March 05, 2011
|Sunanda K. Datta-Ray|
Muammar Gaddafi complains the West has deserted him. So have the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. So has India. The West’s desertion matters most, perhaps, not only because Gaddafi has been at such pains to surrender his nuclear options and reinvent himself as Uncle Sam’s pet but because of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. With British and German planes landing in Libya, talk of a no-fly zone and David Cameron accused of playing Tony Blair, a Western bid for regime change can be expected if the revolt fails to bring Gaddafi down.
India’s position is enigmatic. A former ambassador to Libya once recalled admiringly that when he called on Gaddafi, the latter hugged his local driver because they had fought together in the resistance. He saw Libya’s leader as a man of the people. When Pranab Mukherjee visited Libya in 2007 — the first high-powered visit since Indira Gandhi’s in 1984 — Gaddafi waxed eloquent about the sky being “the limit for cooperation between the two countries.” Matching his exuberance, Mukherjee declared India’s “unlimited interest” in promoting “the historical friendship” and broadening ties “in the economic, commercial, cultural, and joint investment fields.” An Indian multi-product business delegation last March, followed in July by the eighth session of the Indo-Libyan Joint Commission, confirmed the promise of partnership in oil and petroleum, IT, education and human resource development.
Has India’s evaluation changed because some of Gaddafi’s people have turned against him? Or because the United States of America has? Now we are told Seif al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son and heir, pulled a fast one on New Delhi’s Islamic Centre. Now India, like the US, wants sanctions against Libya, and its leader tried for crimes against humanity. Fellow columnist K.P. Nayar may be able to throw light on the number of telephone calls and summonses from the Americans before Hardeep Singh Puri, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations who was reportedly held at Texas airport not long ago in violation of his diplomatic immunity and his turban “searched forcefully”, agreed to suppress his own preference for a more calibrated approach and go the whole hog.
Since Americans test friends and foes on the touchstone of UN votes, P.V. Narasimha Rao had to support revocation of Resolution 3379 (Zionism-is-racism), passed by the UN general assembly with great gusto in 1975, as part of the price of acceptance. As prime minister, I.K. Gujral did not rush to Kuwait’s defence when Saddam Hussein overran the emirate but realized — when the US cut off aid for impoverished Yemen because it voted against invading Iraq — that near-bankrupt India would have to toe the line. After that, India supported every American move at the UN.
It’s ironical that the US, with India tagging along, should seek to commit Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court which neither country recognizes. It is also ironical that the world should suddenly have woken up to his dictatorship. Gaddafi has not been anything else since he overthrew the pro-Western monarchy in 1969 and set up the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Presumably, the Americans and Indians would have continued to befriend him if he had ruthlessly suppressed the revolt before it exploded. It’s ironic, too, that a pro-democracy movement is pitted against a jamahiriya or “state of the masses”.
The strident American campaign is the biggest irony. The US has accommodated too many dictators in the past for Hillary Clinton’s human rights rhetoric to be taken at face value. Perhaps Gaddafi’s nuclear penitence was never believed and the US has been biding its time since the unfinished business of 1969 when Henry Kissinger tried to topple him or 1986 when the Reagan administration tried to have him killed. Perhaps Washington wants to demonstrate that the Central Intelligence Agency, which could not save a star protégé in Cairo and has been caught with its pants down in Lahore, isn’t such a nincompoop (if an organization can be called that) after all. This could also be a manifestation of the new plan — CIA 2015 — by the CIA director, Leon Panetta, to refurbish his agency’s image. Another explanation might be the intelligence assessment that despite bombast about “fighting to the last man and woman”, Gaddafi will not survive the storm, and the consequent American determination to win favour with the next ruler(s) of a major oil exporter with Africa’s largest proven oil deposits.
The danger is that a superpower can foment trouble in a country and use it as an excuse for intervention. It was a tactic imperial Britain perfected, and the US might feel tempted to employ to avoid the mess that outright invasion created in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one should be surprised if Western arms and funds are channelled to the “Free Libya” insurgents, as they were to Osama bin Laden and the Afghan Mujahideen. Hugo Chávez, who has produced a peace plan, can save his breath to cool his porridge, as they say. The Americans can’t back out now.
Unlike the British, Indians don’t instinctively protest when civil rights are infringed anywhere in the world. Outsiders have commented India is absorbed in India. The British writer, Taya Zinkin, who knew India well, explained indifference to global events by suggesting that Indians are psychologically incapable of seeing repression when both sides are the same colour. The traditional aversion to championing human rights and democratic freedoms, evident in Jawaharlal Nehru’s hesitation over Hungary in 1956, may also reflect a genuine reluctance to interfere in another country’s sovereign jurisdiction. It could be born, too, of a hard-pressed people’s pragmatic strategy for survival. An Indian Zimbabwean at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas strongly resented Western criticism of Robert Mugabe whose high-handedness he justified in the name of discipline, arguing that white farmers deserved to be expropriated. Typically, he was doing well and didn’t want the boat rocked.
Not that Indian governments care much about emigrant sentiments. Nehru, who advised East African Indians to make the best of their circumstances, took up the cudgels against apartheid South Africa because of Mahatma Gandhi’s involvement. Playing to the Afro-Asian gallery and attacking Western colonialism were added incentives. Initiatives like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and liberalized passport, visa and voting rules were prompted by China’s success in mobilizing funds from its diaspora.
