Varun Sahni Varun Sahni, Professor, International Politics, JNU, & Member, Governing Council, IPCS
In 2016, India is likely to hit a ‘sweet spot’ and come to be seen – despite a host of domestic debilities and external vulnerabilities – as an island of growth and stability. This year, several countries whose internal dynamics are acutely relevant to India will undergo internal transitions of one sort or another. Leading the pack are the three countries that constitute India’s three cardinal external relationships: the US, China, and Pakistan. Three others – Myanmar, Afghanistan and Nepal – in India’s immediate neighbourhood too are experiencing protracted political transitions. Finally, there is an important evolving relationship with Brazil, a country three oceans and two hemispheres away that is experiencing severe internal turbulence and could well be heading towards transition.
The US The 2016 US presidential election is turning out to be one of the most unusual since the 1948 Truman-Dewey matchup. It is increasingly expected that Hillary Clinton will face Donald Trump after the primaries; but much could yet happen to overturn this expectation. Trump, Clinton, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders all speak to sectional constituencies that feel scared, angry and ignored. As in the late 1970s, many Americans feel humiliated and demoralised about what they see as their country’s decline in world affairs. When a similar mood prevailed in 1980, an unconventional candidate, Ronald Reagan, was elected. The world could once again witness an unexpected electoral outcome in the 2016 US presidential elections. The US has not been as internally divided as today since the Civil War. These divisions are not only causing electoral unpredictability but also policy uncertainty and even paralysis. Predicting the contours of Washington's policies under a Clinton administration is at least a plausible venture; but under a Trump administration, who can tell what will happen?
China The ongoing rebooting of China is equally important. Change will not be easy for a $12 trillion economy comprising 1.35 billion people. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream is centenarian: making China a moderately well-off society by 2021 and a fully developed nation by 2049, i.e. the 100th anniversaries of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) respectively. Economically, rebooting China is essential: after three decades of 10 per cent annual growth rates, China is now a middle income country that must transform its export-led growth and government-led investment model to a more sustainable lower growth trajectory that relies on internal demand and consumption-led growth.
Transformation has a sharp political edge under Xi. The anti-corruption campaign has severely disrupted tacit understandings across all levels of the CPC, especially in the higher echelons. So far, the only winners appear to be the so-called ‘princelings’, children of first generation CPC revolutionaries. As political power is increasingly being monopolised by a single leader, the orderly decadal transitions of the administrations of former Chinese Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao may no longer serve as a template for the future. Certainly, the ‘collective leadership’ of the Hu years is already a thing of the past.
Pakistan Pakistan too will experience a significant transition this year. The country’s Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, is scheduled to retire on 29 November. He has garnered immense popularity in the Pakistani society and across the political spectrum by taking the battle to groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). He has characterised the TTP as an even greater threat to Pakistan than India is. Such characterisation was a clear departure from his predecessors as also from his own biography: his maternal uncle and elder brother were killed in wars against India. Although several voices advocate that he should be given an extension, Sharif has insisted that he will leave in November.
Given the monopoly Pakistan’s military has over the country’s overall policies related to India, the Kashmir issue, and nuclear weapons, from an Indian perspective, the identity of Sharif’s successor is a significant matter. The senior-most lieutenant general, Maqsood Ahmad, is currently a military adviser at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Most likely, he will retire from the army in January 2017, as will three other lieutenant-generals who follow Ahmed in seniority. Thus, Sharif’s likely successors are lieutenant-generals Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed or Javed Iqbal Ramday, currently commanders of 2 Corps (Multan) and 31 Corps (Bahawalpur) respectively. However, there is a long tradition of supersession when army chiefs change in Pakistan. Sharif’s successor could be someone lower on the seniority list, such as Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, currently director-general, Inter-Services Intelligence. Both the identity and orientation of Sharif’s successor would be important factors in New Delhi-Islamabad relations.
