By Nitin Bajaj
India’s Grand Strategy in the 21st century:
“According to the dominant view in most literature, grand strategy is viewed as a plan of action articulated by the nation’s top leadership with the help of expert staff. “
-Krishnappa Venkatshamy (Analyst, IDSA)
India has certainly taken some giant steps forward since the liberalization of its economy in the early 1990s but there has been a lack in defining India’s national interests explicitly. The reluctance to engage more willingly with countries like Myanmar and most Central Asian countries, when China has been making huge advancements, reflects a clear lack of effort on the part of Indian administration. This is largely because of a lack in awareness amongst the masses of the country. Foreign Policy discussion is a lost word, except for the occasional Indo-Pak rhetoric of the politicians. To this day, about 25% of the Indian population is illiterate and even amongst the educated Indians, there is an astonishingly low interest for the country’s foreign policy. This absence of strategic thought (Narang, Stainland, 2012) amongst the people keeps politicians from participating in intelligent foreign policy ideas.
A country where domestic politics is driven by patronage and coalition building (Narang, Stainland, 2012), there’s hardly any incentive for the politicians to devise good foreign policies. I believe that the Indian people are as busy with their domestic affairs as any other country, but it’s the lack of awareness stemming from education deficit that has maintained a strategic culture bereft of an intelligent foreign policy discussion. In a country obsessed with engineering and medical science, there are only a handful of institutions that offer courses on international affairs and policy making. The reason for that is also quite explicit. Generally, it’s the men of age and experience that make policy in New Delhi. Qualification is given a marginal role.
The Indian Grand Strategy has not evolved with the changing environment and in fact the recent government release published in 2012 for defining India’s national interests still bears the name “Non-Alignment 2.0.” India’s policies appear to reflect a mismatch between its growing means and its overall role in international affairs, much to the frustration of most U.S. and some Indian analysts. The policies are rooted in a vision of India’s role in the international order that once reflected a solid consensus of Indian elites, and is only gradually being adjusted to fit new realities (Timothy Hoyt, 2012). One important factor for that lack of strategy is the fact that after more than sixty years of democratic rule, India still hasn’t been able to develop the essential institutions that New Delhi needs to fine-tune its goals. The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA) remains one of the very few quality institutions that carry out the essential research in the security and strategic arenas of international affairs. Private think tanks are a rare phenomenon and also the public think tanks like IDSA, on which the government relies for a wide variety of foreign policy analysis, often have very less funding available to them to sponsor their projects. This lack in infrastructure further increases the role of Indian politicians in writing India’s Grand Strategy. This dismissive attitude of India’s elite towards strategy may have severe consequences for the future as India aspires to find its place amongst the great powers of the world.
“Making Strategy is a process, as suggested, that involves internal political influences and idiosyncrasies of individual behavior as well as the pressure of external events and debt.”
-(Williamson, Mark, 1994)
India’s grand strategy can best be understood by highlighting the challenges it faces today. So, I’ll work my way through by discussing all the major challenges that India faces, which should also mark the consensus of challenges listed in some official government papers released in the year 2012. In the same section of each problem, I would try and explain India’s grand strategy to incorporate that problem. The paper would also analyze India’s military capabilities in the subsequent section to understand the compatibility of its grand strategy with the problems being faced by the country.
In the last 65 years, India has gone to war with Pakistan four times. India’s relationship with Pakistan is one of the most complex relationships in the world of foreign affairs. It stems from the fact that out of its 65 years of independence, Pakistan has been ruled by its military for over 30 years. A strong military influence coupled with prolific Jihadi elements has led to the formation of a Pakistani block that Indian leaders have a hard time coming to terms with. The last decade has seen a terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 and a major terrorist attack on India’s financial capital, Mumbai, in 2008. Both, carried out by the Jihadi groups arriving from the other side of the border and funded by the Pakistani premier intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Even after supreme prima facie evidence of ISI’s involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, (brought forward by the Pakistani-American, David Coleman Hadley, trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba) the former Pakistani interior minister, Abdul Rehman Malik, has constantly denied the ISI involvement. There has been no action taken by the Pakistani leadership to charge sheet the perpetrators. The Pakistani government has refused to cooperate and has been hard to engage in the recent past. There are five important challenges that lie ahead in context of Pakistan, as India devises its grand strategy for the first half of the 21st century:
- Pakistani Jihad: Pakistan has always encouraged the mushrooming of militant factions developing under the name of Jihad. These groups have been trained by the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency that till today receives a substantial amount of its funds from the United States1. The money given by U.S. to Pakistani military establishments for fighting extremist militant groups across the border in Afghanistan has been used to supply militant groups across the border in India. The ISI is largely anti-India and has been structurally so for decades. The ISI is mostly composed of senior Pakistani military personnel, who often perceive India as their biggest enemy. Whether it’s been the crushing of Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in fear of Indian influence or the foundation of the terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba (the terrorist group with most influence after al-Qaeda), ISI’s role has been explicitly known and reported. This state sponsored terrorism from Pakistan has been an extremely tough challenge for the Indian national security. There are no signs of it abstaining in the future. India would have a three point strategy for this problem: Strengthening of its intelligence and police establishments to prevent such attacks; Ability to send hard signals to Pakistan in times of any attack on the Indian soil; and establishing a stronger relationship with U.S. for cooperating to eradicate these terrorist groups comprehensively.
- Instability in the country: Over a decade of poorly managed Pakistani economy has led to an acute shortage of energy and water for Pakistan. It spends a substantial amount of its resources on army. A destabilized neighbor would be a huge challenge for India.