Normally, West Asian countries are barely mentioned in the Indian media. The orgy of reports about the upsurge there reflects (dare I say it?) media imitativeness rather than a response to keen domestic interest. Yet, West Asia should rank high in foreign policy priorities. India imports 75 per cent of its oil needs and nearly three-quarters of that comes from the region. The four million Indians there (only 18,000 in Libya) are a major source of foreign remittances. The United Arab Emirates overtook the US in 2008-09 as India’s biggest trading partner. If national interest justifies dealing with Myanmar’s ruling junta (despite Barack Obama’s chiding) or an array of Arab sheikhs and sultans, there need be no squeamishness about Libya’s “Leader and Guide of the Revolution”.
Whether or not his days are numbered, India must forge a coherent West Asian strategy that places India’s fiscal stability, technological expertise and familiarity with democratic institutions at the disposal of the emerging order. Whatever the earlier record of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, its request for help in conducting elections merits a positive response. The unique instrument of soft power that is Bollywood can be deployed with aggressive creativity.
While India cannot afford to ignore either US strategic interests or its ties with Israel, being seen to hang on to America’s coat-tails like Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime will only invite ridicule. “A subedar owing allegiance to a global overlord”, as Syed Shahabuddin put it in another context, won’t serve even American global interests either. The US needs a credible ally in Asia with an independent foreign policy.
By Dr Subhash Kapila
United States –Pakistan denouement in their so-called strategic partnership currently underway was inevitable as this relationship was never founded on the basis of sound long-lasting strategic convergences or shared values. Both the United States and Pakistan over the last five decades enjoyed only spasmodic proximity and that too when tactical expediencies on both sides prompted such a proximity.
Afghanistan in two different decades brought about two intense proximities in United States-Pakistan military relationship. The First United States-Pakistan involvement in Afghanistan in the 1980s emerged with the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in1979. The United States and Pakistan had a strategic convergence in working together to see the exit of the Soviets from Afghanistan, and they succeeded.
The Second United States-Pakistan Involvement in Afghanistan arose from United States ultimatums and coercion applied to Pakistan to combine in US Global War on Terror against the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, both entities having been given facilities and infrastructure in Pakistan-Occupied Afghanistan till 2001. Tactical expediency dictated Pakistan succumbing to American dictates, but not without Pakistan Army double-timing the United States all along since 2002.
This time around, there was no strategic convergences between the United States and the Pakistan Army. The United States and Pakistan had not only different strategic agenda but one could say opposing agenda. The Pakistan Army’s end-game in Afghanistan this time was to bide time, induce combat fatigue in United States war effort and thereby prompt a military exit of the United Sates from Afghanistan. Thereafter the Pakistan Army could once again reclaim Afghanistan as its strategic depth against India, once again through the Taliban nurtured in Pakistani safe-havens.
The past decade of the 2000s post-2001 in terms of United States-Pakistan relationship ostensibly termed as a strategic partnership witnessed a marked “trust-deficit” between the United States and its Major Non-NATO Ally. Till 2007 or so this trust-deficit was kept in muted contours by both sides. Post-2007 and especially after General Kayani took over as Pakistan Army Chief, the muted contours of the trust-deficit between the United States and Pakistan started seeping into public domain.
This decade of the 2000s also witnessed the tangential impact on India of the United States-Pakistan Army troubled relationship. The United States in a vain bid to keep the Pakistan Army on its right side so that it does not impede the US war effort in Afghanistan and also to keep US logistics routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan open, indulged in unabashed policies of pressurizing the Indian policy establishment to what can be termed as appeasement policies towards Pakistan Army’s strategic sensitivities.
The Indian policy establishment throughout this decade of 2000s kept succumbing to United States pressures to keep resuming the India-Pakistan Peace Dialogues which India kept calling off after every major terrorist strikes from Pakistan against India, the last notable one being the nationally traumatic 26/11 commando-trained attack on Mumbai.
Pointedly asserted in my Papers on this issue repeatedly in the last few years was the fact that the Indian Prime Minister in pursuance of his pro-American policies was succumbing to American pressures on policies designed to appease Pakistan Army's strategic sensitivities. This approach was in a state of severe disconnect with Indian public opinion which wanted no truck with Pakistan until it resiled from terrorism.
Currently when the United States itself perceives that United States-Pakistan relations may have headed towards an irretrievable damage, it becomes pertinent to point out to the Indian policy establishment that its Pakistan policy postulations would need serious revision. After all the architecture of India’s policy formulations on Pakistan in the past decade were crafted from Washington’s perspectives than India’s national security interests.
United States-Pakistan denouement in their relationship was in the offing since 2007 but was kept in muted contours by both nations and more so by the United States. However in the opening months of 2011 this denouement has spilled out in the public domain over the well publicized case of US diplomat Raymond Davis presently in custody of Pakistan in Lahore.
Strategic implications arise for India in whatever outcome and course of action emerges from the ongoing spat between the United States and Pakistan which with each passing day is acquiring highly emotive and political overtones, rather than being confined to an issue to be settled through quiet diplomacy.
This Paper intends to focus broadly on the issue of overall United States-Pakistan denouement and its strategic implications for India with a discussion under the following heads:
- United States-Pakistan Denouement: The Major Issues of Friction
- Breakdown in Relations Between United States and Pakistan Intelligence Agencies
- US Secretary of State Recent Observations on Pakistan Analyzed
- United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options: Perspectives
- Strategic Implications for India Arising From United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options.