Myanmar Ostensibly, the ongoing political transition in Myanmar is the least problematic of the three other transitions in India’s immediate neighbourhood that have the potential to pose challenges for Indian policy. Electoral democracy has certainly triumphed in Myanmar. The next crucial stage will be for a democratic system to provide effective governance. Several factors could yet upset systemic stability. Keeping Myanmar military onside during the transition is critical; and with 25 per cent of the votes in the parliament, the military can block any constitutional amendment. There are huge pent up expectations in Myanmar’s population and, after receiving such a massive electoral majority, the National League for Democracy government will be expected to produce visible results soon. The ethnic minorities' issue, especially of the Rohingyas, could bring significant external pressure on the young democratic government. Finally, Htin Kyaw as president and Aung San Suu Kyi as the power behind the throne could be a feasible arrangement in the immediate future, but in the longer term, this could kindle the problem of dual centres of power.
Afghanistan In 2016, Afghanistan too may face the problem of dual power centres. The US-brokered arrangement of September 2014 that resulted in Ashraf Ghani as Afghanistan’s president and Abdullah Abdullah as the country’s chief executive officer has worked much better than most had expected. The Taliban’s so-called annual ‘spring offensive’ can be expected from mid-April. However, US President Barack Obama’s October 2015 decision to maintain the current force of 9,800 through most of 2016, then begin drawing down to 5,500 late in early 2017, works to Kabul’s favour. That the Taliban and the Islamic State are now targeting each other adds to Afghanistan’s perturbation and violence but further strengthens the government. India’s core challenge in Afghanistan will remain the same: maintaining its high levels of development assistance while its personnel and citizens continue to be specifically targeted by the Taliban and other insurgents.
Nepal The most prolonged and troubled transition in India’s regional neighbourhood has been in Nepal. New Delhi’s role in this transition also marks one of the biggest failures of Indian foreign policy in the recent years. In part, Kathmandu’s problem has been one that it shares with other relatively small countries: the tendency of having a difficult time acknowledging and designing for ethno-cultural diversity. Sri Lanka is another South Asian example of this tendency. However, Nepal’s protracted transition, particularly its constitution-making travails, also highlight the difficulties of framing a constitution in an era of mass politics and intrusive mass media. The Madhesi problem is likely to remain unresolved through 2016, with continuing negative spill-over effects on India. Given India’s organic ethno-cultural and ecological linkages with Nepal, this is unfortunate but unavoidable.
Brazil Brazil – India’s new partner in the BRICS and other ventures – is experiencing a year of Olympian discontent. The economy is shrinking as the recession cuts deep: a negative growth rate of 3.9 per cent is expected in 2016, albeit it could be as severe as 6 per cent. The world still expects Brazilians to rally around and throw a big party when the Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro in mid-2016. However, these days, the mood in Brazil is particularly grim. Investigations of corruption in Petrobras, the massive state-owned energy company, have led to prosecutions and indictments that have now reached the highest levels of government. The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in Congress has been indicted for corruption. Shockingly, corruption charges have now tainted former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the patron saint of the Brazilian left and mentor of incumbent President Dilma Rousseff. Calls for Rousseff’s resignation are increasing and there are moves to begin impeachment proceedings in Congress. Rousseff’s impeachment is unlikely as she still has the support of most Workers Party (PT) and Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) legislators. However, it is sobering to consider the possibility that the Rousseff administration is de facto at an end and will limp on as a lame duck till 2018. Most worryingly, the possibility of massive public unrest on ideological right-left lines cannot be discounted.
In this analysis of key transitions, situations of stasis have obviously been ignored. However, some cases of supposed stability should also be problematised. For instance, it is unclear as to how long incumbent Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party will be able to marginalise their longstanding traditional rivals, Khaleda Zia and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or continue the process of retributive justice against the perpetrators of the 1971 independence war genocide. Likewise, although he still seems to be firmly in the driving seat in Russia, in 2016, some searching questions will be asked about President Vladimir Putin’s staying power.
Varun Sahni Professor and Chairperson, CIPOD, SIS, JNU & Member, IPCS Executive Committee
As the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) goes to the polls to elect a State Assembly, it is an appropriate moment to reflect on how democracy, diversity and dissent are closely intertwined in the state. The last two state assembly elections, in 2002 and 2008, have by almost all accounts been free and fair. So have the general elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014 in the state. Perhaps most significantly, the Panchayat elections of 2011 were a resounding success, with an astounding 82 per cent voter turnout. There is no reason to expect that the forthcoming state assembly elections would be a departure from this trend. Undoubtedly, J&K continues to have many democracy deficits, but these are no longer deficits of an electoral nature.
