Looking Ahead


Ramesh Phadke
January 12, 2010

Has the time come for India to launch multiple peace initiatives? In the eight years since, the US-led war on global terrorism began on October 8, 2001 against the Taliban and al Qaeda both Afghanistan and Iraq have seen much devastation and regime change and the former is now bracing up for a troop surge. Most analysts are, however, agreed that the United States is neither looking to win the war nor to establishing democracy in this hapless land called Afghanistan. The United States can at best work towards making the region manageable so that Obama can actually begin withdrawing troops by the middle of 2011.

Pakistan has never been happy about India’s presence in Afghanistan even if only for reconstruction efforts. Only recently Prime Minister Gilani told the UK foreign minister Miliband to ‘not include India in the proposed Afghan Council’. North Korea continues to dodge the various attempts of the major powers to denuclearise and at the same time. Iran shows no signs of giving up its uranium enrichment plans. According to some experts, e.g. George Friedman of ‘Stratfor’, military action against Iran by the United States, either alone or in collaboration with Israel, appears to be a distinct possibility in the not too distant future since both Russia and China would not support more stringent sanctions in the United Nations. Should such a war come to pass, the South Asian neighbourhood would be the worst hit. Even if Iran succeeds in only temporarily disrupting the movement of oil in the Persian Gulf, the effects could well be catastrophic for the whole world and China, Japan and India in particular as these countries are even more dependent on Gulf oil.

As if by coincidence, four Indian strategic/military experts have voiced their concern about the possibility of a two-front war with Pakistan and China without giving any specific timeline (Brajesh Mishra at the Observer Research Foundation, Ambassador K.S. Bajpai and C. Raja Mohan in the Indian Express and the Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor at a closed door meeting of the Army Training Command). One does not know why these four decided to raise the issue at this time. Expectedly, Pakistan reacted to the Army Chief’s remarks with characteristic anger. The Indian Defence Minister A.K. Anthony had to ultimately assuage the ruffled feelings of our neighbours by clearly stating that India had no territorial designs and that there was no chance of a war even if some differences existed.

Those looking positively at the new decade have also said that India needed to embark on a more proactive foreign policy including opening talks with Pakistan, China and the United States to consolidate the gains of recent years. Tavleen Singh, who normally holds strong views, has also spoken of peace in the subcontinent. (Indian Express, January 10, 2009). Some also hold the view that Pakistani action against the perpetrators of 26/11 need not be made a precondition to resume the stalled Composite Dialogue. Given the uncertainties in Pakistan, they seem to think that if delayed further, India might not find ‘anyone’ to talk to in that country.

If India indeed considers itself to be a rising power, it cannot be appear reluctant to take new initiatives So, instead of repeating that, ‘India should get its act together’, ‘get its house in order’ or that ‘it lacks strategic thought/culture’, here are some possible options.

By resuming the stalled dialogue with Pakistan India can achieve two major foreign policy objectives. First, it will silence the hard-line elements in Pakistan and also in Jammu & Kashmir, at least for a time. Second, the Obama administration, facing its own challenges, will be encouraged to view India as part of the solution and not the problem. It is important for India to get its relations with the United States at nearly the same level as they were during the Bush years. It may reduce infiltration attempts and also help improve the situation in J&K. It may also help give additional audibility to India’s concerns on future climate change talks. While China’s hard-line posture on border and other issues is seen by some as a direct reaction to the India-US partnership, but in fact, India’s gains from this relationship are already reaching a point of diminishing returns which is certainly not a good sign.

India should also begin to talk with China on ways to bring lasting peace to Afghanistan. It is possible if not likely that when the United States finally decides to leave the country a loose coalition of various stake holders including the Taliban with support from Pakistan will rule Afghanistan. But to assure the world that it would not permit terrorist activity on its soil the future government will have to be supported economically. What better way to do that than both China and India working together for its comprehensive reconstruction? Surely, Afghans of all hues would be more ready to welcome India and China, two regional powers that are already engaged in building that country’s infrastructure and economy. The benign and positive presence of China will also remove any residual insecurity from Pakistani minds about India joining the effort. China may also feel more secure if the new government in Afghanistan helped block the movement of extremist elements into Xinjiang.

India should also intensify its contacts with Iran to help avert any precipitate action against that country by either the United States or Israel. If that happens the jihadi elements across the world would be encouraged to intensify their actions, further destabilising the already fragile situation. It would, therefore, be worth the effort to co-opt China and even Russia to facilitate such talks. India could then mount pressure on the United States and Israel to abandon their plans for a military solution to the Iran nuclear issue. Barring a few ‘neoconservative elements’ the American people will surely heave a sigh of relief at the prospect of peaceful relations with Iran. Surely, they do not want to send their sons and daughters to start another war.

There are also new if tentative attempts towards nuclear zero (Global Zero). However halting and even impractical the process might appear to sceptics, there is a strong consensus across the world to at least start moving towards nuclear disarmament. While there would undoubtedly be many hurdles and major procedural/verification problems on the way; de-alerting, delegitimising nuclear weapons and adoption of No First Use (NFU) by all Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) would be a salutary first step. Countries like North Korea might not agree but can be coaxed into it once other major players take the lead.

India, in the early years, showed extreme reluctance to go nuclear even though it kept its options open. It is widely known that Homi Bhabha had assured the then Indian Prime Minister that his scientists could produce a nuclear weapon in a mere fifteen months from the time a go-ahead was given. Yet it was only in 1974 that India finally did the 8-to-10 kiloton test and called it a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE). Until 1983, when India began its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), it had no worthwhile delivery systems and even that took another six years to launch its first Agni missile in May 1989. In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government had also attempted a joint initiative with Sweden to start the process of nuclear disarmament but perhaps it was before its time.

Last year, there were reports that Pakistan’s arsenal had already surpassed that of India’s and there was a major controversy about India’s fusion weapon test having been a ‘fizzle’ but the Indian leadership did not show signs of excitement or panic. While India is no doubt trying to develop a nuclear triad, its pace of progress is anything but fast. Although, qualified in 2003, its commitment to NFU has not diminished in real terms. Both India and Pakistan continue to unfailingly exchange information on their nuclear establishments under the agreement signed in 1988. India has thus never shown an inclination to unnecessarily expand its modest nuclear arsenal.

India must take a major initiative to reduce the nuclear temperature in South Asia and indeed the world by offering a freeze on its nuclear arsenal at the present levels provided Pakistan and China followed suit. The United States and Russia and other NWS could then be asked to at least agree to a NFU followed by deep reductions in their arsenals in good time.

Haven’t India’s current moves to improve relations with Bangladesh received good press? While some ‘hyper-realists’ may dub these suggestions as ‘surrender’ to China and the United States, it is better than doing nothing. In any case, there is little to lose. Inaction on India’s part may prove worse as events gather their own momentum. It is said, “God gave man two ends; one to sit on and the other to think with. Ever since, man’s success has depended on which end he uses the most; heads you win, tails you lose.”

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