United States-Pakistan Denouement: The Major Issues of Friction
Strong ‘trust-deficit’ has always hovered singularly over United States-Pakistan relationship ever since the early 1950s when both nations embarked on an opportunistic relationship. Long term strategic convergences between United States and Pakistan which could have cemented their military relationship and led to a substantive strategic partnership have failed to emerge.
Pakistan’s tainted reputation as an opportunistic and readily available as a ‘rentier state’ and a ‘regional spoiler state’ affected its image as a dependable state and a durable ally of the United States when the Pakistan-China strategic nexus is considered. As reiterated in many of my Papers, if when the chips are down and Pakistan is forced into making a strategic choice between China and the United States, Pakistan would align with China.
In the onset of 2011, the major issues of friction between the United States and Pakistan can be said to be existing on three major issues. These are as follows (1) Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy postures and approaches to United States stabilization of Afghanistan (2) United States' fears about Pakistan’s growing nuclear weapons arsenal and the security and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons (3) Pakistan Army’s continued patronage of Islamic Jihadi outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and others.
United States stabilization of Afghanistan and its continued embedment there is a United States strategic imperative of the United States. This is diametrically opposite to Pakistan Army’s fixative obsession to reclaim Afghanistan for its strategic depth strategy. Hence Pakistan Army’s continued hosting of the Afghan Taliban Shura, keeping the Pakistan-Afghanistan border porous for Taliban operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan Army Chief’s continued refusal to launch military operations in North Waziristan.
The United States has had serious concerns on Pakistan Army’s nuclear weapons arsenal safety, its record of WMD proliferation to Iran and North Korea and refusal to give access to Dr A Q Khan for questioning in relation to Pakistan’s WMD proliferation. Topping all these concerns is the undeniable reality of rogue elements of Pakistan Army passing on nuclear materials for use by Islamic Jihadis as a ‘dirty nuclear device’ against Homeland USA.
On control of terrorism and restraining Pakistan Army’s continued patronage to Islamic Jihadi outfits like the Laskar-e-Toiba, the Pakistan Army establishment is in total defiance of the United States.
On all of the above contentious issues of concern to the United States, it is the Pakistan Army and its ISI which is the central actor and controlling authority. Why is then the United States tolerating Pakistan Army’s shenanigans? Why is it that the United States instead of ‘disciplining’ the Pakistan Army continues to pressurize India to yield to Pakistan Army’s dictates to the United States that India should yield on Kashmir, India should demilitarize Kashmir by withdrawing troops, and that the United States should not allow India to effect a presence in Afghanistan?
Obviously, the United States has allowed itself to be blackmailed by the Pakistan Army establishment which not forgetting continues to exist on heavy doses of United Sates military aid and largesse.
The situation in February 2011 has reached a tipping point where as the Washington Post put it that the US policy establishment has finally begun facing the harsh reality that “Pakistan and the United States have entirely different narratives about their bilateral relationship” and that “United States politicians are questioning the continued strategic utility of United States-Pakistan relationship”.
Break down in Relations between United States and Pakistan Intelligence Agencies
The bedrock of the United States-Pakistan relationship, irrespective of the varying intensities had been the close links and close cooperation between the CIA and the ISI, the respective intelligence agencies of the United States and Pakistan. At the beginning of 2011 it is increasingly being said in media reports that there has been a virtual breakdown in the CIA-ISI relationship to the extent that they are not communicating with each other.
In fact the recent highest military level meetings between the US Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen and Pakistan Army Chief of Staff, General Kayani, at Oman on February 24, the CIA and the ISI representation were conspicuous by their absence. In fact this meeting though reported as reviewing Afghanistan operations was held basically to arrest the downslide in relations between the intelligence agencies of United States and Pakistan.
Revealing in this connection are the reported remarks of former Pakistan Army Chief General Karamat who was also a former Pakistan Ambassador to USA, carried in the media. He is reported to have said:
· “The United States said that once beyond the tipping point, the situation would be taken over by political forces that cannot be controlled”, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the ISI.
· “The United States did not want the United States-Pakistan relationship to go into a free-fall under media and domestic pressures. This consideration drove it (USA) to ask Pak Generals to step in and do what the Governments were failing to do…”
· “The militaries will now brief their civilian masters and hopefully bring a change in US-Pak relations by arresting the downhill slide”
Obviously, the breakdown in relations between the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies has reached serious proportions. The Pakistani intelligence agencies are accusing United States CIA of flooding Pakistan with agents under diplomatic cover who are more intent on acquiring intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal and penetrating Islamic Jihadi terrorism affiliates of the Pakistan Army.
It seems doubtful that the traditional close relationship between the United States and Pakistani intelligence agencies that existed in earlier years could be substantially retrieved and healed.
US Secretary of State’s Recent Observations on Pakistan Analyzed
Reinforcing the emerging trend of US-Pak relations skating on thin ice are the recent public remarks of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s on Pakistan. She is reported to have observed that Pakistan faces major instabilities at home and that Pakistan should stop fomenting anti-American sentiments and that shocking and unjustified anti-Americanism will not resolve Pakistan’s problems.
More pointedly, Secretary of State Clinton stated that US relations with Pakistan have plummeted to their lowest point in recent years.
Obviously, these remarks of the US Secretary of State were not careless remarks but made with full deliberation and for effect. Such remarks emanating from the highest level of United States foreign policy establishment indicates that something has seriously gone amiss in United States-Pakistan relations.
