Delhi, its honest rulers and their foolish gambles

The strategic consequences of Manmohan Singh’s vulnerability

So he stood his ground, and didn’t make use of the lifelines that were created for him by the foreign ministry.

Whether he intended it or not, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made himself personally vulnerable. Whether he intended it or not, his Sharm-el-Sheikh lollipop is a gamble: if there is another Pakistan-originated terrorist attack during his tenure, Dr Singh will be thrown to the dogs by his own party; if there isn’t one, as the phrase goes, Singh is King. Since the only people who can prevent a Pakistan-originated terrorist attack are the powers that be in Pakistan—whether it is Asif Ali Zardari, Yousuf Raza Gilani or the military-jihadi complex—Dr Singh’s fate is effectively in the hands of his Pakistani adversaries. Another terrorist attack during the UPA government’s second innings will certainly hurt India; but it will (okay, okay, it might) end Dr Singh’s prime ministerial career.

And just what will Messrs Zardari, Gilani and Kayani do when they realise that they have Dr Singh by the, well, jugular? In addition to using the Balochistan reference to obfuscate their culpability in the Talibanisation of Pakistani society, first they’ll rub their hands in glee: they suddenly have more than just ‘mutual interdependency’ without even having to build a gas pipeline and then blackmail India over it.

Second, they can—with genuine or faux sincerity—suggest that unless India makes concessions over Jammu & Kashmir and a number of other bilateral issues, it will be very hard to rein in the jihadis. Dr Singh’s gamble leaves him ever more vulnerable to this old blackmail. It does not matter if Messrs Zardari & Gilani can or cannot actually do anything about the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and it does not matter if they do anything about it or not, they will still be able to ask India to make progress on the composite dialogue to keep the ‘peace process’ moving.

Third, should another terrorist attack occur, Messrs Zardari & Gilani can first deny, then offer to investigate, then admit that it originated in Pakistan. And anyway, what’s a little terrorism between dialogue partners? In New Delhi, like they sacked the incompetent Shivraj Patil after too much damage had already occurred, the Congress Party might be compelled to seek Dr Singh’s resignation.

The only way Singh can be King is when there is no major terrorist attack. Only major concessions by India might prevent those attacks from happening. Marammat muqaddar ki kar do Maula, mere Maula!

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38 Responses to Delhi, its honest rulers and their foolish gambles

  1. neelakantan 30th July 2009 at 08:46 #

    So what if Singh cant be king at some point of time? Theres our supercool heir in waiting. Now thats one interesting gambit I say.

  2. Mohan 30th July 2009 at 09:31 #

    After the Sharm-al-Sheikh gaffe, any more concessions or even conciliatory attitude towards Pakistan on Singh’s part is more likely to end his Prime Ministership than a terrorist attack on India. Knowing that, Dr. Singh will be tougher towards Pakistan than he would have been without the joint statement. That is, his attitude will be, I have made the concession I could. Now it is your (Pakistan’s) job to show progress.

  3. Aryan 30th July 2009 at 10:03 #

    Who cares whether a 2 bit chaprasi who is beholden to a glorified waitress, survives or is proclaimed king. The goal should be to prevent another terrorist attack and inflict enough pain on the military jihadi complex that they cease and desist from killing our countrymen. You need the merchant of death to do that. Eunuchs are only good for wedding dances.

  4. Udayan 30th July 2009 at 11:29 #

    Dear Sir,

    Should I detect here a reference to another foolish gamble by another honest ruler of Indraprastha?

    We all know how that turned out.

  5. chanakya 30th July 2009 at 12:16 #

    Off-topic comment deleted. Please use the Open Thread for posting off-topic comments – Ed

  6. Jagadish 30th July 2009 at 13:14 #

    The very fact that Gilani has been applauding Manmohan’s speech in Parliament is a sure give-away about this potentially being a monumental cock-up.

    Now all we need is for someone to say that MMS took a ‘brave’ decision, and we’ll all reach out for the Jim Hacker diaries!

