The Tantrums Which Will Follow Explosions

Arun Shourie


 

 

    We are so dazzled by reports of the strides China has made in enlarging its economy that we do not notice that one of the principal uses to which it is putting its new wealth is to multiply its military strength. Pick up any book or analysis about security developments in the Pacific region or in Asia, and the facts it sets out about China are bound to startle.

    Here are some from one that you will rind in your nearest book shop: Asia's Deadly Triangle by Kent Calder, for long the Director of the programme on US-Japan Relations at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and later Senior Advisor for East Asian and Pacific Affairs to the U S State Department.

    1974: While the two Vietnams are battling over Saigon, China in a swift operation grabs the Paracels. By now China has constructed a major air base at Woody Island there.

    1974, 1978 and yet again in 1988: Not once, but thrice Vietnam has been invaded by China, and has to fight to stave it off.

    1992: China's National People's Congress unilaterally decrees a "Law on the Territorial Waters and their Contiguous Areas." By the generosity of this new self-proclaimed "Law" China lays claim to 80 per cent of the South China Sea. The areas, it claims, ranges as far down as Malaysia and Indonesia!

    1995: "The shadow of China looms large in these strategic southern waters... A major oil strike has already been made off the nearby Filipino island of Palawan, which prompted a Chinese land grab only 170 kilometers away in early 1995. A massive natural gas find -- the Natuna field off Indonesia -- has also recently been made and has likewise rapidly found itself within Chinese waters on Chinese maps..."

    December 1995: Chinese drilling ships entered Japanese-claimed waters to prospect for offshore oil...

    In the past decade border trade between Burma and Yunan has increased thirty-fold -- to nearly $1 billion a year. Chinese are now the main prop of the Myanmar regime, they are the ones who are building and controlling the road and transportation network in the northern and north-eastern parts of that hapless State.

    And not for nothing. Calder reports:

    "China has used its leverage strategically. In late 1992, Western spy satellites, for example, detected a new 150-foot antenna used for signals intelligence at a naval base on Coco Island, a Burmese possession on Indian Ocean sea routes... Western analysts believe Myanmar is allowing Chinese technicians to operate this as a listening post. More recently, China has been pressing Myanmar to allow access to Victoria Point, a long, rugged Burmese island within three hundred Kilometers of the Strait of Malacca, the vital seaway through which much of Northeast Asia's trade must pass. China is also upgrading the Burmese Navy, together with the roads and railroads that lead from its Yunan province southward towards this Indian Ocean..."

    Calder details the extensive way in which China is developing a blue-water navy. And even more so, its Air Force. And, from a source which will surprise Indians! Calder recalls the yard-sale of Soviet equipment and how China was flush with hard currency, and writes,

    "They (the Chinese) began by buying dozens of Su-27 fighters and made plans to produce their own version of Russia's top-of-the-line MiG-31 strategic interceptor, using a small Army of fifteen hundred Russian engineers and technicians.

    Hundreds more were put on retainer, creating an elaborate E-mail network between Russian and Chinese defence research institutes that has since accelerated the development of Chinese aerospace and nuclear programs... China's air force modernization program is by no means defensive. Apart from the MiG-3 that is to be coproduced, China also reportedly acquired air-to-air refueling technology from Iran, which had gotten it , in turn, from the United States during the reign of the Shah. It also purchased Tu-22 long range bombers, IL-76 military transports, S-300 ground-based antiballistic missiles, and A-50 airborne warning and control planes from the Russians..."

    True, matching China militarily does not ward off the threat it may pose if in the meanwhile our economy flounders. But to conclude from this that doing well economically will be enough, would be sheer idiocy. Similarly, acquiring a modest nuclear arsenal does not mean one is fully prepared to meet such threat as China may pose. But to conclude from that truism that one can do without the arsenal is just foolish.

    Today our commentators are all denunciation. Land of Buddha and Gandhi, they say: but surely this is also the land of Krishna and Arjuna, of the "Dhanushdhari" Ram, of Shivaji and Maharana Pratap, and Lokmanya Tilak!

    Not just that, the moment persons like me have in the past talked of the pivotal role of Gandhiji, these were the very persons who have shouted, "But you are ignoring the difference that Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad made." Overnight the BJP has made a peace-loving India into a warmongering country, they declaim, having expended reams denigrating us for being cunning, conspiring, congenital murderers!

    Contrast what these pundits are suddenly writing with what the "Strategic Affairs Editor" of the very peace-loving, secular paper. "The Hindu", wrote in August last year.

    The news which we noticed earlier had just broken out -- that the Clinton administration was about to certify that China was no longer exporting nuclear and missile technologies.

    Under the paper's headline, "India in a nuclear limbo," the website carries the following from this very paper:

    "As the Clinton administration gets ready to sell nuclear power reactors to China, India is confronted with a crucial paradox. About Five decades after China and India embarked on modernization, the great powers of the international system are falling over each other to offer strategic technologies to China. India, on the other hand, has "become a near-untouchable in the international trade in sensitive technologies... The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not explicitly ban cooperation in the nuclear weapons field among the nuclear weapon powers. In short, China has the best of both worlds; and India, the worst. As a declared nuclear weapon power, China has access to both civilian aid military nuclear technologies. in contrast, India, after serenading itself as a player on the global nuclear stage for five decades, has neither a credible nuclear weapons programme nor a robust civilian atomic power industry. India has no one to blame but itself for the unenviable situation...

