PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan is timely. It would be ideal if we can have a more meaningful partnership with Japan in the fields of defense production and nuclear energy; India needs to upgrade its various infrastructures urgently, wherein Japanese capital and technology can be of great help. We also need to promote our strategic relations with Japan and other countries in the Asian Pacific region. There is an urgent need for India to get proactive in countering Chinese strategic moves in the Indian Ocean by reaching out to those countries in the Asia Pacific Region that are understandably uncomfortable with China’s rising power and its bullying tactics. Specifically, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines and Japan could be our allies in keeping China quiet.
The visit definitely sends an overdue strong message to China. The disdain with which China had treated India during the recent intrusion in Ladakh is instructive. We cannot afford to overlook the fact that the intrusion was deliberate, just on the eve of Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid’s visit to Beijing and Premier Li Keqiang’s trip to India. Obviously, China does not think India deserves to be treated as an equal. But, one should not be surprised, as China’s policy has been to become Asia’s supreme hegemon, and it will do anything to cut its two rivals – Japan and India – to size. It is now up to India to prove its credentials as a credible power capable of standing up to China’s bullying. For this, it will have to start taking steps on several fronts.
India will have to build and nurture its economic and military muscles on its own, too. We must focus on removing bottlenecks in our economic development efforts. For this, it is vital to have across the political spectrum consensus on certain basic principles governing economic and industrial policies. If the laws pertaining to taxes need to be streamlined, there should be a consensus for promptly doing so. For example, the All India Goods & Services Tax is yet to be implemented, and the Direct Taxes Code Bill is pending for parliamentary approval since 2010! Let there be a sense of urgency in infusing energy in our developmental efforts; politicking affecting national interests must be eschewed. Whether they are relevant laws or institutions for their implementation, no delays should be tolerated in making them effective.
Economic development will make it easier for us to acquire the necessary military muscle. Many defense projects have been held up because of lack of funds. This situation should not continue. It is time to set up indigenous military-industrial complex in the private sector. This will bring in the much-needed funds for research and development of state-of-the-art weapon systems, and reduce our dependence on imports. As a bonus, we can become net exporters of military hardware. The spinoffs can be rich indeed.
After India’s independence, there was a serious debate on the status of Indian Army. Plenty of lotus-eaters maintained that such a large force was a waste of national resources. It was strange that nobody stood up then and said that to have such a highly professional, battle-hardened army is in itself a national asset that needed to be nurtured and given pride of place in the newly emerging Indian Establishment. The Chinese aggression of 1962 came as a blessing in disguise. After that, for a long time, nobody talked disparagingly of our armed forces. However, after the Bangladesh War a certain sense of complacency gripped our decision makers. Unmindful of the changing strategic scenario the establishment once again started ignoring the need for upgrading the armed forces. This got further complicated when several scandals relating to defense procurement deals erupted serially. India’s defense preparedness took a big hit.
Somehow, we have focused so much on Pakistan and its “low intensity” warfare through non-state actors that we have been ignoring the frenetic construction of infrastructure by China on our northern borders. Even as late as 1990s, various defense experts used to argue that China could not afford to go on a full-scale war against India because of logistical constraints. What these experts failed to note was that technological progress is quite capable of overcoming any “logistical constraints” and the Chinese have been meticulously planning to achieve these goals, which they have. While we were content with having the transport systems of the Second World War vintage, China built top class airfields, helipads, railways and roads right up to the LAC, and even across it at some places. It has also upgraded the Karakoram road and completed road networks in Nepal and Burma that give it both economic and strategic advantages vis-à-vis India.
Now, at last, Indian decision makers have approved the long pending proposal for setting up a new mountain strike corps that would reinforce our defense and counterattack capabilities on the Sino-Indian border. But, this is only a small step in the right direction. There is a need to formulate a comprehensive policy based on realities and not presumptions. China is ruled by hardheaded practitioners of realpolitik. Their friendship with Pakistan is based on promoting China’s economic and strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region. Both Karakoram and the Gwadar are but instruments in executing this policy. It is trying out similar tactics in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka with varying degrees of success.
We should secure our neighborhood right away. Nawaz Sharif’s return to power in Pakistan is a good sign for India. No doubt, there are many issues, including Kashmir, that can prove to be obstacles but the power of economic logic must prevail. It is in the interests of both countries to have peace if they want to focus on development. No amount of foreign largesse can be an alternative to generation of revenue from economic activities within the country. India and Pakistan will have to cooperate in, first, getting rid of all kinds of terrorist activities, followed by implementing a well-mapped developmental plan. The scope for cooperation is vast – from education to agriculture, medicine and industry. India will also have to get proactive in sorting out all pending issues with other neighbors. None of these issues is intractable. Given the political wisdom and will, India can secure its backyard against all sorts of mischief. However, for this, we will have to start behaving like a big power – which, so far, has not been the case.
Published in The FinancialWorld dated May 30, 2013