Showing posts with label Geopolitics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Geopolitics. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2022


    Daily Russian poundings over the past 9 months has witnessed large-scale loss of lives and public infrastructure in Ukraine. Russia has also suffered setbacks. Its strength has been dented by unexpectedly high military casualties besides impact of Western sanctions. The whole of Europe battles serious economic crises alongside energy shortages. The entire developing world is anticipating an impending food and energy catastrophe. India and Asia worry alteration in geopolitical equilibrium, paving way for unrestrained Chinese hegemony in the region, that is certain to threaten their security. United States runs the risk of being replaced as the most preeminent power in Asia and Europe by the China. The gains for China, as of now are more potential than real. Hence, the world is in middle of a war that has not yet escalated to its optimal potential but has produced more losers than any clear winner.

This is a different war and efforts to draw parallels from history is more likely to hinder our understanding and ability to face the same. 


 On October 26, I was in a live TV discussion on Russia-Ukraine War at platform of an eminent Hindi channel. My fellow panelists included a well-known and articulate retired Ambassador, a retired General of Indian Army and a retired Historian, with specialisation on Eastern Europe and Russia.  They had nearly two decades more experience of the world than me and naturally I have always been deferential to such elders and their wisdom. However, intellectual integrity has at times forced me to take contrarian  position and defend the same but with an open mind.  

In course of this particular discussion, the retired Ambassador questioned my understanding of diplomacy and warfare, over my following observations: 

1. President Putin's strategy was failing as Russia was forced to make far too many tactical retreats and recalibrate its strategy a bit too often, despite enjoying huge military superiority over Ukraine; 

2. With shift in momentum, the Russian troops could struggle to hold on to some of their territorial gains;  

3. A good strategy of war must get a quick and decisive victory at minimal costs and negligible collateral damages;

4. More the war prolonged, the Russian dream of Kievan-Rus reunification shall become distant, if not unachievable; and 

5. A victory in a prolonged war, involving heavy human and material costs, feels more like a loss;    

    I had held on to my position on that televised discussion even in face of insistence by my three elderly co-panelists that Russia was winning the war. They cited the duration of the first and second world wars to contend that wars have their own momentum. They dismissed my idea of short, swift and decisive war as imaginary. 

    Sadly, they forgot that the world has evolved far too much since the second world-war era. We are living in a far more integrated and technology driven world, which has potential for more devastating consequences in a much shorter time. Even in that war, the aggressor or the principal initiator of the war - Germany - had paid heavily for its grave miscalculations. Despite its huge military and economic strength on eve of the two mega wars, Germany faced a debacle that pushed it back on most parameters of national and societal power by centuries, even though it inflicted massive collateral damage in others as well.  

    Here the war was initiated by President Putin. He has been careful to avoid attacking NATO countries. His adventure is not comparable to Nazi Germany. But Russian failure to win the war in a short time as well as its military and economic setbacks have dented its image of invincibility in the region.   However, this was not the first time that this particular Ambassador had verbally attacked me. I recall in a discussion he had been very aggressive towards another retired Ambassador who was a few years younger to him. During a TV discussion on Sri Lanka in 2020, he had repudiated my assessment that Rajapaksa brothers would not be able to resist Chinese pressure and the resultant consequences for the island nation could be too bad. The YouTube video of that discussion is still available on the web and what transpired in Sri Lanka since then is very well known.  

I find the problem with our traditional experts lays in their over reliance on history to assess the present or look at future. 


    During this discussion, as well as discussion on this subject on other platforms, I have maintained that Russian setbacks since September 2022 indicated that it shall struggle to hold on to some of its territorial gains. Even though Ukraine is in no position to defeat Russia or deter sustained onslaught by Russian artillery, missiles and Air Force, Russia appears incapable of securing an outright military victory in foreseeable future.  The entire Kievan Rus region has suffered irreparably.   

  Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff has been quoted by media in early November that nearly 200,000 soldiers have perished in this war. Ukraine and Russia have faced similar number of military casualties. We may dispute accuracy of these figures but cannot deny massive military casualties impacting both sides. Ukrainian President Zelensky himself had conceded in June this year that Ukrainian was suffering daily military casualties to the extent of 700-800. Simultaneously, there are indications of unexpectedly high military casualties even on the Russian side. Moscow's official data about military casualties stood at 5937 by early September as per a BBC report. However, large-scale military recruitments and images of large number of women searching their dead sons, husbands and brothers have been visible on social media.  

    Simultaneously, by mid-November 2022, Western sources have estimated Ukrainian civilian casualties around 40,000. The war is also believed to have generated 15 to 30 million refugees as per credible media channels in the West. Official UN records indicate that 7.8 million refugees have moved into different parts of Europe. They are mostly from Ukraine but a small component among them are Russians. There are no credible figures available on total loss of Ukrainian public infrastructure. The assessments have varied anywhere between US $ 300 to 800 billion. Ukrainian economy has shrunk by 39%. Rebuilding is going to cost too heavily. However, no one knows as yet when the war shall end. On the other hand, Western sanctions have failed to entirely cripple Russia.  But it would be too naive to deny economic and human impact of the war on Russia. 

    In recent months, Ukrainians have struck Russian positions with exceptional lethality, destroying their tanks, aircrafts and even sea vessels, with help of Western satellite imagery, surveillance and latest precision strike weapons. These have exposed relative obsolescence of military firepower of Russia, notwithstanding their strengths in areas like rocketry, missile technology, including rocket and jet-propelled hypersonic missiles, fighter aircraft, including advanced strategic bombers among others. But in many areas, they have lagged behind both the West and China, especially in advanced electronics and precision strike weapons.

      Over the last few weeks, scenes of mass jubilation, especially following Russian withdrawal from Kherson, and warm welcome extended to advancing Ukrainian troops by local people, including ethnic Russians, have conveyed a clear message. The so-called nationalist support base of President Purin appears under threat for the first time. Some of his staunch loyalists on social media have been openly critical of the Russian war strategy, especially its abject withdrawal. The possibility of use of tactical nuclear weapons remains a reality even now. But the image of invincibility of Russian artillery and airpower in Ukraine stands thoroughly exposed. At this point of time, Ukraine appears incapable of pushing the Russians beyond the East bank of Dniper or Dnipro River. Stalemate is likely to continue in many areas. But absence of a decisive victory for Russia itself is being hailed as Ukrainian victory.   

    Meanwhile, despite inability of both Russia and Ukraine to conclude the war, a trust-driven peace talk is nowhere on the horizon. Ukrainian President probably thinks that he has wrested momentum and, hence, has put impractical conditions for talks. These include restoration of all areas captured by Russia as well as ouster of President Putin from Russian Presidency. Russia, under President Putin, is unlikely to concede defeat or accept losses.

               Simultaneously, the net outcome of war shall decisively tilt the balance of entire global geopolitical equilibrium in favour of China. It shall increase Russian dependence on China and provide the latter with unfettered access to vast land and natural resources of its mauled and depleted northern neighbour. I doubt the resultant outcome shall suit the strategic objectives of the West, especially the United States and its allies.   