  7. murugan 30th July 2009 at 13:51 #

    I think Aryan hit the nail on the head.
    We need more people in India who can call a spade a spade.
    Its time, the cobweb ridden Indian defence strategists started planning
    for tax payers security in this country.
    We are paying thousands of crores in taxes for a state that cant prevent(protect) its
    citizens being turned to tomato soup on the streets of our cities, let alone provide, roti, kapda, makhan, bijli, paani aur sadak [food, clothing, shelter, electricity, water and roads]

  8. AG 30th July 2009 at 14:06 #

    This is a perfect win-win for the congress.

    If there are no attacks, MMS will become the ‘best statesman since nehru (whatever that means)’

    If not, he can be ejected, and the (drum roll) scion can ascend the throne.

    I gotta hand it to them — they’ve learnt how to sit back, relax and run this place.
    The BJP and the so called opposition have no clue.

  9. Primary Red 30th July 2009 at 17:48 #

    I write this as a long-time and unrepentant hawk on Pakistan

    Let’s do a thought experiment and turn the clock back to before Sharm

    Where were we? In a paralyzed stalemate, desperately trying to balance our rage with Pakistan and flirtation with global power

    Were we to have retaliated militarily after Mumbai (or under BJP, after Kaluchak and the Parliament attack), we would have satisfied hawks like me. But, we must recognize that this would have come at a cost — our economic growth (which generates naive machismo among many Indians) would have been severely dented as also our romance with America

    Is this a cost India is prepared to pay? I’m sorry to say, no. I know this from the endless debates on this topic when I called for war before

    So, it is easy to viciously tear into Dr. Singh or Mr. Vajpayee (I regret attacking the latter myself when I wrote a blog) but perhaps some reflection is also in order

    For 50 years, India and Pakistan have been locked in a stalemate where our respective power structures are vested in making no progress whatsoever. Pakistan’s power elite are evil and would kill to keep us down. India’s power elite are venal, worried about self-preservation above even national interest. We can leave our people’s fate to these folks — which means any act of daring that tries to move things forward is denounced as cowardly — or we can throw a little caution to the wind and try something new

    We are the victims of terror. We have now made an unexpected move to break the logjam. We have shown the world (again) that we are the responsible nation in the region, worthy of our growing global clout

    If the enemy’s response is the same old same old, this will be no longer about Dr. Singh’s future (which doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things). This will lead to war (aar paar ki ladai, to quote a former PM) blessed by the world, or will (less likely) lead to peace on our terms. Either is better than the stalemate which our power elite seems to prefer

    How pray does his boldness make Dr. Singh a “chaprasi” or a “eunuch”?

    Best regards

  10. Nitin 30th July 2009 at 18:00 #

    Primary Red,

    As an unapologetic realist I will be the first to agree that talking to Pakistan is a necessary condition. The point is this—there was no need for a bilateral agreement on doing this. India could have done so on its own terms…unilaterally.

    There was nothing to stop Dr Singh from announcing that that he has seen some signs of progress in what Pakistan has delivered and therefore, we will encourage them by opening up the talk channel. India would effectively retain the ability to calibrate what is discussed, when etc. If this move had been preceded by an attempt to arrive at a bipartisan consensus on the way forward, we would have been spared of this ghastly outcome.

    So Manmohan Singh clearly gave Gilani a lollipop (and in Balochistan, a stick to beat us with). That is inexplicable. I’ve written that this could be high strategy that is beyond my ability to understand, or it is very foolish. At such times, I choose to be the little kid pointing out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes.

    But I agree with you that indulging in name-calling is juvenile: other than lowering the level of discourse, and allowing the angry to vent, it serves no useful purpose.

  11. Aryan 30th July 2009 at 19:07 #

    What if 26/11 had happened in Tel aviv or Beijing or New York. Imagine their response. They would respond robustly to bring the pain to their enemies. What did Dr Singh do?

    After 26/11 the correct response should have been to activate India’s covert assets in Pakistan, not to go to war. I think any people that decide they will not fight the enemy because they were too concerned about their economy are doomed to be extinct. We cannot talk pakistan out of terror. Pakistanis are realists, we have to speak the language of power and brutality that they understand.

    The pak army is distracted, the baluchis want out, Karachi is a ethnic tinderbox, all we have to do is lit a match. We have to make sure we provide enough fuel to sustain the fire. Now ISI will have real internal enemies to deal with and we will have a bargaining chip on the table.