That this criticality in United States-Pakistan relationship has emerged at a coincident moment when United States Forces in Southern Afghanistan are making headway against Taliban strongholds is ominous. The Davis case seems to be only a pretext for the Pakistan military establishment to a tipping point where the United States yields further to Pakistan Army blackmails or failing which the United States is forced to a military exit from Afghanistan. This is not conspiracy theorizing.
It needs to be reiterated that Pakistan’s foreign policy on United States, Afghanistan and India is under direct control of the Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani. Therefore, deductively it can be stated that the downslide in United States-Pakistan relations currently underway and the lowest point that has been reached as observed by Secretary Clinton, has taken place with the full knowledge of the Pakistan Army Chief.
It is not without purpose that in Pakistan media reports, General Kayani is being attributed as having observed that Pakistan is the most bullied ally of the United States and that ‘the real aim of United States strategy is to de-nuclearize Pakistan’. Such assertions by General Kayani can whip up nationalistic fervor and also position General Kayani in Pakistan’s political space.
Such observations at the highest levels of the Pakistan military establishment raise serious policy and strategic dilemmas for the United States in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan. And its strategic implications for India cannot be far behind especially when India’s Pakistan policy is so much enmeshed in serving Washington’s strategic interests in Pakistan.
United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options: Perspectives
United States follow-up Pakistan policy options in the wake of the Davis episode would necessarily be based on the consideration of anti-American stances of the Pakistan Army establishment since 2007, the anti-American hysteria whipped up by Pakistan’s right wing groups affiliated to the Pakistan Army and what the Pakistani establishment proposes to do to resolve the Davis issue.
Additionally, the political heat presently in evidence at the top political levels and the CIA-ISI rupture would also be strong determinants. The United States would also have to take into account the impact of strained US-Pak relations on its operations in Afghanistan. In any case Pakistan has been allowing the disruption of US logistics effort through Pakistan quite frequently.
The United States would have lately gone through scenario-building exercises and war-gaming of contingencies likely to emerge from the strained relations with Pakistan. It is not possible to discuss all these in this Paper. Suffice it to say, that the United States follow-up options essentially boil down to the “Hard Option” and the “Soft Option’.
The Hard Option of the United States could initially involve strong use of political, economic and diplomatic coercion, including cut- off of military and financial aid, to make the Pakistani establishment yield on all American demands extending from the Davis episode to launching of Pak Army offensives in North Waziristan and secure logistics to Afghanistan. It is premature to visualize military intervention against Pakistan at this stage. It would be an extreme last resort arising more from another 9/11 against the United States.
The Soft Option would be to maintain the status-quo of the frayed US-Pak relationship and perpetuate the myth of a strategic partnership. Pakistan would be cajoled to release Davis from captivity and his exit from Pakistan. United States would continue business as usual with the Pakistan Army, at least till 2014.
The contextual regional security and political environment would suggest that the United States is more likely to adopt the Soft Option. However, the Soft Option adoption by the United States may not reduce the friction with Pakistan. The Pakistan Army establishment is likely to read it as American capitulation and persist in its blackmailing tactics.
As US Forces make headway in stabilization of Afghanistan, the more are the chances of Pakistan Army indulging in retrograde disruptive activities in Afghanistan not only through the Taliban but also through its affiliates like the Lashkar-e-Toiba This could strain US-Pak relations further.
Analytically, an inescapable strategic imperative for the United States would be for a radical transformation of its relationship with the Pakistani military establishment and the recasting of priorities in South Asia.
Strategic Implications Arising for India from United States Follow-up Pakistan Policy Options
Strategic implications for India in terms of Pakistan Army confrontationist stances have been a recurrent reality independent of the state of health of US-Pak relations for over the last half a century. This constancy of strategic implications arise from the hostile and confrontational Pakistan Army attitudinal approaches towards India manifested as follows (1) Proxy war in Kashmir (2) Widened and enlarged terrorist attacks all over India (3) Unprovoked border incidents and clashes along the LOC (4) Pak-China strategic nexus as an anti-Indian strategy (5) Hostile propaganda internationally against India over Kashmir and alleging India’s aggressive instincts.
With the US military intervention in Afghanistan vitally dependant on logistics lines through Pakistan, the Pakistan Army was provided a new weapon for use against India. The United States was now susceptible to Pakistan Army blackmail for use of US pressures on India to be accommodative to Pakistan Army stances on the Kashmir issue, demilitarization of Kashmir and prevent India’s political and economic involvement in Afghanistan.
The Pakistan Army strategy of blackmailing USA to pressurize India has been successful with the present Government in New Delhi repeatedly succumbing to resume dialogues with Pakistan after every major terrorist attack against India, unmindful of India’s national security interests.
Pakistan’s five manifestations of its hostile stances against India spelt out above did not cease despite Indian Government’s succumbing to US dictates favoring Pakistan. In fact Pakistan Army since 2007 has stood further emboldened under General Kayani to be more hostile to India secure in the belief of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence and United States keeping India pressurized against any retaliation against Pakistan.
In terms of United States follow-up Pakistan policy options, whether the Hard Option or the Soft Option, the crucial deduction that emerges is that in either case Pakistan stands threatened by the prospects of internal strife, Talibanization of Pakistan and possibly civil war and fragmentation.. In such an ensuing scenario where both anti-US and anti-India war hysteria is likely to be whipped up to frenzied levels, the strategic implications for India suggest heightened security vigilance, enhancing India’s war preparedness, and increasing and qualitatively improving India’s strategic weapons inventory.
