M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur

The Telegraph, July 4, 2002

Parvez Musharraf’s promise to permanently end Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and the American assurance to validate it amounts to an Indo-Pakistan ceasefire.  The result reflects the effectiveness of Indian coercive diplomacy whereby the pressure of Indian army and air force presence in the north and Indian naval presence in the south forced the international community to bring about Musharraf’s concession.

The Musharraf-armed forces interface worked well despite the noises made by the Indian press which parroted the American and Pakistani line that war was round the corner.  The recent crisis should prove to Indian commentators that controlled military escalation is sometimes necessary to attract international attention to one’s interests, and that there is no such a thing as “deft diplomacy” unless it is backed by a policy of punishment.

Indian armchair strategists must not forget that historically Indian diplomacy on Kashmir has been anything but deft.  It was Jawaharlal Nehru who took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations and internationalized it.  Nehru ignored the advice of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and General Kulwant Singh who wanted a few weeks to liberate the entire Kashmir region.  The Bharatiya Janata Party-baiters should also not forget that the Congress under Indira Gandhi and her sons was in the habit of interfering with state elections in Kashmir and elsewhere, so the Kashmiris are right to insist on fair and free elections.  Musharraf’s promise to halt the export of terror from Pakistan should help create an atmosphere for a good electoral process and the acceptance of the proposal to have foreign observers to watch the elections should facilitate transparency.

It is now up to the Indian leadership to build on the success of the Indian coercive diplomacy and to secure a strong combination of military, political and diplomatic movement. This in order to reorient both external and internal political constituencies, and recognize and reward India’s true friends.  The orchestration of this combination has to be conducted outside the ministry of external affairs and it must involve the armed forces and the intelligence services because Indian diplomatic officials have little experience or understanding of the role of force in creating strategic opportunities.  Islamabad this time gave in because the Indian navy was cutting across Karachi, and the other services sat across the line of control.  

Atal Bihari Vajpayee should think about an Independence Day speech which recognizes the importance of the armed forces in the formulation of a coercive diplomacy vis--vis Pakistan and its supporters in the United States of America and China.  Second, he should think about ways to consolidate the recent gains.

For the second round, which will inevitably happen in a few months time, Indian policy-makers will have to understand the critical parameters within which India’s coercive diplomacy functions.  What are these parameters?  How can India create a policy keeping in mind its audiences in the Indian Ocean area, China, the US, Russia and Europe?  Is the endgame the acceptance of the LoC as the international border, or, is it the American/UN occupation of Kashmir on the ground that Indians and Pakistanis are incapable of handling their differences?  Or are there several endgames which require a combination of military strategy, psychological warfare and diplomacy?  The challenge is huge because it requires Vajpayee and his men to not project India as a land-locked country as Nehru did.  Rather, India should be projected as a sea-power as well, with a vision that goes beyond Pakistan, China and nuclear disarmament.

The first thing to remember is that India has been a reluctant power so far, the result of looking at strategic affairs through the Nehruvian lens.  Recent experience however has shown that although India’s political class is slow on the uptake, it is not stupid.  Three lessons need to be learnt.  One, India has to recognize the value of nuclear weapons for diplomacy and even business.  Two, Kargil and the recent crisis demonstrated the effective use of military power in the pursuit of national interests.  Three, the crisis has shown that skilled coercion facilitates the development of a pattern of negotiated restraint, which is better than unilateral restraint where the obligations are one-sided, not common.  Coercive diplomacy helps manage difficult situations and bring them to the negotiating table.

The second thing that has to be kept in mind is that US policy towards India has been complex, throwing up as many opportunities as challenges.  The US government is a divided house.  Richard Armitage has a negative view of Pakistan but Colin Powell is pro-Musharraf as are state department officials like Richard Haas, head of policy planning, who retain the Cold War view of India.  The central command, which runs the Afghanistan operation, is pro-Pakistan.  Pentagon, White House and the Pacific command however see India as playing a vital role on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean.  The bottom line is that Pakistan feels threatened by India’s diplomatic and military build-up and the US needs Pakistan.  Thus the US is working on both sides of the street.

There are also NGOs in Washington who follow the Pakistani line about the link between Kashmir and the nuclear issue.  They argue that Indian tests prompted Pakistan’s testing and this gave Pakistan a nuclear cover to assert Kashmiri rights.  This theory has also given the advocates of non-proliferation a new lease of life.

However, the view that India miscalculated by going nuclear is deeply flawed.  One, Z.A. Bhutto had decided in January 1972 to go nuclear, that is, two years before India tested at Pokhran.  Both Zia-ul-Haq and Aslam Beg had decided to acquire nuclear weaponry and to intensify insurgency in Punjab, Kashmir and Afghanistan to give Pakistan strategic depth.  Musharraf and the Inter-Services Intelligence have merely carried forward that policy.  So Pakistan’s policy had a logic of its own which was pursued independently of India’s behaviour.

In retrospect the miscalculation was Pakistan’s because it seems to have intended to use its nuclear capability to deter Indian military action.  But Kargil and the recent crisis show that India’s frame of reference to Pakistan is beyond deterrence, it is that of coercive diplomacy.  Before the BJP coalition came to power, lack of Indian political will about using coercive diplomacy gave the misleading impression that the Pakistani strategy was working.  But Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella was there to provide cover to its generals and to Washington thinktanks who played the South Asian nuclear card to seek Indian nuclear disarmament.

The same Washington strategists looked the other way when China transferred missiles and nuclear components to Pakistan.  The Washington thinktank also assumed that it was right to accept Pakistani views about Kashmiri self-determination.  How ironic that it should side with the Pakistan army which has never shown an inclination to have elections or allow Pakistanis self-determination.

There is no single end that India should persevere to achieve.  There are several.  One is to build on the recent US recognition of the sanctity of the LoC.  Why not lobby to make this a permanent international border?  The suggestion has been on the table at least since 1955 and even earlier.  Another is to plant the idea in Asian circles that neither Pakistan-inspired militancy nor its nuclear capacity gives Pakistan as much advantage as Indian nukes give it in the power politics of Asia.  India is thinking beyond deterrence; it is thinking about stable relationships in Asia, about a balance of power that involves the US, Russia, Japan, China, itself, and regional powers like Indonesia and Australia and influential nodal countries like Myanmar.  The broader aim is to construct the foundation of stable regional security structures in Asia.

The third end is to build links between like-minded Indian and American educators and policy-makers who see India as a mature democracy, a reliable strategic partner, a barrier against the spread of Islamic militancy and are believers in a stable Pakistan under a reform-minded Musharraf.  Here the intellectual battlefield is Washington and New York.  The affinity between India and Israel, and emerging alignments with Japan and Australia are assets in this battle.

The fourth end is to challenge New Delhi’s press commentators who are constantly looking for Indian concessions and are obsessed with what Beijing might think.  Instead of misleading the Indian public by their half-baked ideas about nuclear war, they should stress the value of coercive diplomacy in a world of power imbalances, the changing Indian alignments with world leaders like Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac and the strategic planners in Pentagon and the Pacific command.  Indian practitioners should do a comparative study of the political culture and the institutional history of the insular central command and the internationalist sea-oriented Pacific command, which is America’s lifeline to Asia.  The study will show that India’s success lies in its ability to facilitate movement across the borders – of military forces and economic goods, and of ideas and beliefs that create like-mindedness among nations.

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