                                                                                                                   (To be continued)

Monday, November 23, 2020



A New Low In Electoral Battles


 Controversy over credibility of electoral results in democracies touched a new low in November 2020. Incumbent President of the most powerful democracy in the world has continued to dispute an electoral verdict that has gone against him. He and his associates have alleged large-scale voter fraud in the recent Presidential polls in the United States, denting the moral superiority of Western democracies who have prided in smooth and peaceful transfer of political power in their political systems. Such transitions have been messy in most, but not all, post-colonial democracies. Probably the issue at stake is not the formal procedures and provisions but the underlying social and political discords that are getting increasingly unmanageable even in the rich Western democracies. But the controversy in the United States, if not resolved smoothly, can bolster pretensions of superiority of the Chinese authoritarianism that Xi Jin Ping has been boasting for quite sometime.

Simultaneously, the politically significant state of Bihar in India witnessed opposition parties boycotting the swearing in ceremony of the re-elected Chief Minister for the fourth consecutive term.  They too alleged poll irregularities, again without any tangible evidence. What has been really worrying is the quality of choices that the poll process offered in the state. An inefficient governance was challenged by a political formation that has been identified with criminality and rampant nepotism in the past. It was believed to have perfected a smart caste calculation to win elections without caring for plight of the people or efficient governance. Rather its top leaders  were charged with abusing state powers to enrich their personal coffers and torment political opponents.  

Divisive Impact of Polls and Their Inability To Reflect True Will of The People

Divisive impact of electoral processes, and their inability to decisively reflect popular will, has been universally acknowledged. United States witnessed an extremely narrow margin of poll victory for Jo Biden following a bitterly contested campaign. In a recent YouTube Video, associates of President Trump came out with elaborate stories of voter fraud perpetrated by external enemies of the country. Though President elect Biden has been measured and graceful in his public utterances but the both sides have demonstrated their deep-rooted distrust and mutual hostility. It had earlier seen President Trump reversing some of the major policy decisions of his predecessor -President Obama. These included not merely key domestic policies like healthcare but also withdrawal from a series of major global treaty obligations on issues varying from Paris climate peace to Iran and Trans-Pacific Partnership to quote a few. Hence, the current controversy over transition has the potential to exacerbate global anxiety amidst sustained ascendance of an authoritarian China. It could also undermine popular trust in the ability of most powerful democracy to effectively manage its own affairs.

Bihar too witnessed decline in the actual number of seats won by the sitting Chief Minister led political formation. Many consider it manifestation of popular disenchantment with governance records of the regime that lacked any serious innovation and energy. An overwhelming majority of the people have perennially endured poverty, malnutrition and joblessness, with appallingly poor state of public infrastructure and public services. Successive governments have done very little to change these conditions. 

Recently, large swathes of people of the state, who had been working on subsistence wages in different parts of the country, to escape crushing poverty at home, were forced to return to the state walking back hundreds and even thousands of Kilometers during national lock down after losing their livelihood and shelter. This was the most demonstrative spectacle of bad governance that the state of Bihar has suffered over decades. A large percentage of local population continues to struggle for a decent livelihood, healthcare, education and access to clean drinking water and 24 hour electric supply. However, poll winners have been hailing the electoral verdict in the state as endorsement of their "outstanding" record on governance.

The present regime had replaced a government led by a mercurial leader with earthy wit and rustic humor, who had "conned" Bihar into an abyss of lawlessness and corruption. Even though he is cooling his heels in prison, following indictment in one of the multiple corruption charges that he faces, his progenies spearheaded the challenge on behalf of political opposition. They came quite close to upstaging the sitting Chief Minister but its very prospects had shuddered those who had experienced the tyranny of their jailed father. 

 Constraints of Democracy in India

Democracy in India, despite being sturdy and stable, especially compared to its fragile counterparts in most parts of Afro-Asia, has always had its own constraints. But the phenomenon like Bihar lends credence to charges of cartelization of political space, denying people legitimate choices for better governance. The alternative to a lackadaisical governance was a family-controlled political formation, with an ignominious legacy of "criminality" and "corruption."

Like the jailed supremo of this family controlled political party, who had ruled the state for fifteen years riding on the populist support of two dominant communities- Muslims and Yadavs, his sons too sought to exploit the same caste arithmetic. They probably succeeded in swaying some impartial voters too who craved for change. But their calculations were upset with the entry of a Hyderabad based rabid Islamist party in the fray, which swayed substantial Muslim votes. Many have alleged, since then, a clandestine pact between so-called Hindu nationalists and Islamists. While, reality may never be known in this respect, but such a phenomenon threatens both long-term social cohesion as well as governance capacity of  the state.

Electoral experience in Bihar also questions the very ability of democracy to provide high quality governance. Poll outcomes in  the state have continued to depend more on arithmetic of identities rather than issues of governance. This has been somewhat a near national phenomenon in India, except in 2014 and 2019 national elections, when people overwhelmingly voted for a change besides reasserting their Hindu nationalist identity, which was alleged to be openly denigrated by the then government with the bogey of “Hindu Terrorism”. 

There are multiple parallels of identity driven political mobilization in both developing and the developed world. Sri Lanka, a small island neighbour of India, had experienced highly devastating consequences of identity-driven politics that had inflicted heavy material and human cost on its people. Probably all post-colonial democracies continue to face somewhat similar predicament. However, in recent years, even the most established democracies have struggled to escape the  trap of identity driven fissures. President Trump had crafted his entire political strategy by exploiting identity-based anxieties of white voters. Europe has been experiencing its own share of parochial ultra-nationalism.  Such sentiments may have subsided temporarily but not entirely eliminated from democratic political space. 


Pitfalls of Invoking Identity For Political Mobilisation

Under these circumstances, there is genuine apprehension that elections would be increasingly reduced into war through ballots among competing identities, with governance and genuine plight of the people taking a back seat. This can result in general decline in the economic and security capacities of democracies, giving greater space to efficient authoritarian states. It can also encourage some of them to manipulate internal dynamics within democracies by exploiting such discords and  openness of their institutions. Political mobilization in the name of identity, instead of governance, especially in the context of fragile criminal justice system,   can breed unmanageable levels of conflict, impede governance and make the entire political structure vulnerable to subversion by authoritarian cliques.

 Probably under-performance of a democratic India, compared to an opaque and authoritarian China, has its roots in political exploitation of identities. This has not only obstructed a concerted focus on governance but also created bigger space for subversion of institutions, including rule of law. When two or more identities are at war with each other, rationality and integrity lose their relevance. Otherwise, it is highly improbable for a merit based competitive society - the core premise of democracy- to lag behind a similarly sized authoritarian state, where a regime normally perpetuates itself through loyalty and coercion.

 Opaque political funding, badly regulated political and electoral battles and dilution of some of the core democratic principles- like fairness and integrity in political and economic competition- have obstructed rise of high quality leaders in nearly all sectors in India. This is notwithstanding few notable exceptions that include current Prime Minister of the country. Even such outstanding leaders appear helpless in face of a larger culture of entitlement and political rent.  They too struggle to make a difference beyond a point, especially compared to the potential that India continues to display. Persistence of some of the medieval era values like hero worship and  loyalty to caste and religious identities, amidst a fragile and sluggish criminal justice system, has built a vicious cycle of bad governance. Despite few enclaves of excellence -that independent India has built- the impact of such distorted values on the larger ecosystem of the country has been quite negative. These have  crippled optimal efficiency, integrity and potential of all institutions of state and society, resulting in abnormal asymmetry of power in favour of our similarly sized neighbour. 

