A year of foreign policy disasters

G. Parthasarathy, IFS
(Former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)
The Government’s handling of GMR’s expulsion from Maldives was a
major diplomatic failure of 2012.
The Government’s handling of GMR’s expulsion from Maldives was a major diplomatic failure of 2012.

[The Government has been flat-footed in responding to China’s assertiveness and addressing national security concerns.]

While the world celebrated the advent of the New Year and firecrackers lit the skies, people across India heaved a sigh of relief that the year 2012 had finally ended.The last year was marked by a declining economic growth rate, continuing high inflation, anger at growing corruption and a gang rape in Delhi that shamed the country for being insensitive to the safety and security of women.

More importantly, what irked people most was the belief that they were being ruled by a Government and political class insensitive to their aspirations and concerns on corruption, inflation and the growing crimes against women. The credibility of the political class is not enhanced by the fact that 162 Members of Parliament face criminal charges, including two charged with sexual assault and abuse.

While public anger at the decline in the standards of governance grew, India saw a decline in its international standing, as a fast growing, “emerging” economy. There was international attention on corruption scandals like “Coalgate”.



But, India had to face the ignominy, for the first time in its history, of a virtual censure by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who condemned violence against women and called for “steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice”.

The New York Times described India as a country “which basks in its growing success as a business and technological Mecca, but tolerates shocking abuses of women”.

But, the most telling comment came from Pakistan’s “Braveheart,” the 15 year old Malala Yousufzai. Alluding to the suffering of the victim, Malala remarked: “The rapists dumped her on the road. The Government dumped her in Singapore. What’s the difference”?

The year 2012 also saw the lustre of being an “emerging economic powerhouse” that India had assiduously built up over the last decade, fade. In June last year, Moody’s scaled down its forecast of India’s economic growth to 5.5 per cent as against 6.5 per cent in the last fiscal year.

Even the most optimistic today will acknowledge that growth this year is going to be well below the last year. More importantly, those who look at the economic scene in India are convinced that with elections due in 2014, the Government will return to its propensity for fiscal profligacy, with schemes like food security, and that it will not be able to reach its target of reducing the fiscal deficit.

On December 11, international ratings agency Standard and Poor’s warned that India still faced a one in three chance of a downgrade of its sovereign rating to “junk” grade in the next 24 months, citing its high fiscal deficit and debt burden.

The fiscal profligacy is telling adversely on national security. It has been reported that essential capital acquisitions of fighter aircraft, mountain artillery, night fighting capability, anti-tank missiles and even in the raising a Strike Corps for deployment on the eastern borders are being postponed.


Clearly, in the run-up to the next elections, populism will prevail over national security — a development which would be gleefully noted in Beijing and Rawalpindi. Added to this, one cannot but be shocked at the ineptitude with the GMR episode in Maldives has been dealt with.

Things have certainly changed from 1988, when the Maldives requested India for assistance in the face of a takeover by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries and India responded with a clinical military intervention within twelve hours. Were our spooks and diplomats sleeping over what was going on internally in Maldives, or the growing Maldives-Beijing nexus?

The implications of the growing Maldives-China relationship should have been evident when China set up a resident diplomatic mission in March 2012. Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed thereafter met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Urumqi on September 2.

Just prior to the meeting, Waheed proclaimed that “unlike other influential countries,” China did not interfere in the internal affairs of small countries.Agreements involving $500 million of Chinese assistance to Maldives were inked at Urumqi. Just prior to the Maldivian decision to terminate the GMR contract, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guangli visited the Maldives. This was followed by a visit to Beijing by Mohammed Nazim the Maldives Minister for Defence, National Security and Transport. Nazim was the Minister who dealt with the GMR airport modernisation and maintenance contract.

India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon was in Beijing around the same time as the Maldives Defence Minister. Before the visit of the NSA, reports were leaked to the media that he would meet the incoming President Xi Jinping. This soon changed and “informed sources” were telling the press that he would meet Premier Designate Li Keqiang. What ultimately transpired was a meeting with his “lame duck” counterpart Dai Bingguo. The Chinese message was loud and clear. While the Defence Minister of Maldives would be received by a high ranking member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the Indian NSA had to be content with meeting his outgoing counterpart.

