Friday, March 29, 2013

India, Sri Lanka – The Tamil Question

Dr M N Buch, Dean, 
Centre for Governance and Political Studies

The island country of Sri Lanka is geographically part of the Indian sub-continent and though the Palk Strait does provide a narrow stretch of water physically separating Sri Lanka from India, not far below the surface is the land link provided by Ram Setu or Adams Bridge. I refer here to a geological phenomenon and not a mythical, religious or a metaphysical belief. Geographically, ethnically, linguistically, culturally and religiously Sri Lanka, despite being a separate nation, is very much a part of India. The objective of this paper is not to lead to a merger of Sri Lanka into India, but to emphasise that we enjoy a common heritage which virtually mandates that India and Sri Lanka should have the closest links with each other and that no third party should be permitted to divide us.

Sri Lanka as an island is large but in total area is only 65,610 square kilometers. That makes it the size of one of the smaller States of India. Its population is about two crores. The demographic composition is interesting. The majority consists of the Sinhala people, who claim their origin from Bengal and Orissa and whose language, Sinhalese, is highly Sanskritised and certainly belongs to the Indo Aryan group of languages. There is a sizable Muslim minority, many of them of Maldivian, Arab and Indian origin. There is also a small group of Burghers who are roughly equivalent to our Anglo-Indians. Then there are two major Tamil groups. The first, by far the largest, is of Tamils inhabiting the North and part of North Eastern Sri Lanka, who will hereinafter be referred to as Jaffna Tamils for the sake of convenience. They form the vast majority in the five districts of the Northern Province, that is, Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The two districts of the North Central Province, Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruva also have a substantial Tamil population and two of the three districts of the Eastern Province, Batticaloa and Trimcomalee, also have a number of Jaffna Tamils. These Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka virtually from the very beginning and have always been recognised as full and original citizens of Sri Lanka. There is a second group of Tamils who were brought in as indentured labour by the British when they introduced plantation crops, especially tea but also some rubber, mainly in the Central Province consisting of the districts of Kandy, Matale and Nuwara Eliya. They came on indentured contract and it was not originally the policy to settle them permanently in Sri Lanka. As time went on, however, they settled permanently in the plantation areas and are now very much a part of the Sri Lankan population. They were not accepted as such by either the Sinhalese or the Jaffna Tamils and there were several pacts between India and Sri Lanka about what to do with these Tamils. The Sri Lanka Government disenfranchised them and this led to a major outbreak of discontent amongst the plantation Tamils. Some were repatriated to India which undertook their rehabilitation on the mainland, but ultimately the majority were granted citizenship. These Tamils, however, are not part of the Eelam movement launched by the Jaffna Tamils.

Under British rule the Jaffna Tamils went in for education in a big way, in which English and Tamil were the two languages of instruction. A large number of senior posts in the Sri Lanka Army, Police and Civil Service and Judiciary were occupied by Tamils because they were the best educated citizens of Sri Lanka. The situation was not very different from what existed in India in that people from the South, especially Tamil Brahmins and Malayalees, dominated the Civil Service in the Centre. When Hindi was introduced as the State language there was an outcry in Tamil Nadu because it was felt that this would put Tamils at a disadvantage for public service in India, resulting in the overall development of the South slowing down and easing out South Indians from the instrumentalities of power. In India we took the anti Hindi movement in Tamil Nadu very seriously and, therefore, by adopting the three language formula and retaining English as the link language we have, by and large, been able to prevent a serious secessionist movement in the South. Today even the most extreme Tamil parties in India no longer talk about a separate Tamil homeland. The way in which we have tackled the situation is exemplified by the State emblem of India in which the motto is “Satyameva Jayate”, which means that “Truth Ever Triumphs”. In Tamil Nadu, at the height of the anti Hindi movement, the State Government changed the Tamil emblem motto to ‘Vayi Meyi Vellum’, which also means Satyameva Jayate. Instead of reacting strongly to this the Central Government preferred to ignore it and now the State emblem and its motto are no longer an issue. The Malayalees, being practical people, knowing that they are the best educated in India, chose to ignore the language issue and could gain new proficiency in the languages of different States and continue to form an extremely important part of the government structure in every State of India. In Madhya Pradesh the Secretariat would collapse if the Malayalee officials withdrew and certainly the health services would receive a fatal blow if nurses from Kerala were to go away.

Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country whose Constitution in Article 9 states, “ The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be its duty to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1) (e)”. This gives the right of religious freedom to every citizen of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is not quite a theocracy and it is not quite a secular State in the same way as India is, but it does allow the religious freedom of a secular State. However, because of Article 9 the Buddhist Mahasangha is very powerful and its pronouncements and diktats have a profound influence on how the Sri Lankan Government acts and behaves. This is a fact which must be borne in mind when we do any thinking on Sri Lanka, its problems, and our policy towards it. In 1956 Sri Lanka very foolishly adopted the policy of Sinhala as the only State language, with this being given full effect to in 1961. That knocked Tamil off its equal perch with Sinhala and English and in fact removed it from the list of State languages. This automatically led to the fear that not only would Tamils no longer be qualified for government service but also that those who were Tamils in high position would be eased out of their jobs. There was very powerful Tamil reaction and this is one of the main causes for the demand for a separate Tamil homeland, preferably an independent country created by partitioning Sri Lanka. Simultaneously there were extremely violent anti Tamil riots in 1958 and 1977, culminating in the worst riot of all 1983, in which there was virtual ethnic cleansing of Tamils from Colombo and the Western Province.

The two main Tamil parties were Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) which is a party dating back to 1949 through its predecessor, the so-called Federal Party, followed in 1978 by the creation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Thereafter the entire separatist movement was taken over by LTTE, whose undisputed leader was Velupillai Prabhakaran. Incidentally, LTTE cadres had been initially trained in India and a large part of LTTE’s initial armaments came from transfer of weapons seized by us from the Pakistan armed forces in the 1971 Bangladesh War. There is, therefore, some justification for the Sri Lankan allegation that LTTE was supported by us, even though its creation was of local Sri Lankan origin. I state this because though this is not a paper on the Sri Lankan civil war and our role in it, we were very much a part of it at the start and that makes us as guilty as the Tamil and Sinhala protagonists. I have not been able to understand the psychology of our government in the manner in which it evolved its Sri Lankan policy. We were annoyed with the Sri Lanka Government for the manner in which it was treating the Kandy Tamils, but did that justify our arming a group which ultimately became the most powerful guerilla force in the world and which brought us into open conflict with it when Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister?