In Bihar, crushing poverty of masses and  large-scale  unemployment among youth failed to deter massive splurge of funds on poll campaign. There were over 50 political parties in the fray and large number of them were using private jets and choppers to facilitate their leaders reach multiple venues of public meetings. Nearly all of them had hired paid armies of campaign workers. Many experienced poll-watchers were alarmed at such extravagance at a time when ordinary people were indeed suffering. Marketisation of electoral processes and cartelization of political space, through sheer financial and organisational muscle, seemed to have commercialised the entire democratic poll process. These not only reflected lack of genuine empathy for the people but even credibility or caliber of candidates seemed irrelevant in larger desperation for political power. Overwhelming  majority of people appeared hapless passive participants in the electoral battles, compelled to side with the one or the other warring side. They had no real choice to select their representatives through a free and fair process. Sadly, even in media, there has been virtually no public debate on detrimental consequences of identity driven electoral mobilisation on long-term  governance and national security of the country. 


Need To Overcome Strategic Myopia

Strategic myopia of the ruling establishments of India is not new. Many describe the phenomenon as outcome of decaying Indian values of pre-Mamluk era, which had nearly paralysed the security capacity of the Indian subcontinent, notwithstanding its phenomenal prosperity. Hence, a highly advanced but a decaying civilisation had easily succumbed to bands of hardy marauders, lacking any vision or exposure to governance, civility or societal harmony. Under their oppressive and discriminatory occupation, driven by instincts of individual and racial  supremacy, Indian state and society touched its nadir to come under colonial occupation of a spice company. It was pitiful and ironical for a state and civilization that had produced, and practiced, the most advanced principles of governance, warfare and national security, as enshrined in the  brilliant treatise on the subject produced way back in the 4th Century BC in the form of Kautilyan Arthashastra. 

However, India, as a civilisation, has been losing its vigour and direction for a very long time, especially compared to its true potential. This is notwithstanding intermittent but recurrent phases of reforms and  rejuvenation. There is merit in the argument that it was sheer strategic myopia or inability of India's ruling classes to synergise  the subcontinent’s internal social and institutional capacities to contain domestic discords, which was critical for repelling and deterring external invasion from Mamluk-Mongol forces. These had nearly  pulverised entire Indo-Asia region. But as a state and civilisation, India has avoided serious strategic lesson from the past, notwithstanding recent assertions of ancient glory of the Hindu India, which sounds quite anachronistic as the phrase Hindu is medieval in origin and used only by the Arabs to describe India. 

Despite centuries of oppressive alien rule including colonial plunder, many of the original humanist-inclusive values and orientations of India and Indo-Asia could not be entirely wiped out.  This is what explains sustenance of democracy in India even under most adverse circumstances. Somewhat similar, but not identical, is the plight of South East Asian nations that have guarded against hard-line medieval tribal practices in the name of Islam, while retaining these original Indo-Asian values and legacies. At the same time, it would be incorrect to blame external forces alone for degeneration of India as the decay had started with onset of hereditary privileges much before the external aggression. 

Indispensability of  Reform in Political Parties:

Today, democracy is at a more serious crossroads than ever in the post second world-war  era. Its eventual fate would shape the quality of security and dignity accessible to people across all divides. But initiatives of Indian democracy to refine itself would impact the evolutionary course of representative governments from this point onwards to a large extent. India’s significance lays not merely in containing China or inspiring post-colonial democracies through excellence of its institutions. Rise of a heterogeneous gigantic democracy as a major global power shall infuse the requisite stability to the global order and major push towards transparency.

For any meaningful breakthrough in this direction,  serious reforms in political parties would be critical. Parties must re-emerge as credible platforms of people, instead of privately controlled syndicates, sharing similar but not necessarily exact vision and views on governance. Such platforms must be capable of generating high-quality discourses on political-governance issues as well as throw up genuine leaders with integrity, vision and ability to inspire trust and confidence of people. It appears impossible given the prevailing dynamics, structures and processes of nearly all political parties as well as the very contours of electoral processes. 

Serious and pragmatic innovations for stricter and impartial regulation of political competition to maintain their focus on governance, instead of identity divides, would be a necessity. Simultaneously, India will have to spearhead an agenda of internal reforms within political parties to curb number of tenures or nepotism, favoritism and backdoor influence through any means. Control of all political  parties need to be wrested from self-seeking cliques and cartels profiteering at the cost of society and state. This is not a moral issue but a fundamental necessity for long-term security and stability of open societies and their people, including elite in these states. 


Rejuvenation of Indian democracy with fusion of original humanist-inclusive values of  ancient Indian subcontinent, through appropriate democratic governance structures and practices, is critical for plight of not merely 1.3 billion Indians but security and well-being of entire people in this region and beyond. Ascendance of an authoritarian China with an opaque power structure, amidst a general decline of democracy in the West and serious fragility of institutions and distortion of values in most parts of the developing world,  threatens mankind's quest for universal access to security, dignity and rule of law. Democratic India, as a major and older civilization than China, with far more profound humanist values at its roots, has both the capacity and the potential to set an example to inspire popular confidence in humanist ideals and values. It needs a robust but not oppressive governance at home, resting on better synergy between state and society.  An effective external strategic- security capacity requires a host of ingredients of state power but efficiency of governance institutions constitutes its bedrock. India will have to be innovative to address expanding asymmetry of power with China and neuter the threat of Islamic radicalism, terrorism  subversion and organised crime from Pakistan.  These objectives are unlikely to be addressed without serious reorientation and restructuring of internal institutions. 

 Progress in this direction is not going to be easy. But the world's largest democracy has enough resilience and potential to succeed. It needs both powerful ideas and equally determined initiatives by a decisive and powerful political leadership,  that it currently has at the helm. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020


[At this juncture of history, India faces a predicament that probably very few big powers or civilizations may have faced in their entire journey. Its potentials and opportunities to rise as a major global power are entwined with formidable challenges. India’s rise as a  global super power can be the biggest possible antidote to both Islamic radicalism as well as opaque authoritarianism. But impediments - both internal as well as external – in this direction could be far too daunting]


India has long ignored the complexity of its own geopolitical context, internal governance contradictions and the gravity of combined identity-driven threats from its two hostile nuclear armed neighbors. One of them is known as the epicenter of terror and patron of organised crime in this pat of the world and beyond. The other has emerged as a super power but has traditionally trampled upon its own masses and rampaged nearly all its neighbors. Military-controlled state power structure has thrived in Pakistan on congenital hatred towards Hindus and non-Muslims, whereas China cites its civilizational superiority to justify forcible and stealthy grab of territory and resources of people in the neighborhood and beyond. Both resort to destabilization and subversion of institutions of open and transparent societies as part of their larger strategic objectives.

Amidst these, India’s long history of internal political decay, external occupation and colonial legacies have left their own after-effects. India is still battling these despite freedom and democracy. Distortion in larger values and overall mass psyche has had a crippling impact on collective capacities of people, notwithstanding multiple instances of individual brilliance. These have been impeding rise and sustenance of healthy and robust governance institutions. Notwithstanding the strength and resilience of original Indian values, which have sustained democracy in India even under most adverse circumstances, the country faces an uphill task of securing its legitimate national security interests.