Chinese assistance is, meanwhile, enabling Pakistan to develop more lethal plutonium- based nuclear weapons. Has any high ranking Indian dignitary, on an official visit to Beijing recently told the Chinese bluntly what we feel about such nuclear proliferation? Will Indian VIPs proclaim “peace in our lifetime”, despite Beijing’s territorial “assertiveness”?


Why no nation will take India seriously

T V R Shenoy

" - - - - - -. What is that old adage about even God being helpless to help a man who shall not help himself? That is a pretty accurate description of India in the here and the now. Some of us want to inhabit a Never-Never Land where Islamic terrorism does not exist (the Shahi Imam's position) or where it does not target India (which seems to be Mulayam Singh Yadav's stance). Fair enough, it is our right to dream as we like. But don't ask the perpetrators of the Mumbai train blasts to share these fantasies."


Author Unknown


The big question facing India is what is the threshold for punishment and retaliation when it comes to Pakistan? How many infiltrations, terrorist attacks, and beheadings are too many?
Few nations have earned such scurrilous sobriquets in the past two decades on the world stage as Pakistan, a nation that former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described as an "international migraine." With designations ranging from Jihadistan to Terroristan to Bizarristan, India’s troubled neighbour has become the global community’s problem child, alternately shunned and psycho-analysed for a variety of afflictions and ailments that ostensibly began at its birth, and deteriorating rapidly of late.

In fact, its pariah status has now seeped into popular script and screenplay. In a recent episode of the hit American television espionage drama Homeland, a key protagonist tells a colleague about Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, "We can’t trust these f*** kers." And Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty starkly and visually lays bare Osama bin Laden’s lair less than a mile from Pakistan’s top military academy. The underlying theme of ties with Pakistan in American TV reports, newspaper headlines and editorials invariably is "with allies like these who needs enemies," with the portmanteau word "frenemy" employed frequently to describe the relationship.

But you would never guess all this observing the current "normalcy resumed" relationship, with both countries returning to an elaborate charade of denials, disclaimers, and deception, both to each other and to themselves, to the mystification of those more closely wedded to facts. For instance, you won’t hear US officials on record exposing Pakistan’s continuing links with terrorist groups, although they might occasionally talk about in private, background conversations.

In the worst case scenario, when Washington really wants to turn the heat on Pakistan, it might deploy a senior official to talk (as Admiral Mullen did shortly before he retired) publicly about the Pakistani military and intelligence agency ties to "militant groups" such as the "Haqqani network." Yes, the same establishment that runs the country by proxy, but that need not be mentioned. Such unbecoming decorum in coddling a terrorist entity seeps down to even the western media. Many of them show touching consideration for Pakistani terrorists attacking India by describing them as "gunmen" and "militants," as they did with the vicious , brainwashed killers and their Pakistani mentors who undertook the carnage in Mumbai.

In fact, over the decades, the western media has developed a style-book laced with many such euphemisms that help gloss over Pakistan’s well-chronicled history of terrorism-infused aggression. One particular wire service anodyne that is a must-add to any story on India-Pakistan tension: "India and Pakistan have fought three wars over Kashmir." This, despite universal recognition, including by Pakistani experts, that Pakistan initiated the wars.

The same trope is ladled out from various official lecterns in Washington (State Department and White House, in particular), where any question about Pakistani aggression or incursion or infiltration or its nuclear proliferation or missile test or expanding arsenal is typically met with advice to "both Pakistan and India to refrain from aggravating the situation." Kargil, when Pakistan’s aggression was incontestable, briefly brought about a new dialectic. But 9/11, the initial distraction it caused, and the US need for Pakistan to later ingress (and now exit) into Afghanistan ensured that Washington was again forced into posturing that Islamabad is an ally.