For India the complications began with the question of the Kandy Tamils, which we were ultimately able to sort out through a series of agreements with the Sri Lanka Government. However, the situation in Northern Sri Lanka was very different because here it was not the question of status of Tamils who were originally Indian but rather the relationship between two indigenous groups in Sri Lanka, both of Indian origin but now rooted firmly in Sri Lanka. As the Buddhist Sinhala attitudes hardened and as the Jaffna Tamils reacted, one could see Sri Lanka sliding first into a cycle of ethnic violence and thereafter into a fratricidal civil war. Did the fear of what happened in Sri Lanka and its effect on Tamil Nadu drive us to a policy which has left us with more problems than it has solved? Did we misread the Tamil movement in Tamil Nadu, led by Annadorai and his successors, as an incipient civil war which could lead to the breakup of India? We have a great deal of experience of fighting insurgency in the North East and there our handling was quite deft. We have been successful in putting down militancy in the Punjab and separatist movements in Jammu & Kashmir. Even today we are tackling Naxalism in what I would describe a weak manner but which could also be viewed as a measured response of the State to a situation which is internal and must be handled by the civil government. Hyderabad and Junagadh did not dismember India. Even as late as 1983 did we really think that Tamil Nadu would break away on the language issue? In 1978 when the Emergency was declared Tamil Nadu fell in line in the same manner as every other State. Why did the Indian State lack such a confidence in itself to tackle any movement in Tamil Nadu without resorting to uncalled for adventurism in Sri Lanka because the Tamils there had a dispute with the Sinhalese people?

Anyway, as the situation in Sri Lanka degenerated into a civil war Sri Lanka was left to handle two different situations which threatened the very existence of that country. The first was the increasing strength of the separatist movement in the North. The second was the extremely violent, extreme left wing movement of the Janatha Vimukti Peruman (JVP) whose obvious objective was to dismantle the Sri Lankan regime and to establish an extreme left wing State. Comparisons with the nihilistic regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia come to mind. A stage came when Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the President of Sri Lanka, called for our assistance to protect that country from JVP and our first intervention took place by sending units of the Central Reserve Police Force to guard Colombo. This was welcomed by the Sri Lankans. Meanwhile the situation in the North and North East kept deteriorating and the Sri Lankan Army and Police also retaliated with force. The whole of Jaffna Peninsula, the districts of Mannar, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mullaitivu, together with Jaffna passed out of the control of the Sri Lankan Government, Anunadhapura and Pollonnaruwa were centres of major LTTE activity, Batticaloa and Trincomalee were affected and even a district as far south as Ampara was not free of LTTE terror. In Colombo there were a large number of bombings and shooting incidents in which the LTTE played a major role.

Into this cauldron stepped our young Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and his Chief of Army Staff, General K. Sunderji. Prabhakaran was called to Delhi and was made to sign some sort of a pact which could bring about an end to civil war. On return to Jaffna he said that he was virtually held a prisoner in Delhi and pressurised to sign the agreement and that he repudiated it in totality. Meanwhile Rajiv Gandhi and J.R. Jayawardane, the President of Sri Lanka, signed a pact which opened the doors for intervention by India in Sri Lanka. We first went in with humanitarian aid in Jaffna. Then Indian troops were inducted and soon we were engaged in a full-fledged war with LTTE. We suffered horrendous casualties, including more than 1450 dead and between four thousand and five thousand injured and maimed. Lt. Gen. Kobakaduwa, who was the Northern Army Commander in Sri Lanka, told me that he had advised the Indian Army that the LTTE did not consist of uneducated guerilla fighters but consisted of highly educated young persons, many of them science and engineering graduates, who had mastered the art of ambush, use of remotely detonated explosive devices and were experts in defence in depth. He had suggested that the Indian Army take Sri Lankan officers who were experienced in fighting LTTE on board for liaison purposes, but this offer was rejected. What resulted was that IPKF was in the vanguard of fighting LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army and Police were released to launch a massive onslaught on JVP and destroy it. The Indian Army, being the professional force that it is, took heavy casualties but succeeded in suppressing LTTE and driving it into a few isolated forest strongholds, where it was bottled up. Given a free hand the Indian Army and Air Force could have completely destroyed LTTE, but as is often the case in India, this free hand was not given. However, the LTTE occupied districts were restored to near normalcy and Sri Lankan civil government became functional.

Meanwhile the government changed in India and in Sri Lanka. V.P. Singh became our Prime Minister and R.Premadasa became President of Sri Lanka. Premadasa was a very wily politician, expert in intrigue and with his own hidden agenda of politics. He and Prabhakaran had a secret pact whereby he asked for withdrawal of IPKF, a demand to which V.P. Singh acceded. Without fully completing its task IPKF left Sri Lanka, thus enabling LTTE to claim a great victory. As soon as the last Indian soldier left Prabhakaran reneged on his agreement with Premadasa and in sixteen police stations of the North and more than four hundred and fifty Sri Lankan policemen were murdered. LTTE revived, the civil war dragged on and thousands of Sri Lankans were killed. The entire Jaffna Peninsula, once a very prosperous agricultural area and a centre of education, was virtually destroyed.

Neither Premadasa, who was himself assassinated, nor Chandrika Kumaratunga, who became Prime Minister and then President, were able to re-establish control over the Tamil areas, though the army continued to fight. Ultimately Mahinda Rajapaksa became President and he was cut from a different cloth. He resolutely rebuilt the Sri Lankan Army and posted as its commanders officers of a strong will and truly professional training and attitude. The Army was given all the equipment it needed, China being its main source because India would not give Sri Lanka heavy weapons and a resurgent Sri Lankan Army went about its task professionally, first clearing the North East and then driving the LTTE out of all its strongholds in the North. Ultimately, LTTE was driven into a corner where it was virtually pounded into extinction. The last stages of the civil war were savage and perhaps some elements of the Sri Lankan Army did commit excesses which a section of the Western media has projected as atrocities amounting to war crimes. In all this India was increasingly marginalised, unable to save the Tamils, unwilling to help the Sinhalese, a witness to the end of a civil war but no longer a powerful entity which could help in rebuilding Sri Lanka. All this happened because throughout this unpleasant episode of history India either adopted wrong policies or played the part of a helpless onlooker. In the process we have alienated the Sinhala and the Tamil alike. We should have rejoiced at the destruction of the most violent guerilla movement in the world, LTTE, an organisation second to none in committing atrocities against its enemies. This organisation was the origin of the suicide bomber, one of whom assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. This is the organisation which taught the Indian Army a lesson in irregular warfare which it can never forget. This is the organisation which has rekindled a highly disruptive movement in Tamil Nadu which, though it does not raise fears of separatism, is still powerful enough to influence the policy of India towards Sri Lanka, a policy that has caused us to self-destruct in that country.