 The so-called ultra-nationalist position of India’s two hostile neighbours- that hinges substantially on anti-India sentiments, albeit to varying degrees and in varying forms - has helped opaque and authoritarian regimes in these countries consolidate their grip on the state power structures. In the name of Islam and Han nationalism respectively, they have decimated their political opponents, suppressed political dissent, denied liberty to their people and yet bolstered their political legitimacy. However, China’s efficient administrative apparatus has ushered in spectacular economic transformation. It has risen on back of excruciating labour of its work force and performance driven meritocratic bureaucratic structure accountable to the political authority rather than people.

 Chinese governance model has won endorsement of large sections of people at home and admiration of many abroad. Cohesion and efficiency of its governance apparatus to respond to any crises or extra ordinary situation has been manifest in its handling of Covid crisis. Unfettered by any concern for human costs, Chinese governance institutions can act more decisively, swiftly and flexibly than most democracies. However, its authoritarian structures poses as much threat to global security as the Military backed and crime driven establishment of Pakistan.

 China’s intent and capacity of strategic domination of the region, and beyond, is reflected in the quality and trajectory of its military-security advancements and innovations. These have been backed by a unique model of economic development that rests on secure and somewhat monopolistic access to resources and markets. China has successfully fused economic agenda with its security  objectives. Hence, control of strategic points on land and similarly significant sea lanes of communication become unavoidable to secure the markets and resources, which in turn fuel and fund the military-security innovations and capacities. Chinese state has developed appropriate military and non-military defensive and offensive capacities as part of its larger strategic design. It has inducted an array of highly sophisticated short and intermediate range hypersonic weapon systems, advanced stealth weapons including fighter jets, stronger Air and Satellite defence systems, as well as massive Information Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) infrastructure.

Some of these weapons systems appear capable of breaching the air defence systems of even the US bases in the region and blind both their satellite and under-water observation capacities in this parts of the world. These appear to have made China’s own defences in the region nearly impregnable. Simultaneously, its major push for naval expansion has not merely fortified its defensive capacities but also enhanced its reach way beyond its frontiers. In last 10 years, China has put more vessels in the Sea than most major powers combined. During the same period, it has also conducted more tests for hypersonic weapon delivery systems than even the United States. It has not merely bridged the gap in many of the conventional weapon systems but also built advantages in short and intermediate range offensive and defensive weapon systems. These have enhanced vulnerability of India as well as all states in Asia.

 Chinese assertiveness towards the United States has been accompanied by a bellicosity towards nearly all countries in the region, except its known lackeys. It has appeared particularly intolerant to any possibility of challenge to its supremacy in this region, which India alone is in a position to pose. Hence, it has encouraged and abetted Pakistani sponsored covert war against its democratic neighbour, which is manifest in its determined defence of Pakistani terror proxies like Hafiz Syed and Masood Azhar and unequivocal support on Kashmir. It has also exploited transparency, and even somewhat fragility, of India’s regulatory institutions to clandestinely pillage the latter’s economy through its advantages in trade and technology. Its transgressions on the Indian border need to be seen in this context. 

India’s internal governance institutions, notwithstanding their resilience and strength, appear inadequately prepared to face these challenges. This is especially given the existing pressures of meeting basic needs of large population amidst deficient resources like land and water. Lack of political consensus on key issues and social fracture simply compounds challenges in this direction.



     Successive Indian governments have always been cognizant of the gravity of the combined Pak-China threat as well as deficiencies of domestic governance institutions. However, strategic preparation towards dealing with these challenges has appeared inadequate. India seems to have ignored the threat from internal power dynamics of Pakistan, especially the way its society and state have evolved. These make it nearly impossible for large sections of Pakistani people to peacefully co-exist with India. Sustained radicalization of Pak society has been accompanied with increasing grip of deep state over levers of state power. Intensified domestic and international propaganda against India, and especially Hindus, has not only created a stronger political support base for the ruling syndicate but also helps raise an unconventional army of terrorists, criminals and radicalized clerics for an unconventional and indirect all out covert war against India. Radicalisation of youth at home and abroad, through chosen cronies, as well as support and patronage to organised crime have helped strengthen instruments of covert war against India.

 Economies of scale have forced this infrastructure to turn global and a significant component of terror and radical groups have also slipped out of their direct control. Nevertheless, they have retained control over a larger number of these through a blanket curb on civil society and dismantling any progress towards rule of law or transparency in criminal justice system. Such an arrangement enables the ruling syndicate to retain a strong control over the territory of Pakistan, as well as substantial parts of Afghanistan, in conjunction with their terror proxies like Taliban and Haqqani network. However, possibility of a large-scale turmoil in that country remains a reality, as the process of splintering of multiple groups and factions is inevitable in long run. It will have to be seen how Chinese deal with such situation to guard their investments in that country.  

The very dynamics of the existing power structure in Pakistan has necessitated building a formidable network of global terror, crime and subversion. They have propped up and sponsored some such groups on their own but also built up linkages with many of the existing ones.  These extend from South East Asia to India to Africa to Europe and going all the way to South America. Besides terror in  the region beyond, Pakistani footprint has been more than visible in nearly all shades of organised global crime. These vary from drug trafficking, counterfeiting of currency, money laundering to extortion, betting and bribing networks to street crime among others. All of these can be used as potent tools of subversion as well as garnering illegitimate clout.

During cold-war era when West was using Islamic radicalism as a strategic tool to counter communism, Pakistan sold its services to these powers. But over the past few 2-3 decades, it has drifted to the Chinese communist regime helping it reach out to influential elements both in the Muslim world as well as some of the Western countries. Chinese patronage of Pakistan’s subversive activities in India is widely believed to be aimed at obstructing accelerated march of the World’s biggest democracy to economic prosperity or stronger internal cohesion. Pakistani clout with the drug-crime networks in the Western world has also enhanced its clout and even utility for them. They have traditionally been believed to be collaborators in West's counter-terror strategies, despite backstabbing them by shetering some one like Osama Bin Laden among others. 

Many western powers have appeared reluctant to antagonise Pakistan beyond a certain point. This was evidenced in a fairly soft approach of nearly all major powers in Asia-Pacific Group (APG) on Countering Terror Finance (CTF) on brazen defiance of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines by Pakistan. Hence, it is doubtful that even a near global outcry against Pakistan for its collusion, support, patronage and sponsoring of terror, as well as organised crime, may result in commensurate tangible actions. 

In fact, complicity in terror and crime has appeared to offer a significant clout to Pakistani ruling syndicate. This has been amply manifested in their facilitation of US-Taliban agreement in Afghanistan, besides their so-called support in counter-terror investigations and policies. In a fluid geopolitical situation, Pakistan remains a possible conduit even for a potential deal between the West and China in future. India needs to be alive to such possibilities, especially in tighter situations where choices could be limited. Several elements even in the Western political and security establishments could reconcile to the idea of restricting the Chinese domination of Asia and confining Pakistani activities in this region.

