Assisting the unfortunate Pravasi Bharatiyas

The Indian government’s programmes to assist distressed workers and women overseas is a step in the right direction

Protecting Indian nationals wherever they might be in the world should be a key objective of India’s foreign policy. While India has demonstrated its commitment towards securing the lives of its nationals during major crises—like the evacuation of expatriate Indians from the Middle East during the 1990 Gulf War and the more recent conflict in Lebanon—assisting citizens in quotidian situations has not been its strong point. [Due apologies to our foreign service officers who help stranded Indian families in remote corners of the world]. Among those who most need the Indian government’s assistance are low-wage workers and women.

So it is good to see the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs do something beyond organising grand pow-wows and handing out awards to prominent non-resident Indians. Not only has it announced programmes to help distressed Indian workers and women, it has made the involvement of local NRI communities essential for their success.

The Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) covers distressed workers in United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Malaysia, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Syria, Lebanon, Thailand, and Iraq. The government’s financial contribution is tiny—between Rs 500,000 and Rs 1.5 million each—but constitutes seed funding. The intention is to make the fund self-sustaining through charges for consular services at Indian missions, as well as voluntary contributions by NRI communities. Similarly, the scheme to provide financial and legal assistance to Indian women deserted by their husbands in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Gulf covers expenses up to US$1000, and is administered in partnership with community NGOs. Seventeen women have been helped so far—ten from Australia alone.

It is a good idea for the government to jump start the programme and rely on community funding for its financial sustainability. More importantly, the Indian government’s role should be to back the programmes with diplomatic clout and political resolve. Putting the onus on Indian missions abroad ensures that the ambassadors have control and are accountable for the results in the areas under their care. A degree of competition among them wouldn’t hurt at all. More importantly, getting NRI communities to chip in financially helps build social capital creating avenues for the relatively well-to-do members of the community to help the more unfortunate ones. This should also lead to community monitoring, administration and performance audit of these programmes.

And once the Indian government learns enough in these selected countries, it should extend these programmes across the globe.

Hello, this is Pranab Mukherjee speaking

A prank of unlikely innocence

This looks like it is out of GreatBong. Because it can’t get more bizarre than this—Dawn‘s Zafar Abbas reports that someone claiming to be the Indian foreign minister called Asif Ali Zardari late on November 28th, and threatened military action. And this sent the Pakistani government in a tizzy, and they alerted the air force and the army threatened to pull 100,000 troops away from the war they don’t want to fight anyway.

The fake Pranabda then tried calling the US Secretary of State, but the Americans saw through the hoax. To top it all, the Pakistanis “are convinced the source of the mischief was someone in the Indian external affairs ministry.”

Seriously! How credulous can the good people in Islamabad be? That apart, what is disturbing in the whole story—if indeed it is true—is that it reeks of an attempt to use the aftermath of the terrorist attacks to trigger off a military crisis.

Update: Just over ten years ago, after India’s Pokhran-II nuclear tests, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received intelligence inputs suggesting that India and Israel were planning a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. Bruce Riedel, then a senior official in the US State Department recalls that he “had the Israeli Chief of Staff deny categorically to the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington any such plan the night before the tests but that fact mattered little to Islamabad.”

London undiplomatese

With ambassadors like these…

Today’s cake goes to Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan’s recently ‘re-appointed’ high commissioner to the United Kingdom. Complaining about American raids against al-Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistani territory he said:

“This will infuriate Muslims in this country and make the streets of London less safe,” he said. “There are 1m Pakistanis in the diaspora here and resentment is mounting. I’m being flooded by text messages from community leaders saying we must organise our anger.

“The Americans’ trigger-happy actions will radicalise young Muslims. They’re playing into the hands of the very militants we’re supposed to be fighting.” [Times]

Thus Mr Hasan joins the ranks of those warning Britain of dire consequences (linkthanks Swami Iyer).

Reading the Arthashastra: War by diplomacy

Here’s an interesting paper by Roger Boesche on the Kautilyan doctrine of war and diplomacy:

Whereas Carl von Clausewitz said that war is just an extension of domestic politics, Kautilya argued that diplomacy is really a subtle act of war, a series of actions taken to weaken an enemy and gain advantages for oneself, all with an eye toward eventual conquest. In Kautilya’s foreign policy, even during a time of diplomacy and negotiated peace, a king should still be “striking again and again” in secrecy.