    If the truth is very ugly, one might find its description to be offensive. One should contrast the pictures of a bloody chatrapati shivaji station with our honorable PM’s smiling ‘adaab’ to a pakistani law maker. Now that’s offensive.

  12. The Rational Fool 30th July 2009 at 20:35 #

    Pranab Kumar Mukherjee, according to TOI:

    “Neither have we succumbed to terrorism nor will we stop talking…”

    “…talking did not mean the resumption of a full-fledged dialogue”

    “He also defended the inclusion of Balochistan in the July 16 India-Pakistan joint statement saying a unilateral reference…”

    If this is not high strategy, I don’t know what is – the contortionist, while tying himself into knots, is actually signaling the enemy how strong and flexible he is!

    But, here is the clincher:
    Ruling out war as an option, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Thursday reinforced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s position that
    there was no alternative but to keep talking to Pakistan…”

    Even the Obama Administration wouldn’t take war with Iran off the table!

  13. The Rational Fool 30th July 2009 at 20:36 #

    Sorry, Nitin, forgot to close the anchor tag. Please correct, if possible.

  14. Chandra 30th July 2009 at 21:39 #

    “We have shown the world (again) that we are the responsible nation in the region, worthy of our growing global clout”

    Primary Red,

    Unfortunately you’re falling into the same trap. Pleasing the world does not get global clout. Standing up for ones interest, no matter what, does.

    As for Sri Vajpayee, you were right to be critical of him then. Imagine if he did approve going to into Pakistan then! With Bush one side, Vajpayee on the other, the swamp could have been cleaned up by now.

    Instead we still wait for global approval and direction from apparent superpowers, which is what Sri Vajpayee was seeking then. And, of course, we still wait another Mumbai terror attack or another train bombing killing hundreds.

    Finally, does anyone of us realistically think, Pakistan would stop jihad against India, which it started 60 years, 50 years from now? If not, why be the victim for 50 more years? We are waiting for someone else to do our job. Despite looking for apparent global sympathy, no one else will clean up our mess. Even if we become, surely accidentally, the largest economy in the world and unheralded global clout in the future.

  15. Savera 30th July 2009 at 23:53 #

    Although there has been a long wave of mistrust between Pakistan and India for last 60 years and India managed to break Pakistan into 2 pieces in 1971, yet Zardari led PPP government is honest in making peace deal with India. Just before Mumbai attacks in a video conference, Zardari was addressing to Indians and he was saying that every Pakistani has an Indian in it and vice versa, similarly FM Qureshi was on visit to India when Mumbai carnage occurred. If Pakistani establishment or Zardari led PPP government would have planned Mumbai attacks, they would have not synchronized the timings of visit of FM Qureshi to India with timings of Mumbai attack. Pakistan has fully cooperated in Mumbai probe. Pakistan knows peace is the ultimate solution to problems of India and Pakistan. Let’s not doubt upon offer of Zardari and Gillani for dialogue. Enough is enough; both Pakistan and India have passed 60 years in hatred environments. Lets take advantage of PPP government‘s offer of peace and make these 2 countries adobe of peace.

  16. Nerus 31st July 2009 at 00:21 #

    Quoting Nitin: “So Manmohan Singh clearly gave Gilani a lollipop (and in Balochistan, a stick to beat us with). That is inexplicable.”

    I disagree.

    A ‘realist’ like you should know that without the offer of the proverbial ‘lollipop’, there is no incentive for the civilian establishment in Pakistan to take action against the terrorists.

    The civilian establishment in Pakistan offers the only chance for peace. Some ‘lollipops’ must be thrown at them to achieve our ends.

    A ‘realist’ like you should know that today we don’t have a stick to beat Pakistan with (unless one wants to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face). ‘Lollipops’ thrown to comparatively friendlier Pakistanis (the civilian govt) is the only way for lasting peace.