The cost of confrontation with China continues to escalate for the West and so does the dismantling of Pakistani terror- crime network . India has to come out with innovative strategies and stronger institutional capacities to curb both expanding asymmetry of power with China as well as crush the covert war from Pakistan at minimal cost and within a reasonable time-frame. A stronger governance reforms that integrate security priorities with complementary economic and technological objectives would be indispensable.

Diplomatic support and international goodwill do constitute a critical ingredient of national power but given the fluidity of geopolitical equations in general, these do not always translate into tangible and dependable strengths.  Unconditional military-security support appears extremely difficult if other parties do not have an equally abiding stake on issues at stake, or if their gains are not commensurate with the risks involved. With onset of an inward-looking United States that has withdrawn from several of its international treaty obligations, the entire global equilibrium has become a little more uncertain. Major international powers cannot afford to risk their core national security interests on international goodwill and shelve plans and opportunities to empower themselves on their own. 

With relative erosion in economic and technological supremacy of the United States, and increasing assertion of China, India is left with no other option but to pursue an agenda of transformation of its economic, technological and governance capacities more seriously. These alone can sustain a proactive strategy to deter hostile intents and actions of actual and potential adversaries.  India will have to shun its inward-looking approach to engage, influence and shape issues and events beyond its frontiers to safeguard its core interests. It must do so at minimum military-economic costs. This would require building comprehensive defensive and offensive capacities with the highest possible levels of innovation in every sphere.

India’s defence forces have displayed the highest standards of professionalism and bravery in protecting legitimate military interests of the country. However, political-bureaucratic and corporate institutions, notwithstanding few notable exceptions, have struggled to provide a stronger economic, technological and social support in this direction. Inability of these institutions to harness existing tangible and intangible resources into comprehensive national strength is manifest in the prevailing asymmetry of similarly sized China that had a somewhat identical background until half a century back.

Inability of several of our governance institutions to perform optimally or respond decisively and swiftly to emergent challenges, has been worrying. The ongoing Covid pandemic has already tested our capacity to handle an epidemic or natural calamity of a large scale or secure food-water-energy-communication needs of a massively expanding population over long run. With depleting resources like land and water, the challenge is going to be increasingly formidable.

Given the enormity of the security and geopolitical challenges facing India, the pace of its economic-technological-governance advancements have appeared fairly slow and sluggish, with deficient levels of innovation. Post-independence India has contained many of its internal feuds and fissures quite well but its larger national cohesion has remained under stress. This is both due to deficient criminal justice system as well as poorly regulated political competition. These, in turn, have been undermining optimal industry, enterprise and social stability, resulting in sub-par economic development as well as sub-optimal technological innovations.

 These together with sloth and inefficiency in large sections of bureaucracy have eroded overall competitiveness of Indian economy in a globalised world. With competitiveness in trade and advantages in technology acting as lethal tools of depredation, something for which war was required in the earlier era, India cannot afford such a situation. Despite some enclaves of excellence and stellar accomplishments of Indians outside India, there is need for serious improvement in overall quality and productivity of all institutions of governance. This will not be possible without transformation in the larger social and economic ecosystems.


While no country can practically obtain an absolute level of national security, which is not worth even the labour and pain, but every major power has to optimise sum-total of its institutional capacity to prevent, preempt and deter both real and potential conflicts. Such capacity must be sustainable and conflicts and challenges must be addressed in a manner that does not erode long-term potential and capacities of the nation. India’s progress in this direction has remained inadequate largely due to: a) formidable nature of geopolitical challenges; and b) inherent and inbuilt constraints of some of the existing governance institutions due to colonial legacies and larger distortion in values and outlook. While tactical challenges need to be dealt with tactically, but a long-term strategic approach is critical for building a sustainable national security capacity.

India as the oldest civilization and the biggest democracy in the world needs to redefine its identity and priorities both in the interest of its people as well as larger stability of the world. It must not merely respond to threats and challenges but should attempt redefine the regional global equilibrium. Its inherent values and ethos are such that any progress towards optimizing the quality of its own security is likely to enhance the quality of global security. However, it has to pursue creation of conducive internal and external environment for its own growth as a society and state.

India and Pakistan are not comparable. In terms of Civilization, Pakistan – with its essentially Mamluk and decadent Mughal psyche- remains a destitute, lacking any past or vision for future. It has been least concerned for its own masses. The ruling syndicate has been using Islam to deploy various shades of criminality, violence and coercion to silence political opponents at home and deceitfully subvert institutions of open and transparent societies through various criminalized actions that have been part of its strategic policy to build a global clout for itself. Its congenital hatred for India has provided the raison-d’etre for both its own identity as a state as well as building such elaborate capacity for covert war.

     On the Other hand, despite the camouflage of communism, China has regained its earlier political trajectory of authoritarian imperial rule with the backing of an efficient civil service and professional army. Masses have remained oppressed and voiceless and yet contributing to the larger prosperity of its elite. The critical difference is that large sections of people have moved out of poverty. Better access to nutrition, healthcare and education has transformed most of them into stronger productive force for accelerated economic development. Nevertheless, higher echelons of political and economic power structure remain inaccessible to overwhelming majority of masses.

    With an efficient governance mechanism, driven by sense of civilizational superiority, China has continued to expand both its territory and domain of influence. It is likely to generate considerable human cost both at home and abroad until such time its systems crumble and collapse due to their inbuilt contradictions of opaque authoritarianism. This would be largely due to absence of safeguards or inbuilt checks and balances in their institutions. However, such a scenario can have devastating consequences whenever it happens. 


India has been a much older civilization than China and a rootless Pakistan that represents a somewhat vagabond Mamluk-Mughal psyche of pleasure, plunder and loot through deceit and deception. India's nobler and loftier original values were sought to be revived during freedom struggle as well as in the aftermath of independence. But the country's strategic psyche and outlook suffers from negative impact of centuries of internal decay and degeneration. It has perennially suffered from insufficient internal cohesion and lack of stronger external strategic vision. This is what explains its disintegration, decay, degeneration followed by prolonged external occupation during medieval era, despite exceptionally glorious past. Some of the pitfalls of deficient strategic psyche continues to haunt it even now. Hence, it has ignored the external threats and overlooked internal contradictions for far too long. Its inability to optimally mobilise itself to address governance and security and priorities has been amply manifest even during Covid crisis even though most would believe that majority of governance institutions have been energized by personal appeal of Prime Minister Modi. 

Nevertheless, India has to cover a long distance towards building a reliable and sustainable national security cover that can manage external threats and optimizes internal internal strengths. In practical terms, it must translate into adequate institutional capacity to: a) conclude and eliminate the threat of covert war from Pakistan as well as space for radicalism within the country,  It must be achieved at minimum human and material costs and within a reasonable time frame;  b) Contain, or at least deter, the threat from China in every dimension; and c) optimize economic, social, military, technological and diplomatic capacities by harnessing all tangible and intangible strengths. 

This would require an extra-ordinary innovation to create a contemporary national vision and national outlook, that is consistent with Indian realities and Indian psyche.  It must be backed by adequate governance-security capacity that is sustainable in our context and yet contributes to our comprehensive empowerment as a state and nation. A stronger and sustainable national security capacity has always been one that integrates economic, military, political and social institutions and strategies in manner where each empowers the other. Hence, there is need to revamp institutions and outlook across the board. 


