Monday, October 5, 2015

Did Rajiv Gandhi Really Plan to Go to War with Pakistan to Save the Najibullah regime?

Maybe. 

This is one of the several little nuggets I found in an essay on Soviet-Indian relations in the last decade of the Cold War.  It was published as a chapter in 2011 by Sergey Radchenko in a book he co-edited with Artemy M. Kalinovsky, The End of the Cold War and the Third World:New Perspectives on Regional Conflict based on declassified East bloc archives.  [I had not seen this earlier; it was bought to my attention by Yogesh Joshi, one of my PhD students]. I have little doubt that the documentary evidence Radchenko presents is credible, even if I might quibble with some interpretations.  The broad argument that Radchenko makes is that both Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi were somewhat na├»ve not only about international politics but also about Soviet-Indian relations.  It also shows both sides maneuvering around each other in a manner that reveals somewhat greater crudity (in the best Realist sense of the word!) than I would have imagined.  But it also reveals a lot of other things, including India’s unhealthy obsession with Pakistan and – despite Indira Gandhi’s and Rajiv Gandhi’s successful state visits to the US and generally improving US-India ties – deep and abiding Indian suspicions about the US. 

Now to the juicy bits:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Talking and Fighting with Pakistan

As India and Pakistan squabble over the NSA Talks, I argue that India needs to develop military options to respond to Pakistan's support of terrorism and other transgressions, without letting fear of nuclear escalation paralyze it. The essay was originally carried by the Observer Research Foundation website.

There is considerable pressure from opposition parties and others on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suspend the forthcoming National Security Advisor (NSA) level talks between India and Pakistan. This once again raises the dilemma that has faced several Indian government about how to talk with Pakistan even as Pakistan sponsors terrorism against India. India can avoid this dilemma if it develops military options to respond to Pakistan's transgressions, both to deter future attacks and also so that Indian decision-makers have options not limited to simply calling off talks each time Pakistan engages in such behaviour. 

Though Pakistan's cross-border firing, its continued sponsorship of terrorism in India and its insistence on talking to the Hurriyat (despite the Indian government making it a 'red line') have made life difficult for the Modi government, the government should resist the pressure to call off the talks. Calling off talks is a pointless and short-term measure which will have to be eventually revised. It is an indication of the bankruptcy of India's policy planning process and an admission of helplessness. These talks are unlikely to lead to any fruitful results, especially in the short-term, but it should be Pakistan that calls off the talks, not India. Calling of talks is not sufficient to deter Pakistan's support for terrorism. Instead, while always remaining open to talks with Pakistan at any time on any subject, India should develop options to respond with force to Pakistan's own use of force. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Aam Admi Party and Indian Politics: Winners and Losers

I had written a brief analysis of what the rise of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) means for Indian politics for the Rising Powers blog.  I forgot to post it, and though its been almost a month, I thought I'd post it.

The Aam Admi Party and Indian Politics: Winners and Losers

The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) spectacular victory in the New Delhi state elections is a continuation of the churning in Indian politics. It presents a warning for both the main national political parties but particularly to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won equally spectacularly in the national elections last summer and in a series of state elections subsequently. The AAP’s prospects beyond New Delhi are still unclear and its path is likely to be difficult, especially because this will depend at least partly on its performance in Delhi. The AAP represents both the future and the past of Indian politics: it is responding to a politically weak but growing and restive middle class that has not yet found a political party home, while its ideology, especially on economic policy, represents a failed past.

The AAPs victory is not record-setting in the Indian political context, but it is close: its 67/70 seats result has been bested only twice, both times in Sikkim. In 1989, the Sikkim Sangram Party won all 32 seats in the Sikkim state legislature, a feat repeated twenty years later in 2009 by the Sikkim Democratic Front. But nonetheless, considering the importance of New Delhi, the fierceness of the campaign in which Prime Minister Modi himself took part, and the BJP’s performance in the recent national elections (when it won all seven seats from Delhi), the result was a clear defeat for the BJP.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Review of Basrur's India's Military Modernization

The latest edition of The Book Review is out and I reviewed Rajesh Basrur's latest book, which he co-edited with Ajaya Kumar Das and Manjeet S. Pardesi, on India's military modernization.

