unlimited violence against centres of state power as well as civilian population. These warriors, currently known as the Pakistani Taliban, will create what may be called ‘Islamistan’, the land of Islam, the closest example of which was the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
Pakistan was created in 1947 as a state for the Muslims of United India. The Pakistan movement was driven by the belief that in post-British India, the Hindu majority will tend to dominate the politics of the country and Muslims will not get their due share of power. After the demand for the Pakistan was conceded, but a few days before the new state was born, Mohammed Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 in a speech in the constituent assembly of Pakistan advised his countrymen to regard religion as a purely personal matter and not allow it to interfere in the politics of the country. However, when the process of constitution making began in Pakistan, the orthodox section of Pakistani society made sure that the Objectives Resolution adopted by the constituent assembly on 12 March 1948 contained an assurance that the Muslims of Pakistan shall be enabled to “order their lives” in accordance with “the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah”.
From then onwards, through different stages of the political and constitutional evolution of Pakistan, the Sunni dominated Muslim political parties and organisations launched agitation from time to time and succeeded in getting increasingly more pro-Islamic provisions introduced in the constitutional and legal framework of the country. Pakistan’s army which controlled the government of the country directly or indirectly for most of its history made the Islamic parties like Jamaat-e-Islami its allies in supressing domestic opposition. Mainstream political parties like the Muslim League and the People’s Party also found it difficult to resist the demands of the Islamists which were always backed by uncontrollable street power. The crowning glory of Islamists was their incorporation by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq as the main instrument of anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan from 1979-1989.
After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan’s security establishment used these veterans of anti-Soviet jihad to launch an invasion of Afghanistan which was in a state of civil war and succeeded in capturing Kabul in 1996 under the leadership of the so-called Taliban. The Taliban allowed themselves to be influenced by Al-Qaeda leadership which had been a participant in the anti-Soviet jihad. The two together used the Afghan soil to launch the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001. The retaliatory attack by the United States and its allies on Afghanistan in October 2001 resulted in the defeat of Taliban most of whose cadres and leadership along with that of al-Qaeda fled to Pakistan in the winter of 2001-2002.
 The arrival of al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2001 brought about a qualitative change in the agenda of the Islamist movement of Pakistan. Until now, the objective of Islamist parties was to get the constitution and laws of Pakistan as much Islamised as possible through agitations and pressure tactics against the state. From now on, under the guidance of al-Qaeda, the objective was re-defined as capture of state power through violent means and establishment of an Islamic Caliphate to be run according to the principles of Sharia. Initially, the demand for the imposition of Sharia took the form of stray incidents of violence by Sunni groups protesting against Pakistan government’s support for the US led war on terror. After the Lal Masjid operation of 2007 conducted by President Musharraf to flush out militants, a number of Sunni militant organisations got together under one umbrella called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) with the declared objective of establishing a Sharia rule in Pakistan.   
The key demands of the Pakistani Taliban can be summed up as follows: i) Introduction of Sharia, i.e. Islamic laws; ii) Islamic system of education; iii) End to interest based banking; iv) Immediate replacement of democratic system of government by an Islamic one; v) Immediate withdrawal of army from tribal areas; vi) Closing down all army check-posts; vii) Immediate release of all arrested Taliban cadres.  
Even a man of ordinary intelligence would know that these demands cannot be fulfilled in Pakistan which has a democratic constitution. The militants have therefore been trying to register their demands through violence. According to a statement filed in the Supreme Court by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies on 26 March 2014, Pakistan has lost 49,000 lives in militancy since 11 September 2001. More than 24,000 people, both civilian and troops, were killed in terrorist attacks during the period 2001 and 2008. Another 25,000 died during military offensives against Taliban insurgents in the tribal regions since 2008. Besides, 15,681 casualties have been suffered by the armed forces in the tribal areas since 2008. The bomb blasts and suicide attacks have led to another 5,152 civilians dead and 5,678 civilians injured since 2008.
While loss of civilians and security forces is enormous, what lends political and strategic significance to the activities of the militants is their attacks on high value military targets. Such attacks since 2007 would reflect an effort on their part to capture state power through violent means. In May 2011, the Taliban attacked Mehran naval base near Karachi and destroyed two US surveillance aircraft. This was the first major attack on a military target and is said to have taken place with the involvement of officers sympathetic to the militants. Earlier in 2009, the military headquarters in Rawalpindi had come under heavy attack when militants laid siege to the complex for 24 hours killing 19 persons. On 16 August 2012, the Taliban attacked one of the most heavily guarded military airbases in Pakistan, the Minhas airbase located near the Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, 45 miles north-west of Islamabad. The airbase is believed to store about 100 nuclear warheads which Pakistan possesses. This was the third such attack on the airbase since 2007, earlier ones being in December 2007 and August 2009. On 20 January 2014, the militants attacked a market next to the military headquarters killing 13 people. A day earlier, they had killed 26 soldiers and wounded 25 others in the north-western town of Bannu.