India's defence forces - with the highest possible traditions of courage, valour and professionalism- have deftly handled tactical threats and challenges, even middle and higher rungs of serving military officers are known for deeper strategic understanding of geo-strategy and military security issues. However, it is well known that strategies of military warfare too are changing and military capacity on its own is not sustainable. Military institutions need a supportive and conducive ambiance to thrive, flourish and evolve. Simultaneously, tactical capacity of other civilian security apparatuses require suitable uplift, where it can supplement military capacity of the Indian state. What political leadership and other stakeholders of India can do is build a stronger strategic and institutional capacity and ensure optimum synergy between strategic goals and tactical priorities. 

Higher quality of human resources, in terms of stronger physical-cognitive-technical capacities, as well as the larger values like integrity-industry and enterprise, have traditionally constituted the base of the pyramid of national security. Instead of sheer numbers, it is these attributes that reflect the real strength of a population. It is these that determine productivity of soldiers, industrial, workers or agriculture workers or entire work force of a nation. 

India’s records are quite alarming in this direction. Relatively low life expectancy, high incidences of malnutrition and morbid diseases, impaired cognitive skills and stunted growth of large percentage of children, among others, have led to physically weaker and deficiently skilled work force. With poor access to high quality technical- professional capacities and even life skills, the overall productivity of collective human resource of India is way below the potential. It dilutes the advantages of sheer numbers. Such challenges appear unlikely to be resolved by the existing free-flowing, and somewhat chaotic, dynamics of markets or state of existing governance and healthcare institutions.

Simultaneously, disproportionately larger sections of our healthy and productive working population appear to have been sucked into professions like political activism, cinema, infotainment, marketing, advertising, liaison, public relations etc. These, together with various shades of disguised unemployment, or not so productive white-collared jobs, are such whose real contribution to the tangible national output may be suspect. These could be symptoms of a deeper underlying challenges like extreme inequality, deficient regulation, and structural imbalances of inadequately regulated market economy.  It will stretch the genius and imagination of even the best among Indian economists to find innovative solutions. We have to explore solutions beyond the prevailing dynamics of market economy or state control to gainfully harness advantages of large population.

Simultaneously, the nature of reforms that we need in regulatory and enabling capacity of the state may not have any ready-made parallels. We require much stronger and sharper capacity to segregate the bona-fide corporate entrepreneurship from subversive theft of resources in the name of private entrepreneurship. The former needs to be nurtured, protected, encouraged and supported in the larger quest of economic and technological advancement but the latter certainly needs to be deterred.  

Indian state requires more innovative approach and strategies to build its private sector as a genuine partner in wealth creation and generation of gainful employment. Given the quality of upper layers of human resources, India’s private sector can be a much bigger driver of economic and industrial prowess as well as technological innovation and excellence. Substantive progress in this direction would be difficult in absence of larger trust-based social systems, which encourage and sustain a wider culture of excellence and integrity driven leadership. It will test capacities of major stakeholders of the country to unleash such an agenda of transformation of institutions of state and society both.

Internal cohesion has always remained the most critical ingredient of national security. These have enabled states to handle external threats better. Despite sustained assaults on social harmony, and downsides like caste-based divisions, India’s cohesive heterogeneity has remained fairly robust and resilient. However, situation could be far better with a genuinely efficient criminal justice system. Stronger curb on malicious abuse of freedom of speech and expression or even deterrent action against malicious crime on part of incumbents in state and society would be critical for securing our governance capacity.

Simultaneously, India needs innovative and low-cost strategies to curb internal fissures. These erode capacity of the state to deal with external subversion and even military aggression. Despite consistent clandestine efforts of Pakistani deep state sponsored networks, overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims have remained immune to subversive propaganda and derive pride in their Indian identity. However, all identity-driven fissures, including radicalism in the name of Islam, can be addressed only through combined efforts of criminal justice system and societal initiatives like persuasion, communication and social reform strategies.

While, subversive radicalism peddled by hostile forces through clandestine global networks needs to be dealt with exemplary and deterrent coercion but political exploitation of identity divides could have serious negative impact on internal cohesion. However, coercive actions of state can have deterrent impact only if these are channeled through a process of credible and impartial criminal justice system. 

There are large number of studies suggesting that organised subversion- including radicalization and religious terrorism - and organised crime thrive and feed on each other. These eventually build a spiral of their own, making it difficult to differentiate normal corruption and sponsored subversion. India has to find a more effective solution to deny space to organised subversive and crime networks which have been flourishing, with the clandestine support of hostile forces.

With strong pockets of global influence, these clandestine networks, aided by access to advanced technologies and ability to operate swiftly and flexibly, can wield far more influence than what one can visualize. These can potentially subvert key institutions of state, interfere with our democratic governance processes and institutions to the detriment of our comprehensive national security. In certain situations, these can virtually paralyze capacity to key institutions to defend and protect even legitimate national interests of a democratic country.

 Gravity of the threat of subversion to open and democratic states and societies is manifest in the US allegations of external interference in its electoral process as well as key decisions of some other institutions. Sections of US media have highlighted this issue along with malicious abuse of the mechanism of lobbying by exploiting open nature of their society. Australia too has alleged consistent clandestine Chinese interference to exact its natural resources at a preferable prices. It is difficult to fathom the entire reality in this direction but available inputs expose greater vulnerability of even the most powerful democracy of the world to subversive assaults of clandestine nature.

United States, even with the most comprehensive network of efficient and autonomous institutions - enjoying access to most sophisticated technologies- has struggled to contain clandestine threats from China. Given the larger fragility of India’s governance or regulatory institutions, and intensity of hostility of some of its adversaries, its task is well cut out. Tactical efficiency like improvement in transparency in financial transactions, including electoral funding, or curb on bureaucratic corruption or curb on money laundering may be necessary but probably insufficient to address the scale of threat. 

India's unique geopolitics, where it is surrounded by a number of small states, requires a more innovative approach. China has been seeking to build bases of influence in each of these states. It is possible that it may scuttle and subvert democracy in most of these states to install or retain a pliable regime in each of these neighboring states to the detriment of aspirations and interests of local population. India has to bolster its own democratic, governance and diplomatic capacities  to retain buffer status of each of these states. 

Simultaneously, the gap between military capacity of India and China has increased manifold. India will struggle to contain China on its own. It has probably a stronger requirement today, than at any other point of time in the history, to closely align with US and NATO forces, without compromising its own independence and aspirations to grow. Such understanding is in the best possible interest of even the US led West. What is worrying today is declining American interest, under President Trump, in NATO at one level and impact it may have on India's traditional ties with Russia and Iran. India has to take the West into confidence and maintain its ties with both Russia and Iran at one end and forge an understanding with the US led West not merely to pursue national interest of the two biggest democracies of the world but the larger peace and stability that the world has enjoyed under the US led international order. 



Hence, a paradigm shift in the national security outlook of the world's biggest democracy has become indispensable given the scale of challenges and threats. A comprehensive restructuring of institutions and outlook, howsoever Utopian it may sound,  has become indispensable as the cost of status-quo would be simply unaffordable. 

