Book chapter: On humanitarian intervention & democracy promotion

India’s middle path

shapingtheemergingworld2x3_2x3I have contributed one chapter in “Shaping the Emerging World – India and the Multilateral Order“, a book edited by WPS Sidhu, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Bruce Jones, and published by Brookings. According to the promotional material, it is, for “…anyone interested in the future of India’s burgeoning economy, twenty-two scholars have developed one of the most comprehensive volumes to date on India…” The list of authors has such stars as Shyam Saran, C Raja Mohan, Sanjaya Baru, Devesh Kapur, David Malone, Christophe Jaffrelot, Srinath Raghavan and Kanti Bajpai.

I’m sure the editors must have had something in mind when they tapped me to write a chapter on India and international norms: Responsibility to Protect (R2P), genocide prevention, human rights and democracy, as they must surely have been aware of my scepticism towards such norms and value promotion agendas. I wrote the chapter at an interesting time, when India had been on the UN Security Council and a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East went into a wave of political transformation. Given that I was a critic of some of India’s positions at the UNSC during that period, the result is a chapter that is almost entirely devoid of romance. (That’s a good thing, in case you were thinking otherwise).

Here are a couple of excerpts from my chapter:

INTRODUCTION
The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations declared in speech in October 2012, “is the most important challenge that the international community, anchored in the United Nations, is going to face.”1 Arguing that the initial suspicion of many developing countries towards the newest norm in international relations was misplaced, he supported the need for a “collective response by the international community to ensure that mass atrocities like genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity do not take place.” Explaining why India had abstained in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution authorising military intervention in the Libyan civil war of 2011, he judged the implementation of the doctrine “gives R2P a bad name.”

The Indian diplomat’s arguments are a good example of India’s attitude towards international norms infringing on state sovereignty in furtherance of human security, human rights or liberal democratic goals. This chapter argues that India takes a middle path, supporting the evolution of human rights and democratic norms, but exercising caution in the manner of their implementation. It delves into the foundations of India’s policy approach towards two sets of norms: those concerning human security and those pertaining to liberal democracy. It interrogates these norms as they have evolved and examines them from an Indian perspective. It concludes by exploring how Indian foreign policy in the context of these norms might change as it emerges into a more powerful player in international politics.

THE MIDDLE PATH
Constitutional values, a democratic political culture and a diverse, plural society make India generally supportive of defending the world’s people from oppression, promoting human rights and democracy. New Delhi’s foreign policy orientation is at the very least consistent with a rules-based international order and is underpinned by liberal democratic values. The Indian republic’s subscription of liberal international norms, however, has been tempered both by competing norms and by reservations on the nature of international interventions. The result is a foreign policy that treads a middle path.

CONCLUSION
Even as Indian foreign policy made the transition from Nehru’s utopianism to the pragmatic realism of the post-Cold War governments, it never abandoned commitment to values. Normatively, New Delhi strikes a middle path. India is committed to genocide prevention, R2P, human rights and liberal democracy in principle, but has serious reservations regarding their practical implementation. The commitment is born out of its own national values. The reservations are borne out by its experience too.

India has been supporting multilateral efforts – or has acted unilaterally, on occasion – in response to international emergencies. It has been less enthusiastic in enterprises promoting liberal democratic norms, for it is a state primarily concerned with maintaining its own national unity, social transformation and economic development.

To what extent will India deviate from the middle path if it comes a bigger power in the international system? This chapter contends that the answer depends on whether the UN reforms itself to better reflect contemporary global balance of power, on the nature of India’s geopolitical footprint and on the extent of internationalism in Indian civil society. Broad trends indicate that it is likely that the Indian nation will become increasingly global-minded and internationalist, even if at a pace that is sometimes frustrating and other other times exhilarating. So the chances of the Indian republic becoming a rule-taker in the international system will improve to the extent that it is better accommodating into the rule-making circles of a reformed UN. A richer, more powerful India may yet be a stronger defender of human security around the world, if not simultaneously a champion of liberal democracy. [Shaping the Emerging World]

Direct channel to Rawalpindi

Engaging the Pakistani army chief is a good idea. Conceding anything is not.

In a Pax Indica column in September 2010 I wrote about India’s engagement paradox:

New Delhi talks to the powerless but can’t talk to those in power, or vice versa. It’s most obvious in Pakistan. General Ashfaq Kayani is the man calling the shots. India has no direct channel of communication with him. The people New Delhi does talk to — the likes of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani — have little say in the subjects that New Delhi talks to them about. This creates an illusion of movement in bilateral relations when, fundamentally, there is none. To be fair, the fact that Pakistan has such a complicated political structure (I’m being charitable here) is not India’s fault. But if the Americans can rejig their foreign policy apparatus such that some people talk to the generals while others talk to the politicians, surely, so can we. [The Acorn/Yahoo!]

Why might this be the case? In last Monday’s Business Standard column I argued that:

(One) reason why India finds itself in a bind with respect to Pakistan, where it needs to engage the real power centre but finds itself with no means to. It is not a matter of matching protocol, for it is not purely military matters that we wish to discuss with General Kayani. Washington, in comparison, handles this a lot better through Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, who are the primary interlocutors with the Pakistan army. Given that these admirals and generals are engaged in diplomatic activities of serious importance to India, can we afford to stay out of the military diplomatic loop?[The Acorn/Business Standard]

While India has not shied from talking to Pakistani army chiefs after they become dictators, dealing with General Ashfaq Kayani directly challenges diplomatic optics. The 26/11 attacks and their aftermath left no doubt that it was he, and not the Zardari-Gilani government, that was in charge. Yet, because he did not announce himself to be the dictator, chief executive or president of Pakistan, the Indian government couldn’t openly deal with him.

