The devastating hurricane Katrina and the plight of the poor, ignorant, apathetic and powerless ignored by their leaders, hold an important lesson for India. Those who do not act in their own interests are compelled to react ineffectively against the cruel forces of nature or nations that often pack destructive punch and are amoral, uncaring or self-absorbed. India and New Orleans are like the (latter's) Tenessee Williams heroine Blanche Dubois, forever dependent on the kindness of strangers.
The recent agreement between Manmohan Singh and Bush gives India a pseudo-status as a nuclear power and opens up exports of civilian nuclear and dual use technology and also raises hopes of foreign direct investment in infrastructure, much needed by India. The problem is that there is many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. The US Constitution requires that any treaty negotiated by the president needs approval by the Senate. There are enough opposing factions in the Senate to make the agreement not worth anything. The current problems with North Korea and Iran pursuing Nuclear WMDs and the desire of the president and congress to thwart them, are sure to prevent the Senate's consent of a logically inconsistent policy by a lame duck president with falling popularity due to the catastrophic misadventure in Iraq that is unraveling every day. On the other hand no one ever went broke betting against a rational or consistent long term basis for American foreign policy. Recent opposition by sundry congressmen, senators and Strobe Talbott, against giving India a free pass for its nuclear policy and remaining outside the NPT does not bode well for a favorable outcome. India does not have the clout of Israel.
China, on the other hand has a leadership that saw the handwriting on the wall and with the help of the Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian diaspora and Japanese as well as American businessmen, has used their greed to become a cheap manufacturing hub. The American business lobby, as predicted by Kruschev has been a willing collaborator to sell the Chinese the very rope that they intend to hang America with. The Chinese have also learnt the lesson that if you own US treasuries worth a few billion dollars, you are at their mercy or those of its captive arms like the World Bank and IMF, but if you own 600 billion dollars worth of treasuries, both are at each other's mercy. This is the economic variant of Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine that led to the balance of terror in the cold war. Japan with its Emperor worshiping national psyche has yet to escape from its subservient status.
India's precarious position is that it is destined to be buffeted by Brownian movements by forces beyond its control. The widely prevalent anti-Islamic extremist sentiments are now ubiquitous and provide no significant preference for its alliance with America, Russia or China. If anything America's misguided obsession with Pakistan is a serious detriment to India's putting all its eggs in that basket. By allying with potentially unreliable America capable of turning on a dime, there is also risk of further alienation of China fearing containment, and its increased transfer of detrimentally lethal technology like the recent firing of a cruise missile by Pakistan, most likely based on Chinese assistance. A recent announcement by Musharraf that the A. Q. Khan chor bazaar sold nuclear know-how to Korea has not raised America's hackles. In fact America has decided to sell Pakistan nuclear capable F-16s and will fuel the arms race in South Asia by giving Pakistan a Spruance class destroyer free of charge. This is far more sophisticated naval platform than our newest destroyers like INS Delhi. America's conniving at all Pakistani follies is a serious hazard of the consequences of such an alliance. This is a subtle and sly method of making India buy Aegis destroyers and F-18 E/F planes at much higher costs. India is permitted to do so under the new understandings. If India chooses Russian MiGs or French Mirages, it will have an adverse effect on ratifying the treaty and persuading the nuclear suppliers' group from selling it civilian nuclear and space technology. This compels India to delay its arms procurement till America ratifies the treaty and convinces the European nuclear suppliers to go along. This is why India has been compelled to hire former US ambassador Blackwill's firm as an expensive lobbyist to bribe and coerce the American Congress to toe Bush's line.
China's strategy with India, while usurping part of Kashmir and not relinquishing its claim to Arunachal and setting up naval bases at Gwadar and in the Burmese islands of the Andaman Sea, is what Napoleon told the Archduke of Austria when signing a treaty after conquering the plains of Lombardy. His words were," Monsignor, we are not discussing a lasting peace but a mere suspension of hostilities". China's fears of encirclement are as rational as India's fears of dominance and becoming marginal in Asia. Barring a seismic change of realities, China are India are destined not to have an alliance, but spar with mutual suspicion to a stalemate. Thus any hopes of a significant rapprochement or a genuine alliance with China are foolhardy pipe dreams. America could commit itself sincerely and not by mere lip service, to buttress India as a realistic counterbalance to China. Unfortunately it is still intoxicated by the arrogant hubris of its power, despite impending debacles in Iraq and even Afghanistan and hampered by its haunting and morbid fear of the Frankenstein of nuclear Pakistan, that it created and condoned and the falling into the hands of non-state terrorists of this arsenal. In the meantime a smart China and a more needy Russia are indulging in joint military exercises and increasing economic and military co-operation. Russia has sold China Sovremeny class destroyers, newer silent submarines and fourth generation multi-role combat aircraft.
India's dilemma stems from its energy insufficiency, large Muslim minority and geographical constraints of a position between Pakistan and Bangladesh, both fomenting Islamic extremism, illegal immigration and terrorism. If it aligns with somewhat beleaguered Iran to build a much needed gas pipeline, it risks alienating temperamental America and more importantly offending an ideological ally like Israel, that could be reliable conduit for superior arms technology.
What then should India do? I think the best strategy is what is prescribed for smart obstetricians. It is called masterly inactivity and requires active vigilance with open options to choose targeted intervention as circumstances develop. This means that it should give America, its natural ally because of shared democratic and secular humanistic values and strategic goals, to deliver substantially in a period of six months or a year. I suspect this will not happen despite my preference for it. It is best then to ally closely with Russia, a dethroned great power in greater need for alliances. All human relations and particularly those between nations are based more on need and interests, as Lord Palmerston stated long ago.
Israel whose interests with India coincide far more than those of America with India, may be unhappy with energy co-operation between India and Iran, but is smart and savvy enough, not to be miffed into sacrificing a long term mutually advantageous relationship, like viscerally temperamental America mired in its delusion of military power and oblivious of its waning economic power.
While India per se is not yet a major player, its alignment with one or another power bloc is sufficient to tilt the balance of global power in the coming decades, and materially affect future geopolitics. Its problem is that its leadership has not had the wisdom or foresight to determine its own destiny or to carve out a future path or goals, while the equally despicable Chinese leadership, despite myriad faults, has a vision, albeit formulated by their lust for power and money, their necessity to provide jobs for their teeming masses, and their desire for vengeance for past humiliations. None of these are noble causes, but unintended consequences of base motives often can yield unexpectedly good things. As the old adages in Sanskrit and English emphasize, out of the mud is born the lotus ( Panke jayati iti pankaja) and the path to hell is paved with good intentions.