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Towards a hard state: coercion, carrots, covert action, containment

February 21, 2003 11:23 IST

There is the dictum that every army plans to fight its last war again, hoping to correct its mistakes this time. Perhaps this is true of foreign policy establishments too. However, there are encouraging signs that a more robust approach to foreign affairs may be on the cards for India. If so, kudos to Yashwant Sinha.

While I am happy that the previous foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, managed to improve Indo-American relations post Pokhran II, the enduring image he left behind is his hapless trip to Kandahar escorting terrorists. Since perception becomes reality, the soft-State image that Jaswant Singh conveyed did much damage to India's bargaining power.

Things appear to be getting better. There are four broad categories of things India needs to pursue: coercion, carrots, covert action and containment.

First, coercion, whereby the pre-eminent regional power acts like a hegemon instead of bending over backwards to accommodate recalcitrant minor powers. We are seeing this in a whole set of moves. For instance, the new pact signed with Iran, with interesting military and trade implications. The burial given to the Indo-Iranian oil pipeline overland through Pakistan. The successful and continuing investment in Afghanistan, via the Northern Alliance. The standoff with Bangladesh over illegal immigrants.

Second, India is one of the biggest markets for armaments in the word. This, paradoxically, gives the country substantial buyer power, as Michael Porter would suggest in his studies of competitive advantage. No wonder the Americans, European Union powers, and the Russians are falling all over themselves to woo India.

Third, India has never used covert action as a means to advancing its interests. A recent article in The Indian Express lamented the lack of visible results from all the funding given to RAW. This has to change.

Finally, containment. This is an age-old strategic plan: ally with the enemy's enemy to bottle the enemy up by threatening simultaneous or flanking attacks.

India has allowed the old Gujral Doctrine, or variants thereof from the Nehruvian stable, to determine its relationships with its neighbours: the basis of which is the losing premise that India has to be generous, making unilateral concessions lest it be seen as the neighbourhood bully. Most noble sentiment, but the fact is that some of the neighbours are programmed to paint India as a bully, and get all the concessions anyway.

Moreover, in the case of Pakistan, and now Bangladesh, these concessions are seen as signs of weakness, to be made use of in the 'war of a thousand cuts' both seem to want to engage in with India. It's time to bury the Mr Nice Guy act and see what a little muscle will achieve.

Regarding Bangladesh, India has been unreasonably charitable. There may or may not be 20 million Bangladeshis illegally in India, but clearly there are quite a few of them; mostly economic refugees perhaps. However, the number of Islamists and Pakistani-inspired terrorists among them is not trivial. As has been suggested by various people in the know, there is the equivalent of demographic warfare by Bangladesh: they are turning border areas into Islamist enclaves. The day is not far off when they would want to join Bangladesh.

Furthermore, Bangladeshis are conducting open religious warfare and gross human rights violations on their Hindu and Buddhist citizens, see the reports by Dhakeshwari Communications at They are confident that India will do nothing but wring its hands in the face of all this provocation. After all, India did nothing when its soldiers, tortured to death, were returned strung on poles like pigs. This needs to change: India needs to be respected, not liked by its neighbours.

For the first time that I can remember, India took a strong stand against Bangladesh in the recent case of 231 snake charmers who appeared suddenly on the Indian side. India stood firm, rattled a few sabers, and Bangladesh capitulated, yes, it is true, with bad grace, but nevertheless, they took their people back. This was an epiphany for Indian observers: if you push back, the much smaller and more vulnerable Bangladesh will cave in.

This has to be taken advantage of. Major powers throw their weight around, and always have: it is up to the neighbourhood to adjust to India, not vice versa. If Bangladesh acts up again, India should mutter veiled threats about the Farakka Barrage. India can flood Bangladesh or cut off its water supply by controlling the flow of the Ganges. India, as the upper riparian, has significant power, and should brandish it on occasion.

There is no reason to not do the same with Pakistan with the Indus River Treaty. Since Pakistan has never adhered to the terms of any agreement with India, why, they should learn how the reverse can also be true. You continue to send your terrorists in, we will cut off your water supply, and your imperial Punjabi Sunnis, strutting around with all those tinpot medals, will starve to death. How do you like that little scenario?

