Finally, prime minister Manmohan Singh has awoken to the reality of the international situation. Addressing armed forces commanders, he said "most major powers" were preoccupied with their internal problems. This made the task of international governance difficult. Therefore, India had to strengthen its own capabilities and stand on its "own feet".

This statement accepts some facts without highlighting them. America is in decline. While remaining a military superpower, it cannot influence the world. Pax Americana is shredding. At the same time, America's principal challenger, China, is beset with internal problems. Those problems and its anxiety to quickly occupy the strategic space ceded by America are making it belligerent with its neighbours, including India. India has to respond.

India has known from the time of independence that it has to fight its own battles and make a special space in the world. This philosophy was imperfectly contained in Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of non-alignment. For example, he sued for US help following the 1962 Chinese aggression. But help was late in coming and conditioned on India settling the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. That narrative has remained with India unfortunately to this day.

Then Indira Gandhi with her peace and friendship pact with Soviet Russia abandoned non-alignment temporarily to gain security against the deepening US-China-Pakistan axis. She needed the Soviets specially to prosecute the Bangladesh War without US interference. It still came. Who can forget Henry Kissinger nudging the Chinese to attack India on a second front? Or Richard Nixon ordering a nuclear carrier taskforce into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India?

Barring such aberrations, India has remained non-aligned. Its rise through the nineties up to now has also come without explicit external assistance in the form of, say, a Marshall Plan. The tragedy is that Indian governments, especially the two regimes of Manmohan Singh, refused to credit India's internal strengths and the genius of its entrepreneurs for what it is today.

The Indo-US nuclear deal was one of the worst expressions of lack of pride at things Indian. The deal had been preceded by a decades-long undermining of India's three-stage programme, largely under Manmohan Singh's watch. The deal itself was cleverly designed to "cap, rollback and eliminate" India's nuclear programme while bringing a bonanza to struggling US reactor-makers.

A chance re-eruption of the Bhopal gas tragedy controversy prevented a dilution of nuclear liability laws. This has made the US nuclear industry rethink about India. Plus other parts of the deal have fallen through, including promised ENR technology transfers. In other words, India's independent spirit has prevented the US from walking all over us.

In another sphere too, India's fierce independence has prevailed. This relates to Af-Pak. The US tolerated Pakistani terrorism against India till it hoped to get Pakistan's assistance in Afghanistan. Knowing about the terrorist, David Coleman Headley's actions, the US was in a position to prevent 26/11. It did not. It won't extradite Headley to India or his partner in terrorism, Tahawwur Rana. Thus, the US has been complicit in Pak terrorism against India.

But strangely, the Manmohan Singh government refused to confront the US with this charge. Rather, it acted under US pressure to engage Pakistan repeatedly. Manmohan Singh likes to own that engagement policy. But it was reckless and dangerous and came under US pressure. Because of internal resistance, the PM was prevented from proceeding the whole way with Pakistan.

For the US, India did not matter. If Pakistan benefitted, the US gained in Afghanistan. Ultimately, Pakistani terrorism was deployed against the US in Afghanistan. Relations between the two countries have since gone downhill. Suddenly, the US came alive to the reality of the Pakistani terror state and significantly tilted in favour of India. In earlier times, the Manmohan Singh government would be ecstatic. No more.

Till some days ago, India exhorted the US to remain in Afghanistan. That is bad policy. This writer has opposed it for some years now. It shows India's pusillanimity in dealing with the Afghan situation when there is no call to be fearful. India has stood up to mujahideen and Taliban Afghanistan and has the capacity to do so again. In the calls to the US not to withdraw, India displayed lack of political will to confront the Afghan crisis head-on. That has finally changed.

Hamid Karzai's recent visit and the Indo-Afghan strategic pact signed during that visit mark India's decision to go alone in Afghanistan. Earlier to that, India made a foray in another direction, jointly exploring for hydrocarbons in the South China Sea that China claims. China is cross with India. It has threatened an Indian Navy vessel in the region. India has not backed down. India is firming relations with China's worried East Asian neighbours.

That should tell that India has finally decided to stand on its "own feet" as the PM described at the commanders' conference. He also laid out the broad grid for strategic self-reliance, particularly in the area of weaponry. But these and other things need prioritization as well for India to succeed alone. Pakistani terrorism abetted by China is a perpetual threat for India. While it cannot unravel India, it can impede its growth and internal development. To contain and ultimately neutralize Pakistani terrorism, both internal and external intelligence-gathering have to be significantly resourced, deepened, modernized and expanded. Pakistan is a dying state. It represents a bigger threat to India.

Deterring China is of equal priority as containing Pakistani terrorism and the fallouts of its imminent collapse. China will want to teach India a "second lesson" after 1962 for keeping alive the Tibet issue by granting asylum to the Dalai Lama and by its insertion into the South China Sea dispute. China may attack India on the land border or in the Indian Ocean with the added aim to warn its perceived ally, the US.

For tactical threats, Indian forces presumably know what to do. But China will only be strategically deterred when its principal cities fall in the shadows of Indian nukes. An Indian sea-based thermonuclear deterrent is a sine qua non in the circumstances complimented with surface and aerial options. China solely understands the logic of force.

Next, India must build capacity to pressure so-called friends to act against Indian enemies. If India can't get Headley or Rana extradited, it is bad for its image and terrible for its nationhood. Terrorists will be emboldened that India has limited means to punish them abroad.

It is a joke that Iqbal Mirchi is luxuriously resident in the UK for fifteen years without India getting him for the 1993 Bombay blasts. This has to change. India must exert its economic and political muscles to nab its enemies anywhere, anytime.

More substantively, India must be able to leverage its rise to create a favourable foreign political, economic, strategic and security environment. This would include getting permanent membership and veto power in the UN Security Council, joining the NPT and NSG as a fully empowered nuclear power state, gaining untrammeled access to dual-use technologies, and so forth.

At its farthest, such leverage should allow India to impress its benign, peaceful and non-expansionist worldview on the globe.