If United States adopts the Soft Option as a follow-up strategy then India can expect even much more United States pressures on India to yield on the Kashmir issue, demilitarization of Kashmir and end to Indian involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction, as per Pakistan Army demands. The United Sates in the follow-up phase would be doubly prompted to increase pressures on India to re- rehabilitate itself with the Pakistani military establishment.
The Indian policy establishment needs to ask itself the serious question that irrespective of the health of United States-Pakistan relations, in the event of an India-Pakistan military showdown for whatever provocation would the United States standby with India against a Talibanized Pakistan? Also another critical question as to whether the increased Indian military equipment purchases from the United States would become subject to US sanctions in the event of an India-Pak conflict in the future?
Lastly, is it a strategically sound option for the Indian Prime Minister to keep acceding to repeated resumption of Peace Dialogues with Pakistan, when the very existence of Pakistan is in question? Peace Dialogues with Pakistan under US pressures can neither ensure peace for India nor swing the United States strategically in favor of India.
It is strange that leading policy advisers of US President Obama should be writing best seller books entitled “United States Deadly Embrace of Pakistan” and the US Administration in a doublespeak pressurizing India to go in for a “Deadly Embrace with the Pakistan Army”.
The United States-Pakistan so called strategic partnership has all along been a myth. It has now entered a severe denouement phase where damage control may be able to temporarily retrieve a semblance of normalcy but it will be a relationship that will continue to skate perilously on thin ice.
In the 1950s and 1960s when India was strategically infirm, India followed an independent policy on Pakistan. Today when India is strategically powerful and strong, the Indian Prime Minister of seven years standing has remained silent on the crucial issue as to what strategic advantages accrue to India by repeated resumption of Peace Dialogues with Pakistan under United States pressures.
India cannot mortgage its national security to the pro-US political inclinations of policy establishment or to US persuasive assessments fed to the Indian Prime Minister that Pakistan Army would be more forthcoming for peace with India if concessions were made on Kashmir.
The major strategic implications that arise for India from the falling-out of the United States and Pakistan, and irrespective whether the United States adopts the Hard Approach or the Soft Approach, India would have to enhance its security vigilance, achieve high levels of war -preparedness and be politically ready for strong deterrent actions to counter any Pakistan Army adventurism. This is all the more necessary especially when the Pakistan Army is headed by a Pakistan Army Chief who openly flaunts that he is “India-Centric” and stands rated by US intelligence establishment as the most anti-Indian Pak Army Chief ever in Pakistan’s history.
(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email:email@example.com)
Kiran Karnik Posted online: Thu Mar 03 2011, 02:42 hrs
I have been greatly dismayed at the unfair tarnishing of the ISRO image following the media-created controversy on the Devas-Antrix/ISRO agreement. I know that many former colleagues from ISRO — and, doubtless, thousands of its present staff — feel as upset as I do. While the latter cannot speak up publicly, very few of the former (just one or two brave souls) have chosen to do so; others probably want to avoid getting into a controversy.
ISRO, as you well know, has done outstanding work. Its track record of actual achievements is unmatched by any foreign space agency or by other government entities in India. Starting from Vikram Sarabhai’s days, it has stayed focused on delivering applications that are relevant to India and developing strategic and other technologies required for these. It is this, rather than the glamour of space, that attracted many of us to ISRO in the first place and kept us motivated through the decades. Much of the country’s television broadcasting, telecommunication, weather forecasting and a whole host of remote-sensing applications are powered by ISRO satellites, most of which have been launched by ISRO launch-vehicles. It has contributed greatly to science and brought much pride to the nation through its successes, including missions like Chandrayan. All this has been achieved amidst technology denials, “sanctions” and constraints, within a government system, through teams of highly motivated people of the highest integrity.
It is, therefore, a matter of concern and shame that such an organisation is being given a bad name on the basis of allegations and innuendo. The agreement with Devas, which has triggered this, is a continuation of a long history of ISRO-industry partnerships. It is such engagement with industry that has resulted in tremendous economic benefits from space programme in countries like the US. In the case of Devas, the company came up with the proposal for a new and unique service, which did not exist in India. More importantly, it brought to the table not only technical, market and managerial expertise to implement this, but risk capital. Thus, in many ways, it was a true embodiment of an ideal private-public partnership.
In terms of processes, as far as I know, this agreement went meticulously through every step: a technical assessment by Antrix/ISRO experts, approval by the Antrix board, followed by Space Commission approval. If cabinet approval was not sought for the deal (as reported in the media), the question is whether it was at all required and whether past transponder deals with private parties has gone through any such specific cabinet approvals. The method — of leasing transponders at a fixed price — was no different from that followed for the many TV channels that had earlier sought capacity for broadcasting. There has never been a history of auctions by ISRO (nor, as far as I know, by any global space agency). Satellite spectrum has always been treated differently from that on the ground, and the comparison is not just a case of apples and oranges, but two altogether different species.
Safeguarding India’s orbital slots and spectrum allocations in an internationally competitive context, and using the unique capabilities of satellite-delivered services (particularly to remote and rural areas) were important elements underlying the Devas-ISRO project. Breaking new ground technologically and creating new applications of space technology for rural areas and possibly for strategic needs were envisaged as integral parts of this effort. Little understanding or discussion of these aspects has been seen in all the mud-slinging that has taken place.
