That Was the Year That Was - II
Continued from “Look Back in Anguish, not Angst”
“War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes.” — “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War” (December 1936), Mao Tse Tung Selected Works Vol. I, p. 180.
The man who wrote Glimpses of World History and the one he primarily wrote for — his dear daughter — didn’t have a clue to the all-important question that the British historian, EH Carr posed: What is History? Both the father and daughter did not understand the subterranean forces that shape history. Jawaharlal went utterly awry in his understanding what an emergent Communist China was up to after 1945. Indira Gandhi went a step further. Holding all aces in her hand, she lost the game to that wily fox Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto at Shimla in 1972.
And their hopelessly short-sighted legacies continue to haunt the Indian polity. Isn’t it time to have a critical look at them?
Deeply influenced after Independence by moralistic platitudes and uncontrollable bouts of self-righteousness — common characteristics of the Nehru years — we, as a nation, haven't as yet learned to come to terms with the blunt realities of international politics.
Lessons in Realpolitik
To begin with, take our continuing hostilities with Pakistan. Do we understand that the flailing state of Pakistan might have irretrievably disintegrated by now but for four factors which kept it propped up. First, the 1979 Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan suddenly made Pakistan strategically important to the United States. In the last two decades, for instance, there have been at least two major civilizational clashes: the first was the 1979-89 Soviet-Afghan war and the second, the Gulf War. The third in all likelihood will be the final India-Pakistan war over Kashmir.
The Kashmir problem that Pakistan has spared no effort to internationalize is, as a matter of fact, only a symbol and not the cause of Indo-Pak conflict.
Take another example: our understanding of world communist movement. Was Communism, as an ideology, inherently fraught with contradictions that could not be reconciled? Did the events of 1991 finally and conclusively validate the thinking of Karl Popper and Frederick Van Hayek, the two Western thinker-cold warriors who — even during its ascendancy — came out unsparingly against the Communist ideology and the system built thereon.
In our own society, there was only a handful of public men who had the courage of conviction to oppose the system even when they were in a pitiably hopeless minority and when it was fashionable to swear by the socialist pattern of economy. These intrepid souls included Minoo Masani, A.D. Shroff (founder of the Forum of Free Enterprise in 1956) and Prof. B R Shenoy.
Barrel of a Gun
And let’s face it four square: what matters in international relations is the military clout a country has — a clout (and it is extremely important) backed by economic power. Recall the pithy reminder of Mao: “Every Communist must grasp the truth; ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’ (“Problems of War and Strategy” Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.) (The reason for the collapse of the USSR was not the lack of a military muscle — in terms of its arsenal of nuclear weaponry — but economic strength in real terms to back it up). In our time, China is one such power that has its military strength supported by intrinsic economic power that is rapidly on the increase.
It would be a downright lie for the American intelligence agencies to deny the stark fact that the Chinese have persistently reneged on their assurances to help some of the developing countries (particularly, Pakistan) to obtain the necessary wherewithal to develop their nuclear capability. But there were, and still are, compelling reasons for the US administration to gloss over these uncomfortable facts. And perhaps the most important of these is the utterly unsustainable trade deficit that the United States has with China.
If India wants to strike a working relationship with China and the United States, it has to build up its economic muscle. In the world of realpolitik steel production, ballistic missiles and air power matter, and not the homilies on co-existence and democracy.
Sino-Indian relation are and will, for foreseeable future, be a major problem for India. All so-called intellectuals of our society are declaredly exercised about it. But are they, really? How many of us have read When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques? How many University educated Indians have working knowledge of Mandarin? How many of our history and international studies programs have produced specialists in Chinese history and institutions?
The answers, frankly, don’t show us in a flattering light. The reluctance of our educational system to grasp the Chinese nettle is a metaphor for a much wider problem: our ignorance about China and our failure to appreciate just how much it will change the world and impact our lives.
Unfortunately, with unerring regularity, our predictions about China have proved brazenly mistaken. Take, first of all, its economy. In 1980 it was one-twentieth of the size of the US. Today, it is half the size and closing rapidly. Weren’t you and me among the doubting Thomases?
The basic reason why we have been mistaken in our understanding, I think, is because we insist on viewing China through the imported western prism. For the best part of two centuries, Western societies have seen themselves as the model for all others. But China isn’t like them. It never was, and never will be.
Our great task in the years to come will be to make sense of China — not in our terms but in theirs. We have to understand China as it is, and as it has been, and not project our own history, culture, institutions and values onto it.
Let’s take one example: the concept of nation-state. True, China has called itself a nation-state for about a century. But 100 years is a mere pin-prick for a country that dates back over two millennia. Modern China emerged in 221 AD. By the time of the Han dynasty — more than 2,000 years ago — China’s borders already closely resembled those of eastern and central China today. China is very old, the longest continuously-existing polity in the world. And for more than 2,000 years, it was not a nation-state but what has been called a civilization-state. In essence, it still is.
