A version of the following was published on Nov 30th by DNA at: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_china-s-proxies-pak-and-n-korea-are-bamboozling-us_1474172

America is bamboozled by China’s proxies, North Korea and Pakistan

 

Rajeev Srinivasan contends that instead of throwing in its lot with a declining America, it should aspire to be one of the G3 great powers

 

There is a fin-de-siecle feeling in the air, of a change of guard. America’s self-confidence is at a low, and its strategists and policymakers are conceding the world stage to China. Caught in two nasty and difficult-to-win wars, it suffers from imperial overstretch, and there are parallels between the rapid decline of Britain in the 20th century and a likely diminution of American power in the 21st.

 

Several incidents in the recent past suggest that American power may diminish even more precipitously than British power. Consider America versus the insurgent, China.

 

In three major wars since 1950, Chinese proxies have faced Americans. In Korea, Chinese allies fought the Americans to a standstill; the North Vietnamese (then friends of China) defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, Chinese ally Pakistan is humiliating the Americans after getting $25 billion in largesse from them. In other words, score: China 3, America 0.

 

It is clear that China uses Pakistan and North Korea as force-multipliers. It is a safe first-cut assumption to believe that everything these two rogue nations do is intended to advance Chinese interests, as they are virtually on Chinese military and diplomatic life-support.

 

Take the recent North Korean artillery barrage against a South Korean island. This is not an isolated incident, nor is China an innocent bystander by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“America and China’s First Test”, Financial Times, Nov 23) claims. Cold Warriors are still fighting the last war in Europe against the Soviets: they labor under the misconception that China is benign.

 

On the contrary, chances are that North Korean belligerence is an indirect Chinese response to US President Obama’s recent Asia swing, wherein he appeared to be building a coalition – India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea – to thwart China’s soaring ambitions.

 

China has been a consistent proliferator of missiles to North Korea, and nuclear weapons to Pakistan; the two swap technologies as well, with plausible deniability for China. Via the AQ Khan nuclear Wal-mart, these weapons were hawked to rogue regimes everywhere.

 

A while ago, saber-rattling North Korea launched long-range ballistic missiles to threaten Japan. So it is not surprising that a couple of weeks ago, North Korea amazed visiting American scientists by demonstrating its advanced weapons-grade uranium enrichment program. The Pakistan model, whereby China supplies screwdriver-ready nuke components, may well be at work here too.

 

Then there was the North Korean torpedo sinking a South Korean ship a few months ago; the sudden shelling of the South Korean island is part of marking out a zone of Chinese influence in the Yellow Sea. This fits into their recent aggressive behavior, bullying neighbors and declaring in effect that the South China Sea is a Chinese lake.

 

The most recent Pakistani incident is even more intriguing. It has been obvious for some time that the CIA is entirely clueless in the region, and is being led by the nose by the ISI – which surely receives advice and materiel from China. In 2001, the siege of Kunduz demonstrated how the ISI bamboozled the CIA into letting them airlift a thousand alleged Taliban officers (in reality Pakistani Army/ISI brass) besieged by the Northern Alliance.

 

A few months ago, seven CIA officers including their station chief in Afghanistan were blown up when a Jordanian double agent, presented as a senior al Qaeda insider, detonated explosives hidden in a suicide vest.

 

Now it turns out that an alleged top-level Taliban leader, who the Americans and Afghans were negotiating with, was a total impostor: he was in it for the big bucks from the gullible Americans. This demonstrates painful realities: the Americans lack decent intelligence on the ground, and being desperate to withdraw, they will clutch at straws. The clever ISI will, accordingly, manufacture various straws on demand and extract more billions from the CIA.

 

This latest Pakistani exploit reminds me of Graham Greene’s wickedly funny “Our Man in Havana” where an underpaid spy (and sometime vacuum cleaner salesman) sends fanciful details of an advanced Cuban/Soviet doomsday machine back to his bosses who are awed; only these were photos of the insides of a vacuum cleaner!

 

If this is the level of the competence of the almighty CIA, then I fear for America. And I fear even more for India, which seems to have a drop-dead, unerring instinct for allying with countries that are in terminal decline: first it was the Soviets, now it is the Americans.

