Tuesday, 28 August 2007

The 123 Zeros

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Aug 07

It is no secret that the global nuclear architecture, like that of the other post World War 2 institutions --- the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions --- was constructed with building blocks of hypocrisy and discrimination. Forked tongues, double standards and an unrelenting zero-sum outlook have long been mandatory for those at the high table to fiercely resist any change to the status quo. It would be expected, therefore, that any attempt to elevate India from the ranks of the nuclear have-nots would arouse heated opposition.

It has. Few bilateral agreements have as many opponents as the draft US-India 123 Agreement. Surprisingly, though, the opposition is not from traditional quarters. Four of the five Bedouins inside the tent are opening the flap for the Indian camel, with China being the lone dissenter. Non-proliferation hardliners of long standing --- Japan and Australia amongst them --- have tacitly given India the wink. Serious opposition to the deal comes from three quarters: doctrinal (from the non-proliferation hardliners, inside the US and elsewhere), geo-strategic (predominantly Pakistan and China), and political (opposition parties in India, particularly the BJP and the Left).

The ferocity of opposition within India was to be expected, considering the sharp political polarisation within India and the high stakes involved; the government that swings the deal will gain economically, politically and in the public perception. Tempering the opposition, though, is the political embarrassment that stems from the alignment of forces. When the BJP looks around the battlefield, it sees China and Pakistan as its foot soldiers and its sworn enemy, the Left, as its sword arm. For the Left, being perceived as China's proxy is equally embarrassing, especially once the masses are reminded that the Left accused India of aggression against China in 1962 and opposed the Quit India movement in 1942. Acting in concert with the "communal forces" is another dichotomy for the Left. That's why the Marxists flatly rejected Mr Advani's invitation to coordinate opposition to the deal.

Being an anti-dealer is made even more complicated by the verbal callisthenics needed to square their opposition with long-held ideological and political positions. The Left, a passionate votary of global nuclear disarmament and an opponent of India's nuclear tests, now finds itself defending "India's sovereign right to test". The BJP, which could credibly claim to have fathered the nuclear deal, as well as India's new engagement with the US, finds itself walking a verbal tightrope between supporting the US on the one hand and slamming the deal on the other; and between Mr Vajpayee's unilateral moratorium on testing on the one hand, and the party's rejection of the UPA's "strategic subservience" on the other.

But the greatest constraint on the anti-dealers, the BJP and the Left, is the dismaying prospect of general elections if the government goes down with the deal. The CPI (M) politburo was jolted off its high horse during the Central Committee meeting last week, when party representatives from Kerala and West Bengal made it clear that they would lose considerable ground in any election today. The division between Marxist ideologues and practitioners has reached the point where the latter, their ideology ground away by the dust of the electoral battlefield, have begun accusing politburo ideologues like Prakash Karat of behaving like the Taliban. Karat's brave exhortation that ideology is more important than seat-count has been scoffed at by those who stand to lose the seats.

The BJP is readying for elections anyway. Mr Advani's trial balloon, floated in Hyderabad on Sunday, distances the BJP from the Left Front. Unlike the Left's ideological hostility to the US, Advani is portraying his party as more open to Washington by suggesting a way for the BJP to back the 123 Agreement. He has proposed that the offending US legislation, the Henry Hyde Act of 2006, could be countered by an amendment to the Indian Atomic Energy Act. Advani, well schooled at the ballots if not in strategy, has read the writing on the wall: the Indian public is not hostile to the US. And the BJP will have a hard time explaining to voters why it acted in concert with "the communists" (they really mean China) to pull down an American deal to bring more electricity to India.

The Congress' failure to build consensus around the 123 Agreement --- particularly Dr Manmohan Singh's planted comment that "if the government falls, so be it" ---- is a reality check on its ability to run a coalition. It also points to the difficulties that lie ahead when India negotiates a settlement with Pakistan, and a solution to the border dispute with China.

Lack of consensus can be a positive factor during the course of protracted negotiations. It was the lack of consensus in India that created the environment for India to extract from the US astonishingly favourable terms in the 123 Agreement. But every debate must find closure and India's polity has failed in recent years to reach an agreement on any issue except populist no-brainers like OBC quotas or on legislating higher pay scales for themselves.

