Saving the homeland
China and Saudi Arabia should not escape the consequences of backing Pakistani terrorism against India, argues Gautam Sen.
5 January 2009: The notion of defending India is a popular contemporary motif for many, but the prevailing reality of India's perpetual vulnerability exposes it as a hollow conceit. In India, the people who matter are busy defending their private interests. The obscenely rich are primarily interested in becoming even richer, though the all-enveloping squalor of the environment must make escape from it even by helicopter travel between various BMW-style climate-controlled zones difficult. Dominant politicians are almost exclusively preoccupied with being in power and the loaves and fishes of office, which in contemporary India are unrivalled since Shah Jahan miss-spent India's wealth building a mausoleum and Robert Clive committed robbery on a grand scale. Their political underlings scramble for crumbs, in exchange for displays of obeisance that even the gods must envy. The modern bureaucrat has eagerly clambered on to the gravy train in the control of politicians and found they can do exceedingly well as junior partners in crime. Find me ten national politicians without an illicit bank account and thirty bureaucrats not wearing a high-end premium watch and I will take sanyas!
Is there some way of squaring the circle of India's pathetic vulnerability and the venality of its public life? The latter will persist though we may pine otherwise and dream angry dreams. The BJP will not come to power with a fifty-seat majority nor will it fail to disappoint if it does so because its leaders have already demonstrated all the usual human frailties citizens constantly decry. And the great saffron hope, Narendra Modi, will also be swallowed up by the hard realities of bad faith and the desire for instant gratification that dominate Indian political life and society. Almost alone among Indians states, Gujarat has reached the climactic turning point at which the business of making money and half-decent governance intersect virtuously, creating space for an alternative politics. Nor are the forty-somethings with whom the twenty-somethings of the media are solemnly enamoured likely to bring about anything approaching a minimally alluring agenda. Much of the rest remain mired in casteist tail-chasing and the truly devout seek escape from damnation in the after-life by making everyone in the present one taste hellfire.
Alas, India's politicians are mostly intellectually mediocre because the requisite skill for political success has ensured a distinctive breed that possesses the necessary qualification of village cunning. It seems to be the best attribute for achieving political power though it provides fewer guidelines about what to do with it on a wide front once you arrive. This is a problem that cannot be altogether overcome because it is underpinned by the mordant impress of institutionalised past choices that severely constrain future alternatives. And of course constitutional arrangements guarantee their longevity. The gradual erosion of meritocracy in civil service recruitment has wrought something similar within it as well. Meritocracy is no longer in place to reduce the play of pure venality amongst amoral recruits with only modest intellectual equipment. But is it possible to defend India despite the dismaying combination of mundane private ambition and low cunning that curtails the ability to think clearly even in situations that urgently demand it?
The impact of Pakistani and Bangladeshi Islamist terror, financed by jihadi Arab charities and armed by China, is the most severe political challenge facing India today. It would be entirely just and defensible in international law to launch a retaliatory attack against Pakistan, but it would be complex in the extreme, both politically and militarily. Harming terrorists, in plentiful supply, is an unattainable goal because so-called terrorist camps are low-value physical targets that can be reinstated quickly. India would need to impose costs on Pakistan itself that its leaders and people would consider excessive, which for a thoroughly militarised Pakistan can be assumed much higher than anything a sustained Indian military assault could hope to approximate. Pakistan's entire social and political structure is configured to draw sustenance from war against India. And surgical strikes are not the exfoliation of dead skin that impressionable NDTV presenters imagine, but would need to entail amputations on a serious scale in order to comprise severe cost and constitute real deterrence. And bear in mind that it would be costly for India too since both the US and China would help Pakistan with high-grade intelligence about Indian intentions and arms supplies as well.
Much more to the point is the actual result of India's misconceived nuclear tests. They were motivated by instinctive nationalism, an electoral calculus and a degree of genuine apprehension about India's post-Cold War strategic vulnerability in the event of a two-front Sino-Pak assault against it, without an implicit Soviet veto against Chinese opportunism. Unfortunately, India's nuclear tests allowed Pakistan, which followed swiftly with its own, to espouse undeclared war against India, with the ever-present threat of uncontrolled escalation if India retaliated against terrorist bases in Pakistan that cannot operate on a meaningful scale without them. India erred in its failure to ready missile delivery systems that the Pakistanis bought off the shelf from China. It also highlighted a shocking lack of understanding of the psychological dimensions of nuclear deterrence protocols that might have prevented Pakistan from successfully issuing credible threats of escalation to India, even if it merely interdicted Karachi port. Of course India was singularly ill informed and exhibited very poor judgement in assuming that the US had decided to ratify the CTBT, an eventuality considered to make an Indian nuclear test after it much more difficult. In fact that did not happen since any knowledgeable observer would have known that the US would not ratify.