I had been international observer of the elections in Sri Lanka on four occasions, ranging from local government to provincial, national and presidential elections. I have toured twenty-two out of the twenty-five districts of that country. After the parliamentary elections when I returned to Delhi my batch mate, P. Murari, who was Secretary to the President, R. Venkatraman, called me to brief the President on what I had observed in Sri Lanka and what I could suggest about our policy towards that country. Fortunately, I had been briefed fully by N.N. Jha, my batch mate and High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and I was able to communicate some of the ideas which had originated from Jha. I told the President that China was already establishing a foothold in Sri Lanka and had built a magnificent conference complex and research facility in Colombo called the Bandaranaike Centre, where international conferences were held. I told the President that we must counter Chinese influence and participate in the development of Sri Lanka so that our economic ties become closer. Carrying forward N.N. Jha’s excellent ideas I said that:
  1. We should gift to Sri Lanka one institute of IIT level and one of IIM level so that the quality of education in that country took a leap upward.
  2. We should open the doors of our technical, management, medical, scientific, humanities and liberal arts institutes and universities to Sri Lankans so that huge numbers of students from that country could be educated in India and we could thus virtually create a pro India class in Sri Lanka.
  3. Fishing is big business and the major means of livelihood of coastal people in that island country. Hitherto it is the Norwegians who had helped the Sri Lankan fishing industry. My suggestion was that we should make available about five hundred motorised inshore and offshore fishing vessels to Sri Lanka so that coastal communities could benefit. We could also help in setting up fishing harbours and processing industries.
  4. Our jewellery industry should be given free access to Sri Lanka gems, on which there should be no import duty. Whole districts which provide gems, such as Ratnapura in Sri Lanka, would benefit if the market was enlarged.
  5. We should freely allow duty free import of Sri Lankan tea, with our best quality tea being exported to the West. This would benefit both the Indian tea industry and Sri Lankan tea industry, which is a major employer of labour in that country.
  6. We should invest heavily in infrastructure, especially roads, railways, power, housing and social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, thus helping that war ravaged country to recover, rehabilitate displaced persons and restore prosperity to devastated area.
Unfortunately, none of the items initiated by Jha and suggested by me have been implemented by government. The Sri Lankan Government offered us Hambantota Port for development in the South, but we stupidly did nothing about it. That port is now being developed by the Chinese, whose footprint in Sri Lanka is now not only visible but strong.

Based on television visuals and research by people who obviously have a strong pro Tamil stance, the West, led by the United State of America, has been leading a campaign for condemning Sri Lanka for atrocities against the Tamils. The Sri Lankans have been living for a quarter of century with a situation in which thousands of Sri Lankans have been killed and the country virtually torn apart. The Indian Army has experienced the ferocity of LTTE fighters who fought to the last bullet and rather than surrender committed suicide by chewing on a cyanide capsule. Such people cannot be winkled out through police or military action because they are prepared to die rather than surrender. They can only be killed to the last man and this is the situation which the Sri Lankan Army faced. Obviously in a situation such as this civilian casualties could take place. The carpet bombing of Japanese and German cities which more or less exclusively killed civilians during the Second World War did not invite charges of genocide or war crime against the allies because they were the victors. Why should the Sri Lankan Government now be accused of these crimes for what happened during a war in which the taking of prisoners was a remote possibility? The United States Government moved a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) which virtually accused Sri Lanka of atrocities and worse and called for a plausible and credible investigation, obviously under international supervision. China and Pakistan voted against this resolution but India, under pressure from Tamil politicians and with the government facing a possibility of downfall if DMK withdrew support, voted for the resolution. In Sri Lankan eyes would not Pakistan and China be considered better friends than India? Does government have to be driven in foreign policy by Mamta Banerjee in the case of Bangladesh and M. Karunanidhi in the case of Sri Lanka? What about the self-interest of India? Has it ever occurred to our government that tomorrow if UNHRC adopts a resolution calling for a credible and plausible probe into alleged killing of innocent Sikhs by the Punjab Police, or human rights violation in Jammu & Kashmir by central forces, how would India react? No wonder India is no longer the flavour of the month in Colombo.

What are our options? First and foremost we should enter into a meaningful dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government for rehabilitation of Tamils and rebuilding of the northern districts. For this we should make available aid on an even more liberal scale than is being done in Afghanistan. The suggestions given by me to President Venkatraman are still valid and we should implement them. We should make it clear to the Sri Lankans that we believe that in the terms of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, within the overall ambit of the constitutional provision that Sri Lanka is a unitary state, the devolution of powers to the provinces must be done meaningfully, speedily and in the right spirit. If devolution is done then there would be a good case to argue that Jaffna Tamils do not have any grounds of grievance because both in intent and deed the Sri Lankan Government is keen to empower them to the maximum degree possible.

We have already lost Nepal to the Maoists and the Chinese despite the fact that Hindu and Buddhists in Nepal are so intrinsically a part of India that the two countries should actually breathe as one. This is because we have no policy towards Nepal. We are repeating the same mistake in Sri Lanka. The United States still has the Monroe Doctrine whereby there is a cordon sanitaire into which no third country can step. We do not have the advantage of a vast sea surround which protects continental America from the rest of the world. However, there are certain things on which we cannot compromise and that includes keeping Sri Lanka within the Indian zone of influence. As I have already stated there have been two armed interventions by India in Sri Lanka and to protect our interests there this is an option which must be available to us and of which the Sri Lankan Government must be aware. Economic and foreign policy ties between India and Sri Lanka must be very strong, but India must lay down the bottom line which can be transgressed by Sri Lanka only at peril. Will we ever have a government strong enough to do this? It is India’s interests which must govern our foreign policy and certainly the compulsions of Tamil politics cannot drive our policy towards Sri Lanka.

Back From The Brink

Kanwal Sibal, Dean, 
Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy

Contrary to all expectations, the Italian marines have returned to India for trial. After having formally announced that the marines will not come back, the Italian government has dramatically reversed its position. This suggests that the hardliners in the government — apparently the foreign and defence ministers — have been overruled by wiser heads. It was not normal for a country with diplomatic traditions as old as Italy’s to violate its solemn word to another friendly country so flagrantly, striking by its action at the basic structure of diplomacy which rests on the principle that countries will honour their commitments.

Even if the Italian government has had to swallow its pride and lay itself open to the charge internally of grossly mishandling the case in the first instance and misjudging the strength of the Indian reaction, especially that of the Supreme Court, it is just as well that good sense has prevailed and further escalation of differences has been avoided.

In such cases of volte-face, especially by a major European power, some face-saving compromise between parties can be expected, but no such compromise is visible. The clarifications sought by Rome and given by New Delhi that the marines will not be arrested on their return and will not face the death penalty amount to little as the marines were already on bail, were returning within the four-week deadline laid down by the Supreme Court and the circumstances of the case do not at all justify the death penalty.

It is just as well that the situation has been defused and further deterioration of bilateral ties averted. By announcing that the marines would not return, the Italian government had deliberately raised the political and legal ante to a level that put enormous stress on bilateral ties. The Supreme Court and the country at large felt duped by the Italian decision. It defied belief that the Italian government would knowingly give a false affidavit to the Supreme Court and cover up further its deceptive intentions by approving a false undertaking by its ambassador. Even if the Italian government has strongly disagreed with India’s position on jurisdiction over the two marines, and even if it has faced intense public pressure at home to defend their rights, recourse to duplicity and fraud to spirit away the marines from Indian judicial control was hardly defensible. It had the option to take strong political steps to show its displeasure by recalling its ambassador in protest, curtailing official links, mobilizing the European Union in its favour, taking up the issue in whichever international forum was available to it. It opted, instead, to show contempt for the Indian Supreme Court and disdain for India.

In a sense, the conditions for the crisis were created by the Indian side. The Supreme Court was extraordinarily accommodating in entertaining the plea to let the marines go back to Italy in February for voting when they had returned just a month earlier after spending Christmas with their families. Why did the Supreme Court feel that it was important that they should vote? In granting successive furloughs in Italy, the consideration shown for those responsible for recklessly killing two Indian citizens seemed excessive.

