Friday, January 9, 2009

Copycats 2: Israel, India and Pakistan

CNN IBN is not the only media outlet asking if India should bomb Pakistan, emulating Israel's assault on Gaza. A concise response to such an idea is provided by Tunku Varadarajan in a Forbes magazine article .
When the possibility of attacking Pakistan is brought up in Indian newspapers and on television, there is, as a rule, no serious discussion of a potential nuclear holocaust. Pundits speak of surgical strikes and limited war, ignoring the atomic weapons pointed at Bombay and Delhi. We have no way of stopping those once the missiles take off. All we could do in response to the killing of millions of our civilians is to kill millions of Pakistani civilians. There is now talk of India buying a missile shield from the US, but it will be years before we get it and the technology's unproven in any case.
If Hamas had nuclear weapons, Israel would never have attacked Gaza. If Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, Bush would never have invaded Iraq.
India, then, needs to exert diplomatic pressure without rattling sabres, and that's precisely what it is doing. Nothing pleases Pakistan's politicians more than headlines about war. The world immediately get scared and does all it can to cool things down between the countries. The United States, which wants Pakistan's forces to focus on the border with Afghanistan, asks India to tone down its rhetoric in order to stop any shifting of battalions eastward. Attention is drawn away from the roots of the crisis.
Pakistan's foreign minister tried to highlight the threat of war in a television address, but India didn't take the bait. It continued to demand a crackdown by Pakistan on militant groups. It saw that the Pakistani government had painted itself into a corner by reflexively talking about the need for proper evidence, and denying the terrorists were Pakistani. This time India did have evidence about the origins of the attackers. One of them was captured on cameras and closed circuit TV and then captured by the police. Now the Pakistan government has really tied itself in knots over the issue, as demonstrated by the sacking of the National Security Advisor.
Compare the measured response of India now with its bellicosity after the Parliament attack of December 2001. All leave was cancelled for military personnel, and troops were sent to frontlines. Threats and counter-threats filled the airwaves. In May 2002, Prime Minister Vajpayee went to Kashmir and told troops to prepare for a 'decisive battle'. Of course, it was all just posturing, he was never going to be able to carry out the threat. In the end, nothing whatsoever was achieved by a tense standoff that lasted over a year.
I have two classmates who joined the military after school: KJ is a naval officer and MB is in the army. KJ was posted in Bombay through the 2001-2002 crisis. When we met one day, he spoke of how easy he had it compared to MB, who was stuck in a tent near Jaisalmer in 50 degree celsius heat. That's how army officers and jawans spent 2002: without leave, without any opportunity to see their families. Does wonders for morale.
I'm glad the current administration is low on posturing and high on procedure. That's what you get when policy wonks are in charge rather than poets. No charisma at all, little to appeal to the media or the public at large, but in the end more effective in making India's case to the world. I can't bear to watch Manmohan Singh speak for more than two minutes, but there's no man I would rather have at India's helm during the current global financial crisis.
Pranab Mukherjee, I believe, has been an outstanding external affairs minister. He is, in a way, a ridiculous figure. It's almost embarrassing seeing his 4 foot 10 frame next to visiting foreign secretaries. Condoleezza Rice always has an amused smile when she's with him, and it sometimes appears she's trying hard to stop it from turning into a giggle.

Mukherjee's Bengali accent is so thick that I have problems deciphering what he is saying. I can only imagine the difficulty foreign visitors go through. It would be rude to ask for a translator, but how else to conduct a proper conversation?
The Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the other hand has a bearing worthy of his impressive name. He is tall and poised, immaculately dressed, equally comfortable in Urdu and English. Clearly a member of the feudal elite, the sort who possess thousands of acres and an Oxbridge education.

Once you get past Mukherjee's physical limitations, however, you develop great respect for him. The nuclear deal negotiated by India with the US under his watch was the single greatest triumph of Indian diplomacy in the past thirty years. His speech in Parliament during the debate about the 123 Agreement was outstanding, though his careful argument was overshadowed by Rahul Gandhi's dimples.
It's a pity so many Indians are deluded by the bluster of right-wingers and take to parroting nonsense about the country being a 'soft state'. What we need to be is not a soft state or a hard state but a smart state. A smart state is aware of its limitations. It does not cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war against a neighbour armed with nuclear weapons. And it understands there are many kinds of pressure that can be brought to bear on countries aside from the threat of invasion or bombing.


Anonymous said...

hi, Glad to have discovered your blog although i didnt always agree with what you wrote in your columns. Having said that, this post is absolutely spot on. PM's accent was one reason i was astonished by the Zardari hoax call. I reckon the the foreign secy. would also find him difficult to comprehend and Zardari actually got taken in by someone who could hardly have copied PM's accent. Just how (un)intelligent is Zardari ? As for right wing bluster, i am inclined to think its directly proportional to left leaning brigades' illogical and vehement opposition of all investigations that involve persons of islamic faith. S. Anand

Girish Shahane said...

Hi S.A, one of the reasons I shifted to blogging was because it allowed debates with people who disagreed with me. Do write in to contest my arguments.

Anonymous said...

If Talibani military success continues, then Pakistan's eastern border will merge with the western border. And India will become a 'frontline ally in the war against terror' - remember that phrase? We are heading for a mother-of-all refugee crisis. ~Sanjay B~

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you're appreciating Pranab Mukherjee. One day we Bengalis, despite looking ridiculous and sounding foolish, will rule the world and the Bushism "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully" will be proved to be entirely incorrect. Less facetiously, I can't understand why people think clamouring for war is going to solve anything. Particularly since one of the first people to suggest we opt for military action was the noted thinker Simi Garewal.

Girish Shahane said...

Welcome, anonandon, pleasure to have you here. I think Bengali women look perfectly fine, by the way, it's only the men who have some issues, which you have written about yourself, now and then...

DS said...

Did you attend the lectures by Asoke Kumar Das on Mughal miniature at JP? On the second day I overcame my shyness (and impaired hearing, the 2 aforementioned teflon pistoned ears) and sat in the front row desperately trying to lip read. That was obviously futile, in the end I gave up and the 50% I managed to garner and the excellent slides and the fact that he was an obvious master of his subject was enough to pull me back there 5 days in a row.But the Bengali accent still stumps me, Pranab Mukherjee would be a serious candidate for subtitles even as he speaks English... Deepika

Girish Shahane said...

Yup, I was there all five days. He was obviously most keen on Akbar and gave the other guys short shrift, but what he offered, once deciphered, was excellent.