By Madhav Nalapat
September 28, 2014
Every once in a way, another of the country's foreign policy or security experts looks directly at the television cameras and indulges in self-congratulation for being part of the multitude of experts and officials who kept India from agreeing to the 2003 US request for a division of troops to be sent to the Kurdish region of Iraq. While talk of major power status and complaints of being denied recognition of such status is commonplace among those invited to television studios or give of their wisdom in oped pieces, such worthies see no contradiction between such yearnings and successive governments in India constantly refusing to match such talk with the action needed to convince other global powers that India is ready for great power status.
In 2003, this columnist was among the handful who disapproved of then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra's refusal to send 18,000 troops to Iraq, and none of the chaos that has taken place in Iraq since then has changed his mind. Indeed, while the bulk of the blame for the post-invasion disasters in Iraq needs to get placed at the doors of those who framed US policy towards that country since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, some should be directed at those who refused to do what they were capable of in making Iraq a country that could reclaim a heritage on par with Rome, Greece, India or China.
Brajesh Mishra was, from early adulthood, steeped in the culture of the Indian bureaucracy, a group of citizens who regard the blocking of action as the most desirable course to follow in the overwhelming majority of situations. It was, therefore, no surprise that Mishra flinched from the unprecedented course (at least since 1947) of significant military intervention in a theatre far from home. He was wrong. Had India sent a division to Iraq, it would have shown to the US and the UK the correct way of ensuring security in a foreign country, without giving the local population the perception that they have mainly exchanged a home-grown tyrant with another from a distant country. The Kurds would have welcomed the presence of troops from a country that shares several cultural characteristics with them, and this would have ensured that Indian companies secured an inner track in getting access to the immense oil riches of the region occupied by the Kurds of Iraq. Overall, such a move would have silenced those in the George W. Bush administration who subsequently festooned the India-US nuclear agreement with conditions and codicils that have meant that Manmohan Singh's crowning glory is little more than a path towards the capture of the nuclear industry in India by foreign companies, at the expense of companies in India which could have emerged as world-beaters if given the encouragement that the Indian establishment has lavished on foreign companies backed by their governments in a manner unknown in India.
This is written in New York, a city that still harbours considerable unease about the likely trajectory of policy of the Narendra Modi administration. The blocking by India of a consensus at the WTO surprised the many who believed Prime Minister Modi to be friendly to the global powerhouses listed in the Fortune 500 list, a group which collectively has more influence in Washington than any other, no matter who gets elected President of the US. Thus far, self-goals persist, such as driving investors out of the country by aggressive taxation based on transfer pricing, with the world's largest mobile handset manufacturing base, the Nokia plant in Chennai, being among the casualties. This unit used to provide work both directly and otherwise to about 50,000 families, and by the end of this year, the final goodbyes will take place of the final thousand survivors of the carnage in jobs caused by the Finance Ministry going after Nokia.
Investors in the US and elsewhere are waiting to see if Prime Minister Modi can dissolve the obstacles to growth created by a bureaucracy which appears as firmly in control of overall policy in key departments as they were before 26 May. However, should Prime Minister Modi show that he matches talk with action; he will have won over hearts and minds in Washington. Now that ISIS and its parent organisation, Al Qaeda, have openly declared war on India, it is time for this country to join in the international coalition against ISIS, by using the Navy and the Air Force to "degrade and destroy" ISIS. All too many "experts" chatter on about what they declaim is the threat from China or Pakistan to declare a conventional war on India. Rather than justify the expenditure of tens of billions of extra dollars on buying equipment that is unlikely to get used in a war against either country, what is needed is to use the assets available against the enemy that is already out in the field, and which is clearly succeeding in seducing impressionable and fanatic minds in India into joining their noxious cause.