By M R JOSSE
Understandably, a lavish spread of illuminating
thoughts and revealing insights was temptingly laid out
at a recent two-day regional conference here on "Comprehensive
Security in South Asia" jointly organized by the Institute
of Foreign Affairs (IFA) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung
(FES) in which this columnist, among others, participated.
Unfortunately, no more than a few spoonfuls
of that delicious feast can be provided for introspection
in this space via a sampling of that sumptuous mental repast.
Due to space constraints only excerpts of four conference
papers - three Indian and one Bhutanese - have been included.
IMPACT OF DENG'S POLICIES
C.V. Ranganathan, a former Indian envoy to China and France,
offered some very penetrating observations in his paper.
These that I believe deserve careful consideration by our
foreign/security policy community. Ranganathan opened with
an overview of India-China relations beginning with the
admission that "the state of India-China relations
from the fifties to at least the late seventies cast a malign
shadow on South Asia."
The Deng Xiaoping reform period in China
beginning in 1978 changed all that. Deng's basic policy
of consciously working for a peaceful neighborhood led to
a sea change in China's external relations with her erstwhile
enemies the USA and the former Soviet Union and with most
countries of Southeast Asia through the eighties. "India
too benefited from this in restoring friendship with China."
After tracing some major landmarks in
that process, he mentioned Kargil where he recalled "China
called for respect of established de-facto lines of control."
Furthermore, "China is against forcible regime changes.
With stability at home being the overall rubric under which
socio-economic development can take place, China is very
averse to instability in her neighborhood caused by extremist
or fundamentalist movements. Such movements have spillover
effects on China itself." That observation should,
I maintain, merit close attention by our politicos, pundits
Ranganathan's observations on terrorism
in South Asia, too, need to be mulled over: "Bases
from which terrorists can operate against neighbors are
provided in countries who wish to destabilize them for the
achievement of political objectives. Experience has shown
that those who provide such bases are themselves overwhelmed
by threats to their domestic security and harmony. Trans
border targets could shift to domestic ones." Viola!
MAN OF DESTINY
Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar (retd.)'s paper on "military
confidence building measures in the India-Pakistan context"
was also educative not merely for a listing of the various
confidence building measures (CBMs) that have been in play
between India and Pakistan over the years. (Although Nambiar
did not turn up due to logistical problems, his paper was
distributed to participants.)
Describing Pakistan President Musharraf's
order on 26 November 2003 for a cease-fire on the Line of
Control (LOC) in Kashmir, which was immediately responded
by the Indian establishment, as "one of the two most
significant military CBMs put into place, Nambiar states
that "a strong section of the strategic community in
India" took the view that it was "a clever tactical
move to enable the Pakistani forces to focus their efforts
without distraction with the situation on the Western front."
His paper goes on to claim that Musharraf
was under "severe pressure" from the US to undertake
operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Pakistan-Afghanistan
border area. He also speculates that US pressure might,
in turn, have caused India to respond positively to Musharraf's
Equally fascinating is Nambiar's thesis,
thus explained: "It is somewhat ironic but true that
in any assessment, analysis or prognosis today, Pakistan
and General Musharraf are more or less synonymous. That
is not the case with India where neither the Prime Minister,
nor the Chief of Army Staff has such unbridled power and
authority. They are answerable to the establishment."
From that, he logically comes to this
conclusion: "It is in this context that an individual
in the personality of General Musharraf becomes so important
for the credibility of the process. We in India may draw
some satisfaction from the fact that General Musharraf sees
himself as Pakistan's man of destiny; and may therefore
be prepared and willing to display statesmanship that someone
with less pretensions would be reluctant to display."
Continuing his paper goes on to state:
"He seems determined to take Pakistan to its rightful
place within the comity of nations. This he cannot do without
coming to terms with the sub-continent; which really means
ending or at least easing the confrontation with India.
Unless of course he believes that he can be successful in
breaking up the Republic of India or achieving parity with
India politically, economically and militarily."
Suba Chandran's paper (read in his absence by a replacement)
on "Intra-state armed conflicts in South Asia: Impact
on regional security" is also most enlightening based
as it is on considerable research and backed by solid documentation.
Here are some general observations. First, armed conflicts
in South Asia have been primarily intrastate rather than
interstate since the 1950s. Since the late 1980s, South
Asia has been witnessing a sudden growth in intrastate conflicts.
Second, intrastate armed conflicts in
South Asia are not monolithic in nature. They differ in
their nature, causes of birth, intensity, etc. Third, interstate
armed conflicts in South Asia do not have the same intensity
of armed violence since 1991. Chandran also attempts to
explain why intrastate conflicts in South Asia are more
and protracted than interstate conflicts. Among the reasons,
he identifies are problems of nation- building and the fact
that, unlike in interstate conflicts, in most cases, there
are more than two actors in any intrastate conflict. Is
this not the case in Nepal, too?
Bhutanese researcher Tashi Choden's paper
was a paean to Indo-Bhutan relations and notable for not
containing even a word about the Bhutanese refugee problem,
although India figures in that messy business very prominently,
if not formally up-front. What, however, this commentator
found more noteworthy was her hostility towards China, Bhutan's
immediate neighbor to the north.
Thus, this is her explanation for Bhutan's
lop-sided relationship with India: "The geopolitical
scene in the entire Himalayan region and Indian sub-continent
underwent great change following the proclamation of the
People's Republic of China in 1949 and the takeover of Tibet
by the People's Liberation Army in 1950. These events, plus
the presence of Chinese troops near Bhutan's border, the
annexation of Bhutanese enclaves in Tibet and Chinese claims
all led Bhutan to re-evaluate its traditional policy of
isolation; the need to develop its lines of communication
with India became an urgent necessity. Consequently, Bhutan
was more inclined to develop relations with India."
Her paper does not explain, one, how China
annexed Bhutanese enclaves in Tibet before formalization
of her 1949 treaty with India since, by her own admission,
China "tookover" Tibet only the following year!
Moreover, after having lamented that "19th century
Bhutan saw the loss of the Assam and the Bengal Duars to
British India" (not restored to Bhutan by India in
the 1949 Treaty), is it not a little curious that Thimphu
should have chosen of her free will to cast her lot with
the very country that, even today, is in possession of "the
Assam and Bengal Duars"?
Note: This article was published
in The Kathmandu Post (24 November 2004)