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Sunday, January 24, 2010

INDIA AT 60: ACQUIRING ESCAPE VELOCITY?


The parade down the Rajpath on India’s sixtieth Republic Day can be expected to showcase its growing power signified best by the replica of INS Arihant, the third leg of its ‘triad’ launched by the Prime Minister in the preceding year. While the operationalisation will take up to mid-decade, by then India would have acquired Agni missiles with reach enough to ‘take out’ cities on Chinese eastern sea board perhaps with H-Bombs, despite existence of the latter being questioned over last year. With the mountain ‘strike corps’ under raising having stabilised by then, India would be in a position to parlay with China from a position of symmetry. The expectation is that this would give it the confidence to enter into the necessary ‘give and take’ that negotiations imply. Presently, it does not have the political capital internally.

However, consequential for the interim is its relationship with Pakistan, presently on ‘pause’. India’s strategy dating to the eighties of hiking the defence imbalance in its favour to such an extent that Pakistan falls off as a challenger has not met with the success of the strategy’s votaries so far. Economic problems of the nineties set back the endeavour by a decade. But at the start of this decade, India has the requisite economic ballast to push this strategy; de-hyphenation already having taken place over the last one. The current stridency in Pakistan’s view of India seemingly indicates increasing success for this strategy. The expectation is that eventually the Pakistani Army, attuned to the power imbalance, would acknowledge it and realistically ‘throw in the towel’.

In the coming decade security is to be so managed as to materialise this outcome on both fronts. The reference to ‘two front’ war can be explained as India’s attempt at arriving at conventional deterrence capabilities, placing it in a position of strength in the ‘worst case’ scenario. Pakistan’s utility as a surrogate for China would end. This may open up future possibilities by end decade in which South Asia as a unified, if not unitary, strategic entity balances China, with or without ballast of an external power.

There are two problems with this grand strategy. One is its over-reliance on power and second is that it does not take on board several problem areas that could derail it.

It amounts to a truism that power under grids the world order. This reliance on power is therefore explicable. The paradox is that though the utility of power is in deterrence, it nevertheless ends up being used. Just as in the early part of last century, in this century too the argument persists that globalisation induced thicker economic relations would help prevent war. The expectation was belied by the First World War. That too was a period of rising new powers. Learning would have it that avoiding a like eventuality entails departing from over-reliance on power. The irony is that the economic underpinning of power is itself endangered. Finally when India has much to lose, it is all being placed at stake in a power gamble. Though a globalised world, it remains very much a nuclear one too. Therefore, more needs doing with more imagination and urgency along other planes such as institutionalising inter-relationships and Asian security architectures.

Secondly, Pakistan managed to under-cut Indian strategy for the past three decades. Over the eighties and the naughties, it lent itself to US purposes in Afghanistan. In the nineties, India was hobbled by the shift to liberalisation and by proxy war. Pakistan has managed to checkmate Indian rise manifest in the conventional plane on the sub-conventional and nuclear planes. How its counter plays out this decade would determine whether India reaches decade end as planned. Pakistan will lend itself to the Chinese game plan keeping alive India’s ‘two front’ dilemma. Creating the ability to cope does not help India transcend it, but materialises it instead.

Underlying grand strategy is the assumption that India’s growing proximity with the US would help. To close the military gap with China, K. Subrahmanyam advocates: ‘India is seen as one of the key partners for the US to reshape the 21st century. The US has agreed to sell high technology defence equipment to India while it is not likely to sell them to China, its main rival in the coming decades.’ In respect of Pakistan, India’s actions, at variance with what it professes, seem to indicate a perverse hope of the situation in AfPak deteriorating to the extent that the US requires Indian assistance, thereby raising its profile, indispensability and bargaining power.

A conclusion from this brief survey is that India is honing its power capacities hoping to make up any short fall by leaning on the US. This would render it vulnerable to shocks as the international order transits decisively away from the post Cold War unipolar moment. Success in this requires deft footwork. Commentary on the recent changeover of the NSA does not infuse confidence that India can manage this. With institutional and internal incapacities remaining, India requires postponing its tryst by another decade.

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