Even as the world changes around us, many of the geo-political constructs have remained constant at heart, even if changing forms externally. In some cases, these could be significant enough to appear structural changes at core, nevertheless in terms of long terms trends these are still at best superficial. There are many such notable trends, such as the continuing conflicts between modern nation states being a replay of ancient Persian-Greek rivalry to schisms in medieval church fueling todays governments actions and so on. In our immediate context, we deal with the continuing use of Pakistan as a geo-political pawn to keep Indian sub-continent unstable and constant all round perfidy of the notional country due to being born of a false construct. While there is always an option to give in to the cynicism of the status quo, the problem is that the status quo is not a constant. As discussed before the status quo is a downward spiral of increasing instability, violence and an ever-heightened threat of a nuclear flashpoint being triggered. In addition, this severe instability has a higher probability of generating black swan events which can derail Indian resurgence. We have no option therefore, but to think through various future story arc possibilities born out of the current framework at least, and see how we may influence them to our advantage.
At a broad level, there exists the following potential ways in which things could move forward. The first of course is the hope that the Pakistan may reform itself in future and bail out from the present corkscrew trajectory. This though is completely unlikely owing again to the very nature of creation of Pakistan as a state. A more likely scenario is foreseeable future is that a part of jihadi network gets enough leeway from the deep state control to carry out a major strike. This is yet another time honored tactic that the left hand of Pakistan carries out when the right hand is in tight squeeze from the world. The bad terrorist showing its face enough for the hostage to want to work with the good terrorist. This would also release the internal pressure by jihadi factions on the supposed democratic covers which they face when they seek to keep a lid on the reality of Pakistan being a terror state. They do this by letting the jihadi elements blow off steam. A third possible outcome, also quite likely which can change the current setup, is if US represented by Trump is forced enough due to internal political pressures to act against Pakistan, much like Obama going after Osama at a time unsurprisingly coinciding with US elections. This is quite likely as there will be pressure on the current administration to live up to their stated stands, and also the US establishment finds itself bled to an unacceptable level in Pak-Af imbroglio. This is so as for all practical purposes, although there is no change in US-Pakistan interactions, nevertheless the relationships are at their most fragile till date; as seen by public utterances of diplomats; and a strong move by US could indeed upset the current applecart. There also exists a possibility of growing Pakistani population coupled with limited water due climate change resulting in internal disintegration of Pakistan. The last scenario can be extended to break up of Pakistan due to economic failure on any of its multiply stressed sectors of foreign exchange, economic debt and agricultural failure.
[Tillerson Hails Ties With India, but Criticizes China and Pakistan] https://www.nytimes.com/…/tillerson-india-china-pakistan.ht…
[Pakistan won’t accept security role of India in Afghanistan : Pak Defence Minister] http://www.defencenews.in/article.aspx?id=434127
[A US-India Alliance is threatening Pakistan’s existence – Pak Media] http://www.defencenews.in/article.aspx?id=434114
While each of the above scenario needs focused discussion of their own to discuss the chances of them happening, and the merits and fallouts of each, the common thread to the above list is that they are not triggered by specific directed actions by India. The prime mover in these steps are one of the three parties in the US-Pak-Af tangle, or it has been triggered by a side effect of the same. As such, India has been reacting to both the current situation and has been reactive to the blips in the spiral. There has not been a studied decision to change the status quo by specific pro-active steps by us. Also at some level we have seen each of the above scenario play out before at different times, with limited results to the overall pattern. At best, it hastened the spiral for a while, but has not really made a fundamental change to the overall picture. Clearly, while we can hope for changes from world at large, they would either be insufficient for our purposes or still be on others terms, since the outcome usually rests with those who seize the initiative. What then, should the Indian moves be to break out of the mold? Also as Swatantra Veer Savarkar pointed out in his seminal work outlining the first Anglo-Indian war of 1857, it’s not sufficient enough to have a destructive principle but one must also have a constructive principle. What do we want the situation to be when the current mould breaks? To be honest it does not stop there, we also need to understand what’s our great game? What role would the scenario post breaking of the current US-Pak-Af axis result play in the overall picture of the world we want to work towards? Each of these need to be clearly discussed, enunciated and disseminated across the thinking communities of India. However, for the moment, let us not necessarily delve into the big picture, partially because it would take away focus from the current immediate topic, and partially because it is perhaps not the opportune moment to verbalize the details here. It would suffice to say that India needs to occupy a physical and temporal area in line with the historical patterns and have influence and control in its extended neighbourhood commensurate with its size and weight. This broad view is sufficient for us to take a stab at the goal we should seek at the end of impasse. It is not enough for US to disassociate from Pakistan in terms of military funding, stopping to work with its government on so called terror hunt, and looking at Pakistan for logistical support and enabling an American footprint in the region. The goals must extend to at least US deferring to India on Pakistan and Indian ocean related issues, move to declare Pakistan as sponsor of terror, bring about associated embargos and inhibit Chinese support to Pakistan. Eventually this should extend to weakening of Pakistani state and its dissolution so that the previously listed goals are permanently built into the geo-political structure of the world.