Because a king abides by a treaty only for so long as it is advantageous, Kautilya regarded all allies as future conquests when the time is ripe.


(A couple of years ago, Sunil Laxman had introduced Professor Boesche’s The First Great Political Realist—a slim, readable introduction to the Arthashastra.)

On the topic of agreements, Kautilya declares:

When the profit accruing to kings under an agreement, whether they be of equal, inferior, or superior power, is equal to all, that agreement is termed peace (sandhi); when unequal, it is termed defeat (vikrama). Such is the nature of peace and war. [Arthashastra VII:8]

There are two aspects to the assessment of benefits from an agreement: relative gains and the time dimension. An agreement is desirable when the gains from it outweigh the gains the enemy makes from it. Also, “whoever thinks that in the course of time his loss will be less than his acquisition as contrasted with that of his enemy, may neglect his temporary deterioration.” Simple as it seems, since an agreement between two states affects all others in the raja mandala, the actual business of calculating relative gains and summing them up is necessarily a complex exercise.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

Reading the Arthashastra: The proper use of détente

Using hostile peace to tilt the balance

By distinguishing enmity and offensive action, Kautilya makes a sophisticated argument about the use of a ‘hot peace’ to accumulate economic power, that will, in time, allow a state to defeat the counterpart—by military force, if need be.

He classifies three types of what Dr Shamasastry calls “neutrality”. But this translation is not very appropriate, because Kautilya is not advocating sitting on the fence. One needs to study the Sanskrit, but from the context, the word “quiescence” may be more appropriate. Quiescence can be:

“Keeping quiet, maintaining a particular kind of policy is sthana; withdrawal from hostile actions for the sake of one’s own interests is asana; and taking no steps (against an enemy) is upekshana.” [Arthashastra VII:4]

The first arises out of a stable balance of power, where the adversaries are compelled to keep to their places. The second is deliberate, similar to what has been termed “masterly inactivity”, the phrase most famously used to describe colonial British policy towards Afghanistan under Governor-General Sir John Lawrence. It also refers to a state of détente. Finally, the third variety of quiescence arises from dereliction of duty, or impolicy.

Kautilya favours the policy of “keeping quiet after proclaiming war” when it can strengthen one’s own state and inflict injuries on the enemy. The latter could be due to exploiting the enemies internal troubles or, interestingly, through seizing an advantage by influencing patterns of trade: by “(preventing) the import of his enemy’s merchandise, which was destructive of his own commerce” or drawing “that valuable merchandise…to his own territory, leaving that of his enemy”. In fact, in what might militate against the contemporary view on the issue, Kautilya sees inward immigration from neighbouring states as a benefit. He places immigration in the benefits side of the analysis in several places in the Arthashastra.

This, according to Kautilya, is the way to both impoverish the enemy and not only accumulate, but also exhibit one’s own power.

So under what conditions does the king “march after proclaiming war”? The case for offensive action is based on the internal condition of the enemy and the geopolitics without. The enemy’s internal troubles must be beyond redemption, the state in a terminal decline and its people ready to desert their master. External conditions require a favourable disposition among the front and rear allies. The offensive action could be taken independently or in partnership with the allies depending on the circumstances.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

God save the US from its pundits

Don’t they read the news?

A certain Nirav Patel from the Center for New American Security—a newish think-tank—argues that “President Bush should quickly dispatch the necessary high-level authorities to mediate and resolve the current Kashmir crisis before it becomes a reason for war” leveraging its “economic and military co-operation with both countries”. (linkthanks Pragmatic)

Mr Patel is not reading the daily news. It turns out that the economic and military co-operation—the tens of billions of dollars of it—is not even allowing the United States the leverage to prevent the Pakistani military establishment from using the Taliban to shoot at American soldiers in Afghanistan. That apart, Mr Bush’s envoys have too many things on their hands in Pakistan to expend what little leverage they have out there on defusing the situation in Kashmir.