Civil-Military Disconnect
Rajesh Rajagopalan
INDIA’S MILITARY MODERNIZATION: CHALLENGES AND PROSPECTS
Edited by Rajesh Basrur, Ajaya Kumar Das and Manjeet S. Pardesi
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 311, R950.00
India has one of the world’s largest military forces and it is also among the largest military spenders in the world, both in terms of military expenditure and arms imports. Nevertheless, the Indian military faces huge challenges. This is partly the function of the variegated nature of these challenges,
fighting in theatres as diverse as the Himalayas, the deserts of Rajasthan and the jungles in Chhattisgarh for the ground forces and equally diverse ones for the other two services. But
India’s political and administrative systems are also to blame for a confused and confusing approach to every aspect of security policy, from nuclear weapons to counterinsurgency and defence research
and production. These problems become even more acute when the current phase of military modernization is taken into account. The growth of the Indian military, a natural consequence of a larger economic pie (the proportion of wealth devoted to the military has remained low and steady), brings these issues into sharp focus. This volume, edited by Rajesh Basrur, Ajaya Kumar Das and Manjeet Pardesi, brings together both scholars and retired military leaders to present a comprehensive picture of the challenges that Indian military modernization faces. The story is one that is almost uniformly depressing.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

US and India: Moving Towards A Transactional Relationship

A brief essay, published in Economic Times (Januaty 26, 2015) on the Obama visit to India and US-India strategic ties, which I am posting rather late.  My original title is the post title, but the ET title is given below.

Obama in India: Both Countries Should Focus on Areas of Mutual Interest

Barack Obama is the first US president to visit India twice and the first to be chief guest at the Republic Day parade. Thus, the hyperbole that normally accompanies such state visits being a notch higher this time, as was evident in PM Narendra Modi’s and Obama’s joint media address on Sunday.

Being democracies, both India and the US would prefer to base their foreign policies on something larger and nobler than narrow self-interest. And Modi’s developmental agenda means that American investment and smart cities may garner a lot of attention. But without strategic understanding, economic ties themselves will suffer.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Free Speech Fundamentalism

Continuing the previous post on FoSE.  There is now a significant push back against all the support for Charlie Hebdo and the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ movement.  Mehdi Hasan in an essay in the New Statesman argued that Charlie Hebdo has not printed any cartoons about the Holocaust or 9/11, saying that the right to offend does not “automatically translate into a duty to offend”.  I don’t think they have of the Holocaust but they definitely have a controversial one of 9/11, which shows stock-trader shouting ‘Vendez!’ (‘Sell!’) as one of the hijacked planes is about to crash through his window on the World Trade Center, published the same week as the 9/11 attacks.  May be that was in poor taste, as most of their cartoons are, but I would still support their right to print it.  And for the record, I would support their right to do so if they published a cartoon on the Holocaust too, however tasteless I might think it is.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A short comment on Charlie Hebdo and the Freedom of Speech/Expression

The horrible terrorist attacks in France these last few days has led to a lot of comment and controversy especially around the issue of free speech/expression.  I was unaware of this magazine, Charlie Hebdo, until this incident.  But a lot of the commentary on the issue, both in India and elsewhere, has been in my view quite misplaced.  The key issue is what, if any, are the limits of freedom of speech/expression.  This touches also on another recent case, the initial decision of Sony to stop the release of their movie, the Interview, because of threats, reportedly from the North Korean regime.  My random thoughts, set out below. 

Charlie Hebdo is known for lampooning religion, religious figures as well as political and other leaders.  A lot of commentary has focused on the obscene and offensive nature of these cartoons and Charlie Hebdo’s particular brand of satire. Many of these cartoons have been about Islam but many have also been about other religions, though the primary target appears to have been French politics and politicians. 

The argument in a lot of the commentary has been that while freedom of speech/expression should be protected, Charlie Hebdo has crossed the line (though none of the folks I saw on TV or whose columns I read suggested that killing is an appropriate response).  The argument even among some ‘liberals’, especially but not only in India, appear to be that free speech should also be responsible speech and that you should not deliberately offend. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Year Ends But the Chaos May Just be Beginning

As a long year ends, there is greater uncertainty than ever about the direction of world politics.  My end-of-the-year analysis was published on the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) website on the last day of the year, and reproduced below in full.

The Year Ends But the Chaos May Just be Beginning

This year by far has been the most chaotic year in international politics, since the end of the Cold War. The depredations of the so called Islamic State terrorists in the Middle East threaten to upturn borders that have been settled for close to a century. Europe is in the throes of an unexpected tussle with Moscow, with former Soviet President Gorbachev characterising the state of relationship between Russia and the West as being on the brink of a new Cold War. In the South and East China seas, China's aggressiveness, too clear now to be ignored, is leading to a reluctant quasi-alliance with some strange bedfellows. And as the year winds to a close, the weird North Korean regime is back on the front pages, demonstrating that generational change in no solution for preposterousness.

Though a certain amount of turmoil was always present in international affairs, the general sense of a gathering disorder and uncertainty in international affairs today is much deeper.  One indicator is that this in itself has become an issue of debate. Concerns about an emerging global disorder, such as predicted by Gorbachev, have been disputed by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, who argued recently that statistically speaking, violence is coming down and "the world is not falling apart". They argue that homicide rates have fallen, crime against women and children are decreasing, a majority of the world's countries are now democracies, and that genocide and mass civilian killings are trending down.