To recall the wise words of Robert Greene who advocates what he calls the ‘Grand Strategy’, be prepared to lose battles but win the war.

Why India needs an overarching strategic discourse in national interest
Voices Opinion Monday, September 05, 2016 - 10:40

For the first time Arup Raha, India’s serving Air force Chief came out with a strong indictment of India’s lopsided foreign policy post-independence in an apparent reference to the much contentious Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). To quote, “Our foreign policy was enshrined in the charter of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Panchsheel doctrines. We have been governed by high ideals and we did not follow a pragmatic approach, to my mind the security needs. When hoards of raiders attacked Jammu and Kashmir in 1947 a military solution was in sight, taking moral high ground, I think we went to the UN for a peaceful solution to this problem. The problem still continues, PoK still remains a thorn in our flesh today.”

Meanwhile, the Indian Express has begun a poll seeking opinions from readers if they agreed or not if India could have taken PoK militarily? However time and again, the key point being missed by the media or any other relevant stakeholder is that there is no argument or for that matter a debate or a discussion on whether India lacked strategic impetus with respect to its foreign policy vis-a-vis national interests.

Arup Raha’s words signify how India lacked the strategic culture in determining its foreign policy to suit national interests. Since independence and well up to the 90s, India has witnessed elected governments unabashedly compromising national interest at critical junctures. These Governments of the day have always opted for a safe passage (the Non-Alignment Movement being a prime example) instead of pragmatic solutions in asserting India’s place and unfortunately these wounds still hurt the country.

For instance, staying with PoK, a pertinent question which remains unanswered till date is why didn’t the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi order the liberation of PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan after East Pakistan’s liberation in 1971, considering that these areas are an integral part of India’s territory under illegal Pakistani occupation.

Another strategic blunder with respect to Jammu and Kashmir was again committed thanks to Indira Gandhi, who ordered the release of 93,000 war prisoners in East Pakistan under the 1972 Shimla Agreement. Senior retired intelligence officers like late B. Raman in his writings have questioned the return of prisoners without insisting on a formal recognition in writing by Pakistan that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India? This question has not just confounded but continued to bleed India.

However, having produced one of the world’s finest strategic minds in Chanakya, India has not been deprived of strategic thinking in contemporary history. Traces of this were witnessed under then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao which has been recorded aptly by Vinay Sitapati in the ‘Half Lion – how P.V. Narasimha Rao transformed India’. A noteworthy excerpt from the book is about when India realised that the road to Washington DC passed through Tel Aviv. On inputs from government and intelligence officials, Narasimha Rao led India to vote in favour of Israel at the UN in 1991. Interestingly that same month, Rao decided to invite the Palestine leader late Yasser Arafat - who understood and acknowledged that any choice of the Indian Government will be respected - to Delhi for a bilateral.  And in January, 1992, India announced full diplomatic relations with Israel.

India’s composite strategic culture has a glorious past; lessons from Arjuna’s charioteer Krishna in the Mahabharata can serve as directive principles for a country in pursuit of a strategic doctrine. Krishna’s move such as taking Vidura away from Duryodhana to advise the Pandavas on strategic affairs is a significant lesson. Vidura was such a genius that he went on to set the rules and regulations of the Mahabharata war. In addition, India has produced several treatises pre-dating Chanakya Neeti, like the Vidura Neeti (dialogue between Vidura and Dhritarashtra), the Yaksha Prashna (dialogue between Yudhistir and Yaksha – a crane) which till date serve as invaluable catalysts in weaving one’s thoughts, words and deeds into strategic culture and thinking.

In his book 33 strategies of War, Robert Greene describes the necessity to arm oneself with strategic thinking. He writes, “Everyone around you is angling for power, all trying to promote their own interests, often at your expense. Your daily battle with them makes you lose sight of the only thing that really matters: victory in the end, the achievement of greater goals, lasting power. The grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the battle and calculating ahead.”

India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has demonstrated signs of ‘calculating ahead’.  At an all-party meeting called to discuss the situation in Jammu and Kashmir recently, PM Modi made it amply clear that the Government was keen to find lasting solutions under the framework of the Indian constitution. In addition and most importantly, the Prime Minister also conveyed to leaders cutting across party lines that PoK belongs to India and that the time had come to expose Islamabad's atrocities in Balochistan.

And the Prime Minister did not stop there; he took the same message to the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of India’s 70th Independence Day. He said, “I want to greet and express my thanks to some people. In the last few days, people of Balochistan, Gilgit, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have thanked me, and expressed good wishes for me. The people who are living far away, whom I have never seen, never met - such people have expressed appreciation for Prime Minister of India, for 125 crore countrymen.”

This gesture from the Prime Minister came as a certain follow up to the all-party meet to signal that India will use Balochistan as a pressure point vis-à-vis Pakistan. This particular strategic trait was found missing in the previous regimes which chose to ignore Pakistan especially in the case of Balochistan.

Another case in point is Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Vietnam just before the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. India’s willingness to partner Vietnam in defence exports and marine preparedness can be discerned as a move to contain the growing Chinese military assertiveness. Therefore just the visit to the country by an Indian PM (a first in 15 years) will certainly be seen as a counterstroke to China’s policy of arming India’s enemy Pakistan.

Thus, if one wants to achieve overarching goals in life by embracing alternatives and uncertainties, then it is not enough if just the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister or an MLA or an MP practise strategic thinking. It becomes vital for every citizen to imbibe this trait every step of the way. To recall the wise words of Robert Greene who advocates what he calls the ‘Grand Strategy’, this can be a timely reminder for everyone to follow.

He writes, “In the Grand Strategy, be prepared to lose battles but win the war. This requires that you focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it. In grand strategy you consider the political ramifications and long-term consequences of what you do. Instead of reacting emotionally to people, you take control, and make your actions more dimensional, subtle and effective. Let others get caught up in the twists and turns of the battle, relishing their little victories. Grand strategy will bring you the ultimate reward: the Last Laugh.”


(Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.)

The writer graduated from the Asian College of Journalism and is presently a Research Fellow with the India Foundation, New Delhi.

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