Bharat Karnad first alluded to a direct back channel engagement late last month (linkthanks Swami Iyer). However, it was a London Times report over the weekend that captured attention in India. The Prime Minister’s Office has issued a carefully worded denial while the Pakistani military spokesman declined to comment. It is highly likely that the reports are generally accurate and a direct channel, albeit with some deniability, has been in place for the last few months. [See this post at Pragmatic Euphony]

Why it makes sense to engage
It makes sense to directly engage the real centre of power in Pakistan. First, it allows India’s policymakers to both understand the Pakistani army’s motivations, thinking and demands, and also to communicate its own positions (both bilateral and those relating to Afghanistan). [See editorials in Mint and Indian Express]

Second, initiating an engagement “ten months ago” could have helped tactically buy respite from terrorist attacks during a critical period—post-crisis economic recovery and the world cup cricket tournament. Tactically again, it could be intended to reduce the heat of the 2011 summer in Kashmir.

To induce co-operation, though, India might have to indicate its flexibility on some issues: most likely, downplaying demands to prosecute Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders and playing up the resolution of the Sir Creek and Siachen issues.

Why such engagement is risky
For all its advantages, engaging Kayani & Co is not without risks.

First, there is a risk that it will lull the Indian security establishment into believing in the other sides’ bona fides, as after Vajpayee’s bus ride to Lahore. Keeping it secret mitigates this risk to some extent, but to the extent that it affects the psychologies of the prime minister and the top echelon of the national security apparatus, the risk of being backstabbed should concern us. Even if General Kayani himself were to have a miraculous change of heart, the Musharraf’s Musharraf effect, wherein the military-jihadi complex will act to pull the rug from under its own leader, cannot be discounted.

Second, there is a risk that the flexibility that the Indian negotiator must show in order to induce co-operation will end up locking New Delhi in. There is a perception that Siachen, for instance, is a low-hanging fruit that India can “give” to show sincerity. This is wrong: India must climb down from the Saltoro ridge entirely on its own terms. The larger issue here is that allowing the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to believe that the threat of terrorism under a nuclear umbrella will force India to concede anything is a very bad idea.

Third, a consistent impression has been created in the Indian mind that India’s approach to Pakistani aggression is to turn the other cheek. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s dogmatic approach to pursuit talks, first with Zardari-Gilani & Co and now with Kayani, risk a public backlash that risk undermining any mutual gains that might have been made as a result of it.

Fourth, Dr Singh is bargaining from a position of personal weakness, the worst position to be in while opening negotiations. He has long been out on a limb on Pakistan policy, and is just one terrorist attack away from being out of office. His government is now on the ropes on the matter of corruption and malgovernance. This compounds the risks of him making concessions in order to stay afloat.

Finally, New Delhi is reducing the pressure on General Kayani at a time when Washington is raising it. The Pakistani military-jihadi complex must be contained in the short-term. Squandering opportunities to bring forward the crunch time in Rawalpindi is an unwise move.

So what should we make of it?
On the balance, that New Delhi has chosen to open up a direct line with the Pakistani Army’s GHQ is a good thing. It could have been better timed though. We should be concerned that it is a dogmatic Dr Singh who is handling the secret, opaque process. For that reason, public debate and the political process should put a backstop on the proceedings. Opposition parties, especially the BJP, would do well to prohibit the Prime Minister from making even the smallest concession of substance.

The Asian Balance: The case for military diplomacy

The men in uniform can play a useful role in foreign policy

Excerpts from today’s Business Standard column:

India does not engage in military diplomacy in any meaningful form.

This is part of the reason why India finds itself in a bind with respect to Pakistan, where it needs to engage the real power centre but finds itself with no means to. It is not a matter of matching protocol, for it is not purely military matters that we wish to discuss with General Kayani. Washington, in comparison, handles this a lot better through Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus, the Af-Pak theatre commander, who are the primary interlocutors with the Pakistan army. Given that these admirals and generals are engaged in diplomatic activities of serious importance to India, can we afford to stay out of the military diplomatic loop?

This is not to say that New Delhi must set its generals and admirals off on diplomatic missions next week. Rather, India must make military diplomacy part of its foreign policy toolbox and create the capacities, structures and processes necessary to put it into action.

Diplomacy must enter the syllabuses of our military academies. Trained military officers must be deputed to Indian embassies and missions around the world, both to add to the numbers of defence attaches as well as to perform non-military functions. Not only will this expose military officers to the conduct of diplomacy but also address another problem — the inability of the Indian Foreign Service to ramp up its numbers fast enough to meet the growing demand. Furthermore, the socialisation of defence and foreign service officers through such postings will create benefits in the long term, in terms of greater understanding and policy coordination.

What about structures? As the late K Subrahmanyam consistently argued, India must restructure its armed forces along the lines of the US, with a joint chiefs of staff and tri-service theatre commands. Like it has done for the US, such a structure will lend itself to the conduct of military diplomacy.

However, while we wait for the political and defence establishments to develop an appetite for major reforms, it is possible to make adjustments to the existing structures to get some mileage. Why not make a senior defence officer the National Security Advisor? Why doesn’t the National Security Council have senior military officers in top leadership positions? Indeed, a general in the NSC can well be the point person to engage the Pakistani army establishment. [Read the whole piece at Business Standard]