On top of this, the recently signed Iran-India military agreement, if I am to believe it, can act as a ‘nutcracker' to squeeze Pakistan and contain it. I do like this idea. Iran is not necessarily India's best friend, it is an ally of convenience; but it is not an axis-of-evil nation. That distinction belongs to Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, the true terrorist nations, as the Americans understand well enough. Iran, Iraq and North Korea are minor villains. India should not toe the American line: it has to look after its own regional interests, which dictate reaching out to Iran and Central Asia.

The second avenue towards influence in foreign policy is to wave one's checkbook around. India has $100 billion to spend on weapons systems and commercial aircraft over the next few years. No wonder the British hyperventilate over selling their Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer, the Czechs their L159B, the Russians their MiG-AT. Now Lockheed-Martin wants a piece of the action, too.

France, amorally but entirely sensibly, wants to sell their Scorpene submarines to India, after having sold the same to Pakistan. They also have the Mirage 2000H fighter jets to offer. Israel has the Phalcon radars, and waiting in the wings is their Arrow-II system, which they want India to invest $100 million in. The American Raytheon/Lockheed-Martin combine wants to sell giant C-130s and the P3-Orion maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

A major sales prospect has considerable clout during the courtship phase, as any salesperson would readily admit; the clout goes down once the deal is signed, alas. So this is the stage at which to wring enormous concessions from all those salivating over commercial or military sales to India, including Boeing and Airbus, engaged in likely bidding wars over sales to Indian Airlines and Air India.

At a time when there appears to be the beginnings of a resurgence in manufacturing in India (names such as Kalyani Forge, Sundram Fasteners, Hero Honda and so forth are beginning to be seen as world-class), any supplier can be pushed towards greater local content, thus helping the growth of ancillary industries.

Some time ago, Malaysia's Mahathir Mohammed, upset over some comment from a racist British minister, ordered that all contracts to British firms be put on hold and re-evaluated for cancellation. You should have seen the alacrity and enthusiasm with which the ‘nation of shopkeepers' attached their lips to Malaysian bottoms! I guarantee a mad British scramble to kiss any available Indian ass if this is the price for the Hawk sale!

Thirdly, there is the issue of covert action. It should be relatively easy for RAW to penetrate Pakistan: after all, there are many discontented peoples there, such as Sindhis, Baluchis, Balawaris, Shias, and Seraikis, all colonised by the Sunni Punjabis, whom they hate with a passion. Exploiting these sentiments, it should be possible for RAW to periodically do something spectacular, such as, for example, induce secessionist riots, or lob a grenade at the car of a particularly odious retired general.

A few symbolic acts, like arson, will have a salutary effect: pain is understood universally. Said pain will have the most effect in the case of those wealthy Pakistanis who travel first class between their chalets in the Alps and their homes in the US. Some of these are also the scions of either the 22 elite feudal families that run Pakistan, or of the army establishment. If India simply continues to absorb pain, and inflict none in return, there is no incentive for the Pakistanis to, ummm… introspect.

Finally, containment. India has been foolish to not contain China by expanding relationships with Taiwan. It makes sense to team up with Taiwan and discreetly provide them with a few, oh… tactical nuclear weapons and missiles. After all, China does that with North Korea and Pakistan. Taiwan is eager to expand its manufacturing alliances away from a total dependence on unreliable China. And they would like to marry their hardware expertise with India's software skills. India should establish full business links with Taiwan to induce them to come in, using as a model the South Koreans who have established very successful brands in short order, such as Hyundai, LG, Samsung.

Some American analysts have forecast an India-Israel-Turkey alliance as a bulwark in Asia against rampant Islamism. Maybe. This benefits the Americans; not clear that it benefits India very much. However, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times proposed that France should be replaced in the UN Security Council by India. This, of course, has to do with France deliberately pushing its own national interests rather than acceding to the US's. I personally think it makes more sense to replace Britain with India. After all, if one of the American states needs to be in the Security Council, California is bigger, more industrially advanced, and has more nuclear weapons than Britain, I think.

A few hard-headed foreign policy initiatives, focused on the national interest, and you'll be surprised how rapidly India will lose its image as a soft State.


Rajeev Srinivasan