The other aspect the ongoing elections are once again highlighting is the sheer diversity of J&K. While the rest of India has been territorially made, unmade and remade, and almost always on socio-cultural lines in order to manage diversity, the territorial expanse of the former princely state of J&K has been altered not by internal reorganisation but by external aggression. This ‘inside-outside’ dynamic – external compulsions preventing internal rearrangement – has ensured that J&K will remain, well into the future, exactly as we encounter it today: as a political community of extraordinary diversity.
J&K is the only erstwhile princely state that has not been merged or amalgamated with neighbouring territory. J&K had only a few peers during the British Raj: the five Indian Princes entitled to the 21-gun salute were the Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar, the Maharaja of Mysore, the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda, and the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior. The territorial trajectories of these five states are fascinating. For instance, after Gwalior State acceded to India in 1947, it was merged with the states of the Central India Agency to form Madhya Bharat, which later became Madhya Pradesh, which was later further reorganised in 2000 with the creation of Chhattisgarh. Baroda State formally acceded to the Dominion of India in1949 and was first merged with Bombay state. In 1960, when the two new states of Gujarat and Maharashtra were formed, Baroda became part of Gujarat.
What about Mysore State? As a result of the States Reorganisation Act, in1956, the Kannada-speaking districts of Belgaum (except Chandgad taluk), Bijapur, Dharwar, and North Canara were transferred from Bombay State to Mysore State. Bellary, South Canara and Udupi districts were transferred from Madras State and the Koppal, Raichur, Gulbarga and Bidar districts from Hyderabad State. Also, Coorg State was merged into Mysore, becoming a district of Mysore State. Those areas that spoke the Kannada language were thus unified into one state. As a large portion of this new state comprised the territory of Mysore, the name ‘Mysore’ was retained as the name of the newly created state until it was renamed to Karnataka in 1973.
But none of these territorial changes compare with the way in which Hyderabad State was reorganised. In September 1948, the Dominion of India invaded the State of Hyderabad and overthrew its Nizam, annexing the state into what would become the Indian Union. In 1956, during the Reorganisation of the Indian States based along linguistic lines, the Telugu-speaking region of the Hyderabad State was merged with Andhra State, the Marathi speaking region was merged with Bombay state and the Kannada speaking region with Mysore State. In a very real sense, Hyderabad state was not merely renamed or reorganised; it ceased to exist. In June 2014, Telangana re-emerged as a separate state, with Hyderabad City as the capital of both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for 10 years.
These mergers, amalgamations and partitions are the story of independent India, as the open and democratic political system has catered to – and sometimes caved in the face of pressure to – popular demands emerging largely on socio-cultural and ethno-cultural grounds. The ‘other four’ 21-gun-salute states are a sample not only of all erstwhile princely states but also of all the territories in erstwhile British India. Apart from J&K, all other territories within India have been reconfigured by the operation of democratic politics, sometimes deliberative and sometimes agitational, but always seeking to diminish socio-cultural diversity.
Untouched by the 1956 Reorganisation of States, J&K is by far the most linguistically diverse state in India. Despite some agitational politics on this issue in recent years, the state cannot easily be reorganised, for two distinct reasons. The first pertains to the external shadows that have always hung upon the state. Analytically, experientially and existentially, J&K is bordered by two foreign powers, China and Pakistan that view its territory with hostile intent. No other state in the Indian Union faces these geostrategic challenges. Secondly, in its socio-cultural geography, J&K is a land of nested minorities. Thus, any international reorganisation of the state will always be a blunt instrument and many people and communities would feel the brunt of such reorganisation.
The unique form of dissent in J&K is inextricably linked to issues of democracy and diversity. This important topic will be explored in a later column.
Varun Sahni Professor and Chairperson, CIPOD, SIS, JNU & Member, IPCS Executive Committee
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September, much was made of the personal rapport and chemistry between him and his host, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Chinese investment worth US$20 billion, although a fraction of the figures (US$100-300 billion) that had been touted before the visit, was nevertheless significant in the bilateral context. It was also noteworthy that the Indian leadership was forceful in highlighting India’s concerns on such bilateral irritants as border incursions, stapled visas and river waters. The relaxed atmospherics and candid conversation presage a developing maturity in the bilateral relationship, which is important for the evolving power relationships across Asia and further afield.