The media has gone to town with fanciful projections of presumed loss to the government (latching on to the word “spectrum” and exhibiting complete — or wilful ignorance — of the vast differences in satellite and terrestrial uses of spectrum). Apparently, the CAG, with little understanding of the differences, was the cause of much of this. Based on the fact that some of those involved in Devas were former ISRO employees, the media has made insinuations about a “sweetheart deal” — as if ISRO management and its processes are so fragile and malleable as to be swayed by such considerations; or as if experts in space technology can be hired from a municipal corporation. As a matter of fact it was (and, presumably, yet is) ISRO policy to encourage competent experts to become entrepreneurs; in many cases, they have become suppliers to ISRO. Organisations around the world do this, so as to “industrialise” R&D.
It is unfortunate that media now cry “corruption” at every deal, and sadder that the atmosphere in the country is such that most people do believe it to be so. It is reprehensible that media should, with no evidence or even inkling of any specific wrongdoing, imply that there has been corruption in a deal that is completely above board. Apart from implicating ISRO — presumed guilty by the media, and now with the onus on it to prove innocence — innuendos implicitly point the finger to past senior management of ISRO. This is sad and unfair: with weak laws on defamation, there is no real scope for remedy.
In this situation, I feel it was for ISRO authorities and others in government (particularly the latter, given that ISRO would be considered an “interested party”) to speak up and make clear that there was no indication whatsoever of corruption and no wrongdoing at any stage, that all procedures had been properly followed and that the agreement had gone through all the due processes. The situation called for an unambiguous statement, based on facts, which could have been verified in quick time. Instead, we had a long delay in responding to media allegations, ambiguous statements at a press conference by the chairman of ISRO (which overshadowed the corrective efforts made by Dr K. Kasturirangan), and then the knee-jerk reaction of immediate announcement of cancellation which — to most people, and certainly to the media — was tantamount to an implicit admission of guilt/corruption.
The deal itself is completely defensible, as is its monetary value. ISRO voluntarily (?) gave up some spectrum in this band, in favour of terrestrial users, some time ago, but yet has a majority of the remaining spectrum (beyond that which would have been used by Devas). Incidentally, there have been no takers over all these years for this (though terrestrial operators — and, therefore, DoT — continue to eye it); nor was there a queue outside ISRO’s doors for this space spectrum when Devas made its proposal. As it stands, a cancellation — without any proven wrongdoing — is sending out a negative message to investors. The ostensible reason (strategic needs and societal applications) is unlikely to find any takers amongst professionals who understand the issue.
At a more macro level, apart from the unease such sudden and unilateral action — with no discussion, no attempt at any possible corrective action like re-negotiation — will evoke amongst prospective investors, the whole concept of a public-private partnership will take a beating. Who, now, will come to the government with innovative ideas — which, by definition, cannot go through a bidding/auction process — for a partnership? Who will bring in risk capital for such new ideas? Which official will now be so foolhardy as to approve an agreement for a partnership? Who, in ISRO, will now dare to go to — leave alone seek out — industry partners to implement new applications or develop new technologies?
It is unfortunate that Devas and its professionals, too, have been most unfairly given a bad name in the process. However, I am more deeply concerned about ISRO and how its standing has taken a beating, thanks to a witch-hunting media which sees a crook behind every door (legitimised by the fact that there is a crook behind most doors), politicians who are willing to destroy painstakingly-built institutions to score political points, and a government that seems unwilling to stand up and defend the upright.
I would urge you, not only as prime minister, but equally as one of the most respected persons in the country, to defend and restore the reputation and image of ISRO. I would request you to persuade politicians across party lines (including ministers from your own party) to stop making baseless allegations that demean ISRO and its past leaders. There is little that you can directly do about the media, but the right words from you can correct the falsehoods that are being propagated. The committee that has been set up will, I am sure, determine if there was any “scam” at all, and hopefully end the vague and damaging generalisations that sully and demoralise a vital national organisation. If everything was above board, it will be interesting to know what interests — who and why — triggered this and with what intent.
My sincere apologies for inflicting this long letter on you: I would probably not have done so had it been an individual view-point. However, I am reflecting the collective angst of many who are proud to have worked in ISRO or been associated with it in some way, and so have taken it on myself to be the messenger.
In closing, let me add a formal disclosure: I was an independent member of the Devas board for about two years, up to February 9, 2011, and worked in ISRO for over 20 years, up to 1991.
The writer is former president, NASSCOM
Armed Forces are not meant to parade on the Raj Path on Republic Day displaying their might to impress the domestic and international audience. They are the vital instrument of implementing a nation’s will both in peace and war. To this end, the nation’s military represents the ultimate and final arbiter in projecting “National Will”. This calls for planned growth over the years based on a sound modernisation plan. This is a must to ensure that the forces retain their edge and win India‘s wars and serve as a credible deterrence during peace.
It can be proved without doubt that India’s past two wars of 1965 and 1971 were actually two front wars with China managing to tie down India forces by its pro Pakistan stance. This relation ship has only grown stronger over the years. Add to this Chinese theory of “String of Pearls“ and the picture is complete.