But it’s clear Mr Patel is not referring to Pakistan. He is more concerned about what India might do. “Nationalist sentiment in India”, according to him, “is quickly transforming pragmatic policies toward Pakistan into hard-line and reactionary approaches. India is unlikely to sit on the sidelines much longer.” Now, how did Mr Patel arrive at that conclusion? Without supporting facts, such conclusions can only be described as fanciful.

That’s not all, actually. He actually fears a breakdown in nuclear deterrence. Because “Rational leaders in both countries have thus far successfully managed ethno-nationalist impulses. However, as India continues to feel cornered by and vulnerable to terrorist threats originating in Pakistan, it will find it increasingly difficult to ignore the impulse to attack.”

Perhaps Mr Patel could point to a single credible voice from any part of India’s strategic establishment or indeed from a political party, that is advocating a military attack on Pakistan. So his opinion is nothing more than mere presumption. And if he would only begin to read the daily news, he will notice that it is the Pakistani army that is routinely violating the ceasefire. What can the United States do about this? Precious little.

Reading the Arthashastra: On declaring war

Calculations of relative power

The decision to go war, according to the Arthashastra, is a rational one—the king should choose war or peace, whichever is most advantageous. So Kautilya is not a pacifist, but neither is he a warmonger, for he advises that in the event expected advantages are of equal character, “one should prefer peace”, for war always comes at a disadvantage.

If that sounds reasonable, it was ignored in the decades following his death. The vast empire his protege Chandragupta Maurya founded in the fourth century BCE quickly fell apart after Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhist pacifism. As Paddy Docherty writes in The Khyber Pass, “The decline of the Mauryan dynasty after Ashoka was dramatic…Princes schooled in otherwordliness—in a concern for Dhamma and the freeing of oneself from the ego—make bad rulers.” (pp 57)

Kautilya used calculations of relative power to determine war or peace decisions: peace with kings with equal or superior power, and war against weaker kings. The metaphors are pithy: attacking a stronger king will meet the same fate as that of a foot-soldier opposing an elephant; attacking an equal power is like the mutually destructive collision between two unbaked mud vessels; attacking a weaker king is like a stone hitting an earthenware vessel.

When confronted with superior power, Kautilya advises pragmatism: the weaker king should submit to the stronger one and take the attitude of a conquered king. Or, alternately, seek the protection of a stronger power. For his part, he advises the stronger king to accept proposals for peace from the weaker one, lest the latter be provoked into war. Here it is implicit that Kautilya thinks that such a confrontation is undesirable and hence, to be avoided.

What about a king of equal power who resists proposals for peace? The answer, well, is what we would today call tit-for-tat.

When a king of equal power does not like peace, then the same amount of vexation as his opponent has received at his hands should be given to him in return; for it is power that brings about peace between any two kings: no piece of iron that is not made red-hot will combine with another piece of iron. [Arthashastra VII:3]

That’s consistent with the conclusions of modern game theory: tit-for-tat is the optimum strategy for iterated prisoner’s dilemmas.

One important factor tempers the war or peace decisions derived from calculations of relative power—the disposition of the people.

When a king in peace with another finds that greedy, impoverished, and oppressed as are the subjects of his ally, they do not yet immigrate into his own territory lest they might be called back by their master, then he should, though of inferior power, proclaim war against his ally.

When a king at war with another finds that greedy, impoverished, and oppressed as are the subjects of his enemy, still they do not come to his side in consequence of the troubles of war, then he should, though of superior power, make peace with his enemy or remove the troubles of war as far as possible. [Arthashastra VII:3]

Kautilya doesn’t explain why this should be so. But we can make some inferences: in the first case, the weaker king can neutralise his weakness by weakening his stronger adversary’s hold over his estranged citizens. In second, popular support adds to the strength of a weaker power, narrowing the gap.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

The ISI in the dock

Two many Musharrafs…and too much noise

The gloves have come off. The US government has let it become known that not only was the ISI responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, but also cut the kerry that went by the name of “rogue elements” (who used to do things like passing information to the Taliban or fly C-130s to North Korea). This is a historic day in the history of US-Pakistan relations—and an unfortunate one in the career of Yusuf Raza Gilani. Not because the US government offered proof to the Pakistani government that the ISI has been up to some very naughty things. But rather, because the US government told the rest of the world about it, albeit through the New York Times.