The Supreme Court, for all its generosity, had to have a guarantee that the marines would return. Such a guarantee could only come from the ambassador in the name of his government, and it was given. It was overlooked that this guarantee was inherently political, not legally enforceable in case of default. Neither the counsel for the Italians nor the government counsel had reason to clarify to the judges that, under the immunity provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, any undertaking by the ambassador would not be legally actionable against his person if not eventually honoured, as both wanted the marines to have a break and were willing to rely on the good faith of the Italian government. In retrospect, the Supreme Court could be accused of being naive, but, in all fairness, neither the court nor the government could have anticipated the Italian government’s unscrupulous conduct.

While the furore in India over this was justified, calls for punitive action against the ambassador, even by leading jurists, on the ground that the ambassador had voluntarily subjected himself to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, seemed ill-conceived and violative of the provisions of the VCDR, which are clear about the diplomatic immunity of ambassadors.

The Vienna Convention (Article 32.2) says that the waiver has to be expressed. In this case, the Italian government did not say, nor would it have done so, that in case of default the ambassador could be proceeded against legally as his diplomatic immunity could be considered waived. The convention also requires a second waiver for the execution of any judgment, which means that even if the court were to claim that the Italian ambassador had voluntarily submitted himself to its jurisdiction in the first instance, a further waiver by the Italian government of the ambassador’s immunity would be necessary for any punishment. Article 32.3, which says that initiation of proceedings under Article 37 by a diplomatic agent will not allow him to claim immunity in case of a counter-claim directly connected to the principal claim, is not applicable as Article 37 relates to families of diplomatic agents, the service, technical and administrative staff of the mission, and not to the ambassador.

The Supreme Court’s order restraining the ambassador from leaving the country has already created a major precedent by interpreting loosely a country’s obligation under the VCDR to respect the diplomatic immunity of an ambassador. This has caused serious disquiet in diplomatic missions in New Delhi, as the possibility that Indian courts could, in future too, interpret the principle of diplomatic immunity circumstantially cannot be ruled out. In any case, bilateral options against Italy being available to us, converting our differences with Italy into an international issue by seriously infringing the VCDR and disturbing the principles of diplomatic functioning in general would have been most unwise.

The Italian government showed prudence in not asking the ambassador to defy the court’s order, as any physical restraint on him would have gravely escalated matters. The court’s order and the external affairs ministry’s statement that the government was bound by it did put enormous political and psychological pressure on the Italian government. The EU has been measured in its support for Italy, but a big India-EU dispute could have arisen if we had been cavalier with the VCDR. While it is true that American and European countries have disregarded the principle of diplomatic immunity by subjecting some of our missions to local labour laws, to judgments of local courts on compensation issues — attaching bank accounts to force payments, imposing traffic fines and so on — we have to be careful not to widen the scope of such breaches by unilateral action against the person of an ambassador.

Fortunately, escalation has been avoided. The Italian government should be commended for retreating from an untenable position. For us, seeking to rewrite international law on diplomatic immunity was a fraught option. India and Italy can now, hopefully, resume normal, friendly business with each other.

Pakistan’s Dangerous Quest for Tactical Nukes

Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal (Visiting Fellow, VIF)
Monika Chansoria (Senior Fellow, CLWS)

Pakistan’s quest to acquire tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) has added a dangerous dimension to the already precarious strategic equation in South Asia. The security discourse in the subcontinent revolves around the perennial apprehension of a conventional or sub-conventional conflict triggering a chain reaction, eventually paving the way for a potential nuclear crisis haunting peace and stability in the region.

The Pakistan army’s directorate of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), announced the successful testing of the 60-km nuclear-capable short-range missile Hatf IX (Nasr) on 11 February 2013 and declared, “…Nasr, can carry nuclear warheads of appropriate yield, with high accuracy… and has been specially designed to defeat all known anti-tactical missile defence systems.” The test, an implicit signal to the region about Pakistan’s commitment to developing “full spectrum deterrence including the use of TNWs”, was witnessed by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Khalid Shameem Wynne, Director General Strategic Plans Division, Lieutenant General Khalid Ahmed Kidwai (Retd), and Commander Army Strategic Forces Command, Lieutenant General Tariq Nadeem Gilani.

While Pakistan believes that the Nasr “adds deterrence value to Pakistan’s strategic weapons development programme at shorter ranges,” it has, in fact, further lowered its nuclear threshold through the likely use of TNWs. Pakistan has not formally declared a nuclear doctrine, but it is well known that nuclear weapons are its first line of defence. Its presumed “first-use” policy is aimed at negating India’s conventional military superiority by projecting a low nuclear threshold. The use of TNWs in the India-Pakistan case will alter the strategic scenario completely as Pakistan would threaten India with the use of TNWs in the event of New Delhi responding against Islamabad with a conventional strike in reaction to a 26/11-style terrorist attack. According to the Pakistan army, TNWs are designed to counter India’s Cold Start doctrine. Under this new policy, Indian troop formations could well face an onslaught of Pakistani TNWs.

Tactical nuclear weapons, often referred to as “battlefield”, “sub-strategic”, or “non-strategic” nuclear weapons, usually have a plutonium core and are typically distinct from strategic nuclear weapons. Therefore, they warrant a separate consideration in the realm of nuclear security. The yield of such weapons is generally lower than that of strategic nuclear weapons and may range from the relatively low 0.1 kiloton to a few kilotons. As Pakistan is already building its fourth nuclear reactor at Khushab—a plutonium producing unit, the clamour in the Pakistan armed forces for manufacturing tactical nuclear weapons has gone up.

Pakistan has been advocating the concept of a Strategic Restraint Regime based upon the principle of nuclear restraint and conventional force reductions and has termed it as a strategic confidence-building measure. Often citing what it terms as “India’s conventional military threat”, Pakistan forgets that given its offensive strategic posture and continuing involvement in terror strikes in India, it is New Delhi which is confronted with the problem of developing a strategy to counter Pakistan’s “first-strike” and proxy war in light of its declared “no-first-use” policy.

India has always viewed nuclear weapons as a political instrument whose sole purpose is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons against itself. India’s nuclear doctrine clearly outlines the strategy of credible minimum deterrence and also establishes that India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike. However, India shall respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail. To achieve this end, India’s nuclear doctrine calls for a sufficient, survivable and operationally prepared nuclear force; a robust command and control system; effective intelligence and early warning capabilities; comprehensive planning and training for operations in line with strategy; and requisite primary and alternate chains of command to employ nuclear weapons.

If Pakistan intends to develop these lower-yield nuclear warheads that can be fired from short-range tactical missiles, a future limited war scenario with India with grave repercussions remains a possibility. Pakistan should cooperate with India by taking requisite steps to stabilise nuclear deterrence and minimise existential nuclear dangers. It should not indulge in further destabilising nuclear deterrence in the name of “balancing the asymmetry with India in conventional capabilities.” India, yet again, has acted as a responsible player by not going down the TNW route fully acknowledging the perils involved. Pakistan needs to introspect. Even one nuclear strike-- tactical or otherwise --whether in India or against Indian forces, shall unquestionably invite massive punitive retaliation that will finish Pakistan as a nation state.
The history of nuclear deterrence tells us that TNWs lower the nuclear threshold and that makes them inherently destabilising. Their command and control is complex as it involves delegation of the authority to launch to commanders in the field if they are to avoid being confronted with the “use them, or lose them” challenge. Pakistan has opted to go down a dangerous path. It must stop its quest for TNWs as weapons of war.