One of the fascinating aspects of the visit and the Modi-Xi meeting was the way in which China and India can now be juxtaposed. When we juxtapose two entities, we place them close together for contrasting effect. From an International Relations (IR) perspective, what happens when we juxtapose the two Asian giants?
China and India can be juxtaposed across three distinct dimensions. The first of them is comparative. China is one of the few countries in the world with which India can sensibly be compared (Brazil is another). In any comparative exercise, the two cases being compared should be sufficiently similar for the comparison to be warranted, yet sufficiently dissimilar for the comparison to be fruitful. A China-India comparison can be undertaken from a multitude of disciplinary perspectives, focus on a wide variety of issue areas and encompass vast historical periods. Almost any sensible China-India comparison would yield fascinating results.
However, when Indian analysts attempt this comparison, it is usually in unidirectional, yardstick terms. By this one means that China is treated as the benchmark against which India is measured: ‘Why cannot we be more like them?’ The more ‘policy relevant’ the study is, the greater this line of speculation is in evidence. In India, China is very rarely studied qua China, in order to understand its dynamics, trends and complexities on its own terms. Much more often, Indian analytical treatments of China are as exemplar, allegory or metaphor.
The second dimension in which China and India can be juxtaposed is relational. Here, the focus is upon the factors that would bring the two countries together, as opposed to those that would set them apart. While conflict between states is relatively easy to explain, there is no single (or singular) explanation of why states decide to work in concert. In IR, different theoretical streams provide radically different answers to the question ‘Why do states come together?’ The three predominant explanations, to simplify theoretical propositions, are as follows. Realists argue that states make alliances to aggregate power. Liberals suggest that states cooperate to solve problems and thereby enhance their opportunities. Constructivists hold that states come together to build community. What is interesting is not only that each of these explanations rings true, but also that each is obviously incomplete and imperfect in the sense that it does not tell the whole story. Each of these - power aggregation, problem solving and community building - will probably play a role in China-India bilateral relations. For instance, the BRICS grouping that contains both China and India could be considered as an example of power aggregation.
If China and India working together seems far-fetched, we would do well to recall that China-India relations have spanned the security spectrum - war at one end, alliance at the other - during the twentieth century. While the two countries fought a war - brief and limited, but war nonetheless - against each other in 1962, they also were allies during the Second World War, before Indian Independence and the Chinese Revolution.
However, the most interesting dimension that emerges from juxtaposing China and India is the conceptual one. It has become quite trendy in IR to put both China and India in the same category of states, usually characterising both of them as rising powers. But doing so is tantamount to making a serious conceptual error. While China is rising, India is emerging.
Although China is an emerging economy, it is a rising power, not an emerging power. This is not a semantic distinction but a substantive one: unlike emerging powers, which could have a systemic impact sometime in the future, a rising power already has a systemic impact today.
Juxtaposing China and India brings out this conceptual point with clarity. It also leads to an important taxonomical insight: the difference between China and India today is not one of degree but of kind, thus making it analytically incorrect to place both China and India in the same category of states. Is there more at play here than the decade-plus lead that China has over India in terms of economic reform? What are the structural factors, domestic and external, that undergird this distinction? Can - and how can - India narrow the gap and become a rising power itself? Most important of all, is China’s lead necessarily a problem for India? Perhaps it is worth reflecting that China’s rise is masking India’s emergence: while the world focuses on China, India has time to get its own act together, inside and out.
Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability
Varun Sahni Professor and Chairperson, CIPOD, SIS, JNU & Member, IPCS Executive Committee
Hatf IX (Nasr) is a Pakistani ballistic missile which can deliver a sub-kiloton nuclear warhead over a range of 60 km, or 37.3 miles. It is supposed to have entered service in 2013 and is believed to be fully integrated into Pakistan’s C3I (command, control, communications and intelligence). Its purported role is as a low-yield battlefield deterrent against mechanised columns. Should India – and the world – take Nasr seriously?