A country which faces threats on a two and a half fronts cannot but strengthen this instrument of state’sComprehensive National Power. This, apart from keeping the military current and potent through tough training, requires pragmatic investments in its arming. Economics plays a crucial role here. When the potential adversaries are spending to the tune of $150 Billion on their militaries, the current Indian defence budget, which promises a mere Rs 60,000 crores for product acquisition, is grossly inadequate. If we study the numbers, we come to the conclusion that the capital budget of Rs 60,000 leaves only about one third or so for new acquisitions. The remainder being used to service the existing commitments.
For a nation with a periphery of contradictions, this is grossly inadequate. We want the military to be wired, lethal and light. This calls for right investments to be made across the three services to develop capability and threat based forces.
Our neighbours and potential adversaries merit a look here. As General Ashok Mehta comments, “IfIndia-China relations are at the lowest today, China-Pakistan relations have climbed to new heights and there will be more than menacing sounds in the event of conflict. The speed of Chinese defence modernisation is in sharp contrast to India’s lethargic response. The PLA’s first aircraft carrier, Shi Lang, will take to sea four years ahead of schedule at the end of the year and five more will follow in a decade. China’s submarine fleet will reach 100 vessels in the next three to five years and its stealth fighter has been tested. A new anti-ship missile is also reported operational. Technology and fire power at the disposal of the PLA have grown fast and thanks to the Chinese economic miracle, the Defence Budget has been boosted five-fold in the last decade, touching nearly $90 billion though the actual figure could be as high as $150 billion. China has sent a general warning to keep off South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet”.
Can India sharpen the Look East Policy to counter the String of Pearls? This would take the sheen off the string and enable India to concentrate on Public Diplomacy to meet its ends on this front. It will require a commitment borne out of a high degree of pragmatic application of India’s politico military diplomacy. Are we ready to use this instrument? This notwithstanding, Indian military needs to modernise despite a counter to the string of pearls through public diplomacy. A respected analyst argues:-
Cant we puzzle China by creating a counter pearl necklace around it? They seem to be becoming aware that we just might do that and are worried. Cultivate all the ASEAN countries, join them; invest in them financially, commercially, educationally, culturally, socially and you will have created a huge problem/ alternative for SEAC which wasn’t there earlier. That would be exposition of Indian jugad at its best.
This is one area where the Defence forces, MEA, Finance, Education, Oil, Industry, Commerce, Culture ministries all have a stake.
The trouble is that we have given no credence to military diplomacy else countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Indonesia would have been helping our string of pearls. Bhutan and some African countries are examples of our successful military diplomacy through organisations such as IMTRAT. The Look East is a must and we have written adequately on it but who is listening. Else Bangladesh and Myanmar would have been our friends with strong military to military contacts.
This notwithstanding, the “why” of modernising the military has unfortunately still not sunk in completely. In our earlier article we had argued for a military commission to be set up to ensure modernisation of the military lest we continue to arm without aiming. History has it that the Indian Military was found wanting in previous incidents of using hard power to meet the national interests due to its ‘unpreparedness’. Even today the situation has not changed much.
To that end, this is a populist budget and “more will be made available when needed” proves our willingness and compulsions to follow knee jerk responses to National Security.
To put the record straight, our China threat has only multiplied over the years while Pakistan continues to poke a finger at us through incidents like Kargil. Recent assertions of being capable of managing the India threat after Exercise Azm e Nau are not new. Together, the two pose a strong case for a credible military capability under the nuclear shadow. The “half front” of a full blown insurgency and naxalism requires a “third force” capable of handling threats to internal security. This article in rediff.com calls for serious introspection, “China lends us; we give to Pak; Pak makes nukes”. All the tears we expend; all the railing we do will not change the main lack/lacunae in our military thinking that we gain nothing by ruing China’s military reach over us. It has always been there; will always be there.
However, the nation has to modernise the armed forces in tune with its threats it faces and is likely to face over the next decade, China not withstanding.
Restructuring and modernising the armed forces will require political courage, military astuteness, a non parochial approach and a singularity of purpose.
With India’s defence budget now pegged at less than 2.0 per cent of the GDP, the funds available for modernisation of the armed forces are grossly inadequate. Or do we need to restructure the formula to a threat based dispensation. This way we would have the luxury to be ostrich like in relegating threats to national security. Then there is the need to build capabilities to keep India secure. Whatever the formula, the need to keep the military capable of dealing with any exigency is paramount.
The essence therefore is in instituting pragmatic approach based on our capability to meet all the threats with suitable capabilities. Till that is comprehended as a sub set of Comprehensive National Power, we shall evolve all wrong formulae with requisite myopia in place.
What does it mean for a state to be sovereign? Apart from exercising monopoly of force and writ of law more or less homogenously over the state territory, one of the most important elements of state sovereignty is the ability to pay its own bills. While Pakistan is making strides in the former, it has made no progress in the latter
Pakistanis are outraged by US Ambassador Munter’s reported assertion that the US government is entitled to influence Pakistan’s internal affairs in exchange for US assistance. The US is Pakistan’s largest source of economic support either directly or through international financial institutions. These funds enable the government of Pakistan — if not the state — to survive.
Pakistanis naturally resent this situation because they have no leverage in Pakistan’s relationship with Washington and thus are beholden to Washington’s diktat. They are right: this funding renders Pakistan answerable to the US taxpayer (e.g. me) rather than Pakistanis (e.g. you).
But this anger towards Washington is misplaced. Pakistanis should ask why it is that their state — including its massive, nuclear-armed military — requires outside assistance on the scale it does when Pakistan in fact has considerable national wealth.