Stance on Sri Lanka a Blunder

Kanwal Sibal, Dean, 
Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy

Our conduct at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) at Geneva on the US sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka on human rights violations of the tamilian population has raised questions about the coherence, maturity and objectivity of our policy towards our neighbour. Our Sri Lanka policy has to be based on wider considerations than politicking within the UPA government and exaggerated posturing for electoral reasons by the DMK on the ethnic issue.

The anguish in Tamilnadu about the Rajapakse government’s failure to make tangible political progress on the ethnic issue should be recognized. The Sri Lankan government has not been able to shed the mood of truimphalism after the decisive military victory over the LTTE; it has gone back on its promises on devolution; an honest probe into alleged large scale human rights violations during the last days of military operations remains pending; the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission have not been implemented.

However, to allow this anguish to govern our policy towards Sri Lanka, to the exclusion of other factors, would be a serious mistake, especially when demagoguery is resorted to by sections of political opinion in Tamilnadu and the tamilian diaspora abroad. There is loose talk of genocide despite the cessation of miltary operations four years ago. Why is that between 2009 and now this genocide of tamilians was not discovered? Why castigate the deplorable political failure of the Rajapakse government as genocide?

Foreign Policy

No doubt foreign policy cannot be altogether divorced from domestic opinion and regional sentiments therefore cannot be ignored in foreign policy making. Foreign policy, however, operates in a context quite different from domestic politics, the stakes are different, the involvement and interests of third parties is a complicating factor, and national security and geo-political factors come into play. Besides, the weightage to give to regional sentiments as distinguished from national sentiment has salience in decision-making.

If our foreign policy towards Sri Lanka should be based on the sentiments of the people of Tamilnadu today, then sentiments in West Bengal should dictate our foreign policy towards Bangladesh tomorrow, and those in UP and Bihar should determine what we do with Nepal day after. It would be a mistake to begin treating our relations with our neighbours as extensions of the pulls and pressures of our domestic politics. Our neighbours are independent, sovereign countries, which requires that we control our domestic lobbies and prevent them from distorting our policies in our periphery. Moreover, when the states are today resisting strongly encroachment on their powers in a federal system, they should also respect the prerogative of the centre to make foreign policy.

Unlike ours, US stakes in Sri Lanka are limited. They do not need to calculate the consequences of the initiative they take to censure Sri Lanka at the UNHRC with as much care as we have to. They promote the human rights dimension of their foreign policy as part of the larger objective to universalize their values, to retain the high moral ground in international affairs and avert attention from the human costs of their military operations abroad. They do not take into account the stress they put on our policy towards Sri Lanka by moving resolutions in the UNHRC against it, forcing us to adopt a position that we would like to leave undefined so as to retain sufficient space to deal with the complex situation there.

Apart from this gap in managing our strategic relationship with the US in our neighbourhood, it is galling that we have to support the targeting of Sri Lanka by bodies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which gave us a miserable time in the 1990’s over allegations of human rights violations by our forces in J&K, boosting the Pakistani campaign against us on this issue.


Even the US State Department was complicit in this. We opposed the objectivity and credibility of these human rights organisations when we were targeted; now we endorse their findings to put Sri Lanka on the mat.

Our policy of not supporting country specific human rights resolutions at Geneva was sound, as these resolutions are used by the West to erode the international legitimacy of regimes considered adversarial. We have been criticized for not taking a clear cut position on human rights issues as behoves a democracy and a rising power called upon to assume greater responsibility for upholding the international order. Apart from a disinclination to play by double standards, we have favoured dialogue over denunciation in dealing with human rights abuses in countries. We abandoned this policy last year in voting against Sri Lanka and did so again this year.


This time too we began by softening the US resolution where it was too intrusive and undercut Sri Lankan sovereignty too blatantly. However, because of extreme DMK pressure on the government our diplomatic strategy fell into an embarrassing disarray. In a last ditch effort to placate the DMK we sought a toughening of the US resolution after our previous efforts to soften it. Worse, the US rebuffed India because it did not want the balance of the resolution disturbed for fear of losing numbers in support. We put ourselves in a situation where the US appeared moderate and we unprincipled and opportunistic.

We do not have to condone Sri Lanka’s failure on reconciliation and accountability issues. But we should deal bilaterally with Sri Lanka, and forcefully at that to contain the mounting backlash in Tamilnadu. As a regional power we should not outsource such responsibility to others, as this erodes our position and exposes our irresolution, adding to our neighbourly woes. If we don’t use our power we will be seen as powerless.

Pervez Musharraf Returns...From Exile into Oblivion?

Sushant Sareen 
(Senior Fellow, VIF)

Pakistan’s former military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf, has ended his nearly five year long self-exile to return home to a tepid welcome by a handful of die-hard supporters and what was clearly a ‘rent-a-crowd’ bunch of people.
While his return did have some news value, the sort of excitement on display on Indian TV channels was completely missing on Pakistani airwaves. Musharraf might make for good TV but to imagine that he is a serious player in Pakistan's politics is to stretch the limits of incredulity.

In a sense, Musharraf’s return has illustrated two phenomenon, one in India and the other in Pakistan. The Indian interest in Musharraf is nothing if not a stark comment on the astounding ignorance about Pakistan's politics. On the other hand, Musharraf’s self-portrayal and self-belief that he remains popular in Pakistan, that he has a role to play in Pakistan's politics and its future, and that he will prove to be Pakistan's saviour, is reflective of the climate of denial that is pervading Pakistan's state and society. Apart from megalomania, which is primarily borne out of a delusionary state of mind, Musharraf also seems to be suffering from the ‘manifest destiny’ complex. He is quite clearly suffering from the withdrawal symptoms of a person who from being the toast of the international community has now been toasted by being consigned to the dustbin of history.

Politically, Musharraf is a complete non-entity. On his own, he is incapable of winning even a Resident Welfare Association election. Far from playing a pivotal role in Pakistani politics, which will be possible only if he can manage to win more than a handful of seats in the National Assembly, Musharraf will be extremely lucky if he can even win his own seat without the crutches of support from a party like the MQM. His own party, All Pakistan Muslim League, exists only on paper and has no presence on the ground. No surprises then that Musharraf, who points to hundreds of thousands of ‘friends’ on his Facebook page and ‘followers’ on Twitter as a measure of his popularity, is lampooned by his detractors who say that he might be a leader in the ‘Islamic Republic of Facebook’ but is a non-entity in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
What Musharraf doesn’t seem to understand or at least refuses to acknowledge because of his faux bravado is that deposed dictators are like expired medicine, or worse, used toiler paper: no one has any use for them and hence they are best discarded. Pakistani society, in spite of its obsession with Islam, is metaphorically at least, quite unabashed in its worship of the rising sun. Musharraf’s sun has set and the legions that were at his beck and call when he was at his zenith are nowhere to be found. If anything, associating with him is a huge political liability which no active politician can afford. In order to understand Musharraf’s prospects in Pakistan, all that needs to be done is study the fate of Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Gen. Yahya Khan after they were deposed. Also instructive is the pathetic state of Gen Aslam Beg after he retired. When he was at the helm of the army, Beg was pretty much the master of all he surveyed. After retirement he formed a political party which is so irrelevant that probably even Beg doesn’t remember its name.

