Friday, 19 December 2008

The Geopolitics of India

Of all the articles and opinion pieces about India and Pakistan that I have been devouring in recent times, this one from Stratfor is the most fascinating. It provides a strategic geopolitical basis for understanding the nature of India, its fundamental drivers and its relationship with its neighbours.

I've come away with a deeper insight in one or two areas. One, I have always believed that Pakistan has nothing to fear from India, but according to this article, it appears that notwithstanding the benign worldview of the Indian government of the day, there are fundamental geopolitical reasons why India poses an existential threat to Pakistan. (According to another Stratfor article supporting this view, "geography dictates that Pakistan either be absorbed into India or fight a losing battle against Indian influence.")

Another interesting insight is that in spite of the fact that Indians often speak of the Chinese threat as being potentially greater than the one from Pakistan, the article asserts that India and China are virtually on different planets and pose no geostrategic threats to each other.

In all other respects, it confirms the commonly held Indian view that "we threaten no one and are not interested in anyone else's affairs, nor are we fundamentally affected by others".

It's a pretty compelling line of reasoning and a highly recommended read.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

An Audacious Suggestion to the President of Pakistan

Pakistan is in a bind.

It seemingly faces threats from every direction. Stratfor lists four major operational demands on the Pakistani army:

  • Defend the border with India, being prepared for possible conventional Indian military aggression.
  • Combat the home-grown Taliban insurgency raging across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Pashtun districts of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
  • Combat a much lower-intensity — but nonetheless very real — mounting insurgency in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
  • Provide heightened military security in Islamabad and other major urban centers in order to defend against an uptick in radical Islamist suicide bombings domestically.

Stratfor adds that Pakistan maintains 6 of its 9 Corps formations on the Indian border.

To an Indian, something in all this information sticks out like a sore thumb. The "threat" against which Pakistan has deployed the bulk of its army is ironically the one that is not a threat at all!

You see, if India blinks and leaves its border unguarded for a moment, either Pakistani troops or irregulars would move in in an instant and dig themselves in, as happened in Kargil in 1999.

But if Pakistan leaves the same border unguarded, India is highly unlikely to take similar advantage. Frankly, India has far bigger fish to fry than to try and occupy measly Pakistani territory. Indians know this because we're not obsessed with Pakistan and Pakistani territory the way "elements in Pakistan" are obsessed with "grabbing back" "their" territory in India.

So here's my suggestion to President Zardari (who I must say appears to be one of the most sensible leaders of that country in recent times):

Quickly sign a border agreement with India, formalising the line of control as the international border. This has been talked about in India for decades, and the Indian leadership is likely to jump at the offer.

Once the agreement is signed, you can pull your divisions from the Indian border secure in the knowledge that you won't be attacked. You can redeploy your troops where they're really needed instead of wasting them in guarding against a non-existent bogeyman. Heck, in time you can even reduce the strength of your army and use the money for development. It's an excessive military budget for a small poor country, you know.

The cost? You give up territory that you don't have and will likely never get, so it's really getting something for nothing.

It's a deal too good to pass up.

Do you have the guts, Mr. President?