New Delhi: How do you rise in a hostile neighbourhood? This is the conundrum that faces India in the second nuclear age. Unless the neighbourhood is stabilized and sterilized, India’s growth story will be seriously scattered and take longer to happen. All externally-originating or inspired sub-strategic military violence directed against the Indian state, including its proxy and terroristic variations, have to be countered and contained. Indian state action against such violence while largely restricted within national boundaries would occasionally spill over, especially into neighbouring backward countries either hostile or without the wherewithal to exercise total control over their domain. How can such actions directed outside be executed with minimum collateral damage and scarce diplomatic fallouts, without unduly angering and upsetting friends and allies, and keeping secure and intact meanwhile the narrative of growth, prosperity and rise?

The question itself suggests that the approach must be multipronged and multidimensional. Economic cooperation is a time-tested way. It does not work when political differences have deepened and left their scars over generations as between India and Pakistan. Having cut off its nose to spit its face so to speak, Pakistan is virtually out of SAARC economic cooperation which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing with other South Asian neighbours with a marked degree of success. His recent visit to Bangladesh was a resounding success, almost reminiscent of that country’s early days of independence from Pakistan when it cherished India more than another state. Economic cooperation runs the whole gamut, and it was the basis for the United States’ rise in the 20th Century to become a world power, with military heft assisting it to step up the game, and propel it by itself in exceptional cases.

But just as the United States had Russia as a long-term adversary, India faces compelling and growing Chinese threats to its rise. The Chinese-sponsored killing of 18 soldiers in Manipur comes on the heels of Modi’s visit to China. Chinese aggravations will increase. China has put pressure on the Burmese government to object to the retaliatory Indian raid against China-backed militants which India cannot own as having been conducted in Burmese territory without embarrassing and compromising the Burmese government which has all along acted friendly. So at the same time as economic cooperation has proved limited with an adversary like China hell-bent on creating mischief for India with its neighbours, it cannot entirely be given up for military solutions which have an oxymoronic quality about them. Both economic cooperation and limited under-the-radar military action, the less of the second, being by and large substituted with covert and deniable action, ought to better serve India’s rise in a hostile neighbourhood. All offensive action must be so designed that it produces the least resistance and reaction. There is no place in secret wars for jingoism. Secrets must be carried to the grave. The actor, Christopher Lee, who died today, steadfastly refused to discuss his wartime activities with the Special Operations Executive.

Much of the confusion is sorted out when the country gets its strategical aims and objectives correct. From strategy to tactics is merely a problem of breaking it down to its logical and compatible components. When the strategy-to-tactics approach is properly followed, the limitations to the project get automatically built-in and highlighted at important stages of operations. Recovering lost ground is part of the limitations’ dynamic and key to tactical and strategical thinking as well. Specific to the current operations directed against Chinese proxy terrorist groups, Burma must be quietly assuaged with economic aid and other means. Perhaps the army chief could travel down, and capping a build up of visits, Modi might like to make a second stop in Burma later in the year or the next. Burma is important for India because it is strategically located, suspicious of China, coming of age, and retains an abiding Buddhist link with this country. Care must be taken in this respect that the sensitivities of other friendly South Asian states are also adequately addressed.

No country finds it easy to rise in a hostile neighbourhood, but the skill of strategical politics lies in overcoming the odds. India knows its principal adversaries and their long-term plans. India must plan to undermine them in the long term as well. Some thought to that aim was directed in an earlier commentary called “Cold war” (6 June 2015). Other measures have to be joined to it of a covert and military nature. But the ultimate strategic aims and objectives must never go out of sight. India has to rise peacefully. Every devise of strategy and tactic must be deployed to that end.

Editor’s Note: Swindlers calling on behalf of reputed private financial companies are doctoring cheques of gullible clients with disappearing ink and making away with large sums of money. Nationalized banks are washing their hands of such cases. One such case has come to this writer’s notice involving an elderly gentleman who was duped of Rs 75,000 from his account in the Bank of India. The Reserve Bank must intervene with new security measures to smash this racket and penalize commercial banks that do not afford minimum protection to customers from fraud.