Musharraf could well be harbouring the misconception that the terrible record of governance of the PPP-led coalition would have made the people of Pakistan hanker for his return at the helm of affairs. But what he has not taken into account is the fact that even though there is a lot of public anger against the PPP-led coalition, hardly anyone in Pakistan is remembers Musharraf fondly. His name is still mud, and he is still blamed for all the existential crises that Pakistan is facing. Given such a climate of hostility, even if he wins his own seat in National Assembly, he will be subjected to the sort of indignities by his fellow lawmakers which he will find difficult to digest. Remember, as President, he refused to address the Parliament (despite it being a constitutional requirement) because of the fear that the opposition would indulge in sloganeering against him.

While it is a no brainer that he is not a serious player in Pakistan's politics, the threats that he faces to his life and his liberty are quite serious. His old institution, the army, isn’t quite comfortable with his return and in fact is believed to have tried to dissuade him from returning. One reason for this is that if the cases against Musharraf were to be opened in the Courts, it could drag in the current top brass which was equally culpable for the actions of Musharraf. Another reason is that the Army will not like to see Musharraf being put behind bars, but will also find it difficult to stop the Courts from doing this. His return also confronts the Pakistani judiciary, which has been quick on the draw against politicians, with a dilemma. There are very serious charges against Musharraf including treason (the emergency he declared in 2007), murder (Akbar Bugti’s killing), conspiracy (Benazir Bhutto assassination) and mass murder (Lal Masjid operation). If in the face of these cases the judiciary doesn’t take action against Musharraf, it will open itself to the charge of having kowtowed to the Army; if they take action against him, it will incur the hostility of the military.

But more than the predicament of the military and the judiciary, it is the threat to his life from the Islamist terror groups that simply cannot be ignored. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has already announced that it has prepared a special squad to kill Musharraf. Also baying for his blood are the heirs of Akbar Bugti, Baloch insurgents, sectarian groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi with links with the TTP and Al Qaeda, and the Lal Masjid affectees (also with links with TTP and Al Qaeda). Given that he will no longer enjoy the sort of security that he did when he was head of state and army chief means that Musharraf will be extremely vulnerable. He would therefore save many people a lot of trouble if he was to leave Pakistan once again. But if he has decided to make his final stand in Pakistan, then chances are that it won’t be long in coming. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Anti-Lanka vote was a bad idea

Kanwal Sibal, Dean, 
Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy

India has once again joined the US and other western countries to censure Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on the Tamil issue. This is objectionable on many counts.

For many years we have fought our own battles with the earlier incarnation of the UNHRC on the issue of human rights violations of the Kashmiris at the instance of Pakistan. Organisations like the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the very same that are exposing Sri Lanka to ignominy at Geneva, targeted us relentlessly in the past as delinquents. The US played an encouraging role in this, with the State Department bruising us in its own rights annual reports. We should not have forgotten our own experience so quickly and made common cause with these countries and organisations so readily.

We have all along opposed using human rights as a political instrument to "name and shame" those countries considered adversaries and shield friendly countries with a deplorable rights record from denigration. We have favoured dealing with such sensitive issues bilaterally, with a dialogue oriented rather than a denunciatory approach. We have therefore voted against country-specific resolutions as a matter of principle — until last year when we voted against Sri Lanka.

Our stakes in Sri Lanka are far higher than those of the US. The latter's human rights activism in our neighbourhood is problematic, especially as it reduces our diplomatic room for manoeuvre and forces us to adopt positions that we may not consider opportune because, more than the US, we have a balance a whole host of complex factors and challenges. Such extra-regional initiatives only generate policy tensions for us. Our strategic partnership with the US requires that it defers to our priorities and interests in our neighbourhood, rather than force us into uncomfortable positioning. India should have an independent policy, at least in our neighbourhood, rather than be forced to follow the US lead.

This does not mean that we have to condone Sri Lanka's failure on reconciliation and accountability issues, implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and conducting an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law. But we should deal with these issues bilaterally with Sri Lanka, and as forcefully as required. We should not outsource such responsibility to others, acknowledging in the process the limitations of our clout with our neighbours. We will count even less with our neighbours if we do that.

If we have been buffetted by external pressure on our diplomacy at the UNHRC, our position there has suffered even more because of internal pressure from the DMK. Having voted in favour of an anti-Sri Lankan resolution last year, we couldn't have changed that position this year without progress by Sri Lanka on pending political and human rights issues. However, to balance an unfriendly blow to Sri Lanka in which we would be participating, we tried initially to soften the provisions of the US prompted resolution in order to make them less intrusive and more respectful of Sri Lankan sovereignty, consistent with our principled position on such matters. But as DMK pressure increased we seem to have stepped back from such efforts and asked the Sri Lankan Government to negotiate with the US directly.

When the DMK upped the ante by breaking away from the UPA, the panic-stricken government made a volte-face and sought to harden the very resolution against Sri Lanka that we had sought to soften to begin with. We made a last-ditch effort to propose amendments to that effect, which the US turned down for fear of narrowing the support for a tougher resolution. Ironically, this has made the US look moderate and India as baying for more Sri Lankan blood. India ended up looking opportunistic and unprincipled, a victim of its internal political wranglings, with a government in New Delhi not fully in control of foreign policy. The maturity and steadiness of our diplomacy gets questioned by such antics.

We should accept that India's foreign policy should reflect domestic sentiments. The importance of public opinion cannot be disregarded, but we have seen in the case of many democratic countries that foreign policy decisions get taken even when vocal sections of society are against because larger national interests dictate a particular course of action, however unpopular temporarily. Our foreign policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dictated by local sentiment in Tamil Nadu, however legitimate in some respects the anguish of our Tamil population over happenings in Sri Lanka. We have to differentiate between domestic sentiment at large and strong regional sentiment, especially if it is hijacked by extremists talking loosely of genocide four years after military operations have ended.

When the Periphery becomes Peripheral : Perils And Pitfalls of India's Neighbourhood Policy

Sushant Sareen 
(Senior Fellow, VIF)

The Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, best articulated the sentiment sweeping through large parts of India in the recent months. Reacting to the resolution of the Pakistan National Assembly on Kashmir and Afzal Guru’s hanging, Jaitley said that “if India can be kicked around in this manner, there is something seriously wrong about our external policy”.If it were only Pakistan, once again resorting to its incorrigible irredentism on Kashmir, it could have been explained away. But what has added to the sense of disquiet about the drift in India’s neighbourhood policy is the glaring inability of the incumbent government to play an effective role in India’s own backyard. From Maldives to Myanmar, from Afghanistan to Bangladesh, from Sri Lanka to Pakistan and Nepal, India almost appears to be a mute bystander, watching events unfold from the sidelines, events that have a serious bearing on India’s own security.

Despite India looming large in the region, not just because of its physical size and population but also its economic power and military strength, it has not been able to translate this into effective power on the ground. What is worse, India seems to have taken the fairy tale of non-interference and non-intervention, especially of the unsolicited or uninvited kind, in the affairs of other countries so seriously that it has even refused to exercise its natural influence in many of the countries of the region. While the lament that India doesn’t have or hasn’t developed sufficient leverages and pressure points that will allow it to use its influence in the neighbouring countries is often voiced, the tragedy is that India seems chary of using even the leverages that exist.

