Dear Mr Ramachandra Guha

Patience is immoral

Your essay (via Streetcar) arguing that India will not, and should not attempt to become a superpower is simply too long. It does deserve to be read, though, though at leisure. For now let’s examine your concluding paragraph.

To follow the Naxalites is to plunge India into decades of civil war; to follow the Hindu right is to persecute and demonise large numbers of one’s own countrymen; to follow the market fundamentalists is to intensify the divisions between the consuming and the surviving classes (and to destroy the global environment in the process). Rather than nurture or act upon these utopian fantasies, the Indian patriot must focus instead on the tasks of gradual and piecemeal reform. We need to repair, one by one, the institutions that have safeguarded our unity amidst diversity, and to forge, also one by one, the new institutions that can help us meet the fresh challenges of the 21st century. It will be hard, patient, slow work—that is to say, the only kind of work that is ever worth it. [Outlook]

From your comfortable drawing room it is easy to argue that reform must be gradual and piecemeal and that the Indian patriot must be patient.

But it is immoral to keep hundreds of millions poor, to deny them economic freedom, to deny them a chance to improve the lot of their children, and climb out of poverty in a generation. Even if the divisions between the consuming and surviving classes intensifies in the process. Even if the global environment is damaged in the process. It is immoral to plead for patience, for one extra day of poverty is one day too many.

Look around you, Mr Guha. Look at the number of countries that have managed to extract their citizens out of poverty in less than the span of one generation. It’s quite all right if you reject the notion that India must not try to be superpower (although it is unlikely that you—like Gurcharan Das—fathom that India can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers). But why should you reject the idea that Indian people should get out of poverty as fast as they can?

Pragati June 2008: The New Jihadis

Issue 15 - Jun 2008
Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

The New Jihadis
Local manifestations of a global pattern
Nitin Pai

Getting human rights right
Are human rights activists playing into the hands of
terrorists?
Sandeep Balakrishna, Salil Tripathi & Rohit Pradhan

Towards a cultural liberalism
Governments must stop siding with intolerant mobs
Jayakrishnan Nair

FILTER

A survey of think-tanks
Feline counter-terrorism; Measuring up against international human rights standards; On what makes foreign policy tick; Assessing energy security policies

IN DEPTH

Look before you hop

A discussion on strategic affairs with Stephen P Cohen
Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs

IN PARLIAMENT

A review of Budget Session 2008
Kaushiki Sanyal

ROUNDUP

Where is the financial superhighway?
Two reports later, there is still no movement on reforms
Aadisht Khanna

Improving economic literacy
Effective delivery of public services requires sound public policy education
Mukul G Asher & Amarendu Nandy

A food credit card scheme
How microfinance and the public distribution scheme can work together
Ankit Rawal

BOOKS

History is in the writing
The changing fashions of recording history
Sunil Laxman

Read excerpts | Download

So who’s going to run relief operations over the junta’s heads?

America, Europe and a coalition of the willing

It should be abundantly clear by now to any thinking person that Burma’s generals are not about to open up their country to foreign relief workers, even if they somehow agree to accept foreign relief supplies. It should also be abundantly clear that in doing so, the generals would be responsible for making the humanitarian disaster worse, the recovery longer, and the human cost higher. It should also be abundantly clear that the generals don’t care.

So all those who are trying to negotiate with the junta can only be hoping that Burma and Cyclone Nargis will be buried under the rubble of disasters elsewhere, the Sichuan earthquake, the Jaipur bombing (at least for India) and the latest twist in the US presidential election campaign.

Countries like India–that have some leverage with Burma—are quietly delivering relief goods; more than a week after Cyclone Nargis struck Burma, it is possible to discern that India’s strategy is a calibrated, low-key approach, that balances the objective of keeping communication channels (with the junta)open while delivering humanitarian relief goods.

What about countries—like the United States and Europe—that don’t quite have working relationships with the Burmese regime? Well, Anne Applebaum has it right—a “coalition of the willing” is exactly what the situation needs. Only the United States has the capacity to make a meaningful difference to the relief effort. It would be justified in going into Burma on a humanitarian mission, without sanction from the Burmese regime or the UN Security Council. India should support such an initiative, but is likely to take a neutral position. It is extremely unlikely, though, that the US will act. Not because of regard for international law, not because of what happened over Iraq but because it might not see it as important enough to US interests. [Update: Robert Kaplan invokes the pottery barn rule]

It is interesting to see the European Union call for forceful international intervention under the “responsibility to protect”. Given that Europe has no military assets of its own in the region that it can deploy at short notice, it is hard to avoid the impression that it sees its own responsibility to protect as largely moral. So, ironically, the Europeans have to convince the Americans that, well, a “coalition of the willing” is necessary.