The things that define the Chinese as to who they are and what China is, are a product not of the past 100 years of calling itself a nation-state but 2,000 years of being a civilization-state. The Confucian ideals of Harmony, Stability and Social Order define it.
China is indeed changing faster than any other society in human history. Yet at the same time it continues to enjoy a unique and extraordinary intimacy with its own past. History, even far distant history, is right there in the rear-view mirror of what drives today’s China. The values associated with Confucius, who lived 2,500 years ago, continue to shape and mould social attitudes such as harmony, stability, order, or the state as a microcosm of the family. It is no accident that the Chinese write the family name first followed by the given name. It reflects the overriding importance of the family in Chinese history.
In India if I quote Manu or Chankya, I’m dubbed as communal and sectarian. The sought-after labels we seek are secular and modern, which are essentially Western and don’t really apply.
There is another remarkable characteristic of China. It is huge — territorially almost ten times our size — a continent in its own right as well being home to 1.3bn people, one-fifth of the human race. Although we tend to see China as highly centralized, it would be impossible to run a country of such size and immense diversity from Beijing. Its provincial governments have enjoyed great power, with the largest having far more authority than the great majority of the world’s nation-states.
One Country, Two systems
Let me take an example. Remember the handover of Hong Kong by Britain to China in 1997. Under the new constitution, known as the Basic Law, China proposed that Hong Kong would be run on the principle of “one country, two systems”. Most of us didn’t, frankly, have a clue what it meant. We thought that, soon after the handover, Hong Kong would become more or less indistinguishable from the rest of China.
After over 15 years later, we realize we were wrong in our perception. Hong Kong is at least as different — politically and legally — from the rest of China as it was in 1997. The Chinese really did mean one country, two systems.
Why didn’t we believe them? Because we are a nation-state and think like a nation-state.
Take the reunification of Germany in 1990. What happened? The old East Germany disappeared. The new united Germany was the old West Germany writ large. It was the natural solution for a nation-state — one country, one system. But it is impossible to rule a civilization-state of China’s scale on that principle. For 2,000 years, China has operated in varying degrees according to the principle one country, many systems. The country could not be held together on any other basis.
Capitalizing on Opportunities
Another attribute of Chinese culture is to capitalize on opportunities if and when they occur. The secret, for example, of China’s enviable success in the area of foreign trade lies in grasping an opportunity that was thrown up by the process of production readjustment as the world economy crossed the threshold of the great economic revolution of our time, namely, the advent of Information Technology (IT). As the USA and Japan moved on to the higher plateau of economic growth the middle ground so vacated was immediately taken over by the Chinese by building and expanding their manufacturing base.
That happened in the late 1970’s and early 80’s under Deng. The same could have happened in India when Indira Gandhi returned to power after the Janata Party’s defeat in 1979. But the Nehru’s had different agenda.
Threat from China
While formulating the foreign policy of Independent India Nehru envisaged a grandiloquent role for himself in the emergent Asia. China had its own designs. No wonder, therefore, we are indeed stupidly naive to contend that our humiliating defeat at the hands of Chinese in 1962 was a betrayal. Nations that live by blind unquestioning faith in others eminently deserve such treatment. Did Nazi treaty of friendship with the USSR in 1940 lull the Soviets into complacency? Both knew that they were buying time.
Our pacifist leadership under Nehru’s repeated prompting remained blind to Communist China’s repeated claims on Tibet and large part of Indian territories. Mao termed Tibet as the palm of a hand with its five fingers as Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and NEFA. The hand we forgot to our grief belonged to the Chinese body-politic.
In the series of articles on Sardar Patel I brought out how Patel in his famous letter dated November 07, 1950 warned Nehru of the Chinese designs. Nehru however was so self-opinioned that he stubbornly chose to hug to his comforting belief, even forgetting how in the 19th centuries, the Sikh Confederacy of the Punjab region had clashed with China. Chinese had not forgotten that the Sikh forces had annexed Ladakh into the state of Jammu in 1834 and how in 1841, they invaded Tibet with an army and overran parts of western Tibet.
New Delhi’s portrayal of the humiliating defeat at the hands of Chinese in 1962 as ‘betrayal’ and ‘surprise’ is untrue. All through the 1950’s the Chinese had been issuing statements indicating their expansionist ambitions in Asia that spelt direct threat to India’s interests. Despite unmistakable indications, we didn’t bother to prepare ourselves to meet those challenges. As Cassius said Julius Caesar:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Instead of trying to explain away we should face the blunt fact of our benumbing unpreparedness despite clear signals of China’s expansionist intentions.