The challenge for us in India then is to decide how to shape the world in this form. One way of countering Pakistan that has often been advocated is to take up overtures of a greater power, specifically US, so that the current indispensable position of Pakistan in their scheme of things is diluted, and that allows for status quo to change. Some of the most recent moves have been the visit of US secretary of state (their equivalent of External Affairs Minister) Rex Tillerson to various countries in Indian subcontinent and the statements around the same. US is clearly rethinking its alliances and the recent government pronouncements are formalization of views in Trump’s election manifesto through the government he now heads. Tillerson’s speech at an event by Washington think-tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) just before the visit started set the context of the same, and has been followed by various supporting statements as the visit has progressed. At the outset US made it clear that China was not a country whose rise was anything peaceful and India and US needed to work together in Indo-Pacific to ensure continuation of a rule based international architecture. Pakistan has also received considerable negative focus, and as most recently been directly threatened with cleaning up its act or the US would do it for it. At the same time, China has been making frantic overtures to India as well, with efforts to reach out to India to address her concerns on Belt and Road Initiative and asking India to participate. Presumably, India could bargain excluding Pakistan from that forum for the price of us joining it and precondition the participation in the forum on the same not involving areas of PoK. Given India’s economic heft, China can be pushed to side-line Pakistan, and China would also neutralize an emerging Indo-Japan alignment against it for giving up on Sino-Pak axis. Unfortunately, the previous formulation of national interests dictates that while the above options appear as easy, they do not really meet Indian goals. For one, the basic premise of “Indian initiative” is missing in either options. These efforts are not being done for Indian goals in mind, but India is merely being co-opted with at best limited overlap in goals. Secondly, the price that such “friendships” demand is to give up on other key alliances, many of them older and more robust. Does India really want to distance itself from a nationalist Japan under Abe for the cost of having China not be close to Pakistan? Does India want to give up on its relations with Iran and the Chabahar port effort for US? How would Russia see a Indian reorientation? A close embrace of the US, has also in the past not been really helpful for its friends in the long run. Whether it be Egypt or Iraq or even Japan, US has been an unreliable ally when really needed, and the close embrace of the great power has left the “friend” country enervated. Yet at the same time it would be foolish to not use the space such overtures create, particularly with US where there is a greater alignment of interest.
What space do we end up with after the above set of interlocking constraints are applied on the multivariate optimization problem of national interest? In truth they leave us with no choice but to get on the front foot almost immediately. The only solution of the Gordian knot has been to cut through it, and that has never changed. The time for being reactive is over.
When a Tillerson comes calling, it is not us who should be considering his proposals, but we should be offering him a roadmap to work with us with. This will not be cheap, an initiative does not come at thrifty options, India must be willing to put the money where its mouth is. Here would be a scheme on which Indian counter-proposals could be based.
1) An Indian involvement in Afghanistan to be offered to the world at the price of secure logistical chains into Afghanistan through Iran and CAR nations such Tajikistan. This world gains from limiting terror in the region and preventing its overspill at the small cost of setting aside its competition for CAR. This is not as terrible a price as it would seem, especially for US and Russia since they are deferring to not each other in that region but to India, with whom they are not in competition for influence and who is nearly equidistant from all. China would of course find this harder to accept, but then, not every equation can be balanced.
2) A key piece of Indian involvement in Afghanistan would also be military, to ease the pressure on other powers deployed there. An Indian led and maintained force would need to be deployed in Afghanistan as stabilizing factor for Afghan government, as long as needed. Potentially this can extend to West Asian regions too.
3) The Indian force needs to be in form of a newly raised Greater India Corps for deployment of Indian strength outside Indian borders as supporting forces in its vicinity. This force, would draw from citizens from India and from Indian subcontinent as a whole too. The funding of the same would naturally come from India, but would not be exclusively so. India can and should seek monies from a greater number of world powers towards international deployment. This force would be trained by India, and can be seeded using retired Indian Armed forces members at the core, but would not strictly be Indian armed forces. This would be a transnational armed Public-Sector Undertaking led by India. An armed equivalent of a BRICS bank so to say.
4) India needs to immediately take control of Indian Ocean region through overwhelming naval strength. To that end, the naval expansion plans need to be extended in scope and timelines for the current plans shortened. The organic growth capabilities of Indian shipyards and traditional acquisition routes would be simply insufficient to meet this goal. The only option is then to invite partnerships with countries like Japan. The shipyards of Asian tigers and Japan need to be roped in, in a participation format, with warship designs if needed coming from Indian stables, but the manufacturing (and possibly funding) coming from other Asian countries. These would be staffed by Indian naval soliders and would be in control on Indian navy, but implicit within would be readiness of India to use this force in alignment with Japanese interests in Indo-china sea if needed. This model extends the “bullet-train” model being deployed by Indian Railways into military space. It may again be possible to have a component of the extension be done as a transnational force co-owned by multiple nations whose military deployment is done by a board with many nations on it. The advantage this provides countries like Japan is to be able to extend their defense forces even with an aging population and continued limitations of the pacifist constitution.
5) The military stabilization being discussed above would come naturally at a significant cost, much of this cost can be budgeted by cutting down on expenditure on Pakistan by world powers and IMF and instead funnel the funds to this effort. Additional recoveries for the cost can be through growth in GDP through military expenditure and increased economic activity in Afghanistan and CAR, and also the East Asian counties which will be served by this defense infrastructure.
While the broad brush strokes above would need to be developed into details, and also additional major thrust areas added, the key attributes they would need to have would be the same ones as driving the previous points; viz proactive steps from India with it taking lead in the efforts, and a willingness to embrace the military aspect of the power matrix. Fundamentally, the “peacenik” world view which has currently come to characterize Indian approach to the world has to be discarded in favor of a muscular approach, even as we continue to value the multi-lateral rule based regime to the world even when on the newer path. India has been recovering in the spaces of economy and polity from the Nehruvian malaise that pervaded it after independence and dragged it down, and it is only natural and fitting that the same effort be taken towards its military outlook.