Whether or not the Pakistan government should take military action against Taliban was a question actively debated within Pakistan ever since Nawaz Sharif’s government assumed office after May 2013 elections. While the army leadership was in favour of action, the political leadership lead by Nawaz Muslim League and supported by Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf was opposed to any action. The peace negotiations started by the government with the Taliban in March led nowhere. The massive attack by the Taliban on Karachi airport in the early hours of 9 June compelled the government to undertake a comprehensive military action against the Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan on 15 June. While the prospects of success of this operation are being debated in the Pakistani media, it may be worthwhile to make an assessment of the support that the Taliban have in society.
A survey conducted by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies in April 2010 based on 1,568 respondents representative of all regions, age groups and educational backgrounds revealed two significant findings. To the question whether you consider the struggle for implementation of Sharia as a jihad, those who said ‘yes’ were 63% from Punjab, 70.8% from NWFP, 69.7% from Balochistan, 36.6% from Sindh, 65.7% from FATA, 62.5% from Islamabad, 27.5 % from Gilgit-Baltistan, and 59.7% from AJK. To another question, whether the militants in Indian-held Kashmir are engaged in jihad, those who said ‘yes’ were 57.1% from Punjab, 64.6% from NWFP, 57.3% from Balochistan, 39.7% from Sindh, 6% from FATA, 65% from Islamabad, 11.8 % from Gilgit-Baltistan, and 89.6% from AJK. This means that in Pakistani society the demand for the imposition of Sharia is quite high. Similarly, the support for jihad in Kashmir is also noteworthy.
The question that remains to be answered is whether the Pakistani army is also radicalised and if so, to what extent? This question is not easy to answer because the evidence available is only circumstantial. The commonly held view is that a section of the army is strongly radicalised because otherwise so many Taliban attacks on sensitive military targets would not be possible. There is a scholarly view held by a distinguished academic Pervez Hoodbhoy that Pakistan indeed has two armies. There is Army I which is pro-status quo and then there is Army II which may be called as Allah’s Army and wants to change the status quo. That the army leadership is divided on the question of policy towards Taliban is also obvious from the fact that sometimes the army is soft on Taliban, distinguishing the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ Taliban and sometimes it advocates strong action against them.
The future of Pakistan and the future of Pakistan’s relations with India depends on the extent to which the security establishment of Pakistan is able to eliminate militancy led by TTP, LeT and other organisations. There are grave doubts that the operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan will fully serve this purpose. The malaise seems to have gone much deeper and widespread in Pakistan. The military solution is not enough. Someone must have the courage and conviction to say that a modern state cannot be run on the basis of Sharia. The country must be guarded against the negative impact of the establishment of a Caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, and the likelihood of Afghanistan being dominated by Taliban.
But this is easier said than done. If not, the possibility of Taliban capturing power in Pakistan directly or indirectly in the next ten years cannot be ruled out. In the process, Pakistan will of course lose its identity. But a Taliban ruled Pakistan will have grave implications for India. It will completely de-stabilise India and shake it to its very roots. It will engulf the entire Jammu and Kashmir in flames again. It will hold the whole of India to ransom for demands which cannot be met. India will be faced with a prolonged asymmetric warfare for which it may not be prepared. Unfortunately, these are not matters which diplomats of the two countries will ever discuss. Therefore, let us hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.   

Monday, 16 June 2014

People’s Verdict: Pro-BJP or Anti-Congress?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deserves to be congratulated for its massive victory in the 2014 elections. It is not a mean achievement for a party which was bedevilled with intra-party conflicts and ideological deficiencies. One has therefore to look for reasons for victory which lie elsewhere and hope at the same time that the BJP will rise up to the expectations of the people.
The foremost reality that must be recognised is that the people of India were completely disillusioned with the performance of UPA- II government and were angry with the Congress party for not putting up a strong leader as the face of the party. They had no option but to vote for the BJP despite the fact that they had strong reservations about the party and its prime ministerial candidate.
The reservations for the BJP stemmed from the fact that ever since its creation in 1980, the party and its earlier incarnation, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (formed in 1951), were tied to the apron strings of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS was founded in 1925as a cultural and educational organisation to unite the Hindu community against British colonialism and Muslim separatism. Over the years and by virtue of its training it acquired the characteristics of a para-military organisation and was accused of being involved in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. The organisation was banned for some years and the ban was lifted on the assurance that it will confine itself to purely cultural activities in future.