 

Unfortunately, the idea that it need not ‘align’ with anybody does not even occur to India’s mandarins, as a result of an institutionalized inferiority complex. India, with its Hanuman Syndrome of not recognize its own strength, does not, alas, aspire to the creation of a G3: India, China, America, in that order.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant

 

825 words, Nov 26th

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A version of the following was published by rediff.com on Nov 11th at http://www.rediff.com/news/column/obama-visit-column-is-non-event-says-rajeev-srinivasan/20101111.htm

After the Kool-Aid: Notes from the Obama visit

 

Rajeev Srinivasan asks where the substance is in the just-concluded jamboree

 

A casual observer, the proverbial Martian, would have concluded from the breathless media coverage during the Barack Obama love-fest that this was a visit of the King-Emperor of India’s colonial master. The pageantry and pomp and circumstance hid the sad fact that the emperor had no clothes, that is to say, there was precious little of substance in evidence. Lots of style, though: an Obama trademark.

 

But then Indians love a good party, and this was like a Big Fat Punjabi Wedding: plenty of dancing, much drinking, and everyone nursing a hangover the next day. Naturally, nobody wanted to bring up anything serious or embarrassing. As usual, Indians were taken in by flattery and vague words about “global power” and “rightful place in the world”.

 

There was one major meta-theme: Obama was in India hat in hand, beginning his re-election campaign. After the self-confessed ‘shellacking’ he received in the mid-term elections, and given that anyway he is more comfortable campaigning than governing, this should not be much of a surprise. The 2012 presidential elections are not that far off; the Republicans may contrive to shoot themselves in the foot; and so the grim prospect of “four more years” of Obama cannot be underestimated.

 

If you take the election issues out, the Obama visit was much like the visit of British Prime Minister Cameron a few weeks prior (and he’s doing the same in China now). Cameron was disarmingly candid – he was a salesman, doing a hard-sell of his wares. India clearly has “buyer power” –  as per strategy guru Michael Porter – that is, India, being a major purchaser of all sorts of goods, has influence over sellers.

 

Obama did his selling more subtly, partly because he could get a lot of mileage out of his black-man-inspired-by-Gandhi-and-King trope – Indians are suckers for this sort of sentimental pabulum, although in reality 99% of American blacks have never heard of Gandhi, and have no particular sympathy for Indians as fellow-sufferers from white oppression; if anything, they may view Indians in the US as benefiting unfairly from the affirmative action programs they won with their blood, sweat, and tears.

 

Was the visit a success? Perhaps it was, from the American point of view. Obama did sell $15 billion worth of goods and generate 54,000 American jobs. And he didn’t give away the store, or anything at all. Incidentally, there is a meme among hostile Americans about how Dubya Bush “gave away the store” to India – the New York Times in particular harps on this theme often – in relation to the so-called ‘nuclear deal’.  On the contrary, it is India that gave away the store by giving up its – pitiful though it might be – nuclear deterrent capability.

 

Surely Obama didn’t give much away. He got misplaced, but thunderous, applause from Indian parliamentarians when he talked about welcoming India into the UN Security Council – they did not realize he was talking about the non-permanent membership that India has just won. The prospect of a full veto-wielding permanent membership is, alas, just as far as it always has been, thanks to the supreme folly in refusing it when offered in 1955 – in favor, of all countries, China! Go figure!

 

Obama’s rhetorical flourishes about the Security Council membership were full of fine phrases, but there was the distinct absence of an action verb: such as ‘support’, ‘commit’, or ‘endorse’. I am reminded of a Doonesbury cartoon about Ted Kennedy, wherein the orator makes fine, emphatic statements, which, sadly, all consist of nouns, and the commentator says, “A verb, Senator, we need a verb!”

 

All President Obama said was the following, verbatim: “In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UNSC that includes India as a permanent member”. What he did not say was that his country strongly supported the idea and that it would throw its weight behind India’s candidacy, as it has for Japan. Without a time-bound statement of intent, it was mere fluff, a pious platitude. In any case, Obama knows full well that China will veto Japan’s, and India’s, aspirations.

 

Furthermore, Obama immediately imposed conditions – that India should toe the US line on Iran, human rights and nuclear non-proliferation. All of these are suspect – not that I am a big fan of Iran, but India has regional interests that suggest it engage Iran, for instance for access to Afghanistan, and for hydrocarbons. In fact, it would be a good idea for India to lecture the US that the latter should ally with Iran so that it is not dependent on Pakistan’s ISI for transit of its war materiel to Afghanistan.

