This is a very old story – a tragic story about a dauntless monarch Prithvi Raj Chauhan and his nemesis, the ruthless invader Mohammed Ghori. The fabled Rajput king after defeating Ghori magnanimously let him live to fight another day. However, in a subsequent battle when he was defeated by Ghori there was no mercy shown. The favor was returned with brutal torture and death.
This chilling historical battle between warriors living in different realities is well known to most Indians and has been articulated as the Prithvi-Ghori syndrome. As an example, watch the fawning adulation of Delhi elites for the Pakistani envoy at “Iftar party” versus the hostile isolation of Indian diplomats in terrorist Pakistan. Representing dueling worldviews – magnanimity versus brutality, this all pervasive syndrome has morphed into a different form today with the one-way street of Gandhian tolerance taking you to the land of violent nutcases from Kashmir to the Khyber. And the learned experts of the land continue to wonder why the age-old chasms fail to disappear.
Well, they can stop wondering if they go way back when Alexander the Great met his waterloo in India due to the brilliance of Chanakya’s strategies of stitching together alliances that halted the Greeks. For a country that invented Chess, a strategic game that focuses on checkmating using a thought process that involves thinking at least 5 or 6 moves ahead, there is very little evidence of its use in the political life of the nation. Somewhere along the line, strategy disappeared into becoming the Achilles heel of India – risk-averse, inward looking, wooly headed idealism and diffidence.
There was a respite from the free fall when the Bismarck of India, the iron man Sardar Vallabhai Patel brought the various Indian princes into the modern Indian nation. Strategy shone briefly with the subjugation of Hyderabad, but soon became an unwelcome visitor in the land ruled by the last Mughal – Nehru. Yet it lingered on and could seep into the decision making apparatus of Indira Gandhi culminating in the creation of Bangladesh. After that it disappeared altogether leaving the nation clueless in Kashmir, Ladakh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Myanmar and China.
Clausewitz put it very succinctly, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Right strategy in politics could have arrested the provocative impudence of Pakistan and neutralized the tactile guile of the fire breathing dragon. The self-centered, venal Congress intent on looting had no use for strategy, thus inaugurating the path of missed opportunities, regarding our most fanatical enemies, Pakistan and China.
Speaking of missed opportunities, the kingmaker media long ago had decided to outsource its brain to the ruling mafia of brown Mughals. Instead of promoting a national and civic consciousness, it preyed upon the fault lines of Indian society such as caste, religion and language. Substituting sensationalism for substance, it worked diligently to erode national identity and increase social fragmentation. Acting more like the right arm of anarchy, the media, pampered minorities, conducted a relentless witch hunt against Modi, justified the loss of precious resources as a healthy bilateral trade with China, and last but not least established a false equivalence between the RSS and the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan. It is no wonder that the ship of State has veered off to uncharted waters of immobility.
Most countries have made use of the prevailing wisdom that media is the most strategic weapon equal to a 1000 hell fire missiles. The British are a classic example of how their thuggish rule was whitewashed into a beacon of light by their maneuvering media. The English had amassed much more human rights violations than any country in the world. But their efficient media management effectively glossed over the Bengal famine where 3 million people died, the recurrent loot of precious resources for centuries, the largest exodus in History (14 million Indians) due to partition and the accompanying savage riots resulting in the death of at least one million people.
On the other hand, Germany even though equally barbaric regarding the Holocaust is demonized much more and to such an extent that in comparison England comes out as a benevolent power who brought civilization to the heathens of India. While Germans are forced to be apologetic, England continues its haughty games, spurns any apologies regarding Jalianwala Bagh or the vicious tortures on freedom fighters; fails to return looted treasures especially the Kohinoor, and most of all even has the audacity to hector to the post-colonial world from a moral high ground. Recently they were the architect of combining the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Afghanistan with a collateral bonus of keeping India out. It is strange that even though abused for centuries by the British, Indians have forgotten their atrocities especially the duplicity in Kashmir and creation of the permanent headache of a nation called Pakistan. A major part of this psychological victory is due to the allure of a glamorous media spouting the sonnets of Shakespeare, the feel good rhetorical ambience of Fabian socialism, the commonwealth and its hypnotic tool of cricket, and the fantasies of Hollywood eulogizing the Anglo-Saxon world.
Media power accompanied by its twin “Perception” and sibling “Public Relations (PR)” are the engines, if used strategically, can steer the state into frontiers of resurgence. Ironing out the wrinkles in the nation’s psyche as a result of the vile propaganda of the Congress requires a strategy with a matching rhetoric from media warriors so that the true facts resonate from shore to shore. Creating such warriors would win half the battle for Nationalistic forces.
As mentioned before, perception also matters. In politics, perception is reality. The Congress says RSS is a terrorist organization and a majority of Indians believe it even if the RSS has not detonated a single bomb anywhere in the world. Tell a lie a 1000 times and it becomes the truth. Every time Pakistan clamors for Kashmir in world forums, India fails to clamor for Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. When Pakistan brings forth Godhra, India fails to raise the decibel regarding decimation of Hindus in Pakistan. Therefore, the world hears more about the Pakistan’s story than India’s. In politics as in life, the noisy wheel gets the oil.