- Talibanization of Pakistan and Afghanistan: There is no doubt that Pakistan’s Madrasas religious school instigated the establishment of Taliban in anticipation of India’s influence and control over Afghanistan in the later years of Soviet rule in Afghanistan2. Pakistan has long provided a safe haven to Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, during the U.S. bombardment of Afghanistan. It is for this Pakistani support of Taliban that all international efforts have failed to curb the insurgency in Afghanistan. As Natasha Yefimov wrote in her New York Times column- “Today, Islamic fundamentalists – bolstered, perhaps, by those who don the trappings of jihadism to further their own self-interest more than any larger cause – have taken root in parts of Punjab, “the Pakistani heartland,” and have even taken control of some neighborhoods in the nation’s vibrant commercial capital, Karachi.” A stronger Taliban influence in the Pakistani political and military structures would have severe repercussions for India’s national security.
- Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons: The last thing that India wants to see is a Pakistan led by an extremist Islamic faction with nuclear weapons in its hands. Today, Pakistan is believed to possess some 90-110 warheads in its nuclear arsenal, which is growing by the day.
- Kashmir Problem: The Kashmir problem, which is as old as India itself, has led to three major Indo-Pakistan wars in a short period of 60 years of Indian independence. The last three decades have seen acute insurgency problems and domestic upheavals caused by Pakistani militants and separatist factions led by extremist Muslim leaders. Kashmir represents pride and sovereignty for India and hence India can never let go of it. The Indian strategy would be to form a strong government in the state of Jammu & Kashmir that addresses the fundamental problems of the people. This would, most importantly, require an upfront intelligence and police, and military apparatus that provide absolute security. This would require advanced weaponry, well-trained battalion groups, and more importantly, a greater attention from the central government for a well- determined action plan.
The Indian government recognizes that the previous engagements with Pakistan have either led to comprehensive engagement or total disengagement. The new position of the Indian government seeks to attain a middle ground, where diplomacy would not only involve talks related to cross-border terrorism but a whole range of issues. Non-Alignment 2.0, the official Indian grand strategy release in 2012, states the following two important measures for dealing with Pakistan:
- Ensuring that no serious terrorist attacks are launched on the Indian Territory by groups based in Pakistan.
- Building sufficient trust between the two sides to tackle more deep-seated complex disputes like the Kashmir issue.
The India strategy would include a blend of positive as well as negative levers to fulfill such goals. The positive levers would be reducing symbolic significance of dialogue to engage in normal conversations; increasing bilateral trade; increasing military exchanges; and helping Pakistan with water and energy shortages. India and Pakistan have had innumerable phases of on and off relationships. The relationships are often marred in the light of lingering Kashmir dispute and Pakistani militancy that claim hundreds of innocent Indian lives every year. Nirupama Rao, the erstwhile Indian Foreign Secretary and a reputed diplomat, said in a recent TV interview that -“Talking to Pakistan is a necessity even if there are no immediate gains from it.” These positive levers are in line with her statement and reflect India’s efforts at pushing dialogue. Despite the reluctance of masses and many Indian leaders to engage with a Pakistani government when its decisions are made by the military and ISI, it’s always required to make the genuine message of peace reach the masses in both countries. After all, India and Pakistan are destined to live side-by-side forever.
The negative levers would include a strengthening of Indian police, intelligence and counter-terrorism capabilities; building capacity to send political signals to Pakistan in case of terrorist attacks; increasing influence in Afghanistan; and maintaining strong focus on the Gilgit areas of the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Harsh political signals can be engaging international support for economic sanctions on Pakistan or cutting water supply lines of the Indus river by violating the Indus Waters Treaty. It would further include a strong military position on the Azad-Hind Kashmir issue to mount pressure on Pakistan.
The Afghanistan Question
The US departure from Afghanistan marks the end of US commitments to Pakistan of keeping a minimalist Indian role in Afghanistan. It certainly provides opportunities, yet it is a daunting task at hand for India. Afghanistan is a crucial national security challenge for it can easily serve as a safe haven for various Islamist terrorist groups if it falls in the hands of the Taliban- the Pakistani sympathizers. A stronger Indian influence in Afghanistan is not only important to curb terrorism but is also required for building secure infrastructure between India and various central Asian states for the transportation of energy resources to India.
Two countries from the Indus valley civilization, the commonalities in the Indo-Afghan culture can be traced back to the 16th century when the Mughal emperor Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur Beg laying the foundations of his empire in the Indian subcontinent ruled most parts of the subcontinent including modern day India and Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have shared a close relationship except for the years of Afghanistan’s Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. The year 2011 marked the signing of a strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan. Increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan would be about maintaining a democratically elected government in Afghanistan after the departure of US troops. Taliban is, of course, tightening its control to rule the nation after 2014, but at the same there is another possibility of an emergence of a prolific number of militant factions who would fight for the control of the nation. India’s role would be to provide military support to the Karzai government and to continue on a larger scale the training of Afghanistan’s nascent military forces so that they become ready to handle the civil unrest by the end of 2014; to increase bilateral trade to affect the lives of ordinary Afghans and provide genuine economic support for sustainable development and commerce. India’s continued development aid can contribute to improvements in health care, education, power generation, and other critical sectors, and its extensive private investment and efforts to integrate Afghanistan into regional trade arrangements will promote the type of economic growth that is critical for the country’s long-term stability (Hanauer, Chalk, 2012).
As the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan reduces, there is likely to be an increasing Chinese influence in Pakistan and India’s interests would have to be re-adjusted in the light of that angle. China has a huge interest in building new transportation lines through Afghanistan to connect to the central Asian oil and gas markets. It is likely to support Pakistan’s efforts militarily and economically in reducing Indian influence. India would like to attract more and more US support for their humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in Kabul and as a psychological balancing force against China. This wouldn’t be difficult given Washington’s relationships with Islamabad at an all time low and it’s perception of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan as rather regressive.
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