India's ruling elites, of all stripes, have facilitated the entry of Pakistani and Bangladeshi intelligence agents into India and waves of Bangladeshi immigrants have been allowed carte blanche within Indian cities. India's ruling order evidently calculates that any serious attempt to halt the incubation of autonomous mini-Islamic statelets within India will have negative electoral consequences, or precipitate unwelcome reputational damage in the case of its nominal nationalists. In addition, by colluding in the psychological assimilation of Indian Muslims to the wider global Ummah, India's elites have precipitated a problem of incalculable magnitude. The eighty or so parliamentary seats dependent on Muslim votes are increasingly susceptible to foreign influence and can be swung in favour of the political party least likely to jeopardise Pakistani operations within India. Religious leaders in many mosques mobilize votes in accordance with the preferences of Saudi-Pak funding agencies that finance them. The impact of Saudi-Pak funding on the politics of India can be gauged from a comment to me by a senior intelligence officer that the terrorists who bombed Delhi in 2005 were given a police escort to the UP-Delhi border. The bitter paradox is that acts of terrorism, which Indian politicians have themselves facilitated, polarizes fearful Muslim communities in the aftermath of terrorist outrages and intensifies their mobilization in favour of the political party least likely to adopt harsh measures to stop them.
The options for stopping India's slide into civil war and anarchy are alarmingly circumscribed and the complacency of its elites frightening. The need to unloose military force against rioting protestors in the streets of its cities is haunting India. And it is protestors against Pakistani-backed terror that will be in the line of fire. Such dire action could culminate in India's rapid descent into socio-political implosion, with the credibility of the federal Centre fatally injured and regional groupings asserting their parochial will in the wake of civil war. Among the few remaining immediate potential choices for tackling terrorism is the federal agency that became operational recently, but only the future can judge the seriousness of the government's intentions. Existing agencies will have to play a secondary role or be by-passed altogether because their personnel and activities have been corrupted by the mundane needs of politicians, who have misused them to strengthen their hold on political power. The new Federal agency will have to exercise all its ingenuity to acquire a truly outstanding intelligence-gathering ability and it should be allotted the resources to enable it to do so. Such a competent federal agency may permit targeted action against individuals involved in the outsourced Pakistani terror network embedded within India, without causing the collateral damage its politicians fear above all else. It will also have to co-ordinate its activities with the armed services to curtail the reach of Pakistan into India from outside. Terrorism will not end, but its grievous impact on India may then be mitigated.
Pathetic appeals to the international community are of no avail, as everyone knows, though the government shamelessly entertains the world with its denuded helplessness. The international response to recent Israeli action in the Gaza starkly demonstrates its cynicism. India is a laughing stock and its hapless people mere bait for a Pakistan useful for Western shenanigans in Afghanistan, as it was earlier during the Eighties' Soviet interlude. Western disregard for India's most vital interests remains largely unchanged nor is there credible evidence that it is likely to do so anytime soon. India should urgently consider economic and diplomatic options to isolate Pakistan, including abandoning its no first-use nuclear weapons policy and espousing concomitant strategic measures to send an unambiguous signal to Pakistan, China and the wider international community. Three specific options would be to begin evacuation drills in major Indian cities, ceremoniously build hardened nuclear shelters for India's key decision-makers and hint at an endgame Samson option, targeting Saudi Arabia and China in the event of a sub-continental nuclear holocaust. These are cynical psychological games designed to unnerve opponents who cannot know what will indeed happen in a worst-case scenario. In the meantime, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China should be subjected to various economic and diplomatic sanctions appropriate to the diabolical war they are waging against India in co-ordination with each other. Our venal and cunning rulers, politician and bureaucrat alike, might consider that the golden goose that has created such a good life in recent years for them and their families is in danger itself.
Gautam Sen recently co-authored Analyzing the Global Political Economy
(Princeton University Press, 2009).