Realizing the simple fact that media can make or break a nation, Pakistan has invested heavily in Public relations (PR) to such an extent that Christine Fair (Assistant Professor of Georgetown University in the Center for Peace and Security studies) gushingly writes, “In contrast to Indian officials who are stiff, hectoring, disinterested, and seemingly mired in ennui, the (much higher ranked) Pakistani official is engaging, jocular, (seemingly) forthcoming, self-effacing, humorous and always charming.” She adds, “Pakistanis focus less upon what you are and more upon who you influence or may be able to influence in the future. Pakistanis invest in people as if they are assets in a portfolio of human capital.”
Influential opinion makers and writers such as Eric Margolis, John Fricker and Brian Cloughley are wined and dined and are mesmerized by the charming hospitality so much so that they go back and write glowing reports about the suave westernized Pakistanis. Chuck Yeager, an American pilot’s praise for the Pakistan air force and army continued even when they lost wars. But their reports on India borders on negativity or sometimes even hostility. Yet, nobody in India cares to retort. The complacent country has absolutely no strategy to counteract the devious cunning of the Pakistanis. The “why worry, it’s not me” apathy allows anyone ranging from the lofty ramparts of the BBC to the smallest publication to spit and wantonly desecrate India or its institutions. As a result, the confidence needed to build strategy is lost in the wilderness of a confused identity.
“When congressional delegates and the like file through India, why not take them to Kashmir and show them maps of Pakistani terror camps?” suggests Ms. Fair. “Why not take them to Aksai Chin or Arunachal Pradesh and show them the problems India encounters with China? How about the problematic areas of the North East and the long, open borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar? Maybe demonstrate how Pakistani militants have long used the border with Nepal as a route of infiltration? India will have one enormous advantage over Pakistan’s industry of war tourism: India’s complaints are based on truth. That counts for something.” As an insider to the thinking in Washington, Ms. Fair’s ideas are worth considering. It would not hurt for India to expend some PR to achieve its strategic aims.
Agreed PR is no substitute for action. But PR definitely enhances action and propels it faster in the direction of success. Moreover, “I am the messiah” type of swagger of the arrogant Congress has cost us the goodwill of even friendly neighbors like Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Modi Sarkar to its credit is recovering some of the lost ground through SAARC.
While Pakistan wallows in America’s blind spot, which allows it to receive billions of dollars in aid and lethal weapons, India is forced to toe the American, (and the Chinese) line and talk peace to the terrorist nation who wantonly bleed India. Even tiny Qatar punches way above its weight due to its ownership of the proliferating Al Jazeera. But our sold out media forces our leaders to punch way below even small countries like Myanmar. Their heavy ranting against the army, blocking Islamists misbehavior from the news, winking at corrupt leaders, and resonating with biased views of foreign media not only provides fodder for the enemies but also bruises the confident leg of strategy.
“Subduing the enemy without a fight, is the supreme art of war,” said Sun Tzu a long time ago. This dynamic strategy holds good even today. Instead of whining about Pakistan’s terrorism, why not act to increase the costs to them. For example, every time there is a terror attack, the Indus waters are released selectively; or the Karachi border is temporarily blockaded with plausible deniability; or the tariffs are increased; or the American companies can choose one country, either India or Pakistan to operate, not both; or trade in the Wagah border is halted. The larger market of India can be the leverage and the Government must have the will to use it.
Just as Pakistan uses the notorious ISI to arm militants and start insurgencies in the North East and Bangladesh, India too can do the same in Baluchistan and Sind. Recently Zardari has expressed anger against the Punjabi dominated army. Considering the affable, mild talking Zardari, his explosive warning to the army reflects serious rifts between Sindh and Punjab. A minor newspaper in India can voice an opinion to the effect that “India supports the aspirations of Sindh and Baluchistan.” With the tacit assistance of selected communities such as the Sindhis, the flame can be allowed to flare up. The tempo can be built up again with a minor party official voicing his opinion and thus a thought is seeded. Interested parties will coalesce and a movement can commence. Prominent voices can be amplified. Twitter storm can commence to make or break a new leader, depending on his attitude to India. If the resentment in Sind and Baluchistan is made to rise very high, a tiny spark could cause a fiery inferno and Pakistan can be kept busy within its own borders taking care of its own thousand cuts. This is a strategy that must start to keep Pakistan unbalanced. Otherwise we will be paying with the blood of our jawans, day in and out.
There is no substitute for being hard-nosed and initiating appropriate action when our interests are threatened. The pro India Afghan President, Karzai, has been asking for arms for almost four years. India has been hedging and dithering in deference to Pakistani sensitivities. Failing to take action to assist the friend of India has cost the nation dearly. Today India has no influence with the pro Pakistani Ghani. And it seems all the money and material poured into Afghanistan to build roads, hospitals, schools and the parliament is gone down the drain. And all this due to squeamishness to act boldly to protect the interests of our nation.