However, India, at this juncture of history, faces a predicament that probably very few big powers or civilizations may have faced in their entire journey. Its potentials and opportunities to rise as a major global power are entwined with formidable challenges in this direction. There is massive domestic aspiration- by significant potential- well as wider international support in favour of accelerated advancement of India. India’s rise is also seen as the biggest possible antidote to both Islamic radicalism as well as opaque authoritarianism. But impediments - both internal as well as external – could be far too formidable in this direction.

Besides clandestine influence of global cliques, cartels or networks - as well as rough and tumbles of globalised world- India may face resistance from large sections of its own political, corporate and bureaucratic elite. Many of them have thrived and flourished in an ecosystem of fragile institutions. They may be apprehensive of competition, transparency and meritocracy that could potentially result in loss of privileges and entitlements. A persuasive, gradual but time bound transition appears unavoidable in larger interest of national security.

China’s spectacular governance accomplishments, compared to post-colonial democracies, have raised serious doubts about the efficacy of the existing Western democratic governance institutions to transform the plight of people in the developing world. Saturating governance capacities of the Western democracies or the roots of their prosperity confirms such apprehensions. Chinese scholars often claim that West was able to establish its comprehensive material, intellectual and technological superiority over the rest largely due to colonial moorings of its early prosperity. These provided foundation for subsequent innovations, industry and enterprise. China claims to have built its prosperity and technological modernisation through sheer strength of its civilisational values and governance model, which it claims to be superior than contemporary democracy.

India’s societal ethos have retained their essentially humanist, plural and transparent nature. This is despite all pressures and distortions or degeneration, which have been backed by significant phases of resurrection. This is what explains sustenance of democracy in India even under adverse circumstances. Any drift towards authoritarianism is likely to be counter-productive given essential ethos and values of its people. This is likely to erode the capacity and output of India as a nation. Hence, the biggest democracy of the world has to explore refinement of some of its key institutions to bolster its collective national output. Proposed reform must cover political parties to civil service, criminal justice system, corporate sector, media, civil society entities, institutions of higher research, heath-care and elementary education regime etc.

 India will have to practically spearhead transition of contemporary democracy to the next higher stage of evolution for building and sustaining a stronger national security architecture. It shall have to build high quality governance institution, equipped with suitable norms, values and procedures as well as wider culture of superior skills, output and leadership. Political, bureaucratic or even corporate rent, or entitlement driven privileges or hereditary leadership, is a luxury that no dynamic society can afford within any of its institutions. Hence, reforms in political parties and corporate organisations become very critical.

 Democracies can potentially create far superior governance institutions than their authoritarian counterparts. However, they need to marshal their basic principles to build a stronger synergy between individual and institutional excellence, where both drive and sustain each other. India has to explore an integrated and yet dynamic framework of high-quality governance and social institutions. Their autonomy and independence may be crucial for optimal growth, evolution and output. But they must be able to collaborate with each other in pursuit of larger objectives of governance. This would require suitable safeguards and instruments of functional complementarity along with a wider culture of integrity.  

 Probably, challenges towards such transition would be huge. But with a decisive nationalist government at the helm, there could not have been more opportune time for the country to embark upon a journey in this direction.


Saturday, May 23, 2020


[Crises like the ongoing stand-off on the border must be handled with all our existing resources. But we would peril security of India as a state and civilisation, if we fail to learn lessons from the past. We need to bolster our national security capacity to handle uniquely formidable challenges imposed on us by  the sheer geopolitics of this region.]


        Sino-Indian border has once again seen escalation of tension. Chinese troops have transgressed into Indian side of the 'Line of Actual Control'. Displaying quintessential Chinese duality, its media has been using a belligerent language despite words of sanity by the top political leadership. Indian government has approached the issue calmly.  Indian Army Chief has visited his troops on the ground and sent additional reinforcements. Indians have made it clear that such transgression shall be rebuffed and status quo shall be maintained.    

   Over the last few decades, Indian state has handled such conflicts deftly but has avoided strategic preparation to deal with recurrent aggression,  brinkmanship and sustained territorial expansion by China in the region. India's northern neighbour's internal governance accomplishments, especially its economic transformation as well as advances in scientific and technological innovation, are worthy of emulation. But its aspirations for unrestrained territorial expansion and global domination threatens not only India but also others in the region and even the entire world beyond a certain point.

    What is worrying for India is the manner in which the Nepali Prime Minister K P Oli has raked up a fictitious border dispute. He has jeopardised a relationship of mutual trust as well as a longstanding social, cultural, ethnic,  and linguistic  bond. Citing 1815 Sugauli treaty, Oli has suddenly claimed an area that was never shown as Nepali territory even in Nepal's own map. He has not only pushed a legislation through parliament changing the map of the country but also whipped up nationalist passion by several strident anti-India statements.    

      Intriguingly, Kalapani area, on the West side of Kali river, which Nepal has claimed, is located at a height of approximately 20,000  feet close to the tri-junction with the Chinese border. It carries huge strategic importance in eventuality of a conventional Sino-India conflict. Though the Chinese Foreign Ministry has distanced itself from strident anti-Indianism of Oli but the plot is crystal clear to any impartial observer. Other smaller South Asian states have so far remained committed to the India's concerns but the Indian Government has to be cognisant of the fact they are vulnerable to Chinese coercion and enticement.   

      China's has generated border dispute with virtually each of its neighbours as a part of a well-crafted Geo-strategic design, which appears continuation of the policy of territorial expansion of Imperial China.  It entrenches an oppressive regime internally and enhances clout of its incumbents globally. The brazenness with which China has captured the South China Sea and converted it into its own backyard is one of the multiple examples in this direction. As per most estimates, South China sea accounts for nearly 12 to 20 trillion dollar worth of marine resources besides being the second busiest sea lane, accounting for nearly  50% of the world's commodity transportation in terms of tonnage. Simultaneously, China's ambitious belt and road initiative is nothing but yet another aggressive assertion of its global aspirations.


    Communist China has perennially criticized the West for imposing a series of unequal and humiliating treaties on them for 100 years  since 1842. But interestingly, it was Great Britain that was complicit to large-scale Chinese territorial expansion for nearly a century from the beginning of 1800s.  It was imperial British that facilitated Chinese entrenchment in both Tibet and Xinjiang or Eastern Turkistan, the two independent civilizations and states that were culturally closer to India than Han China. Tibetans used Dvenagri script and  Hindustani was a popular language even in Kashgar. The British were keen to keep the Russians at bay over their ongoing rivalry with them in Europe and West Asia.

   By 1840, the entire undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir, including areas held by China and Pakistan was already  part of Sikh empire under autonomous rule of Dogras. In 1841 Dogra troops led by Zorawar Singh had initially captured most of West Tibet up to Mayum pass, garrisoned local forts and set up its own administration. It were British who started complaining to Sikh emperor in Lahore against Zorawar Singh, accusing the legendary General of exacting taxes from British suzerains. There are unconfirmed inputs suggesting that some British officers were eyeing share of lucrative Pashmina trade between Tibet and Laddakh, which was disrupted by the new arrangement. Meanwhile, Tibetans marshalled fresh reinforcements and counter attacked Zorawar Singh's troops, taking them by surprise and killing the General, taking advantage of the inclement weather. They re-captured some of the areas and marched up to Leh only to be comprehensively beaten and chased back. It was under these circumstances that the two sides signed the Treaty of Chushul (1842), which acknowledged Dogra-Sikh sovereignty up to Xydullah and East of Mansarovar Lake, way beyond the undivided territory of Jammu and Kashmir shown in map of 1947.  