  17. chanakya 31st July 2009 at 00:51 #

    “stabilize and strengthen the civilian gov” has been the argument in favor of constant indian accommodation of the pakistani jihadi complex. if you haven’t figured it out by now, the army has always and will continue to call the shots in pakistan. remember what happened when zardari was going to send the director of the isi? kayani called a meeting and gave him a dressing down. let’s stop kidding ourselves with these canards about supporting democracy in pakistan. the army will not relinquish power. the sooner the arundhati roy types realize that, the sooner india will have to stop paying the price for this misguided naivety. PVNR instituted many covert programs to inflict punishment on the isi, but as always, india wins the lottery with its leaders, and IK Gujral dismantled it with his “disproportionate reciprocity” policy. india has been suffering tenfold since…

  18. chanakya 31st July 2009 at 01:04 #

    interesting perspective on india-pakistan relations vis-a-vis those who argue “peace in our time”:

    Link

  19. libertarian 31st July 2009 at 04:40 #

    Primary Red: your idea of breaking the logjam is interesting. Your take implies that this Pakistan’s last chance at redeeming itself. The next logical course, you seem to imply, is war. I seriously doubt it. Short of an bald-faced invasion by the Pak Army – of the Kargil-on-steroids variety – I don’t India reacting militarily. Pakistan has established, through multiple deadly experiments, that a few score dead Indians each time is not a red line they do not cross. So they will continue poking their finger in our collective eye and expect Sharm-el-Sheikh consequences a year later.

    The other issue with your argument is the intellectual laziness of this out-of-box solution. It’s much easier to roll over and play dead – as MM Singh did – than it is to develop an out-of-box deterrent ability for an inveterate trouble-maker. MM Singh took the easy way out – and got his shot at the history books instead. But he sold us short.

  20. Primary Red 31st July 2009 at 07:02 #

    Nitin: Why isn’t the reference to Balochistan giving away nothing (assuming we have nothing to hide) for something (prosecution of the Mumbai killers)?

    Libertarian: On your first point, what is the alternative you suggest? Continued sullen silence or military action at a time when bunch of NATO troops are running around Afghanistan?

    On your second point, the intellectually sharp might have better ideas but in my humble view no one — not even Israel — has come up with the magic bullet of the kind of deterrence you seek against the kind of enemy that we have

    Good to hear from you though!

    Best regards

  21. Karthik 31st July 2009 at 09:14 #

    @PrimaryRed
    I can guarantee you that this CONG Govt. will never ever use military option regardless of how many Indians die of future terrorist attacks because the citizens of this country never really care for the security. So there is no electoral incentive for him to be a hawk. The opposition is a mess owners of the CONG will be in power for another 30 to 40 years so unless Pakis engage in a nuclear attack there will be no military retaliation from India. I say This too shall pass.

  22. Nitin 31st July 2009 at 09:43 #

    PR,

    I’ve explained the significance of the Balochistan reference in these two earlier posts. Dr Singh almost certainly misjudged its strategic implications.

  23. Arvind 31st July 2009 at 09:48 #

    Let’s at least hope that poojya pradhan mantriji doesn’t dismantle RAW apparatus inside Pak like a former idiotic PM of India did. I don’t care much about this joint statement and what Pakis think. They can think whatever heck they want to. Doesn’t matter. Only hope India’s govt is Chanakian and not foolish like the “idealist” and “statesman” PM of India. Hope the leaders’ bloody bloated egos don’t interfere in the process.

  24. Arvind 31st July 2009 at 09:55 #

    On the Pak side there seems to be some slow development with the arrest of some LeT guys, no? Let’s see what happens. My hunch is there is considerable Uncle pressure on Pak to keep a lid on a high profile terrorist attacks against India (unless and until India hits back for these attacks, India doesn’t have any “leverage” with Pak; when I say “hit back” I don’t jus mean overtly but in any case open war should be avoided at all costs). But then again it is Pak. Always “tactically brilliant” but strategically committing blunders and scoring self goals. So who knows?

  25. DaveyBoy 31st July 2009 at 11:33 #

    @ Primary Red

    “For 50 years, India and Pakistan have been locked in a stalemate where our respective power structures are vested in making no progress whatsoever. Pakistan’s power elite are evil and would kill to keep us down. India’s power elite are venal, worried about self-preservation above even national interest. We can leave our people’s fate to these folks — which means any act of daring that tries to move things forward is denounced as cowardly — or we can throw a little caution to the wind and try something new.”