Another missed opportunity or failure to act is the colossal strategic blunder to quit maintaining the Indian military base in Tajikistan. This base in Farkhor, Dushanbe is a valuable base as Tajikistan’s South East border is less than 30 km from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and can function as a force multiplier par excellence. From this base in Tajikistan, the Indian army and air force can mount operations to support the Northern Alliance against the Pakistani supported Taliban. It could also keep an eye on meddlesome China and militant activity in POK. In addition to the detriment of relations with friendly Tajikistan, giving up a military base is a strategic blunder of Himalayan proportions.
Iran is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India. 79 percent of Iranians like India and Indians as per the BBC world survey done in 2005. In addition to historical and civilization ties stretching through many centuries, Iran has been a good friend of India by supporting India’s stance in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), buying its industrial goods, supporting India’s efforts to boost the Northern Alliance against the common enemy Taliban, and most important of all allowing a port to be built in Chabahar. Through this port, India can access resource rich central Asia for trade and oil. Yet India dumped Iran under American pressure and voted against it in the International Atomic Energy Association. Being neutral would have been a good option, since Americans rarely complain about Pakistan acquiring the bomb and in fact looked the other way when China was busy proliferating nuclear weapons and missiles to Pakistan. But better still would have been an option to strategize and bring Iran and Israel close. Pakistan had done it earlier in 1971 by bringing enemies America and China together. Out of the box solutions can be tried using track 2 or track 3 diplomacy. In this case there was nothing to lose but a whole lot to be gained.
Regarding China, there is little doubt that the nation has been seared by the events of 62. Instead of strategically countering their hostile moves, there has been a display of fear and meekness. India had many options but seemed very reluctant to use them. Propelling the cause of a revered figure like Dalai Lama could have brought support to the Tibetan cause, similar to the way Nelson Mandela roused the conscience of the world including Buddhist countries such as Japan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Talk of Tibet makes China nervous. Nervousness denotes weakness, and exposes a chink in the steel armor. Modi sarkar’s brilliant move to appoint hawkish V.K Singh in charge of the Northeast (which involves Arunachal Pradesh) signals a new posture eschewing timidity. Also appointment of Ajit Doval as National Security Advisor (NSA) further enhances the new shift in thinking. The former superspy Doval is passionate about the Tibetan cause and a brilliant hands-on man. The wheel of strategy under Modi Sarkar is slowly getting unstuck from hardened clay. Hopefully, it will gather momentum. As the saying goes “the secret of success in battle lies often not so much in the use of one’s strength but in the exploitation of the other side’s weaknesses.”
Other options must also be on the table. Regarding China one should never forget, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight that is important, but the size of the fight in the dog.” A much smaller country, Vietnam, like a fierce pit bull is openly defiant of the Chinese and are actively building alliances, and procuring arms to prepare for war. Why not arm Vietnam with nuclear tipped missiles and submarines just as China is arming Pakistan? Pakistani’s hypocritical ranting against human rights violations in Kashmir while maintaining a deafening silence on human rights abuses in Islamic Uighur should be pounded again and again in world forums and brought to the attention of the OIC. This would also put China on the defensive in the Middle East and Kashmir. It could also generate a rethink on China’s investing billions in Pakistan.
It is obvious that the Chinese do not believe in niceties. That they respond to open defiance and war like diplomacy is evident in the case of Burma where they resolved the border dispute in a very short time (around 1960). The thinking may have been that if the hills of Khakong (on Burma China border) are on fire then China’s Yunnan province would feel the searing heat from the red glow. Therefore in spite of China insisting that it does not recognize the McMahon line as the border with India, it was in a hurry to recognize the McMahon line as the border with Burma. Chinese doublespeak will not cease until India shows the steel behind its soft gloves.
In spite of Sun Tzu and his profound maxims, China chooses the path of confrontational belligerence. But the Chinese are not stupid. They will not kill the golden goose that is India’s trade deficit with China which runs over 40 billion dollars a year. Essentially, India is financing China’s belligerence by allowing this one way flow of money and resources. Redressing the money trail to flow both ways or completely stop should form part of a strategy to alter Chinese behavior towards India, along with bringing up Tibet and Uighur and actively promoting a two-china policy by recognizing Taiwan.
None of this can happen if India does not have the heft to strategize. The country needs to consolidate media power, people power, increase military power, and utilize the soft power of Buddhism to culturally consolidate and build alliances with countries inimical to China to keep the hounds of war at bay and protect India’s interests.
It is never too late to retrieve squandered opportunities. Fresh beginnings can be made to stop an unending stream of gestures and offers with no reciprocity. Disrupting sweetheart deals between China and Pakistan or between Pakistan and America requires efficient PR, effective diplomatic response, advertising our version of events, allying with like-minded nations, providing fireworks in enemy land with plausible deniability, using leverages such as trade deficits and tariffs relentlessly until the wheel gets unstuck from the mud.
Any one of these strategies or all of them, are better than doing nothing.