India’s Vision 2020 and the reality

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The government of India has come up with a Vision of what India is likely to look like or confront by the year 2020, particularly in its relations with major neighbors, its military prowess and relative economic strength.

The India Vision: 2020, officially released recently, says the economic and military strength of China may in 17 years from now pose a serious challenge to India’s security unless measures are taken to fortify India’s strength in these areas. The paper also says the Kashmir dispute may still remain unsettled.

The Vision prepared by the Chief of the Indian Planning Commission K.C. Pant, who is close to the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee says not only the Kashmir disputes is likely to remain unsettled but also “the territorial disputes with neighbors that have defied solution for 50 years may not lend themselves to easy solutions.” And that clearly includes India’s territorial dispute with China which covers 40,000 square kilometers.

While the paper expects the Kashmir dispute to remain unsettled by 2020 it does not indicate any new line of action for a way out. Instead it says the conflict between India and Pakistan is unlikely to be resolved “without a major social-political change in Pakistan.” To that extent the paper reflects the closed mindset of India which dismisses the wishes and aspirations of the people of Kashmir or their right of self-determination.

What the paper, in effect, means is India’s tense or strained relations with its neighbors, big and small, would continue and India will have to learn to live with them. Which can be pretty costly and too distracting for the Indian leaders. At the same time the paper warned “religious extremism and radical politics” may continue to adversely impact on our core values. A reflection of that was visible in the state of Gujarat where about 2,000 Muslims were killed last year, and after that the ruling BJP had an overwhelming electoral victory in the state elections with the rampaging chief minister Patel ruling the roost ecstatically.

The dichotomy in the Indian approach to its neighbors is obvious, and it is a part of its game of strident power politics. Normally if India has fear of China’s expanding strength all round it should come closer to Pakistan. It does not want to do that as it is in occupation of the valley of Kashmir and Jammu, and it does not want to surrender those territories to the people of Kashmir. But in the case of China, Beijing is charged by India with being in occupation of 40,000 square km of its territory, and that cannot be liberated militarily, as its failure in 1962 demonstrated. So it wants to be pragmatic in its approach to China and develop economic and cultural relations with it while seeking a settlement of the territorial dispute discreetly or patiently.

And India has also joined hands with the US which fears of the future role of China as its economy becomes the second largest in the world – with the US economy remaining the largest. India is also increasing its military cooperation with the US in addition to expanding its economic collaboration.

India has not been able to make great economic progress through socialist means earlier under Jawaharlal Nehru and its march forward economically has not been outstanding through the new market economy mode either. It has still 40 per cent of its people living below the poverty line of a dollar a day, if not more. And the poverty profile of India is not improving substantially following its half-hearted attempts, or because of its wrong priorities.

The poor masses are becoming more and more restive, particularly the lower caste orders.

India is trying to make up for its varied weakness by enhancing its military strength, as well by enlarging its range of nuclear armaments. It is obtaining a nuclear powered submarine from Russia as well as the latest bombers at a cost of three billion dollars. It is also signing a two billion deal with France to acquire Mirage fighter planes as well as submarines. And its billion dollars deal to acquire trainer planes has been under negotiations for long. And it has now been offered F-16 aircraft by Lockheed of the US. And it has a deal with Israel for a billion dollars worth of arms.

And its missile technology has been making steady headway with the varied ranges of its Prithvi and Agni missiles. And it is now said to be developing a nuclear-capable Agni-III missile.

Most of these fighter aircraft and submarines will be assembled in India to provide it with the capacity to develop such equipment by itself. Its armament-building capacity, is to be expanded steadily.

India is also becoming more and more of an arms exporter. It wants to follow Israel in this regard which will also enhance its diplomatic strength with the developing countries.

In such an environment it is not interested in talking to Pakistan to settle their disputes, particularly in respect of Kashmir. The fact is not that it is opposed to talking to Pakistan but it does not want to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, while Pakistan insists that it is the core dispute between the two countries. So on one pretext or another, it wants to put off talking to Pakistan until Pakistan gives up talking of Kashmir in frustration. Hence, it has consistently opposed mediation in the Kashmir dispute by any other country, including the US and Russia.