 The BJP came to power at the centre on the strength of Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1996, even though only for 13 days. However, it formed a government at the centre from 1998 to 1999 and from 1999 to 2004 with the support of coalition partners under the nomenclature of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The government was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an enlightened leader who had the gift of evolving a consensus among the coalition partners on vital issues and pushing under the carpet those issues on which there were sharp differences. But the BJP was not able to recapture power in 2004 and 2009 because the party could not survive the image of a communal party responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992 and communal riots in Gujarat in February 2002.  
As the 2014 election approached, the people of India were faced with difficult choice. On the one hand the incompetent government headed by the Congress Party had run into deep trouble because of the allegations of corruption, high inflation, poor governance, and loss of rapport with the people. On the other hand was the BJP with the divided leadership, tarnished image, lack of a futuristic ideology, and unwillingness of coalition partners to support its communal agenda. It was in these circumstances that the RSS decided that Narendra Modi will be the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP.
           The choice of Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate sent shock waves across the country among those sections of society who considered him responsible for the  for allowing and encouraging the anti-Muslim carnage of 2002. There was widespread demand in the media that Modi should apologise for his role in 2002 killings before he could be supported in the Lok Sabha elections. Modi refused to apologise and the BJP launched a massive multi–media high-tech campaign in his favour. This was backed by hundreds of well-organised public rallies addressed by Modi across the country. In a country frustrated by slow economic growth in the last few years, Modi’s Gujarat model of consistent economic growth carried some conviction. Back-breaking inflation had acutely sharpened the appetite of the people for regime change. The BJP gradually succeeded in setting its own agenda of political discourse during the campaign in which communalism got relegated to the back burner and development caught people’s imagination.  
What must be noted, however, is that gradual acceptance of BJP discourse and Modi’s leadership by the people would not have been possible if they had a credible alternative. The only alternative people could look up to was the Congress Party. The choice of the Congress Party for prime ministerial role, even though not stated but obvious, was Rahul Gandhi. It did not require much foresight from the very beginning that he was a poor choice. This was unfortunate because there was no dearth of capable leaders in the Congress Party. But the process of selection of Rahul Gandhi was highly screwed. He was selected for this role merely because he was born in the Nehru-Gandhi family. By itself this need not be a disqualification. But every member of a ruling family who inherits power is not necessarily worthy of it. Reflecting on this phenomenon, Socrates, the Greek Philosopher told his disciple Plato, “A child of a ruler who has no mind for ruling and struggles at ‘higher thinking’ even after a rigorous education; a child like this should not be a ruler. Nevertheless, in a society that is governed by monarchy the child would become a leader, regardless of how much damage they may cause to the society.”
The fact that Rahul Gandhi was elected as General Secretary of the Congress Party in 2007and Vice-President in 2013 is no testimony to his political acumen or popularity in the party. Members of the Congress Party who constituted the electorate for these positions were beholden to Sonia Gandhi as the party president and it was imperative for them to bestow the ‘crown’ on Rahul Gandhi. This is no reflection on the intentions of the Congress President or the desires of her son. This was a natural consequence of the way the Congress party had shaped itself after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
To allow power to be inherited by the scions of the ruling family is neither objectionable nor unusual. In most professions, succeeding generations find it easier and profitable to take to the vocations of their parents. But politics is not private business. In politics, one is dealing with the destiny of the whole nation. In a large democracy like India, the leader must measure up to certain minimum standards. Rahul Gandhi cannot be faulted on grounds of age, or education, or ideology. But Rahul Gandhi’s lack of experience and low acumen becomes too obvious in his utterances. Even the hard boiled supporters of the Congress Party bemoaned the fact that their leader was not taken seriously by the people. And this dissatisfaction with Rahul was totally unrelated to the performance of the UPA-I and UPA-II. In fact Rahul’s lack of credibility as a prospective Prime Minister in a Congress led government became an additional anti-Congress factor, apart from the poor performance of UPA-II, which turned the people against the Congress Party.
The Congress Party is so much identified with the birth of independent India and its growth in the first sixty seven years that it cannot be written off the Indian political landscape. Its ideology was inherited from the freedom struggle and was nursed by visionary leadership. If it has to safeguard its future, it must reinvent itself in terms of leadership style and introduce real democracy in its proceedings. It would be tragic for the country if the Congress Party allows itself to be decimated and leaves the country in the hands of the BJP alone.
The BJP on the other hand has done well in emerging as a national alternative and providing to the country a much needed bipartisan political structure. But it has to go a long way in rounding off its rough edges by distancing itself from the RSS agenda and shedding its anti-minority image. The party must prove itself worthy of the trust reposed in it by the people of India if it wants to rule the country for the next ten years.