Changing South Asian and global realities
*At a recent meeting with the Indian community in Sao Paulo, Brazil, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar stated that China has “disregarded the border pacts” with India, casting a shadow on the bilateral ties. He further asserted that a lasting friendship cannot be a one-way street as there ought to be mutual respect in order to sustain it.
Jaishankar was India’s Ambassador to China between 2009 and 2013 and is familiar with China’s mindset and its dubious style of functioning. Referring to Beijing’s behavior pattern at the Ladakh border, he pointed out that:
“At the moment [the India-China] relationship is going through an extremely difficult phase after what China did at the border.”
It is no secret that Chinese and Indian troops are engaged in a prolonged stand-off in eastern Ladakh from May 5, 2020 following a violent clash in the Galwan River Valley in Ladakh. New Delhi, thereafter, has been realistic about Beijing’s ambitious plans in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. In fact, India must not lose sight of China’s territorial ambition, its growing economic muscle and newly-acquired naval capability.
Amidst this changing scenario, New Delhi has to keep in mind how regional and global ties are undergoing radical changes in their framework, in the interplay of forces and even in sources of power and influence. Therefore, we will have to deal with the neighborhood and the world which will be vastly different from the one we have known all these years. Even Afghan developments should provide us a new insight in policy strategies.
India is at a decisive stage of transformation and cannot remain insulated from the changing regional dynamics as it generally tends to do. New realities in the region ought to prod us to think on new lines in the pursuit of evolving new foreign policy options and security objectives.
The main challenge ahead demands a thorough re-examination of old tenets of foreign policy and security concerns. One wonders whether the Modi government started this exercise relating to new facets of terrorism, trade in narcotics, nuclear weapons technology and changing socio-economic realities.
It needs to be kept in mind that the history of world affairs teaches us that things do not change as sharply or fundamentally as newspaper headlines and political rhetoric claim they do. The challenge before us is how to manage the emergence of a Talibanised Afghanistan and Pakistan and the new horrifying face of terrorism that goes with them. Equally bothersome is China’s changing stance in the region. Against this new perspective of global realities, India needs to give up the illusion of building an “Asian Century” in partnership with President Xi’s China.
Looking back, it is obvious that some of the major and minor failures seen in our operations right from 1948 onward were because of the inadequacies in our operational system of governance. For instance, it is not enough to merely gather information about dubious activities of our hostile neighbours along and across the border. Equally vital is to sift information and subject it to proper scrutiny and verification, which should enable our strategists and policymakers to take a hard look at ground realities before finalising policy options.
First and foremost, we have to see whether our intelligence agencies are doing their job professionally or in an ad hoc manner. We have also to see whether there are any grey areas in their functioning. Intelligence networks run by the armed forces and para-military forces generally have limited scope and resources. India’s two main agencies in the area are the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB), apart from certain state-level units.
RAW is known to be engaged in the sensitive areas of external intelligence. Its working may not create an awe, professionally speaking. Even IB personnel engaged in domestic intelligence gathering do not seem to be well-trained for the job. Both IB and RAW are headed by civilians drawn either from the IAS or the IPS. This framework needs to undergo a change.
It takes a minimum of two years to train a person and another five years before he can deliver the goods. We can very well imagine the quality of our intelligence heads imposed thereon often for considerations other than their professional competence. It needs to be appreciated that if an intelligence system fails, everything fails.
National security is not merely a matter of strength of the armed forces or their effective deployment in battle zones. Only the combined effort of governmental agencies dealing with the economy, foreign policy and critical areas such as intelligence gathering and close coordination in policymaking, can provide our national security concerns the necessary professional backup. This, in turn, will help the decision makers to evolve well-tuned strategies and policies.
Jaishankar’s statement needs to be assessed in the larger context of China’s changing attitude and its axis with the Pakistani establishment. In fact, India, China and Pakistan ties cannot be a one-way street. They have to be assessed on a larger canvas of changing South Asian and global realities. Such an exercise alone can give us a correct picture of regional and global realities which, in turn, can help policymakers and strategists draw a correct picture of regional and global challenges facing the Indian establishment.
To meet these formidable challenges, India has to be firm where firmness is needed most. It cannot opt for soft options in an area where the very edifice of the nation rests.
Amidst the existing challenges, what is regrettable is that we still lack proper understanding of changing profiles of China and Pakistan. Even the academic world has neglected proper study of our next-door neighbours. These serious gaps have to be bridged if New Delhi wishes to properly evaluate the crafty mindset of the ruling persons in Beijing and Islamabad.###
—* The author is a vetern journalist and commentator
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