 

By carping on human rights (code for Kashmir) and non-proliferation (code for India signing the NPT), Obama was addressing his pals in the ISI and in the non-proliferation-ayatollah-dom that permeates the Democratic ranks in the US. What about extensive proliferation and human rights violations by Pakistan and China, Mr. US President? How come you have no fine words to say to those allies of yours? What about the human rights of Afghans, so trampled on by the ISI?

 

All in all, whatever the ELM spin-doctors say, Obama gave much less than a ringing endorsement of India’s aspirations for the Security Council. It is clear that the P5 are not going to dilute their stranglehold on the UNSC, or on nuclear weapons – if India ever gets on the UNSC, it will be as a non-veto-holding member, and it would have signed the NPT. This is no different from the way things were two weeks ago, so I ask: “Where’s the beef?”

 

Naturally, unfriendly pundits from the New York Times and others passed it off as “Countering China, Obama Backs India for UN Council”. No, Virginia, read his lips. That’s not what he said. The LA Times correctly identified it as “only a step” in that direction. The Wall Street Journal quoted William Burns, an official, who refused to say whether the US would support a veto-bearing status for India. Bingo!

 

But Obama demonstrated that he does know how to use verbs when he spoke about Aghanistan. He said, “We will not abandon the Afghan people”. Fine words, but it is hard to reconcile this with his actions, in particular his insistence on pulling out troops in 2011, which has emboldened all the warlords into a waiting game.

 

Furthermore, the official Obama Administration stand on Afghanistan is predicated on India making sacrifices to appease Pakistan. The standard line was articulated in a particularly inane op-ed in the Washington Post on Nov 8th by one David Pollack, in an article headlined “Our Indian Problem in Afghanistan”, which could have been written by the ISI, so well did it articulate their position.

 

No, David, the issue is not India’s presence in Afghanistan, which goes back centuries, and is mostly humanitarian. Let us also remember that Afghanistan was the nation that opposed Pakistan’s entry into the UN – they had good reason to do so, because half of the natural territory of Afghanistan is occupied by Pakistan.

 

The problem is the Durand Line. The Afghans have never recognized the Durand Line, an artificial boundary that was imposed by force on them in 1893 by the British; in any case that treaty expired in 1993. The Pathans on either side of the line are unnaturally divided by the line.

 

This human rights issue – the oppression of the Pathans since 1947 by the largely Punjabi Pakistani Army and the ISI – is the root cause of the Afghan problem. There is a simple geographic solution to the Afghan problem – let the Pathans merge southern Afghanistan and the western part of Pakistan into a Pashtunistan, their long-standing demand.

 

That would immediately solve the Afghan problem, and Obama can take his boys home. Leaving the Pathans in charge of their own destiny will prevent the Pakistanis from abusing them by proxy – it is Pakistani ISI and Army personnel who put on baggy pants and grow beards and call themselves the Taliban. And consort with Al Qaeda.

 

Northern Afghanistan, dominated by Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, and base of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, could be administered as a peaceful nation, protected by NATO forces. Even today, the Panjshir Valley (home of national hero and military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud, assassinated by the Taliban a day before 9/11), Mazar-e-Sharif, etc. are not so troubled. Why, they even have a tourist agency in Bamiyan which, I am told, brought 800 tourists this year to the site of the magnificent Buddha statues that the Taliban blew up.

 

Selig Harrison, writing in the LA Times on 8th November, in a piece titled “Pakistan divides US and India”, got the facts right – the problem is the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani army, which in effect has colonized the Baluchi, Sindhi, and Pathan populations of Pakistan, all of which are restive. The dissolution of Pakistan is the only answer to the problem. And this is the one thing that Obama is unwilling to countenance. Therefore he is not serious about solving the Afghan problem, he merely wants a face-saving way of exiting Afghanistan.

 

Given that these are life-and-death issues for India, and that other major issues, such as agriculture and education, got short shrift, from an Indian point of view, it is fair to say that the Obama visit was not a success. The most positive thing I can say is that the feared ‘November surprise’, a signing-over of Kashmir to the ISI, did not happen. At least, it did not happen in public.

 

Otherwise, stripped of all the glad-handing and the huzzahs, the Obama visit to India was a major non-event. India got practically nothing out of it. But then, India’s leaders do not know what their goals are, so avoiding utter disaster, I suppose, is a victory. Of sorts.