Pakistani arms for Sri Lanka

Should India really bother?

Let’s consider one narrative: India is opposed to the LTTE, but can’t support the Sri Lanka army because of a number of reasons—mostly having to do with domestic politics, but also perhaps for strategic reasons. So when Pakistan becomes a big supplier of small arms to Colombo, should India really worry?

Rather than go into a tizzy and attempt to counter the Pakistani move, a far more effective position would be to circumscribe the arms trade and Pakistan’s role. India has enough levers over Colombo to set limits on the type and quantity of arms that the latter can import, and ensure that arms suppliers don’t engage in other activities inimical to India’s interests. Indeed such a strategy might provide greater influence over Colombo’s approach to the civil war.

No apologies expected

The discomfort with reapolitik

Gurcharan Das came back to New Delhi from a lecture tour of East Asia with some astute observations about how countries in that part of the world perceive India (via Shehjar & Pragmatic). They look forward to India playing a more assertive role in East Asia because “they fear China and desperately want a countervailing power (and) they don’t trust Japan.” Mr Das correctly points out that India does not realise that East Asian countries might actually want a stronger Indian role in the region in order to balance China.

It might be that India’s approach to East Asia suffers from a the legacy of its approach to the countries in the subcontinent, several of who resent Indian dominance.

While Mr Das caught the point made by his East Asian audiences, his own conclusions reveal that he was less comfortable with realpolitik than his interlocutors.

On my way home, I asked myself that if it is true that the Indian state is genuinely less aggressive, then that is in fact the right answer to the original question about why India’s rise does not threaten the world. I, for one, do not want an intimidating India which seeks military greatness.

He conflates the projection of geopolitical power with military greatness as an end in itself. As Mr Das heard, projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development through trade and culture. This projection of power —whether aggressive or not—is bound to threaten some countries more than others. As a corollary, it is impossible to project power without being seen as a threat by one or another country.

India’s accumulation of power and influence in Asia will be perceived as a threat by China to the extent that it relatively diminishes Beijing’s own influence. And vice versa. There’s no reason to feel apologetic about this. Aggression and intimidation, like diplomacy and negotiations are parts of a composite toolkit. An offhand rejection of one or more of them is not prudent.

Pragati May 2008: Towards liberal nationalism

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Liberals, culture and nationalism Ravikiran S Rao
An opportunity exists for a new politics

Changing the broken wheel Raj Cherubal
The secular-right must champion economic freedom

Towards “that heaven of freedom” Gautam Bastian
A free nation of free citizens

Out of court Rohit Pradhan, Shashi Shekhar & Mukul Asher
Carry on the battle, but respect the court’s verdict

FILTER

India as a rising great power; climate change and national security; India-Iran relations; to the brink; and trade across the Line of Control

IN DEPTH

The new currency of power Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs
A discussion on strategic affairs with K Subrahmanyam

ROUNDUP

Use the Tibet card Zorawar Daulet Singh
To settle the India-China dispute

Consensus must endure Dinesh Wagle
Maoists have the upper hand in the construction of the republic

Bottom-up dynamics Sushant K Singh
What attracts Africa to India and how it can be strengthened

Pressed by inflation Gulzar Natarajan
Easing supply bottlenecks is the right way to go

BOOKS

Memories of 1971 Amardeep Singh
A review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age

Read excerpts | Download

The Second Delusion

The nation has charged far ahead of its foreign policy establishment’s mindset

A perspicacious piece by Ashok Malik on how the foreign policy establishment is yet to come to terms with India’s new reality (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran). First, there is a capacity problem. Second, there is the systemic incapacity to undertake a fundamental re-imagination of India’s role in the emerging world. Finally, there is the incessant feel-good “Bollywood gives us global influence” fodder that lulls everyone into the Second Delusion. (The first was when the Indian government believed that it was a leader of the “bloc of developing countries”).

Mr Malik’s antidote, therefore, is all too necessary.

In his inaugural speech, the Commerce and Industry Minister began by saying that he found the reference to India as a ‘rising great power’ very “uncomfortable” and proceeded to use that word five times. Two days later, the National Security Adviser was asked to speak on India’s equation with other great powers and said this was a “delicate subject”. He then explained how India wanted good relations with everybody from SAARC to the European Union, Japan to West Asia, without really revealing much at all.

It led to one British delegate being quite frank in suggesting that India’s intellectual contribution to the conference was below expectation. Another delegate pointed out that the world had heard of great powers, superpowers and hyperpowers, but now faced the prospect of a “nervous power”. Actually, what India is burdened with is an establishment nervous at the idea of power.