     In 1865, when surveyor William Johnson demarcated Kashmir-Tibet boundary, he ceded significant territory back to the Tibetans on map citing inaccessibility from Laddakh and hence difficulty to govern it effectively. Later this became Ardagh-Johnson line when British Chief Military Intelligence officer Maj Gen John Ardagh  proposed (1897) it as formal boundary between British India and Tibet. As per this line, entire Karaksh valley and eastern side of Chang Chenmo valley were part of Kashmir. What really transpired subsequently is still not known, as there was no protest either from Tibetans or from nominees of Qing ruler. But in 1899, a section of British officers cited Chinese reluctance to accept the proposed line  claiming that the Chinese had suddenly developed interest in Aksai Chin at the Russian instigation.  Others suggest that the British kept hedging their position on Sino-Indian border depending on their equations with the Russians in other theatres. Further, there was a change in status of Tibet in 1912, when it signed a treaty with Qings to inherit all its territories in Tibet and became an independent country once again.  

      Intriguingly, amidst Anglo-Russian rivalry, British objectives were dictated by its own larger strategic calculations outside the region. Interests and aspiration of indigenous people of Tibet and India were certainly not a priority. Hence, when they brokered a deal during the famous Shimla convention (1913-14), where McMahon line had emerged as the boundary between India and Tibet, they still acceded nominal suzerainty over inner areas of Tibet, only in deference to Anglo-Russian convention of 1907 which had demarcated the respective spheres of influences of the two sides in Iran, Afghanistan and Tibet. As per provisions of this agreement, the British were obliged to enter into any negotiation with Tibet only in consultation with China. Logically, this clause should have become defunct after independence of Tibet in 1912.  

    This was the time, when China was used both by the British and the Russians to offset each other. Hence, even after Tibet had renounced its 192 years of nominal suzerainty to the Chinese, and that too with the concurrence of Qing regime, the British still invited representatives of the Chinese government to Shimla convention in 1914, to demarcate boundaries among British India, Tibet and China only in deference to Anglo-Russian convention of 1907.  Shimla convention acknowledged complete freedom of Lhasa regime in outer Tibet, that shared a boundary with India, but nominal suzerainty to China in the inner Tibet. Even such suzerainty barred any interference by the Peking or Beijing government in day-to-day  affairs of the Tibetan Government in Lhasa. 

     Though Chinese Government is believed to have reneged on the agreement reached out in Shimla, largely at the instigation of Russians, it still had no locus-standi to talk about the border between Tibet and British India, over which it had lost even nominal sovereignty.  However, there was no confusion even on the Chinese side about the exact border dividing India and Tibet. A map published by Peking University in 1928 had acknowledged Aksai-Chin and large parts of other territories currently disputed by the China, as part of India.     

        It is interesting that in 1950s, even Maoist China did not change imperial outlook notwithstanding its proclamation of communism as state ideology. It not merely captured Tibet but also denounced Shimla convention on the plea that Tibet was not an independent country in 1913-14 and hence had no right to negotiate the boundary. Independent India's first generation of leaders being freedom fighters, lacking any strategic exposure, acquiesced to the Chinese position, in deference to neighbourly bonhomie,ignoring Tibet's longstanding social and cultural linkages with India as well as India's own strategic interests. 

     In 1950s, Chinese quietly built a road through Aksai Chin, nearly 100 kms inside the Indian territory because that was the only route through which an all-weather road could connect Tibet and Xinjiang.  China went to war in 1962 with an an unprepared India that failed to acknowledge the Guerrilla Commander in Mao, who had deftly secured his victories through an element of surprise and deception, catching the adversary unguarded. Chinese occupied nearly 39,000 sq km (approx) of territory and subsequently in 1963 Pakistan ceded another 15000 sqkm (approx). Diplomat magazine reported in 2019 that China had managed to acquire another 640 sq km of Indian territory by constantly pushing the line of actual control. None of the two sides have confirmed it though.


It is well known that the China has been disputing the entire McMahon line, claiming large parts of Indian territory - where people speak Indian languages and follow Buddhist practices and have nothing common with Han China- as their own. Such an approach of China is not restricted to India alone. It has been expanding its territory and domain of influence in all directions. It is nearly impossible, in the prevailing context, for the Chinese political leadership to appreciate Indian perspective, or respect any other power or civilization. This is especially given their habit of enjoying unrestrained access to absolute power and belief in infallibility  of their own wisdom and innate superiority of Han race.

 Even the Confucian morality, or the Confucian concept of harmony, that has become the guiding principle of Chinese state philosophy envisages eternal superiority and authority of the more powerful entity and obedience of the rest to it. The superior power, which in this case being the Chinese state, is restrained only by the moral principles, whereas the rest are expected to obey or at least not defy. 

Communist China has consistently played up the gross historical wrongs inflicted by the Western powers on Han people. They also seem to perceive communist China's spectacular  success as vindication of such a belief. While, they have been dealing with the west but their distrust towards the West and the Western ways has been more than obvious. India's perceived proximity to the West or its adoption of the so-called Western democratic model of governance has remained a permanent cause of their annoyance with India. They have also been discomforted with efforts to put India and China in the same bracket and have made conscious efforts to equate India with other minor powers in the region.           

On the other hand, India has ignored the growing asymmetry of all round power with China for far too long. With five times economic strength and significant edge in technological excellence and innovation, Chinese state may find it more tempting to exert pressure on India in retaliation to growing world-wide pressure over their concealment of Covid-19 spread.


While  India should be able to ward off such brinkmanship for the time being but there is no confusion that the world’s biggest democracy requires serious restructuring of its governance institutions. India shall have to find an endurable solution to the irregular and diffused war with Pakistan.  Conventional military techniques and surgical strikes may provide limited and temporary deterrents but these have appeared inadequate towards finding a permanent solution or obtaining a comprehensive victory. 

Smart diplomacy and deft geopolitical manoeuvrings cannot substitute strong national security architecture with equally powerful strategies that need stronger comprehensive national power to sustain. We have to appreciate that only an economically powerful state, and not a large number of billionaires amidst an ocean of poverty, with high quality human resource, strong technological capacity, robust governance institutions and high level of social cohesion can sustain a powerful national security architecture. 

Ironically, over the past few decades, far too many self-seeking cartels have become so powerful in India that they would be the first to obstruct, or even crush, any idea or initiative towards optimising the collective strengths and capacities of the country. All key stakeholders of India shall have to realise that the unique geopolitics of South Asia has saddled us with formidable national security challenges. As a large state,  we have no liberty to comfortably ignore these to psychologically nestle under perceived protective ambit of some invisible or divine force.

 Exigencies like the ongoing stand-off on the border must be handled with all our existing resources. But we would once again peril security of India as a state and civilisation, if we fail to learn lessons from the past. A strong national security capacity needs a powerful and yet a dynamic vision with a clear road map and commensurate efforts to pursue these. National Security in today's world cannot be a stand alone and isolated proposition. Institution of governance and society need to be increasingly harmonised, and not oppressed, for optimising their output and level of excellence.    



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