 

1600 words, Nov 9th, 2010

 

A version of the following was published by DNA on Nov 16th at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_pax-indica-indian-ocean-rim-is-our-hinterland_1467184 and the pdf is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/16112010/15main%20edition-pg16-0.pdf

Greater India: The Indian Ocean Rim is a natural cultural hinterland

 

Rajeev Srinivasan on why “look East” should be more than a slogan

 

While the Obama visit occupied the entire mind-space of the Indian media, it seems life did not exactly come to a grinding halt elsewhere. Indians didn’t hear much about the volcano in Indonesia that blew up, for instance, but they should pay a lot more attention to Indonesia and its region.

 

Southern Java’s Yogyakarata, the old cultural capital of Indonesia, is close to the remarkable monuments at Borobudur and Prambanan. Yogya has an ominous presence in the background – just 30 kilometers away lies the dangerous Mount Merapi (‘meru’ + ‘api’ – mount of fire).

 

Indeed, Merapi’s most recent eruptions in late October and early November created a death of toll of several hundred people, some buried in fine volcanic ash –with scenes reminiscent of Pompeii – and others killed by fast-moving pyroclastic flows. They had to shut down the airports in Yogya and nearby Solo.

 

Merapi is within 40 kilometers of both Borobudur and Prambanan. Borobudur, the massive Buddhist monument from the 9th century CE, is the largest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere: a giant stupa, a sculptured hill covered with hundreds of seated Buddhas with enigmatic smiles and mudras of blessings. The structure represents various levels of the Buddhist universe.

 

Prambanan, less well-known, is the Hindu equivalent of Borobudur, and from roughly the same time period. They are stylistically polar opposites: Borobudur is powerful and muscular, whereas Prambanan (a suggested etymology is ‘brahma-vana’) is tall, slender and ethereal. Indeed, another name for Prambanan is ‘slender maiden’. It consists of three temples, one each to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. The Siva temple is the tallest and the best preserved. In an earthquake in 2006, Prambanan was severely damaged. A big eruption of Merapi may altogether doom it.

 

Indonesia shows the power of Indic ideas – as Tagore remarked, wherever you go in the country, you are reminded of India, because of familiar cultural signals. Even the languages – old Javanese and Balinese – look much like Indian scripts, and children still chant “a, aa, e, ee”. A large number of cultural memes in Indonesia are imported from India, including in traditional dance, puppetry, music, even in the name of the national airline, ‘Garuda’.

 

In the middle of a large square in Jakarta, there is a giant sculpture of the Gitopadesa. On a full moon night, I have watched Javanese Muslim dancers perform the Ramayana Ballet outside Prambanan . There is the Hindu island of Bali, where the Hindus fled when a Javanese king of the Majapahit dynasty converted to Islam.

 

Hindu and Buddhist ideas from India made their way to the Indonesian archipelago around the second to fourth century; they thrived for a thousand years, not through conquest but because the ideas themselves were useful and good.

 

There was in fact an Indian military invasion – although that was later. Circa 1017, Rajendra Chola sent a huge expeditionary force clear across the ocean to defeat the Srivijaya Empire in Sumatra. It was possibly the largest naval fleet ever assembled before the advent of steamships in the 19th century, quite likely bigger, and certainly more successful, than the Spanish Armada.

 

Unfortunately, unlike the big claims the Chinese are making – and these grow with every retelling – of their Admiral Zheng He and his alleged naval adventures, India has been noticeably reticent about the glorious maritime exploits of the Cholas. This needs to change, purely out of necessity: India needs to provide a counterweight to China.

 

An intriguing article in the New York Times of November 12th by Robert Kaplan (“Obama takes Asia by sea”) applies Spykman’s ideas about “rimland” and “heartland”, suggesting that rimland India and Indonesia will influence the strategic future of Asia, whereas the interior powers of Russia and China are handicapped by being landlocked. The Great Game was about Russia’s desired access to warm-water ports, and now China, with its ‘string of pearls’ is trying to build a network of friendly naval bases.

 

The US is now exhorting India to no longer just “look east”, but become a presence in East Asia. With China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea, in Tibet and Kashmir, it is necessary to ‘contain’ China with a web of relationships, such as with Vietnam and Japan.

 

India has so far fumbled its connections with Southeast Asia, which was traditionally known as Greater India. Invited to join ASEAN at its founding, India haughtily declined to: yet another Himalayan blunder. The cultural legacy is a link that India should use to engage with increasingly SE Asia. Going by the rapid rise of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, this region is where the future is. It may yet be the century not of the Pacific, but of the Indian Ocean. A Pax Indica or an Indian Ocean Rim Community is a possible dream.

 

820 words, 12 November 2010