The week ahead is a critical one; parliament will debate the 123 Agreement. And if our leaders can rise above partisan politics, the country may be spared early elections that practically nobody wants, and from which at least two of the protagonists will emerge seriously weakened.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Six decades of looking away

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 14th August 2007

Independence Day tomorrow will witness the crescendo and then, mercifully, the end of an orgy of collective self-delusion that rivals the BJP's Shining India run-up to the 2004 elections. India's 60th birthday has occasioned nostalgia, patriotism, jingoism, and a rash of polls to determine data like India's favourite song. Absent, surprisingly, is any hard-headed evaluation of the exercise in nation building that began in 1947 when some 562 princely states chose between India and Pakistan, the two entities created out of the 11 provinces and various tribal areas of British India. Such an evaluation would highlight the unpalatable truth that even today J&K, Nagaland and Manipur are held within the union through armed force. Assam and Tripura face serious separatist challenges; the Naxal threat is spreading; and a terrorist challenge, springing from our own alienated minorities, has increased the numbers of armed men on the streets of India.

If the map of India has not yet been reshaped, it is because of the sheer manpower that New Delhi can muster: some 1.2 million soldiers and 750,000 paramilitary troops today. But separatist sores continue to fester because armed forces can only create safe conditions for engineering political settlements. Those political initiatives are nowhere in sight; successive governments in New Delhi focus their political energies, not on outlying provinces, but on the big vote banks that ensure their survival in power.

This attitude of dealing with separatism by throwing manpower at it stems, ironically, from India's past success in the northeast against ethno-religious separatist movements by using a crude combination of military force and political buyout. Success in states like Mizoram rested on the prolonged use of military force over years, offering negotiations when separatist stamina was running low, and then buying their leaders over with the promise of power in a post-conflict polity. This old strategy is no longer viable against new globalised structures of ethnic and religious separatism. It has failed in J&K because terrorists can replenish, materially and ideologically, by plugging into the structures of global Islamist jehad. But it hasn't been replaced with an alternative strategy.

Also reinforcing New Delhi's tendency to look away is the political psyche of India's power elite and the voting public. In a relatively young country and a rising power, national attention is focused mainly on changing lifestyles, economic opportunities, and caste and religion based politics. We appear psychologically uncomfortable with bringing issues of disaffection and alienation into the national political discourse. Instead, we resort to our convenient national cop-out: deflect the blame and hold external forces responsible for our internal violence. Over the years, India has blamed China, Myanmar and Bangladesh for separatism in the northeast, Pakistan for terrorism in Punjab and J&K. Enterprising government spinmeisters have even tried to pin blame for Naxalism on Nepal.

With the "foreign hand" as a convenient scapegoat, strategy has followed the rhetoric; India's military planning has always been directed towards the external rather than the internal threat. Of two million men in military and paramilitary uniform, barely 5000 are anti-terrorism specialists. Regular army soldiers, primarily trained for full-scale war, man even the so-called "counter-insurgency" forces, the Rashtriya Rifles. Effectively, India uses makeshift means to deal with terrorism and militancy up to a point; beyond that it threatens war. When Pakistan-sponsored terrorists attacked Parliament in 2001, New Delhi had little to show by way of a counter-terrorism response. Instead, India's military moved into battle positions and readied to invade Pakistan. Then, as now, the only lever in India's terrorism tool shed was full-scale war.

This shortage of specialist forces trained and equipped to deal with internal security looks set to continue, if India's weapons procurement programme is any indicator. Most ongoing weapons purchases are platforms needed for all-out war: an aircraft carrier, a submarine line, amphibious assault ships and heavy battleships for the navy; multi-role combat aircraft, mid-air refuellers and airborne cruise missiles for the air force; and tanks, air defense guns, medium artillery and intermediate range strategic missiles for the army. Like the pre-Iraq Pentagon and Whitehall, India's establishment still believes that if the military has credible warfighting capability, everything else will follow.

Unlike India, though, the United States is adapting quickly to fight its new wars. The Pentagon's new counterinsurgency doctrine (published in December 2006 as Field Manual 3-24) would make instructive reading for our leaders. FM 3-24 notes that the armed forces cannot succeed alone in counterinsurgency; such operations "involve the application of national power in the political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure fields and disciplines." The US doctrine also points out that success in counterinsurgency operations means that forces can be reduced and more risk accepted.

New Delhi, however, has little time for the careful political and economic initiatives that are needed to build on the security forces' success. And reducing forces in J&K is seen not as a step towards political settlement, but as surrender to Pakistani pressure.

Sixty years after independence, there is indeed much to celebrate. But if there is no consideration of how the nation-building project is doing in the outlying, the unseen and the less affluent parts of the country, the party will continue to be spoilt by the discordant shadow of alienation.