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Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Such theories are far-fetched and could communicate a sense of fear and nervousness among the public and encourage adventurism among brash adversaries. This is not how national diplomacy is conducted

Jumpy, Jingoistic and Muddled in Turn

Political speculation and media reaction to the Pakistan nuclear build-up indicates a jumpiness that encourages thoughtless adventurism.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 13 September, 2009

Certain media and political reactions in the recent past appear to betray signs of jumpiness and jingoism that are unwarranted and immature. It started with a comment by one of the Pokhran-II team that the thermo-nuclear test conducted in 1998 was a “fizzle” as it was of a lower value than made out. This view was supported by some scientists and strongly rebutted by others, including the then Pokhran team leader, Dr Chidambaram, and the current Director of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Kakodkar. Such surmises had been made at the time by some foreign scientists as well.

The latest controversy blew up just as reports had come in to the effect that Pakistan had both quantitatively and qualitatively improved its nuclear arsenal and delivery systems, the latter by illicitly modifying American aircraft and missiles intended for a purpose other than striking land based targets along the India’s west coast in violation of an end-use agreement. The US is looking into the charge and the outcome must be awaited.

For the rest, none questioned the quality of the fission tests conducted at Pokhran. But the question posed was that India was now threatened by Pakistan’s superior capabilities and must therefore conduct more tests to insure the credibility of its own nuclear deterrent and second strike capability on the basis of which its well considered no-first use doctrine has been postulated and should not be unsettled in any political stampede. Fortunately hype did not turn into hysteria on this occasion though it was asserted that any hint of deficiency could impact military morale and postures and hobble Indian diplomacy.

Such theories are far-fetched and could communicate a sense of fear and nervousness among the public and encourage adventurism among brash adversaries. This is not how national diplomacy is conducted and, as in the case of the civil nuclear deal, the insinuation even if not the effect, howsoever inadvertent, smacked of trying to corner the Government which is not unaware of past criticism on these lines and must be credited with the wisdom to have reviewed all factors and taken necessary corrective measures.

The same must be said about periodic outcries of how our armed forces are hopelessly under-equipped and lagging in modernisation. The country’s decision making processes are certainly dilatory and an element of paralysis is periodically evident on account of exaggerated responses to possible corruption, which is sometimes orchestrated by interested quarters in the country and outside precisely in order to stall critical decisions for collateral reasons. Thus references to the size of China’s military budget and the speed of its modernization programmes can be pushed to excess to inhibit national stances and diplomacy. India’s defensive capabilities are such that it would be extremely rash for China to attempt a repeat of 1962, which was more a political than a military disaster. “Be prepared” and get the best and latest may be a sound motto. But it requires a fine sense of judgement to balance the demands of guns and butter. The critics themselves cheerfully seek much more of everything, quite oblivious of contradictions in their stand.

The same sense of jumpiness and jingoism was evident in some reactions to reports of Chinese intrusions in Ladakh and the Eastern Himalayan sector, coupled with Beijing’s renewed paranoia over what it calls “southern Tibet”. Arunachal is part and parcel of India, which is not going to slow down on development of this region and normal comings and goings within its territory. Arunachal is not “disputed” territory and the old game of pushing some mythical Chinese claim line further and further south and west in  Arunachal and Ladakh respectively will no longer work even if some rocks are painted with Chinese characters. What these antics suggest is nervousness in Beijing over its tenuous position in Tibet and Xinjiang and the undimmed, even growing, popularity of the Dalai Lama whose proposed visit to Arunachal occasioned the Chinese outburst.

The prize muddle of the week has perhaps been the Government of India’s knee jerk reaction protesting Pakistan’s bid to grant a modicum of delayed local autonomy and incipient provincial stratus to the Northern Areas, renamed Gilgit-Baltistan, and charging it with seeking to change the status quo in this disputed region. The autonomy proposed is far less than what the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered many years ago and even less than what the local populace clearly desires. But it will be a modest step forward, if implemented, even if under an all-powerful Governor from Islamabad in the guise of the Kashmir Affairs Minister. The latest action is in line with the stalled move to absorb POK and the Northern Areas into Pakistan in stages and thereby gradually confirm the LOC as the international boundary as orally negotiated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with Mrs Gandhi at Simla in 1972. This was to pave the way for a final Kashmir settlement. But Bhutto reneged on his unwritten promise.

If this process has now been resumed, it fits in with the current Indian posture that boundaries (the LOC in this case) cannot be altered but can be reduced to a mere “line on the map” by promoting trans-boundary movement, trade and investment, cultural exchange and other forms of cooperation. So the protest lodged with Pakistan is inexplicable and misplaced.

Equally puzzling is the concurrent protest about Pakistan’s decision to go ahead with the construction of the Bunji (7000 MW) dam, otherwise known as the Bhasha-Diamer project beyond Chilas on the Indus, on the border of the NWFP and the Northern Areas, with Chinese assistance. This is absurd. India has conceded Pakistan riparian rights on the three Western Rivers under the Indus Treaty (1960) and the very first dam to be constructed by Pakistan was the Mangla Dam on the Jhelum near Mirpur whose height has just recently been raised, again with Chinese assistance, to obviate silting and to augment the reservoir capacity and power output. All this under the wary eye of the Indian Indus Commissioner. A pro forma protest to assert India’s basic position that all of J&K is legally its until a final resolution on some other agreed basis is in place would be in order. But if the current protest goes beyond that it could vitiate India’s evolving negotiating position to reach a mutually agreed J&K settlement at the end of the composite dialogue. Clarification is indicated so that the country is not trapped in a powerful muddle.

Indeed, what with climate change imperilling both India and Pakistan, especially in the Indus basin, the two sides need to cooperate on water and move forward to Indus-II through joint cooperation, as provided for under Article VII of the Indus Treaty. Dr Manmohan Singh hinted at such a possibility some time back and this door should be left open. Yes, Pakistan has been dragging its feet over 26/11 and uprooting the jihadi infrastructure. There has been increased infiltration across the LOC with covering Pakistani fire. But the Gilgit-Baltistan announcement, that reportedly awaits ratification, could be a forward step and not a regression.

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