Like the perception in Pakistan of the US being behind every leaf that moves in that country, there is also a perception among some of India’s neighbours that nothing moves in their countries without India’s concurrence. A successful diplomacy would be one that exploits this perception and uses it as an asset in order to influence the course of events without being seen to be either interfering or intervening in the domestic affairs of any country. Instead, India goes overboard in trying to dispel this perception by adopting a hands-off approach. Worse, India expects all other countries to do the same.

Politics, whether domestic or international, however, abhors vacuum. Thus it is that India’s failure to use its considerable influence in Nepal to sort out the political mess there has resulted in China moving into Nepal in a big way. Consequently, India’s influence is withering away at an alarming rate. There was a time not long back when countries like the US and UK expected India to take the lead in Nepal. But after India’s failure to act in a meaningful way despite the bulk of Nepalese political players looking towards India, created a situation where Nepal is fast spiralling out of India’s sphere of influence. For India to now crib and complain about the inroads made by the Chinese is puerile.

In Nepal, a lot of the blame must rest on the cluelessness in the Indian foreign office about the enormous changes in the Nepalese polity. India’s Special Envoy, who had served as Ambassador in Nepal, failed to understand that the Twin Pillar policy – King plus multi-party democracy – had run its course. By continuing to support this anachronism, India only shot itself in the foot. The situation could have been retrieved subsequently, but only if India had a clear and coherent idea on what exactly served its interests in Nepal and how it planned to achieve its policy objective. But in the absence of this clarity, the easiest thing to do was mouth slogans and do nothing, except react and respond to situations as they developed.

Forget about Nepal, even in Sri Lanka, India seems hell bent on making a hash of things. Effectively, India seems to have reduced its Sri Lanka policy to a single point agenda – the state of Tamils in Sri Lanka. This is of course partly because of political compulsions of the government in New Delhi and the pressure being put on it by crucial allies in Tamil Nadu. But when emotionalism starts holding all other critical national interests hostage, then failure of foreign policy is a natural outcome. While even the Lankans understand India’s interest in the Tamil issue and are willing to engage with India in finding a solution, surely passing resolutions in the Indian Parliament or supporting Human Rights resolutions against Sri Lanka at the UN is hardly any way of conducting relations with a friendly country in which India has important economic and strategic interests. Moreover, India’s carping over Lanka asking the Chinese to develop ports is completely disingenuous. Since the 1950’s, whether it was on the Trincomalee oil depot, the Radio Ceylon frequency, or in recent years the Hambantota port and Colombo port expansion, the Lankan’s have always given the first offer to India. Only after India refused to participate in the project was it given elsewhere. After first rejecting the Lankan proposal and then complaining when the Lankans farm it out to someone else, India only invites ridicule.

Over the years, in the region, India has gained the dubious reputation where its friends have no faith in it and its adversaries do not fear it. According to a former chief of the Indian external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), this is because the policy framework (for whatever it is worth) is geared towards appearing as nice guys who are respected out of love and not out of fear. While repeatedly mouthing inanities like ‘friendly, historical, cultural and civilizational relations’, India seems to have actually internalised this tripe, and in the process forgotten the basic dictum of international diplomacy that nations have ‘permanent interests’ which should guide their foreign policy.

As for standing solidly behind friends, the words of a top Pakistani politician come to mind. Interacting with him as part of the back channel diplomacy, his Indian interlocutors tried to impress upon him the benefits of opening up to India. This Pakistani politician didn’t really need any convincing on this score. But his counter question to his Indian interlocutors stumped them. He asked “will India stand by me if I face trouble at home because of reaching out to India?” Sure enough, once he landed in trouble with the Pakistani ‘deep state’, India simply forgot about him, until he once again made a comeback when the same short-sighted Indian establishment started scurrying to curry his favour. But the damage had been done.

What happened with this Pakistani politician is something that has happened with innumerable well-wishers and friends of India in the neighbourhood. The result: no one really trusts India’s word anymore and only someone really crazy will go out on a limb for India. Some of this we are today witnessing with the deposed president of Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed. Beguiled by the approach and promises of the current President Waheed, the Indians let Nasheed hang out to dry and soon realised that they had been led up the garden path by the Islamist leaning Waheed and his cohorts. In a deliberate move, Waheed threw out the Indian company building the Male airport, has been openly bad-mouthing India in China, has been hobnobbing with Islamists (including the Pakistani terrorist group Jamaatud Dawa / Lashkar-e-Taiba), has allowed China to build infrastructure that could become part of the ‘string of pearls’ encircling India. And what has India done apart from twiddling its thumbs?

Instead of ‘winning friends and influencing people’, India seems to have perfected the art of ‘how to lose friends and alienate people’ in its neighbourhood. If the enormous time, treasure and thought wasted on trying to normalise what is an utterly fruitless relationship with Pakistan had been invested on the other countries of the region, perhaps India would a lot more to show for its labours. Of course, while it would be unfair to heap all the blame for this developing disaster of foreign policy only on the present government, the current political leadership – it is actually a travesty to use the word ‘leadership’ in the context of the current Prime Minister – must bear its share of responsibility for foisting a befuddled foreign minister on the country and not providing any sort of clear political direction to the bureaucracy.

But asides of the sheer absence of even a modicum of statecraft in the incumbents – quite natural for a technocrat-led government of the babu, by the babu, for the babu (and one daresay, baba) – there are other equally serious problems that have brought India to such a pass. There are structural and systemic issues, political compulsions, lack of practical policy making experience and even intellectual capacity and understanding in academia (think-tanks and universities), and a serious attention deficit syndrome (not just in the media but also in the policy making and political establishment) which have also contributed to the inability of the Indian state in playing a robust role in shaping developments in the neighbourhood.

The Ministry of External Affairs is sorely underequipped and understaffed, not to mention, overburdened (actually deluged) by routine matters that the officials just don’t have the time to do long term planning and strategising. The Perspective Planning Division which was supposed to do some of this work is essentially a dumping ground for officers. Perhaps, if there was synergy between the officials and academia (think-tanks and universities) some of this could have been outsourced. But partly because official India is more bothered about protecting its turf than protecting national interest, partly because of a certain superciliousness that characterises people who manage to pass the civil services exam and partly because of the generally poor intellectual capacity and wooly headed and theoretical approach of academia which is so often completely divorced from the hard and harsh realities of international politics and power, there is practically hardly any input in policy making from outside the government. Another huge problem is the tendency both among officials and non-officials to tow the line which they think the political master wants to hear. Sycophancy is a pervasive phenomenon in the system and hence no one is ready to make a dispassionate analysis or recommendation because it might jeopardise the post-retirement prospects of the bureaucrat. Actually, the re-employment industry that has been opened by this government for never letting pliable and fawning (if also foolish and incompetent) officers retire, is to a large extent responsible for the faulty policies on the neighbourhood.