    So you propose the notion that those in power have no interest other than their self preservation. And yet you make this utterly ridiculous and contradictory statement reproduced below.

    “So, it is easy to viciously tear into Dr. Singh or Mr. Vajpayee (I regret attacking the latter myself when I wrote a blog) but perhaps some reflection is also in order.”

    Yep. Who would’ve thought that the PM of India is a part of the power structure. Stupid me.

    “We have shown the world (again) that we are the responsible nation in the region, worthy of our growing global clout.”

    Yes. “Again”. And pray do tell us, what happened each time we did? And what makes this occassion so special? The fact that it happens “again” shows two things.

    1. The nation is anything but responsible.
    2. The world couldn’t give a rat’s ass about it.

    A PM whose survival depends upon the conduct of its neighbours can’t be a good thing for anybody, can it? Think about that for a moment now. If anything, he could never be expected to negotiate from a position of strength. And as Primary Red pointed out, since the natural instinct of the politcal class is self preservation, we are looking at a serious conflict of interest with respect to MMS.

    Now you can spin at it any way you like, but the reality is that:

    1. 190 Indians are dead. “Again”.
    2. The Pakistani provincial government has dropped all charges against the LeT supremo.
    3. We have agreed to restart talks DESPITE 1 and 2. (I disagree with Nitin that is is a ‘necessary condition’)
    3. India has derecognised the Balochistan struggle and couched it as a terrorist movement.
    4. It has for the first time, agreed to the possibility of RAW being a rogue agency.
    5. All this while the Pak Army chief accuses us of instigating the ‘terrorists’ in Balochistan.

    It is not surprising to see no action being taken though. There are enough posts on this particular blog entry that exhibit that people still haven’t got it. They still indulge in rudimentary academic arguments. Go ahead. Humour yourselves. The next victim of the next attack might well be you or your loved one. Then try and see if you are able to comfort yourself with these banal arguments. I know I won’t be able to.

  26. Xavier 31st July 2009 at 14:45 #

    I commend Primary Red on his thoughts. And from my side, especially since I am not a student of this science, I’d like to think that the PM is aided by at least a couple of equally, if not more, brilliant people who probably have more information at hand than we do to help him decide which is the best gamble… It does take courgage to be different (somebody rightfully invoked Jim Hacker), but, in this case, as the opinions above suggest, the first one to step out of the line (being courageous) will be the one with arrows in his back.

    By definition, this gamble might also fail… So be it. We seem to have made up our minds about what Pakistanis want and so, going by that, this gamble seems bound to fail… You know what, so be it. It is not as if we would have been at less risk if we had gone to war or, worse, done nothing.

  27. Udayan 31st July 2009 at 16:06 #

    A PM whose survival depends upon the conduct of its neighbours can’t be a good thing for anybody, can it? Think about that for a moment now. If anything, he could never be expected to negotiate from a position of strength. And as Primary Red pointed out, since the natural instinct of the politcal class is self preservation, we are looking at a serious conflict of interest with respect to MMS.

    Well said, dude.

  28. Primary Red 31st July 2009 at 16:51 #

    DaveyBoy:

    I certainly respect your inability to comfort yourself with banal arguments

    So, what specific actions you have personally taken (or will take) in face of repeated murder of fellow Indians?

    Venting your rage using banal arguments hardly qualifies, don’t you think?

    I look forward to be enlightened

    Best regards

  29. photonman 31st July 2009 at 20:58 #

    Nitin:

    Going by what you suggest, Manmohan Singh has just (knowingly?) moved closer to committing political suicide. But why?

  30. sai 31st July 2009 at 22:19 #

    @Nitin

    You almost sound like a romantic when you say MMS’ head would/might roll if there is another terror attack. You are greviously overestimating a) the self-respect of Indians b) the power of indian public opnion.

    If there is another terror attack, there will be a tremendous outrage – but for a short period of time. After a few days and a customary salute to the “spirit of Mumbai” (or wherever the attack takes place), people will quickly forget about it. MMS will of course offer his resignation in a CWC meeting which Sonia would reject. Opposition will cry hoarse and disrupt parliamnet for a few days up until the session ends. Then things would get back to normal. I dont see why this pattern would change at all the next time around.

