The nineteenth century Prussian strategic thinker Carl von Clausewitz propounded an influential thesis on the dialectics of warfare writing that ‘˜war is politics by another means’. The BJP’s spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy may or may not have read Clausewitz but his premature criticism of Obama for not mentioning the P-word at the Taj on Saturday succeeded in giving the churlish impression that India’s principal opposition party sees everything diplomacy, politics, strategy through one and one prism alone: Pakistan.
If you are charitable, this might even qualify as Clausewitz 2.0 for dummies: politics as war by another means. To most people, leaving aside some bombastic TV networks perhaps, this was just ill-judged jumpiness.
Shorn of its context, the position itself might even have been unexceptionable but not within hours of Obama landing on Indian soil and even before his first political engagements! Context is everything in politics and the jumpiness actually betrayed a thin-skinned insecurity that does little credit to India as a rising power and one engaging with the Obamas of the world on an equal footing.
Why does India need to go running for an American certificate at every opportunity? And remember, this is an India that bristles at even the slightest American mention of Kashmir and sees it purely as a bilateral dispute with Pakistan.
India has long tried to keep itself from being hyphenated with Pakistan. Now that the world is rightly moving beyond that automatic co-relation, why do we keep getting stuck in it like a broken record?
The irony is that the sour note came from a party that first seriously re-oriented Indian policy towards the United States after decades of suspicion of what was once called the ‘foreign hand’. Remember Jaswant Singh and the strategic dialogue with his ‘good friend’ Strobe Talbott. Of course, Rudy nuanced his position later, re-phrasing it as an “expectation” even as the rest of the BJP top brass refused to comment.
Obama has his day in Parliament today and US officials have clarified that he will use his speech and the joint communiqué to signal his thoughts on Pakistan.
Whichever way you look at it, the fact is that the Americans are struck in a conundrum. Before he became President, Candidate Obama laid his finger on the crux of the problem in Bush’s war on terror when he argued that the real frontline lies in Pakistan. His problem now is that his military is stuck in a losing stalemate in Afghanistan and Pakistan Army, with its control of proxies and the supply routes, has Washington in a fix.
With the General Kiyani using India as a smokescreen to fend off demands for action on the Afghanistan front, and with the Americans having just signed off on yet another round of military goodies for Islamabad, Obama’s articulation of the problem will always be a diplomatic tightrope.
India can afford to be patient and relax. In the long run Washington has no option but to converge with New Delhi on two of the biggest issues confronting it in the coming years: China and the economy.
With the US economy in decline, and the mid-term electoral disaster for the Democrats turning on the question of jobs, Obama has already been tagged in some circles as coming to the land of the Mahatma as a salesman for American industry.
He has taken care not to go to Bangalore the home of outsourcing and his biggest focus in this visit is on pushing for the contracts that will create jobs back home.
There are many who would like to see a big ticket US endorsement for India’s place on the UN Security Council but UN reform in any case will take years and these things will generate their own momentum as the global balance of power changes irrevocably. Whether Obama endorses it or not immediately, India’s inexorable rise means that the cards are increasingly in Delhi’s hands.
In the 1990s, the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington was pilloried by liberal commentators for his simplistic ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis where he basically argued that the coming global conflicts would hinge on religious and cultural lines.
There was much that was wrong in his thesis; including stereotyping and a general categorisation of Islam as a monolithic civilisation pitted against the rest, ignoring the vast differences within Islam itself and the diverse countries that are Islamic.
But there was one thing that he might have got right: he defined India as a ‘swing state’, one that by its weight and its predilection for following its own path would often tip the balance on major global issues when others collide. By remaining outside of any formal American alliance and maintaining its strategic independence, even as it builds its economic muscle, India has adroitly emerged as a major pillar of the post-Cold War world.
Now if only we stop jumping at every non-mention of Pakistan and start punching to our weight, rather than below it. And if only some of our politicians and our more louder news channels understood this.