Even during Kargil, Washington overlooked the Pakistani military’s use of "militants" and "irregular forces" (aka terrorists) alongside regular forces that was revealed in the tapped telephone conversations between then army chief Musharraf and his deputy. Years later, Washington would once again gloss over transcripts of Gen Kayani describing the Haqqani terrorist network of Pakistan’s "strategic assets," except for the one time when Admiral Mullen outed the ally. Between these episodes, Pakistani fingerprints on terrorism continued to surface regularly even in the US: from its ally’s use of David Headley in the Mumbai attack , to the attempted bombing of Times Square and numerous other convictions of expat Pakistanis, to its financing Ghulam Nabi Fai to keep the Kashmir issue alive. Each was treated as a separate, isolated episode, each time absolving the Pakistani state.

So why the kidglove treatment for Pakistan’s use of terrorism (and the "Kidwai glove" treatment on the expanding nuclear arsenal, named after the man who minds the assets)? A New York Times editorial this past summer titled "Crippled, Chaotic Pakistan," echoed the official view, wearily pointing out that the country has just refused to cut ties with "militant" groups. "Some in Congress want to designate the Haqqanis as a terrorist organisation. That would be unwise because such a move could lead to Pakistan’s being designated a terrorist state subject to sanctions and make cooperation even harder," it lamented, before concluding, "The United States has no choice but to try to work with Pakistan, including the army, when it can." Shorn of editorialese, it read: Pakistan is a terrorist state; we all know it. But we have no choice but to work with it and try and roll it back. It is the same policy that New Delhi has also been forced to follow.

In many ways, this has emboldened the Pakistani military establishment to up the ante, secure that the US will not cross the red line, and certainly not in defence of India, even as it continues attritional low-grade warfare against India. The system now employs a wide variety of irregular personnel (from retired or cashiered army personnel to free lance operatives) to maintain plausible deniability and plead, in the event they are caught, that "non-state actors" were responsible for it. Among this cast of non-state actors who have appeared on the Pakistani terror show: Ilyas Kashmiri, a former SSG commando according to some accounts, Major Iqbal and Sajid Mir, handlers for the Mumbai terrorists, Omar Saeed Sheikh and David Headley, double agents co-opted from British and American intelligence, and Tahawwur Rana, an army deserter who declined to serve in Siachen but was drafted for terror operations.

But the Pakistani establishment’s biggest asset is a small team of skilled ministers and diplomats that can bat convincingly if glibly before a usually credulous western audience — and stonewall before an incisive one. Last week, as border tensions between India and Pakistan flared up, Islamabad’s personable foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar was out on the diplomatic frontlines, batting elegantly for her country in the US. In a 24-hour sweep of the media and think tanks in New York, she appeared on the Charlie Rose Show, Asia Society, and Council for Foreign Relations, presenting Pakistan as the epitome of peace and amity in the aftermath of the border spat, and glossing over months of inactivity on bringing 26/11 perpetrators to trial. There was no Indian counter to her charges that India was the warmonger bespoiling the peace process.

In New Delhi meanwhile, Pakistan’s polished ambassador Salman Bashir was quoted as offering to probe the beheading of an Indian soldier, although Khar in New York had already announced that Pakistan had investigated the incident and no such thing had happened.

Despite the contradictory messages, it was a virtuoso performance that left Indian officials grinding their teeth in frustration because it projected Pakistan as being reasonable and New Delhi as cussed to a western audience. As Indian babus read it, the Pakistani military establishment keeps throwing lighted matches on a tense, incendiary border and then sends out its most polished diplomats to talk about how to put out the fire. At the end of a tension-fraught week, even Indian analysts were picking up the American refrain of not pushing Pakistan too hard lest it implode. For the hardliners though, that is exactly the fear that Pakistanis play on with both Washington and New Delhi to extract concessions, a policy of survival through blackmail which Americans have characterised as someone pointing a gun to his own head: Give us what we want or jihadis will get their hands on our nuclear weapons and the whole region will go up in flames.

The United States is 11,000 km away from Pakistan , but the big question facing next-door India is: what is the threshold for punishment and retaliation when it comes to Pakistan? How many infiltrations, terrorist attacks, and beheadings are too many? And can the Pakistani civilian government’s overtures credibly be treated separately from its military’s credo of ceaseless confrontation with India, which is what keeps it in business? There are no easy answers. Not even in the US.