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Great Expectations

December 8, 2010

I am not talking about the famous novel by Charles Dickens. But I am for sure wondering as to what the Dickens is going on! I mean the consistency with which India is being given the message is amazing. For the sheer consistency of it all I admire the west. The same message is being relayed by one and all for more than a decade now. And the message is very simple – you are our point man in the region, learn to play your role. And when they say the region they mean from the Strait of Hormuz to the South China Sea. And when you have that kind of leeway, you must know what to talk, when to talk and when to take the cue. Make the right noises. This is a strategic leap for India. I do not know how South Block or for that matter 7, Race Course Road has taken this, but as I said earlier, it is the consistent exhortation that is so unnerving.

India does not think in black and white. I am not saying that the west does either, but they are very good at confabulating and speaking in unison. It is like an orchestra from maybe the Vienna Philharmonic, not a note out of place and not a sound without a meaning. Contrast that to the Hindustani style of music, nay, the Indian style of music, whether Hindustani or Carnatic, and you know what I mean. Even the same raga can sound different when performed by different maestros – that is the kind of individual freedom that Indian music gives to its exponents. We Indians take individual liberty seriously in a way that cannot be contemplated anywhere in the world. And now India is being asked to play along a tune – a political tune – the agenda set by the west from time to time. Can we do it? That is the question.

The present geo-political situation has thrown up a historic opportunity for India in terms of finding her rightful place in the world. Were we to grab this opportunity we as a nation could achieve a lot. This is one opportunity to be a serious player in terms of strategic depth as well as economic strength. Successive US presidents from the time Bill Clinton first came to India in mid- 1990’s to George W. Bush and now president Obama have harped on the same thing. Other western leaders from Tony Blair to David Cameron and now Nicolas Sarkozy have also emphasized on the fact that India cannot sit on the sidelines and watch. India will have to take up the international agenda seriously and play its part as we are a part of the first world now. This means that India will have to understand western position on various international issues from time to time and learn to be an active member of the democratic nations of the world who set the agenda and decide the course of action for humanity. The nuclear deal and other varied cooperation with the west is in light of these fundamental shift in India’s strategic position in the region and the world.

The west could not understand as to why India refrained from sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. They cannot understand as to how we can remain faithful to a regime that was doomed as it were, in the case of Iraq and why we did not do something about the dreaded Taliban when they were openly against India. What the west fails to understand is that when you enter a country you are not fighting just the regime but at some level you are fighting the people there. While it is true that Saddam was a friend of India and it would have been very difficult for us to be a part of a plan where Saddam was the target, yet we did remain quite. But our concern was the people of Iraq and we could not fight a people who have been friends of India. Same is true for Afghanistan. While we did not like the fundamentalist Taliban regime yet our relations are with the people of Afghanistan and we could not be a part of a military operation where we had to fight fellow Pashtuns. It is not that we do know how to fight, but it is just that we are very careful before picking up a fight. And when we do, generally we fight to the finish.

How is the west perceived both in Iraq and Afghanistan? Has west’s popularity gone up or down post the annexation? The west is hated more than ever. Iraq may have been a military miracle but in the long run Iraq and Afghanistan will leave scars that will be difficult to erase.

The west has seen the military capability of our armed forces. They have seen how we have operated with restraint in Kashmir and in the North East, besides the various wars fought over the years. Our forces have shown exemplary courage, resoluteness and discipline in various UN assignments too. The west is convinced that the professionalism of Indian armed forces is something that their future military operations could well do with. When they say that India should be a part of west’s international initiatives they do not mean the ones under the UN. They mean the strategic and military initiatives that NATO countries undertake from time to time. They may or may not be within the ambit of the UN. What western leadership is saying is that we need to be a part of the NATO alliance while still remaining outside of the NATO as geographically that is impossible. Like Japan and South Korea and Australia though not a part of the NATO yet their strategic and military agenda is in consonance with that of the NATO.

The western leadership is calling India a partner of the west. But they are not content with the present arrangement. Being a thriving democracy with a strategic location they would like to see India as an ally of the west. This mean that India will have to make strong military pitch with our friends from the west and that means our armed forces will have to collaborate closely with those of the west. The west would like to work with an army that has English speaking officers and which has vast experience in counter-insurgency. India and the US have had a few joint military exercises in central India besides our air force has been participating in joint exercises both in India and in the US. Indians have come out with flying colors. Our MiG 21 Bison, which by western standards is an obsolete machine, has been refurbished and with modern avionics made so potent that it could match some of the latest fighters from the American Air Force. This stunned the Americans such that they had to go back to the drawing board. They could not understand as to how a Russian plane had French avionics and Israeli radar and function so well. Indian pilots also stood out for their deftness and finesse with which they handled their war machines.

The crunch will come when we will be called to be a part of international initiative whether it is in North Korea or Iran or elsewhere. This will be beyond the regular UN duty. India was to be a part of naval exercises in the Korean peninsula along with the South Korean and American naval fleets. However, at the last minute we withdrew at the instance of the west as this would have threatened China. The talks in Geneva between Iran and the west have all but failed and they are to meet again in Istanbul in late January. Iranians have been friends of India since times immemorial. If the west does decide to initiate military action, I guess, this time over India will have no option but to be a part of an international coalition. Maybe this will be for the good. Indian army is known for its restraint. Perhaps we as an international force which has a human touch like our armed forces have will be the right prescription for a nation hell bent on changing the equilibrium in the region.

Be as it may, India cannot shy away from playing a strategic role in international initiatives. The looming test will be whether India sends a representative to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. From reports published it appears India will send a representative to the ceremony. These small but vital steps will determine whether India is ready to stand up with her friends.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 11, 2010 11:39 am

    hello I was lucky to look for your blog in google
    your subject is wonderful
    I learn a lot in your theme really thanks very much

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