When asked to enunciate specific national goals and responses to well-defined challenges, Indian foreign policy interlocutors speak in platitudes without giving away anything. Actually, there is precious little to give away. Indian grand strategy is marked by its absence. In place of clarity, one is left with generalities.

At the IISS meeting, for instance, the Foreign Secretary spoke of India’s “civilisational engagement” with ASEAN. The following day, the NSA spoke of Iran being an “ancient civilisation”. Almost as a pattern, a few days later an article in a newspaper sought to date the India-Iran strategic partnership to the 16th century, when the ruler in Tehran lent his troops to Humayun to displace the successors of Sher Shah Suri.

This is plain humbug. In terms of hard power, India’s so-called civilisational engagement with a bewildering array of countries and regions has won it very little genuine influence. It is one thing to boast that Hindi films are watched halfway across the world and that Indian culture and soft power are geographically expansive. It is another to suggest that these can replace hard diplomacy, anchored in military and economy muscle and a trenchant security doctrine. [The Pioneer]

Related Links: The June 2007 issue of Pragati injected some new perspectives on India’s role in the coming decades. Read the piece on Soft Power, Hard Reality. Also see Rohit Pradhan’s pithy post on India’s attitude towards hard power.

The Indian difference in Africa

It’s about 53 countries, not one continent

It is, no doubt, a convenient shorthand to refer to “Africa policy”. But it is really about developing relations with over 50 countries that make up the African continent. There are signs that India is recognising this relatively better than other countries.

In an op-ed in Mint, Mukul Asher and Sushant Singh argue that the India and African countries should build “a long-haul developmental partnership, based on application of knowledge economy, development of human resources and deeper domestic linkages…(that will diversify) their global risks (and increase) their leverage in the global affairs.”

Excerpts:

India’s economic and strategic diplomacy towards Africa has been consistent. Many initiatives launched in the final years of the National Democratic Alliance government have not only continued but also flourished during the United Progressive Alliance regime.

India’s academic and research institutions, however, need to develop much greater understanding of individual African countries and broaden linkages with their counterparts in Africa. There is also an urgent need to create a larger pool of Indians in all spheres with familiarities with languages spoken in Africa. Such familiarity and empathy for Africa’s challenges can provide India with valuable competitive edge.

India’s economic model and its approach to engaging Africa is consistent with what former World Bank economist William Easterly, in his 2006 book The White Man’s Burden, called “searchers”. They, unlike “planners”, eschew global blueprints and seek to meet the demand of customers in a way that uses decentralized and customized approaches, while applying an existing stock of knowledge in a practical way to reduce resource costs and improve efficiency. [Mint]

Related Links: Wages of hyphenation; India in West Africa

Weekday Squib: Chinese professors in Zimbabwe

Why there are always innocent explanations

Excerpt from Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Jiang Yu’s Regular Press Conference on April 22, 2008:

Q: According to reports, China is selling weapons to Zimbabwe. Could you confirm? If it’s true, why is China doing so? It is also reported that Chinese soldiers are seen on the streets of Zimbabwe. Could you give us more details about this?

A: According to my knowledge, COSCO was contracted by a Chinese company to deliver some weapons to Zimbabwe, which are part of the normal arms trade between China and Zimbabwe. The relevant contract was signed last year and has nothing to do with the latest developments inside Zimbabwe. As far as I know, it is universal practice to deliver goods to inland South African countries through the Port of Durban in South Africa. Since the Zimbabwe side could not receive the goods as scheduled, COSCO could not unload at Durban Port and is considering shipping back the goods.

I’d like to stress that the Chinese Government always adopts a prudent and responsible attitude towards arms export and one of the important principles it adheres to is non-interference in the internal affairs of recipient countries. We hope relevant side not to politicize this issue.

On your second question, according to my knowledge, several Chinese professors are teaching at Zimbabwean military schools. What you mentioned might be some teaching activities conducted by the schools. [FMPRC]

So the presence of Chinese soldiers “in their full military regalia and armed with pistols” in Mutare has an innocent explanation. It was a bunch of professors and their students on a field project, for their course on M401 Advanced Crowd Control.

But were an uppity journalist ask Mr Jiang what the professors were teaching, he’d perhaps say “agriculture”. Before you roll your eyes, dear readers, do note that he wouldn’t be wrong. Good agricultural techniques require farmers to, well, farm. Putting errant farmers in their place is an area of agricultural studies routinely ignored by scholars outside China.

