Thursday, September 17, 2009

India and China: A clash of ideologies

India and China: A clash of ideologies
By Susenjit Guha

Frequent incursions into India by Chinese troops are not only about territory that China considers disputed, but also about ideology the Chinese are not comfortable with. While India is aiming for a top slot in Asia economically, China – way ahead in the race – also has expansionism embedded in its ambitions.

China was never at ease with the largest democracy in the world. India has maintained its democratic institutions, amid other South Asian nations that have frequently undermined their own democracies in the six decades since they attained nationhood.

There may be acute economic problems among the majority of Indians, with intermittent clashes based on caste and religion in some pockets, but the edifice built “of the people, by the people and for the people” was never shaken to its foundations.

Despite the free world’s amazement at the rapidity of China’s economic growth and strength of its foreign currency reserves, its record on human rights and freedom of speech cannot be talked about in glowing terms.

But does that bother China? Not at all, as communist China is a closed regime, totalitarian in nature, and cares not a fig for world opinion.

Paradigm shifts in China’s foreign policy are driven by two power centers. While the militarists hark back to the glory of the Middle Kingdom and want a remaking of the world on Chinese terms, reformers want the traditional world order and rules respected to avoid conflict.

Instead of hard power as displayed by U.S. military actions – taken to the limit during the George W. Bush era – reformers are for soft-power projection, with more cultural exports to realize the Chinese dream. But they are silenced under the din of the former.

That explains why China has denied incursions along the Indo-China border by Chinese troops and incidents of airspace violations. Sun Weidong, a Foreign Ministry official, seemed to be applying balm when he told Indian reporters in Beijing, “China does not pose any threat to India … the biggest task is to develop ourselves so that 1.3 billion people can lead a good life. I don’t think it’s logical to say that when a country grows strong it will bully others.”

Despite such denials, sensitive borders have been breached up north in India’s Ladakh, places like Bara Hoti in Uttarakhand state, Sikkim and the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. Shepherds are repeatedly shooed off and their tents destroyed. The terrain in some of these areas is inhospitable. Also, India has deployed most of its armed patrols along the border with Pakistan rather than the one with China.

Chinese troops have left evidence of their visits by painting in Chinese on the rocky mountainous terrain and leaving empty cigarette packets. Such acts may seem innocuous, but they have triggered the need for more Indian patrols along what is known as the Line of Actual Control that separates India and China.

That brings us back to the opening lines of this piece. Is there a clash of ideologies?

Chinese incursions are an attempt to assert their power in regions they consider theirs, which they believe were wrongly demarcated by the British when India was a colony. India inherited these regions upon gaining independence. No government or political party – except shards of the Hindu nationalist parties – has harbored ambitions of annexing territory from Pakistan, cut out of India during the partition of 1947, or Bangladesh, wrested from what was then West Pakistan in 1971.

If China feels the urge to wrest back certain regions through troop incursions, banking on superior military might – such as the attempt made in the 1962 Sino-Indian war – then it would be a straightforward act of bullying.

So is China’s constant harassment of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Buddhist leader plans to visit the state of Arunachal Pradesh in mid-November – around the same time U.S. President Barack Obama will be on a visit to China. If this is seen as provocative, it is also what Indian democracy is all about.

Nowhere in the world has the Dalai Lama been referred to as a terrorist, as the Chinese administration painted him during riots in Tibet in March last year. If ideology is not at loggerheads between India and China, then what is?

Earlier this month, an aircraft from the United Arab Emirates bound for China was detained at Kolkata Airport for not declaring the cache of arms it was carrying. After formalities were completed and it was released, China accused India of espionage over the inspection of its weapons. Again, the Chinese military is unhappy with the Indian media, as it supposedly portrays China in a bad light. But democracies do not control the media. This again is a clash of ideologies; it would never resonate with a closed and totalitarian regime’s method of handling the media.

Lurking behind China’s economic surge is a foreign policy of expansionism, fuelled by embedded militarists, who unfortunately may carry more weight than their soft-power counterparts.

