By go­ing with an out­stretched hand to ad­ver­saries still en­gaged in hos­tile ac­tions, In­dia has re­peat­edly got the short end of the stick.

India Today - - UPFRONT -

Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton fa­mously said, “If we de­sire to avoid in­sult, we must be able to re­pel it; if we de­sire to se­cure peace— one of the most pow­er­ful in­stru­ments of our ris­ing pros­per­ity— it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.” In­dia, how­ever, has stom­ached not just in­sults but also acts of cross- bor­der ag­gres­sion by Pak­istan while con­tin­u­ing to sing peace to its tor­men­tor, a smaller state by ev­ery yard­stick. No amount of ter­ror has con­vinced In­dia to change course— not even the Pak­istani- scripted at­tacks on sym­bols of In­dian power, in­clud­ing Par­lia­ment, Red Fort, stock ex­change, national cap­i­tal, busi­ness cap­i­tal and IT cap­i­tal.

Each act of ag­gres­sion has been greeted with in­ac­tion and stoic tol­er­ance. For a suc­ces­sion of prime min­is­ters, ev­ery new at­tack has ef­fec­tively been more wa­ter un­der the bridge. Man­mo­han Singh, the weak­est and most clue­less of them, has put even the in­ter­na­tion­ally un­prece­dented Mum­bai ter­ror­ist siege be­hind him by delink­ing dia­logue from ter­ror­ism and re­sum­ing crick­et­ing ties.

If any­one ques­tions this ap­proach of turn­ing the other cheek to ev­ery Pak­istani ( or Chi­nese) at­tack, govern­ment pro­pa­gan­dists re­tort, “Do you want war?” This mir­rors the clas­sic ar­gu­ment of ap­peasers that the only al­ter­na­tive to ap­pease­ment is all- out war. As the prover­bial ex­trem­ists, ap­peasers are able to see only the ex­treme ends of the pol­icy spec­trum: Pro­pi­ti­a­tion and open war­fare.

The ap­peasers thus have pre­sented In­dia with a false choice: Ei­ther per­se­vere with pusil­la­nim­ity or risk a fullfledged war. This false choice, in which the only al­ter­na­tive to ap­pease­ment is mil­i­tary con­flict, is an im­moral and im­mod­er­ate line of ar­gu­ment de­signed to snuff out any le­git­i­mate de­bate on ra­tio­nal op­tions. There are a hun­dred dif­fer­ent op­tions be­tween th­ese two ex­trem­i­ties that In­dia must ex­plore and pur­sue. In­deed, only a pol­icy ap­proach that avoids the ex­tremes of ab­ject ap­pease­ment and thought­less provo­ca­tion can have merit.

The ap­peasers also ar­gue that neigh­bours can­not be changed. So, as Singh has said blithely, “a sta­ble, peace­ful, and pros­per­ous Pak­istan” is in In­dia’s “own in­ter­est”. But po­lit­i­cal maps are never carved in stone, as the break­ing away of South Su­dan, East Ti­mor and Eritrea has shown. Didn’t Indira Gandhi change po­lit­i­cal ge­og­ra­phy in 1971? In fact, the most pro­found global events in re­cent his­tory have been the dis­in­te­gra­tion of sev­eral states, in­clud­ing the Soviet Union and Yu­goslavia. Even if In­dia can­not change its neigh­bours, it must seek to change their be­hav­iour so that it con­forms to in­ter­na­tional norms.

Yet In­dia has shied away from em­ploy­ing even non­co­er­cive op­tions to dis­ci­pline a way­ward Pak­istan wag­ing low- in­ten­sity un­con­ven­tional war­fare. Rather than squeeze Pak­istan eco­nom­i­cally and diplo­mat­i­cally, In­dia is do­ing just the op­po­site. Sim­i­larly, In­dia has stepped up its pro­pi­ti­a­tion of China, in spite of fac­ing a Sino- Pak pin­cer of­fen­sive cen­tred on Jammu and Kash­mir: Chi­nese in­cur­sions into Ladakh have in­creased in par­al­lel with Pak­istani cease­fire vi­o­la­tions. Still, Singh is de­ter­mined to meet his Pak­istan coun­ter­part in New York and later pay obei­sance to an in­creas­ingly com­bat­ive China on yet an­other trip to Bei­jing.

By go­ing with an out­stretched hand to ad­ver­saries still en­gaged in hos­tile ac­tions, In­dia has re­peat­edly got the short end of the stick. Noth­ing bet­ter il­lus­trates In­dia’s clap­when- given- a- slap ap­proach than the way it por­trayed the 19- km Chi­nese en­croach­ment in April- May as a mere “acne” and tried to cover up the Pak­istan Army’s role in the re­cent In­dian soldiers’ killing. A hawk is de­fined in the US as some­one who seeks the use of force pre- emp­tively against an­other coun­try. But in In­dia— re­flect­ing the as­cen­dancy of cheek- turn­ers and the coun­try’s con­se­quent de­scent as an ex­cep­tion­ally soft state— a hawk has come to sig­nify some­one who merely ad­vises against turn­ing the other cheek to a re­cal­ci­trant or rene­gade neigh­bour.

An easy way for In­dian diplo­macy to make the tran­si­tion from timid­ity to pru­dence is to start spot­light­ing plain facts on cross- bor­der ag­gres­sion. Yet the In­dian po­lit­i­cal class is so busy feath­er­ing its own nests that it is will­ing to even twist facts about how soldiers were mar­tyred and sup­press fig­ures show­ing a ris­ing pat­tern of Chi­nese in­cur­sions.

How does one ex­plain that lead­ers, while shrewd and cal­cu­lat­ing in po­lit­i­cal life, have pur­sued a fun­da­men­tally naïve for­eign pol­icy that has shrunk In­dia’s re­gional strate­gic space and brought its se­cu­rity un­der siege? The an­swer lies in one word: Cor­rup­tion. Un­tram­melled cor­rup­tion has spawned a po­lit­i­cal class too com­pro­mised to safe­guard national in­ter­ests. Ap­pease­ment thus thrives, with the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs ef­fec­tively be­ing turned into the min­istry of ex­ter­nal ap­pease­ment. In­dia’s rep­u­ta­tion as weak- kneed in­deed has be­come the sin­gle- most im­por­tant fac­tor invit­ing ag­gres­sion, spurring a vi­cious cir­cle.

SAU­RABH SINGH/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com


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