At a time when the Manmohan Singh government has shown no political will to confront Pakistani terrorism and faces a crisis of credibility at home, can India afford to antagonize China? The short answer is no.

But this situation cannot be allowed to continue. If India has to rise peacefully, it mustn't permit itself to be browbeaten by China. But a girding of loins, so to speak, is required for that. And the country is far away from there.

Days before the third anniversary of 26/11, the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in Bhutan and the Maldives. Both men are nominal PMs in the sense that they do not enjoy direct political power. The Pak PM is beholden to his president, Asif Ali Zardari, who in turn exists at the pleasure of the Pakistan army.

Manmohan Singh, on the other hand, is thrice removed from directly-elected status. The Indian PM constitutionally is not directly-elected such as the American president is. The single largest party or the biggest coalition group in the Lok Sabha chooses its prime minister.

The second point of remove is that the Congress party to which Manmohan Singh belongs does not command even a simple majority in the Lower House to elect its own prime minister. Finally, Manmohan Singh has zero political base and is the nominated prime minister of Sonia Gandhi.

Seen in full light of their absent political power, the Pakistan and Indian prime ministers cannot take decisions about the peace process between India and Pakistan. Any decision they take has to meet majority approval in their respective countries, and it never does.

Therefore, when Manmohan Singh called his Pak counterpart a "man of peace" and claimed that the Pakistan army was fully on board with regard to the peace process with India, it provoked widespread scepticism here. That mistrust was shared by this magazine and by this writer.

That the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) which is Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) by another name is no longer on the list of proscribed Pakistani organizations suggests that the Pak military is uninterested in peace with India. JuD/ LeT are sponsored by the Pakistan army to launch terror attacks against India.

Yet, Manmohan Singh chose to ignore this vital evidence that terrorism as state policy remains a cornerstone of the Pak army's thrust against India. He stuck to his guns that peace with Pakistan was possible.

When the 26/11 anniversary drew closer, Pakistan's leopard spots were revealed. JuD and its terrorist leader, Hafiz Mohammed Sayeed, were allowed to hold a massive rally where the Indian flag was burnt and threats were made against Pakistan granting MFN status to India.

India's position on Pakistan changed overnight. Accusations were once again hurled that Pakistan was not serious to bring the 26/11 terrorists to justice. It was nearly forgotten that India's foreign minister, S.M.Krishna, had said days previously that the "trust deficit" with Pakistan was "shrinking".

These frequent about-turns show India has no consistent policy against Pakistani terrorism. It has no stomach for offensive action against Pakistani terrorism. The last attempt at offensive action through Operation Parakram was a colossal and embarrassing failure. And internally, India has proved totally inept to prevent Pak-sponsored and locally-engineered terrorist attacks, most recently in Bombay and Delhi.

If India can't take on a puny power like Pakistan, has it any hope against a giant like China? The second issue pertains to the Manmohan Singh government's crumbling popularity at home. A government is only as strong as the domestic support it enjoys. You can't be internally weak and expect to perform strongly and brilliantly abroad.

Bofors-hit Rajiv Gandhi failed with the IPKF intervention in Sri Lanka. It forever killed India's desire for power projection. On the other hand, Indira Gandhi succeeded in breaking Pakistan and creating Bangladesh out of its eastern half because she was internally well-grounded. That she mishandled the Simla Agreement subsequently because of bad advice is another matter. Nearly as badly as Rajiv Gandhi, Manmohan Singh faces a credibility crisis today. His government has the dubious distinction of being the most corrupt since Independence. A variety of issues have lead to a parliamentary shut-down. Parliament has been adjourned for the fifth day today.

Is the government, therefore, in any position to stir up antagonisms abroad, especially with a diabolical great power like China? What if China, taking advantage of India's political fragmentation and weakness, chooses this moment to "teach it a 1962-like lesson" -- in the North East or the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea?

A Buddhist conference involving the Dalai Lama where the Union ministry of external affairs had a role led to the cancellation of scheduled border talks between India and China. There is some chest-thumping here that India has shown a degree of toughness towards China. The point is, can India sustain this so-called "show of toughness"?

Unlike India, China is not a "Sunday power". It is absolutely serious and determined about its strategic goals and timelines. It will countenance no opposition, least of all from India. If India is serious about its rise, and feels China is thwarting it, it must be determined to counter it. Such determination will involve distinctly accounting for the possibility of war and taking steps to prevent it or win it or both.

Confronting China is not a picnic. It involves such resolve as India has not displayed so far. This is dangerous.