Pakistan is not a Somalia. Why is that neighbouring India can pay its way, having transformed itself from an aid-receiving to an aid-granting state, while Pakistan must grovel at the table of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multilateral and bilateral donors? Indeed it is India’s financial success that has drawn global capitals to its doorstep seeking to sell India’s state and central governments weapon systems, surveillance technology, power plants, and other needed infrastructure and commodities needed and demanded by the growing country and its millions. It is India’s growing economic heft that gives it leverage in the strategic partnerships it forges — including those with the US and Israel.
There is no reason why Pakistan cannot step out of the shadow of its servitude and into the light of sovereignty. After all, Pakistanis are hardworking and proud patriots.
What does it mean for a state to be sovereign? Apart from exercising monopoly of force and writ of law more or less homogenously over the state territory, one of the most important elements of state sovereignty is the ability to pay its own bills. While Pakistan is making strides in the former, it has made no progress in the latter.
To free Pakistan of international meddling, Pakistan’s political leaders need only to subject themselves and their patronage networks to an agricultural and industrial tax, a move which Pakistan’s leadership has steadfastly avoided throughout the state’s entire history. Of course, it must improve income tax compliance too.
Given this refusal to expand its tax net, the state relies upon an admixture of international assistance and punitive and regressive domestic sales and income taxes to pay its bills. Sales taxes are especially regressive because they affect the poor far more than the wealthy. Government servants — whose income tax is deducted from their wages — and other honest income tax payers pay their way while the wealthy agriculturalists and business elite abscond. Bangladesh has a better tax compliance record than Pakistan.
The sad truth is that Pakistan’s elites –many of whom sit and have sat and will sit in parliament—have chosen to subjugate their country for their own personal accumulation and preservation of wealth. This should be the focus of public outrage: not Washington’s expectation that its massive investment in Pakistan yield some return for the interests of its taxpayers.
Some readers of this missive may counter that China and Saudi Arabia help Pakistan without such expectations. These cherished myths are rubbish.
What has China done for Pakistan? It did not help Pakistan in any of its wars with India in 1965, 1971 or the Kargil crisis of 1999, when it took the same line as the US and even India. It did little to help Pakistan in the 2001-2002 crisis with India and it even voted in the UN Security Council to declare Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) a terrorist organisation in 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai terror outrage.
The roads and ports and other infrastructure that the Chinese are building in Pakistan principally benefit China. Pakistanis are an afterthought. The Chinese obtain contracts on favourable and profitable investment terms, use their own employees, and contribute little to the local economy ultimately to build projects that facilitate the movement and sales of cheap (but also dangerous and poorly crafted) Chinese goods and products into and through Pakistan.
It is a sad fact that China uses Pakistan for its foreign policy aims as well. It provides Pakistan nuclear assistance and large amounts of military assistance to purchase subpar military platforms in hopes of sustaining Pakistan’s anti-status quo policy towards India. By encouraging Pakistani adventurism towards India, Beijing hopes that India’s massive defence modernisation and status of forces remain focused upon Pakistan — not China. China wants to sustain the animosity between India and Pakistan but it certainly does not want an actual conflict to ensue as it would then be forced to show its hand again — by not supporting Pakistan in such a conflict.
What about Saudi Arabia? The increasingly broke US citizen provided more assistance to Pakistan’s flood victims than Pakistan’s Islamic, oil tycoon brethren in Saudi Arabia. While the US government has not figured out how to give aid in a way that minimises corruption and maximises benefit, Pakistanis should note that at least the US tries to do so in contrast to Saudi Arabia, which simply abdicates.
Saudi Arabia does fund madrassas, albeit of a highly sectarian variety. Yet, Pakistan does not need more madrassas. In fact, the educational market shows that Pakistani interest in madrassa education is stagnant while interest in private schooling is expanding. Unfortunately, those madrassas and Islamic institutions that Saudi Arabia does support have contributed to a bloody sectarian divide in Pakistan that has killed far more innocent Pakistanis than the inaccurately reviled US drone programme a thousand times over.
In short, Saudi Arabia too uses Pakistan to isolate Shia Iran and to promote the dominance of Wahabiism over other Sunni maslaks (sub-sects) and over all Shia maslaks. Pakistan has paid a bloody price for the Saudis’ assistance.
There is no such thing as “friends” in international relations. Any country will help Pakistan because it expects that doing so will advance its interests, not necessarily those of Pakistan and its citizenry. Pakistan will never be free of the “nok” of donors until it raises its own revenue from its own domestic resources.
There is another important reason why all Pakistanis should pay local and federal taxes according to their means: it is the bond that ties the governed to the government. When the state extracts taxes from its citizenry, the citizens demand services in return. When the government fails to perform at either local or federal levels, the citizens have the opportunity to vote the miscreants out of office. The incoming elected officials learn, over the course of several electoral cycles, to be responsive to the voters, not dismissive of the same. Within constitutional democracies, payment of taxes is the most important mechanism by which citizens exert control over their government.
If Pakistanis genuinely want to toss off the yoke of financial servitude and gain a genuine stake in their government, they should stop howling at the US government. Instead, the street power mobilised to support a flawed law and a murderer should be redirected to policy issues that are critical to the state’s survival. And rest assured, financial sovereignty is one such issue.
The writer is an assistant professor at Georgetown University, Peace and Security Studies Programme. She can be reached by Christinefair.net