To Mao and the Chinese what singularly mattered was achieving the final goal. The means whether fair or foul to win, were irrelevant. If New Delhi had deciphered what Mao was advocating in 1946 and studied the historical Chinese characteristics, alarm bells should have clearly rung in the South Block.
After humiliating experiences of the 19th century at the hands of most imperialist powers Mao repeatedly made plain China’s intentions of re-possessing what they claimed to be their territories. After the Communist takeover of China official maps depicted large parts of Korea, Indo-China, Mongolia, Burma, Malaysia, Eastern Turkestan, India, Tibet, Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan as Chinese territories.
China, we forgot, had inherited both, the traditional Chinese expansionism as well as imperialism. Mao often used to articulate a Chinese saying, “…If the east wind does not prevail over the west wind, then east wind will prevail over the east wind.” This is indicative of the Han Chinese obsession to dominate other nations in their neighborhood. For this China adopted two methods. First, through by demographic invasion i.e., pour millions of Han Chinese into the so acquired territories. For instance it has been estimated the by 1987 Beijing had settled some 75 million Han Chinese into Manchuria, 7 million in Eastern Turkestan i.e., Xinjiang, 8.5 million into Inner Mongolia, and, most worrying of all, 7.5 million into Tibet. Secondly build expeditiously roads and other infrastructure to establish firm control. This is exemplified best by the network of roads up to the borders in Tibet and connecting Sinkiang province by cutting a road through Indian Territory Aksai Chin. In case of the latter project we didn’t know about it till it was complete. Our legendary B N Mullick assisted by M K Narayanan, were eminently successful in solving the mystery of the disappearance of the Mo-e-Muqaddas, the holy hair from the Prophet’s beard preserved in Srinagar, but had no clue whatsoever what the Chinese were up to. Mullick kept Nehru swimming in the euphoria of five principles of Indo-Chinese friendship termed Panchsheel!
Two Rival Contenders
Historically, Indian and Chinese influences in Asia have coexisted. However, possibly for the first time in history, India and China were rising almost simultaneously. This produced two contenders for the leadership of Asia. While Nehru took the initiative to lead Asia - without developing military sinews and powerful international alliances — through the Asian Relations Conference in 1947 and a second Conference on Indonesia in 1949, a year later, Mao’s army executed liberation of Tibet in one masterstroke.
Mao, thus demonstrated to the world that China was the actual leader of Asia and India merely a paper tiger, good for holding conferences but incapable of defending a small country in its vicinity. He also understood strategic importance of Tibet, which provided the base in Himalayas, from where a large part of Asia could be engulfed in its sphere of influence.
Despite invasion of Tibet, New Delhi did not understand the significance of the Chinese communists growing up as a military organization, unlike other communist movements. Their core competency lay in the PLA and the military virtues that were promoted in its cadres. If China today dares to claim Arunachal and piece of Sikkim, it is primarily based on its military prowess. On the other hand, the fine Indian military machine built by the British continues to be degraded and demoralized by the day by the babus of the Ministry of Defense and our civilian leadership. You’ve heard the phrase - axing the branch one sits on.
In matters of warfare, the Chinese leaders, unfailingly, go back to the teachings of Sun Tzu. Mao in particular was highly influenced by him. Sun Tzu had exhorted: “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Hence, the Chinese patronage of Pakistan — a most willing proxy. Most alarmingly, nuclear weapons and missile technology were transferred to countervail and further boost its hatred against India. Of course, we all know how preoccupied Pakistan has kept our national security managers and resources, while Chinese developed a free run in Asia.
Simultaneously, Maoists in Nepal supported clandestinely by the Chinese are in cahoots with the Indian Maoists who now almost control up to 40 percent of India’s territory. If you think that’s not smart enough for warriors of Sun Tzu, then have a hard a look at the borders from North to East - Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar are under the spell of Beijing, shrinking India’s influence in its own vicinity. And don’t forget it is all without recourse to war. It is a matter of time before the Chinese are well entrenched in Bhutan and Sri Lanka too.
China, over a period of time, has cleverly managed to deploy two authoritarian streams of threats against India to break its will and the territorial integrity. Foremost is the Communist threat that originates from Beijing and the second is the Islamic fundamentalist threat from its proxies. Besides these two, there are other threats like Nepal Maoists or getting the Indo-US Nuclear deal blocked by their comrades in India. Today, for China to threaten Arunachal Pradesh and demand a slice of Sikkim after assured of its vice-like grip on India is a natural progression while New Delhi merrily slumbers.
In 1999 the Dalai Lama in hindsight admitted, “When Tibet was free, we took our freedom for granted…In former times Tibetans were a war-like nation whose influence spread far and wide. With the advent of Buddhism our military prowess declined…” The Dalai Lama could easily have said the same for India.
Pacifist philosophies are prescribed for the individual’s soul. They are fatal for nation’s security.
Continued to “Uncle Sam Has Many Faces”