    "Many in the United States have raised questions about the continuing Chinese support to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme and the wisdom of beefing up the nuclear industrial base of a nation that is seen by many Americans as a potential adversary. But the logic of the current policy of engaging China could well push Washington into civilian nuclear cooperation with Beijing. Where does that leave India? In a nuclear limbo...

    "Any serious review of the Indian nuclear policy would result in two basic propositions. One is the need to end the nuclear ambiguity and exercise the weapons option in a manner that is credible but non-provocative. And, the other: Having come out of the nuclear closet, Indian readiness to engage the global nuclear order for a modus vivendi. If India is ready to play the game, it indeed has beverages -- a large nuclear power market, an ability to disrupt the global non-proliferation regime through diplomacy and future nuclear exports and its potential role in the Asian balance of power."

    The condescension: "after serenading itself as a player..." The fundamental and unvarying theme: "India has no one to blame but itself for the unenviable situation..." The snootiness which makes them look upon all this as a "game". The generalized pentification: when the attitude of countries -- from China to the US -- is what we have seen it to be, pray, how is one to "end the nuclear-ambiguity and exercise the weapons option in a manner that is credible but non-provocative"? The rule Orwell had lanced -- when you don't know what to say, use a foreign expression! Hence, "modus vivendi", what this "arrangement or compromise" is to be, to use the dictionary meaning, "by which we may get along with those who do not agree with us," is left as an exercise for the reader!

    Each of these write-ups deserve attention as it manifests a mindset. But I am on the other point: the operational advice. The Editor's advice in that analysis, as we see, is to "come out of the nuclear closet," it is to "exercise the weapons option." That advice has but to be acted upon, and the analysts break out in a pink rash! "Arms race initiated by India under the stewardship of the Vajpayee administration," the same paper fumes.

    "Jingoistic chauvinism," it declares. "Public opinion within Pakistan inflamed by provocative and chauvinist attitudes displayed here," it pronounces.

    Hence, the four principles of secularist-liberal-nostalgically, Maoist-nostalgically Lahorite discourse:

    1. India is, it has always been, it will always be One hundred per cent wrong, with no one to blame but itself;

    2. India led by BJP is, it has always been, it will always be Two hundred per cent wrong, with no one to blame but the BJP;

    3. Pakistan is, it has always been, it will always be One hundred per cent right, with no one to blame but India;

    4. Pakistan backed by China is, it has always been, it will always be Two hundred per cent right, with, not one, but two to blame - India and BJP!

    But they are a dwindling race, and the more they adhere to these principles, the shorter we will have to wait.

    The point is about Pakistan. There is no doubt that while the Government's decision to go in for the explosions was necessary, that while many aspects of the matter were handled with skill, the spate of statements which followed the blasts harmed the case enormously. Fortunately they have ceased. But the same temptations can arise tomorrow, and so the Prime Minister must enforce firm rules on his colleagues and party.

    This is particularly so because of what is certain to be Pakistan's strategy in the coming months. Anyone who has been reading Pakistani papers must know that for eight months there have been two running themes in them.

    One, that the country is close to bankruptcy -- that by July or August it will be close to defaulting on its repayment obligations. To get bailouts from the IMF and the World Bank, Nawaz Sharief had decreed privatisation and down-sizing of an array of governmental enterprises. But strikes in banks, troubles in WAPDA, stay orders by courts arrested the measures.

    Second, every commentator, paper after paper has been warning that, in spite of his overwhelming majority in the Pakistan Assembly, Nawaz Sharief will never rest till he has acquired absolute, dictatorial power. They forecast this from what they know of his nature, and from the moves he has been making. First, he curtailed the freedom of the members of the Assembly. Then he struck at the judiciary. Then the President was forced out.

    The emergency he has imposed is the result and culmination of these two factors. It is the exact thing which commentators have been forecasting all these months. But now that he has complete power, he has no excuses left -- except India. And no way left except to heighten tensions with India. For anyone in India to respond in kind will only be to help him out of a deep ditch.

    There is the other aspect too. Pakistan has failed in regard to Kashmir. Its strategy now will be to throw a tantrum a day: "Unless the issue of Kashmir is solved, there will be nuclear war" -- the equivalent of Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the UN. And, so as to lend urgency and verisimilitude to the tantrum, to stage major incidents in Kashmir. Persons like the UK Foreign Secretary will be only too eager to pounce on these worked-up tantrums to initiate what they have in any case been panting to do -- that is, get a foothold for a third-party intervention.

    To be provoked into angry, retaliatory words would be to help Pakistan along. For once let us be truly Buddha-like! To a taunt, to a tantrum he would respond with silence, with a smile!

    That plus, to continue the work: defeat every attempt to send terrorists across, crush every attempt to stoke violence again in the Valley; and buck up the local administration in Kashmir.

    In a word, it is done. it was done well, now get down to the next steps.


    The Pioneer
    June 5, 1998