  31. Udayan 1st August 2009 at 07:28 #

    @photonman

    Committing political suicide is relatively inexpensive for someone in his position. He has no hope for another term…there’s an heir in waiting. So he can gamble for a place in history. Good for him. Bad for India even if he doesn’t lose the wager.

  32. Udayan 1st August 2009 at 07:31 #

    @sai

    In the Mahabharata did you encounter any story about what the people of Indraprashta tought?

  33. photonman 1st August 2009 at 16:05 #

    @Udayan

    See your point. But why did the party still choose to support him? After all, it may well be Rahul Gandhi in the hot seat in a couple of years…

    Before someone raises a ‘clean slate’ argument: if indeed a future PM can start with a ‘clean slate’, surely this implies that the impact of this joint statement is temporary?

  34. DaveyBoy 1st August 2009 at 17:12 #

    @ Primary Red

    “So, what specific actions you have personally taken (or will take) in face of repeated murder of fellow Indians?”:

    Nice way of owning up to your fallacious assertions made earlier isn’t it? Divert the issue?

    Perhaps enlightenment wouldn’t be so hard to attain for you if you were to dissect your arguments rather than indulge in incoherent babbling and then asking others to clean up your mess.

    Don’t go and hurt yourself now.

  35. Nagarajan Sivakumar 3rd August 2009 at 01:49 #

    PrimaryRed,
    We have now made an unexpected move to break the logjam. We have shown the world (again) that we are the responsible nation in the region, worthy of our growing global clout

    What logjam has been broken ? And who exactly is the “world” to be a judge of what a country has to do in its national interests?

    “The world” does not respect an acquiescent and timid nation that begs for its approval on matters of internal security.

    You may want to read Brahma Chellaney who dismantles MMS arguments about how India should go to any length in order to avoid a war. That is the classical argument of the appeaser – as though outright war is the only option !

    http://chellaney.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!4913C7C8A2EA4A30!1057.entry

    And ENOUGH with the gloating about the “growing global clout” ! We cannot even handle our own national security and are nothing more than a mere regional power. When one third a country’s one billion citizens live in dire poverty, the country has no credible nuclear deterrent and is so dependent on importing for its basic defense needs, it is deluding itself about being a power !

    The one thing that we are good at is vain glorious boasting.

    If the enemy’s response is the same old same old, this will be no longer about Dr. Singh’s future (which doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things). This will lead to war (aar paar ki ladai, to quote a former PM) blessed by the world

    Listen to yourself, you self described UNREPENTANT HAWK – A war “blessed by the world” ! – I am sure you want the world’s blessings on whether Kashmir is actually a part of India or disputed territory as well.

    Great powers dont wait for the “worlds blessings” – talk about quaint abstract notions. They resolutely act in their self interests. If this attack happened on Beijing, they would not be waiting for the world’s blessings !

    or will (less likely) lead to peace on our terms. Either is better than the stalemate which our power elite seems to prefer

    Peace on whose terms ?? If your naivete was not so alarming, you would have now recognized that the Indian PM effectively tied up our foreign policy to Pakistan’s bogus concerns of RAW involvement in Baluchistan.

    The biggest fault today lies MORE with the cowardliness of the Indian people THAN ANYONE ELSE – nothing more, nothing less. No self respecting nation would allow for a Government to carry on business as usual in trade, commerce and bilateral relations against an evil country that is wedded to its destruction.

  36. thetrajectory 3rd August 2009 at 22:11 #

    In inter-state relations there are two theories of communication – constructivist and rationalist. The constructivist theories hold that communication can alter actor’s preferences by influencing their conception of what is right and wrong. Rationalist theories maintain that state’s preferences remain constant but that communication may lead them to revise their instrumental beliefs about the cause and effect relationships between policies and outcomes. India’s dialogue process with Pakistan will have to shift from the constructivist to the rationalist track. India cannot convince Pakistan that supporting terrorism is a self-hurting policy and thus needs to communicate the possible outcomes that Pakistan could face if it continued to support terrorism.
    http://thetrajectory.com/blogs/?p=726

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