More Chinese guns for Mugabe

And military advisors too

The six containers full of small arms that China shipped to Zimbabwe are somewhere off the coast of Africa. Durban in South Africa, the original transit port, didn’t work out. Someone tipped off Noseweek, an appropriately named South African magazine, about the contents of the cargo on the Chinese ship An Yue Zhang, and hell began breaking lose. The transport workers union prevented their unloading. A local bishop got a court order restricting its movement. And a German bank, which is owed money by the Zimbabwean government, acquired a court order to seize the cargo.

Realising that things were getting rather sticky in Durban, the ship quietly slipped away (or “disappeared”), reportedly to Maputo, Mozambique. But Mozambique has refused to allow it into its waters, pointing out that it was bound for Luanda, Angola anyway. The United States officially entered the fray today and “American diplomats have been instructed to press authorities in at least four nations—South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola—not to allow it to dock”. The Bush administration intends to send a special envoy to the region this week. There are reports that a new consignment of arms will now be delivered by air instead.

China’s foreign ministry has been silent. That’s probably because it didn’t know much about the deal, or more likely, is unable to do anything about it. Poly Technologies Corporation (its Chinese phonetic, “Baoli”, means “to keep the profit”) is not only run by the People’s Liberation Army—its long-time chairman is Major-General He Ping, Deng Xiaoping’s son-in-law. The company sells arms to those who can pay for them, mainly “to keep the profit”. Pakistan’s Ghauri missiles are produced using technology sold by Poly. Why, Poly even tried to smuggle AK-47s to the United States in 1996. Zimbabwe is small beer.

Poly Technologies’ export consignment was hardly unusual—and almost certainly not illegal—but the timing couldn’t be worse. Robert Mugabe is using state machinery to suppress political opposition. China is facing an international public relations debacle with the Olympic torch and Tibet. It’s backing of the Sudanese regime had already attracted international opprobrium. To be caught selling six containers of small arms to yet another thuggish African dictator at this time…well, the folks in Beijing are living in interesting times.

But while the arms shipment itself is beginning to catch the world’s attention, a more disturbing revelation relates to the presence of “Chinese soldiers in their full military regalia and armed with pistols checking at the hotel (in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city)”. What were uniformed Chinese military personnel doing in Zimbabwe? Surely, the Chinese foreign ministry can’t repeat the old mantra about “non-interference in the internal affairs” of Zimbabwe?

It’s all so cold war. It’s also something that Africa can’t afford. As Hope, a Zimbabwean blogger at Sokanwele writes:

The unfortunate side-effect of the deep resentment is some xenophobia towards the new Chinese people, and our local Chinese population, who have lived in our country for years, suffer too. But at the end of the day I think – I hope – that those new traders are just like all human beings in the world, craving freedom and maybe seeing Zimbabwe, ironically, as a way to escape the lack of freedom in their own country. I think maybe we have something in common with them in that respect.

But if the Chinese government is actually sending in soldiers, and actively lending some level of military support – advice or otherwise – to Mugabe’s efforts to subvert democracy and cow the population, then their involvement must be exposed. [Sokanwele]

Everyone knows how hard it is to stop mass killings once they start. The prudent course of action for the international community is to suspend arms deliveries to Zimbabwe until the political crisis is sorted out. It is up to China whether it wants to be part of the solution.

Update: According to SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, China was Zimbabwe’s biggest arms supplier. Among the big ticket items it supplied 12 K-8 fighter planes at US$240 million between 2005 and 2006 (excludes small arms).

J Peter Pham has more details at World Defense Review

At a time when the thuggish regime of Robert Mugabe is universally shunned by the civilized world, not least for its crackdown on the political opposition, the PRC has literally handed Zimbabwe the tools of repression: PLA’s definition of “mil-to-mil” relations includes providing a radio-jamming device for a military base outside Harare that prevents independent stations from trying to contradict state-controlled media. As one statement from the Paris-based nongovernmental organization Reporters san frontières noted, “Thanks to support from China, which exports its repressive expertise, Robert Mugabe’s government has yet again just proved itself to be one of the most active predators of press freedom.” For Beijing’s military-industrial complex, however, it may just be a matter of “customer courtesy” for a very reliable client. In late 2004, Zimbabwe paid an estimated $200 million for twelve FC-1 fighter jets and 100 military vehicles. In 2005, it spent $245 million on a dozen K-8 light attack aircraft (the K-8 is the export version of the Hongdu JL-8 jointly developed by the PRC and Pakistan). Last year, for $120 million – an amount that could have fed the entire country for three months – Zimbabwe’s octogenarian president purchased six training aircraft for his air force from the China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation. [WDR, Jun 07]