There is a tradition in India to make massive foreign policy blunders that come back to haunt the country for decades. Some of these are so huge as to be catastrophic, and it is amazing that these happen. After all, some of the smartest people in the country go into the foreign service, and the foreign ministry has had a lot of experience picking its way through the minefields of the Cold War and non-alignedness.
Nevertheless, Indians keep on making elementary mistakes. Here are several that are appalling, and practically unbelievable in hindsight:
India inherited very substantial treaty rights in Tibet; but gave these away for absolutely nothing more than sweet-talk by the Chinese.
When the Chinese invaded Tibet, instead of stopping them perhaps with the help of the Americans and others, India colluded in the genocide of this sister-civilisation
When the Pakistanis invaded Kashmir, India did not use the full force of its military might, but instead went foolishly to the UN
When the Chinese invaded Ladakh in 1962, India did not use its air force at all, which might have made the difference and allowed India to prevail
After the 1971 war, India held 91,000 Pakistani POWs. Instead of using them to drive a hard bargain, India released them without pre-conditions.
To add to this litany of woe, there might be yet another Himalayan Blunder in the making: that is, the ‘concessions’ that India might be making in the Siachen glacier.
There is a general line pushed by Nato, and exemplified by The Economist magazine: that somehow the Kashmir problem (earlier) and the Afghanistan problem (now) will be solved if only India made the Pakistani generals and the ISI less paranoid by giving them ‘concessions’. Which is another way of saying that India should give up (more and more of, if not all of) Kashmir to Pakistan, which will then, or so the theory goes, become full of happy campers and cease to export terrorism.
That this premise is blatant idiocy and totally at variance with the facts is known to the Western pushers of the theory. (They all know that this would simply whet the Pakistani generals’ appetite for more war and more terrorism and more territorial claims). But looking at it from the Western point of view, it is no skin off their nose if India gives up territory and they benefit from it. Why on earth the Indian interlocutors do not see the doublespeak in all this is quite mysterious. But sure enough, Indians accept this mythology.
Thus, there are lots of attempts by India to appease the Pakistanis, and so far as I can tell, none of these ever benefited India at all. Examples include the Samjhauta Express, the easy granting of visas to Pakistani cricket fans (numbers of whom disappear on arrival and are untraceable), the granting of Most Favored Nation trading status to Pakistan, many speeches (eg. in Havana and Sharm-al-Sheikh) accepting Pakistan’s outrageous claim that it is a victim of terrorism (and not the perpetrator).
It appears as though there is another of these appeasement efforts well under way, with the costs being borne by India, and the benefits accruing to Nato. That is the sudden and surprising decision by Pakistan to relent on their embargo of Nato trucks carrying war material to Afghanistan.
The Americans have foolishly allowed their war effort in Afghanistan to be held hostage by the Pakistanis (proponents of the oil pipelines from Turkmenistan and Iran, please note). It appears that the routes for their trucks from Karachi to Afghanistan are the least logistically challenging, compared, for example, to alternatives through the ex-Soviet Central Asia and Russia.
In fact, if the Americans were not so dogmatic about Iran, the best thing for them would be to enter into a détente with them, which would kill two birds with one stone: first, they would have a lot more access to Afghanistan through Iran; second, they would cease to be dependent on the double-dealing Pakistanis who, they know, are the main prop for the Taliban. (See my previous column on this)
If America is not going to do that, then they simply have to appease the Pakistanis. And how best to do that other than by offering yet more of India’s territory to them? Thus the Siachen give-away is a sacrifice by India to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. And what does India get in return? Surely undying love and affection from Obama! Yes, that and Rs 5 will get you a cup of coffee.
This possibility caused Nato’s friends to become delirious with joy. The Economist titled its 15 May piece Keep on truckin’. Unfortunatley, now comes the news, according to a 21 May story in The New York Times, that “Supply Lines Cast Shadow at Nato Meeting on Afghan War”. In other words, the Pakistanis are asking for more. (Which, unlike Oliver Twist, they will get, thanks to sugar-daddy Uncle Sam.)
But if you look at it from India’s point of view, withdrawing from Siachen would be a disaster. It is easy enough for the Wagah candle-wallahs to ask for demilitarising the Siachen area. It is true that there is considerable human misery and lives are lost on this “highest battlefield in the world”. But, after the major amounts of time, money, and blood that India has expended on Siachen, we cannot just give it away.
The fact is that India holds the high ground, and the Pakistanis are at a disadvantage. India has positions on the Saltoro ridge commanding the approach to the glacier. Indians should remember how difficult it was for the Indian Army when Pakistanis held the high ground in Kargil. The moment India abandons these positions, it is highly likely – given continuous Pakistani perfidy in the past – that they will in fact entrench themselves there, thus presenting India with a fait accompli.
It is a military dictum that he who holds the high ground generally wins. It would be catastrophic for India to give up that advantage, especially if the only beneficiary is the US war effort in Afghanistan. What is the quid pro quo for India? So far as I can tell, there is nothing.
But given the past record of the Indian government, it is quite likely that the Siachen giveaway to appease Pakistan and ease the Nato war effort will indeed happen. Alas.