Then there is the problem of a lack of specialisation even within the government on the region. Officials are regarded as experts on a country because they happen to have served there. But most of them don’t know the local language, don’t know the sociology of the place, don’t have any idea of political complexities, and have only a perfunctory knowledge of the economy. In any case, for most officials a posting in the neighbourhood is often a fate worse than death. Like in the IAS, where a young officer thinks his life has come to an end if he is allotted a North-East cadre, many IFS officers would rather serve as irrelevant third world diplomat in Europe or America than as a relevant diplomat in the neighbourhood. But why blame only the bureaucracy. Statecraft has been reduced to the misuse and abuse of CBI to arm twist political allies and rivals. The Central Government is unable to factor in the growing influence of border states in formulation of foreign policy. While there is no constitutional requirement to consult states or even parliament on issues of foreign policy, there is a political argument in favour of doing this. This means evolving a mechanism to engage with states not only through a regular liaison with state governments but also a public outreach for explaining foreign policy imperatives. Otherwise, be ready for fiascos like the Teesta water agreement and the current uproar over the Tamil question in Sri Lanka.

The media too must share part of the blame. Quite simply, for the media the neighbourhood isn’t sexy enough to cover on a regular basis. How much column space or air time has been devoted to the incredible Shahbagh movement in Bangladesh? And would the Tamil issue in Sri Lanka have got so much coverage if it wasn’t for its repercussions on domestic politics? The media indulges in parachute journalism in the neighbourhood and there is practically no specialisation on any of the neighbouring countries. Apart from one or two newspapers, how many media outfits have bureaus in the neighbouring countries? Having a stringer isn’t quite the same thing as posting one or more correspondents in countries which have such critical bearing on India’s national security. The think-tanks are no better. Most of them are nothing more than glorified event managers, spending large sums of money in hosting generally pointless track-II meetings and seminars. But ask them to send a researcher for a couple of months to a neighbouring country, and they will balk. The Americans on the other hand encourage and finance young researchers to spend even a couple of years in the country of their interest.

If India has to pull its weight in the international community, it must first be able to use its influence in its own backyard and shape the region in way that it advances India’s interests. But for this to happen, India must first know what it wants. Then, it must forge the instruments for achieving its objectives. This will require investment – of time, money and intellect. Without this, India will not just see a whittling down of its influence, but worse, face serious destabilisation in its periphery which cannot but have a severe impact on India’s own security and stability. If however the periphery remains peripheral for the policy and opinion makers in this country, then it will only be at the cost of India’s own well-being.

Vimarsha: “Decolonising the Indian Mind”

On 16 March 2013, VIF welcomed Prof. Kapil Kapoor, former Pro-Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Editor in Chief of the Encyclopedia of Hinduism, as the guest speaker on its Vimarsha series of talks by eminent persons. Mr. Ajit Doval KC, Director VIF, stated that “Minds” will be the future tools of establishing control and therefore it is very important to understand how colonised the Indian mind today is. More daunting is the task of “Decolonising the Indian Mind” – precisely the subject on which Prof. Kapoor was going to deliberate upon during his talk.

Assessing the Indian Mind, Prof. Kapoor elaborated the likely effects of colonisation on our minds, a few of which are identity crisis, loss of ‘voice’, and submergence of vocabulary, and as a consequence we observe subjugation of minds which can be seen in our attitudes, decisions, self-appraisal and practices. Thus, because of colonisation we lost self-knowledge, traditions, cultures and values. However, this ‘loss of self-knowledge’ is usually accompanied with the process of ‘recovery’ and therefore the entire phenomenon is cyclical, known asVyasa Parampara.
The British colonisation was different from the previous Greek and Islamic interventions. During the British period, we lost our sense of adversary, or what is called the shatru-bodha, and embraced the colonisers, presuming that they had come to liberate us. The British left behind an education system that still keeps us colonized even after 60 years of Independence. This educational system taught us human centrality, dissected God/Gods from Nature, asserted that the rest is there to serve human purpose, and that nature is not sacred. It established adversarial relations between Humans and Gods.

As a result, Prof. Kapoor argued, the Indian mind, especially the educated class, can observe conflicts in our values. Instead of practicing restraint or Sanyama, we practice indulgence; instead of a disciplined life orNiyama, we endorse freedom; instead of reverence or Shraddha, we believe in disposing off (whether objects, or relations); and instead of identifying and fulfilling our duties or Dharma, we fight for our rights.

In concluding his talk, Prof. Kapoor emphasized on the importance of our education system, stressing on how Macaulay and others had transformed our education to suit the British colonial interests, and argued that re-structuring our education system is the key to begin the process of decolonisation of the Indian mind. The session was concluded with a set of questions raised by an enthusiastic audience, clearly capturing how well the talk was received.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Interaction of VIF Delegation with China Institute for International Strategic Studies at Beijing

A VIF delegation led by Mr. Ajit Doval and comprising of Gen. (Retd.) NC Vij, Amb. PP Shukla, Lt. Gen. Ravi Sawhney and Brig (Retd.) Vinod Anand visited China Institute for International Strategic Studies at Beijing on 15th March 2013 and interacted with their faculty. The topics discussed were Sino-Indian relations and the emerging scenario in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ajit Doval highlighted the importance of bilateral relationship between the two countries. He was of the view that there are plenty of commonalities between the two nations as far as threats and challenges to the two countries are concerned. There was a need to look for innovative ways to improve the relations between the two. Mr. Zhao Ning, the leader of the Chinese delegation agreed with the observations made by Mr. Doval and stressed that both are emerging economies and if we like the current century to be described as Asian century then cooperation between India and China was very important.

Amb. Zhao Gang, a former Ambassador to India deliberated upon Sino-Indian relations. He opined that Chinese government was satisfied with the present state of China-India relations; he highlighted the frequent exchanges between high level leaders from both the sides. There was cooperation in multilateral organizations/institutions, enhanced economic exchanges, cooperation in anti-terror efforts etc. Yet, he said that there were problems in some areas; peace and tranquility has been maintained on the border and there was a need for a resolution. However, his remark that Sino-Indian border is 2000 KM in length was promptly questioned by Amb. PP Shukla and Gen. NC Vij. Amb. PP Shukla further stressed that this claim of border being 2000 KM long was of recent origin and the solution to the boundary question should be found at the earliest. Amb. Shukla also remarked that the question of trade imbalance between India and China also needs to be addressed. Further, China was similar to India culturally and emotionally and Beijing should leverage this goodwill.

Gen. NC Vij spoke about his official visit to China and remarked that so far as boundary issue was concerned not much progress has been made in the last 13 years; he was of the view that if China has been able to solve its boundary problems with 13 countries then why can’t it be solved with India. He also remarked on China’s unconditional friendship with Pakistan with which India is uncomfortable. Further, there was a need to enhance mil to mil relations between the two countries.

Afghanistan issue was also deliberated upon and Chinese perspective on ‘possible scenarios of post-2014 Afghanistan’ was articulated by Mr. Lin Yu. Main concern was the spread of terrorism in case of unstable conditions in Afghanistan. There was a need for an Afghan national reconciliation otherwise a civil war scenario was a distinct possibility. Mr. Mu Changlin also observed that China was very worried about the situation. Mr. Ajit Doval and Lt. Gen. Ravi Sawhney gave out the Indian perspective on evolving situation in Afghanistan and possibilities of cooperation between the neighbours of Afghanistan including China and India. There was a general consensus that there were many uncertainties in the emerging Afghan scenario and regional cooperation was necessary for a positive outcome.