The development and deployment of Nasr by Pakistan was inevitable and the impact of this tactical nuclear weapon (tac nuke) on the emerging India-Pakistan deterrence relationship is inherently destabilising.
Defining Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Pakistani Context
There are four different yardsticks by which tac nukes could be defined and classified. The first is the range of the missile: it must be short range, that is less than 80-100 km. The second is yield of warhead, conventionally benchmarked at less than 5 kilotons (kT) with reference to a 1994 US Congressional definition prohibiting R&D in US nuclear weapons laboratories below this yield. The third is function – Pakistan would use its tactical nuclear weapons in an anti-armour role; bunker busting is the primary role envisaged by US proponents of research into low yield nuclear weapons. The fourth yardstick is impact, which in the case of tac nukes is limited to the immediate battlefield, or in other words, the sub-theatre.
Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Problem than a Solution?
Why are tac nukes usually seen as a problem rather than as a solution? In the first place, they lower the nuclear threshold by blurring the distinction between conventional and nuclear war. Secondly, tac nukes accentuate the ‘always-never dilemma’ inherent in all nuclear weapons: they must always work when you want them to, yet never be used when you do not want them to be used. The possibility of unauthorised or accidental use increases significantly with tac nukes: unlike ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), whose commanders have delegative control, in the case of tac nukes delegative control may go down to subaltern/NCO levels under battlefield conditions. Thirdly, battlefield deployment of tac nukes, especially in situations of rapid armour movement, creates an enormous pressure to ‘use them or lose them’. Finally, there is a much greater possibility for tac nukes to fall into ‘wrong hands’ due to theft, pilferage or sabotage.
Given these problems, all of them well known for decades, why has Pakistan gone down the tac nuke route? In order to understand why, it is important to underline that Pakistan has, from even before South Asia’s overt nuclearisation, signalled a nuclear doctrine of not only first use but also early use. This doctrine has created problems for Pakistan, whose nuclear planners have had to grapple with the issue of nuclear thresholds, that is the point beyond which Pakistan would have no option but to use its nuclear weapons. As far back as 2002, the Landau Network–Centro Volta team (Cotta-Ramusino and Martellini) had identified four Pakistani thresholds: geographic (space threshold), military, political (domestic destabilisation) and even economic. Tac nukes are Pakistan’s solution to the military threshold.
Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Here to Stay
There are three essential features of Pakistan that suggest that its tac nukes are here to stay. Firstly, as the weaker power in the India-Pakistan dyad, Pakistan faces significant conventional asymmetries. Only nuclear weapons provide Pakistan with a sense of strategic parity with India. Faced with the possibility of an Indian armoured thrust in the plains or desert sectors, Pakistan is signalling that it will use its tactical nuclear weapons despite their escalatory potential.
Secondly, Pakistan is a quintessential ‘homeland state’ with deep existential anxieties. Its entire national identity has been constructed as a homeland for an endangered people facing a historically implacable foe. No matter how many internal security challenges it faces, Pakistan will not drop its guard vis-à-vis India and will always give the external threat primacy. In such an identity construction, nuclear weapons give Pakistan and its people the assurance of national survival and civilizational certitude that they are second to none. Furthermore, they encapsulate the sense of ‘we will all go together when we go’ – akin to the Samson Option of that other nuclearised homeland state, Israel.
Finally, Pakistan is a revisionist power that has systematically pursued asymmetric strategies to overturn the territorial status quo. In this context, the nature of the ‘Kashmir issue’ comes into sharp focus. As a wise person once said of the Kashmir issue, ‘Kashmir is with India, the issue is with Pakistan.’ While admittedly a neat play on words, this observation identifies two core elements in the ‘shadow of the future’: (1) The Kashmir issue will be resolved only when Pakistan considers it resolved; (2) any change in the territorial status quo would be inimical to India. Pakistan’s dilemma is the nuclear weapons give it strategic parity but also buttress the territorial status quo. This explains why Pakistan has no compunction in deliberately shortening its nuclear fuse vis-à-vis India by deploying tac nukes.
An arms control agreement between India and Pakistan over tac nukes is unlikely: there is no incentive for Pakistan to remove a redline that begins at the international border (IB) itself. The strategic challenges that Pakistan’s tac nukes pose for India will be explored in a future column.
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