So what happens next? Well, it’s hard to say. In the good old days, the army chief would issue orders to the commander of the X Corps in Rawalpindi, who would, in turn, task the commander of the 111 Brigade to hop over across the bridge and take control of the government. That is tough these days. Because taking control of the government is not a predicament that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will wish onto himself. Forget those uppity lawyers and just-won’t-retire judges, who wants to go to the White House, and pleasantries and photographs done, to answer questions like “Who is in control of the ISI?”.

Asif Ali Zardari might well have found a whipping boy in Prime Minister Gilani, but these are ultimately his problems. To be sure, reforming the ISI is a solution—for the United States and for India, and most importantly, for Pakistan itself. But to execute it will be a political task of the toughest kind. It will require popular and elite support, it will require determination and will, and it will require great tact. Other than some popular support, Mr Zardari lacks the rest. If last weekend’s fiasco over the ISI is any indication, Mr Zardari looks like he is way out of his depth.

For the time being, as Bruce Riedel put it, every meal the US troops eat, and every bullet they shoot arrives in Afghanistan courtesy of the Pakistani military. The US government might authorise more missile hits from unmanned aerial vehicles, but this is limited by the counter-productive effects caused by the collateral damage. Unless the US is ready to explore alternative ways—a rapprochement with Iran comes to mind—this is about as much the US can do.

What does all this mean for India? Well, the good news is that the Pakistani government has almost no wiggle room left on ending its support for the Taliban enterprise. The bad news is that the Pakistani ‘government’ is nowhere near being in charge of the Taliban enterprise. Where once there were two players India had to engage—those who control its jihadis and those who control its nukes—it now has to engage them through those who make the speeches. C Raja Mohan argues that “India needs several simultaneous policies towards Pakistan”, ranging from shaping Pakistan’s internal politics, to direct talks between the two armies, to signaling that India is ready to impose a two-front war on Pakistan. The Pakistani army is unlikely to be warm up to the first two, but a two-front war? They’ll probably have to game that before making up their mind, not least because the US Congress is said to be linking aid to developmental goals.

Pragati July 2008: A better connection with Israel

Issue 15 - Jun 2008
Issue Contents


“Adamant for drift, solid for fluidity”
India needs leadership and a renaissance in its foreign policy
Harsh V Pant

Business interests vs national interests
As Indian companies grow abroad
Sameer Wagle & Gaurav Sabnis

The myth of illiberal capitalism
Multi-polarity, democracy and what the US might do about them
Dhruva Jaishankar


A survey of think-tanks
The post-American world; Asian geopolitics
Vijay Vikram


The India-Israel imperative
Indo-Judeo commonalities: the symbolic and the substantive
Martin Sherman


Fruits of knowledge
Apply knowledge-economy processes for food security
Mukul G Asher & Amarendu Nandy

Needed: A new monsoon strategy
The focus should be on groundwater recharge
Tushaar Shah


Know your consumer?
A review of Rama Bijapurkar’s We are like that only
Aadisht Khanna

Read excerpts | Subscribe

India’s foreign policy at a crossroads

Harsh Pant’s new book

Barring the Communists, both sides of the debate over the India-US nuclear deal claim that their position is informed by India’s national interest. Given the profound changes in India over the last two decades—a relatively short period of time in the history of nations— it is but natural that there are deep differences on India’s role in the international arena. This has not been helped by the lack a serious intellectual effort to define, discuss and arrive at a broad non-partisan consensus on the national interest. As K Subrahmanyam mentioned in his interview with Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review in May 2008, even the recommendations of the task force that he chaired on global strategic affairs have not been made public, less accepted by the government.

If India is to make the most of the opportunities that are available at this critical moment in history, and if it is to avoid repeating the grand mistakes of the past, there is an urgent need for such a debate. That’s part of the motivation behind Pragati. Now, Harsh Pant’s new book fills a void and, hopefully, will set the stage for the launch a debate “perhaps to end all minor ones that India has been having for the last few years”. Some excerpts from “Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy: India Negotiates Its Rise in the International System” (available here) are on YaleGlobal Online. (linkthanks Yossarin)

Look out for Dr Pant’s essay in the July 2008 issue of Pragati that will be out tomorrow (July 1st, 2008)