Unless there is a turnaround, 2017 augurs poorly for India in the strategic domain.
New Delhi: Between Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s obsession with “surgical strikes” and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s penchant for public diplomacy via Twitter to the exclusion of authentic foreign policy-making, this writer fears for this country’s strategic intent, direction and goals. At this rate, India will remain what it is, a mediocre middle power that has no chance to become a Great Power; saddled with rivalries with China and Pakistan that ought to have been long overcome; and inhibited from fulfilling its potential beyond the confines of South Asia and the Indian Ocean. It all seems so much of a waste.
Scarcely a day passes by when Parrikar does not make a reference to “surgical strikes”. The last time he spoke about it was at an Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad function in Madhya Pradesh. For the benefit of his young audience, Parrikar regaled the details of how he couldn’t sleep on the night of the “surgical strikes”. It would have been news if he had slept through the operation, rather like the dog that didn’t bark in the Sherlock Holmes yarn, Silver Blaze. Proportionality is missing from this great and endless celebration of “surgical strikes”. It succeeded as tactic. It has failed as strategy because Pakistani terrorists have struck back regularly since the “surgical strikes”. Indian soldiers have been dying with awful sameness: Hit in camp at night, killed in so-called peacetime stations, murdered at the end of tour of duties. It is shameful to their memories to call them martyrs because most of them were killed while being unarmed. Parrikar has a fixed grin when he boasts about “surgical strikes”. What impression would that leave on the dead soldiers’ next of kin?
And to keep perspective, the “surgical strikes” are not the Battle of Stalingrad that destroyed Adolf Hitler’s 6th Army and portended his final defeat or the great Battle of Tshushima in 1905 that crushed the Russian navy and paved the way for the rise of Japan as the first Asian Great Power. Nor do the “surgical strikes” represent anything truly extraordinary compared to the vastness, closer home, of India’s 1971 war victory which enabled the birth of a nation. Tactical operations can never substitute strategic design and intent because strategy is built on multiple independent and interwoven tactical options. If one tactical option is overwhelmed, strategy has reserves of others. If tactics is confused for strategy, the failure or overwhelming of tactics brings down the whole edifice. Manohar Parrikar has been selling “surgical strikes” as strategy. Its subsequent overwhelming in the form of rising attrition of soldiers and officers has blown a hole in India’s response to Pakistani terrorism. This country has been revealed to have no strategic vision apropos Pakistan.
The performance of Sushma Swaraj as Foreign Minister has been no better. One would like to excuse the fact that she has been rather ill for a time and is presently recovering from a transplant. Another fact, however, also remains true: Which is that nations are bigger than individuals. Swaraj having been so incapacitated, it follows that a timely replacement ought to have been found for her. Politely, this writer advised the same some days ago, but to no apparent effect. Meanwhile, Swaraj has no sooner been discharged than she returns in full sail to Twitter diplomacy. It is hopeless. If diplomacy is solely about public diplomacy, then you could be certain that Cardinal Richelieu, Prince von Metternich, the Marquess of Salisbury, George C. Marshall and a few others did not deserve their outstanding reputations.
Under Sushma Swaraj’s watch, the Foreign Office has grossly misread China’s strategic intent and grown generally without purpose and direction in regard to the other world powers. She made a public announcement to the effect that China had agreed to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group one day before India’s northern adversary snubbed the country by taking a contrary stand. At the BRICS summit in Goa, both China and Russia managed a declaration reiterating their position and interests whereas India failed to reflect its anxieties. A tough Foreign Minister would have said no to a declaration that did not carry India’s concerns; it would not be the first time that a host country had blocked a hostile or unsympathetic declaration. In all these cases, Indian Foreign Service officials let down the country through poor intuition, lack of insight, arrogance and overconfidence. A smart Foreign Minister would have punished the incompetent and recruited a new team.
Sushma Swaraj’s Foreign Office was likewise unprepared for the Russian defection to the Chinese-Pakistani side until it was too late to remedy. It represented a clear failure of diplomatic intelligence and analysis. If the Foreign Office had its ears close to the ground, it would have picked up early signals of Russian disquiet at the dramatic pro-US tilt under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But that is scarcely the end of it. Apparently, the Indian Foreign Office was so convinced of Hillary Clinton’s victory from the fraudulent narrative disseminated by the US mainstream media that it did not bother to cultivate the Donald Trump side. With his presidential victory consequently, the Foreign Office reportedly is in a state of panic, with all manner of officials and non-officials rushing to Washington DC to save the situation. Is this any way to conduct foreign policy?
On the whole, nobody seems to be in intelligent control. India is losing its way both in the diplomatic and military spheres: the supersession for army chief that this writer previously supported now appears superfluous and gratuitous. If you add to all this the mess of the economy produced by the most botched execution of demonetization, you begin to fear for the future of the country in the New Year.
Editor’s Note: On the afternoon of Christmas Day by a curious coincidence, this writer was hearing George Michael’s touching and soulful cover of the Paul McCartney classic, The Long and Winding Road. It brought to mind the Phil Spector controversy and the strange musical power of the 1970s and early 1980s. One by one, the greats have passed on. RIP, George Michael.