Having the United States in a bind economically, China wants to reassert the historical, political and economic dominance it enjoyed for many centuries over Southeast Asia, Russia, Japan and the Korean peninsula. But political and military expansion is antithetical to democracy in a resurgent India, which has a civilization as old as China’s. And that is why, with regard to its largest neighbor, renascent Chinese nationalism is best expressed by troop incursions rather than dialogue and diplomacy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

United States bogged down in Afghanistan

United States bogged down in Afghanistan
By Susenjit Guha

Mounting allegations of vote rigging in Afghanistan’s general elections on Aug. 20 and rising U.S. troop casualties in the region, despite a doubling of the troops last year, are eroding public sentiment and confidence in the United States in the country’s role in Afghanistan. Many fear it could turn into another Vietnam.

U.S. President Barack Obama may believe that the war in Afghanistan is more a necessity than a choice, and wish to further beef up ground troops stationed there. But most Americans are not buying the idea. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that the majority of Americans feel the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. The survey results come amid widespread speculation that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will request more troops to fight the Taliban insurgency. McChrystal submitted his assessment of the war situation to Obama on Wednesday; the president is expected to review it this weekend.

The majority of people in the United Kingdom, which has the second-largest troop presence in Afghanistan, believe their troops should not be fighting in Afghanistan at all, according to a recent YouGov poll for Sky News.

Obama may have won NATO backing for his new approach to Afghanistan during the NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg in April. But the allies stopped short of new long-term troop commitments.

So where does this leave the United States now that the war against terror in Afghanistan looks less winnable and more like Vietnam? Even U.S. Congressional Democrats have begun questioning the wisdom of increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

When asked whether the elections in Afghanistan would help reduce violence and usher in development, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said that the United States wants to try to enable the Afghan government to take responsibility not only for its reconstruction, but also for its own security.

If the United States, in eight long years of military presence and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, has been unable to build a credible Afghani democratic government in the face of a resurgent Taliban that holds large parts of Afghanistan to ransom, is it really worth continuing the fight to build democracy and stamp out terror?

While voter turnout in the Afghani elections was poor, the specter of increased corruption in all sectors, problems disbursing aid to the people, a volatile political climate and ethnic tensions are a big worry to the Obama administration. During a visit to Kabul in February, 2008, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden – then a senator – walked out on a meal of lamb and rice hosted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai when told by Karzai that there was no corruption in his government and in any case, it was not his fault. Critics slammed Karzai last March for ratifying a bill that would have forced a woman to have sex with her husband regardless of her wishes; the legislation was revised in July following international condemnation.

It is one thing that Karzai was seeking voter support from the conservative Shiite community that makes up some 20 percent of the population, but flouting women’s rights is another and far more serious issue, especially in light of the billions of dollars in aid that he receives for reconstruction purposes and promoting democracy in the country. According to Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, the development and good governance that Obama wants in Afghanistan is “in very short supply.”

Jean MacKenzie, a Kabul-based reporter, in a recent column for Reuters wrote that foreign aid coming into Afghanistan was one of the richest sources of funding for the Taliban and that every major project undertaken included a healthy cut for the insurgents. So international donors, especially the United States, are financing their own enemy, she said. Fears of Obama escalating the war like former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam are already surfacing, as portrayed in a succinct analogy in the New York Times titled, “Could Afghanistan Become Obama’s Vietnam?” Obama may have inherited the war, but is there a way out? An honorable exit strategy seems less likely than another bogged-down war scenario. After 9/11 the United States could have crushed both the Taliban and al-Qaida with full force and then left.

It could have acted on links with Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, much earlier and brought pressure on Pakistan to fully account for every dollar in aid it received. Instead, Pakistani armed forces are now buying peace with Taliban groups and pushing them back to their havens, short of crushing them when they come too close for comfort.

But if the United States leaves Afghanistan now, terrorists will claim a moral victory, overrun Afghanistan and penetrate neighboring Central Asian nations. Outsourcing the war to Pakistan would take it back to a pre-Afghan war scenario. Top U.S. military officer Admiral Mike Mullen’s scathing criticism of the chasm between U.S. strategy and action in Afghanistan is spot on, but his idea of a replica of a post-World War II Marshall Plan that worked in Europe cannot work in Afghanistan. Then what will work? Anti-American sentiment is high in the Afghan region. There is a clear and present danger of the United States getting bogged down in Afghanistan.