The 12th SAARC summit scheduled for January last has been put off. And when the 11th SAARC summit took place in Katmandu last year Mr. Vajpayee refused to have a one-to-one meeting with President Pervez Musharraf. And so there is small hope of such a summit at Kuala Lumpur when the Non-Aligned Summit takes place there in May.

Despite the territorial dispute between China and India, New Delhi has been talking to China but the Indian leader refuses to talk to Pakistan arguing they cannot be talking as long as the cross-border infiltration in Kashmir takes place and Pakistan does not take adequate steps to check that. The US and the Western countries admit that the cross-border infiltration has come down to a considerable extent. But India insists on total stoppage which Pakistan may not be able to achieve in view of the difficult mountainous terrain. Pakistan has instead called for more UN observers along the Line of Control, but that is not acceptable to India which by now does not accept a UN role in Kashmir.

India’s approach to the whole issue by now is more militaristic than diplomatic or political. India was on the point of going to war with Pakistan on two occasions last year, says the former army chief of staff Gen. Padmanabhan.

And recently the Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes threatened to completely wipe out Pakistan if it ever launched a nuclear attack against India. “We will suffer a little but there will be no Pakistan when we respond,” he said. Such extreme language is a mark of the blood thirst of the Indian Defence Minister. What he does not realize is that in his attempt to wipe out Pakistan he would also be wiping out the peoples of Afghanistan, and parts of Iran and Central Asia, if not parts of India too if the fumes go there.

A report from New Delhi said that India intended to spend 95 billion dollars more on the most sophisticated arms in the next 15 years. It would do that following the 28.5 per cent increase in defence outlay it made in 2001.

India argues it could spend far more on defence as its defence spending is only around 3 per cent of its GDP, and it is now trying to be an arms exporter; but the real Indian strategy appears to be to force Pakistan spend more and more of its scarce financial resources on arms, and starve other sectors of the economy in the process. What the US did to the Soviet Union, which was over-armed but under-developed in other ways, India wants to do to Pakistan. Pakistan has to be wary of such a game. It has instead to develop as a wholesome country. And it has to rely more and more on the people of Kashmir to liberate themselves through their valiant freedom struggle. A people who have not given up their struggle for the last 13 years despite the loss of 80,000 lives and enormous loss of homes and hearth will not give that up now, and we have to have faith in them and support them politically and diplomatically.

India will never give up Kashmir, and Pakistan should give up its “futile policy” in respect of the disputed region, says the Indian Prime Minister. He says that India had accepted a long time ago the creation of Pakistan, but Pakistan had not accepted a united and secular India, he says.

He simultaneously called for improved economic and cultural ties to bring about an amicable settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

In such talk of the Indian leaders no thought is given to the aspirations of the people of Kashmir who have suffered for the last 50 years. If Pakistan forgets Kashmir, as the Indian premier counsels, that does not mean the people of Kashmir will forget their homeland and their rights within and let Delhi to rule them directly or through its proxies.

The Vision paper is not doing justice to the sub-continent with its 1.3 billion people when it says that India’s 50-year-old disputes with its neighbours are not likely to be settled easily by 2020. Instead it should have suggested the means by which there could be more peaceful and less poor sub-continent. With greater economic cooperation between the states.

If India does not make earnest attempts in that direction more and more of the South Asian states with disputes with India would align themselves with China and seek its assistance, as Pakistan has been doing. And that may not be welcome at all to India.

The whole world wants India and Pakistan to settle their disputes peacefully. The US says the situation between India and Pakistan now is worse than the relations between the US and the Soviet Union in the days of the cold war. The minimum they want India and Pakistan to do is to talk to each other and try to solve their problem one after another or at least call for a freeze to their explosive disputes for a short while and then try to solve them. Several solutions are possible along with several approaches to them. But the first step is that leaders of the two countries meet. It is futile for India to argue the Kargil skirmish had made all talk between the two countries fruitless or dashed all hopes of success of such talks. Neighbouring countries cannot afford such a stance as they cannot cease to be neighbours ever.

P.S.     Following President Musharraf’s visit to Moscow the Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for talks between India and Pakistan to resolve their disputes, including Kashmir. Moscow realizes the importance of talks as the beginning of any kind of settlement between the two neighbors; but India refuses or wants talks excluding Kashmir which Pakistan rejects as that cannot break the ice between the two countries, when Pakistan holds Kashmir as the core dispute between them. Hence the stalemate continues.

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