Annually in autumn commanders of the three services congregate at Delhi not only to interface with each other but also with the government. The centerpiece of the event is an address by the Prime Minister. This symbol of civilian control that India is justifiably proud of is generally as routine as is the formal banquet hosted by the titular Supreme Commander at the Rashtrapati Bhawan for the nations top brass. This time, however, the Prime Minister chose to condition the military leadership on impending movement in India's China policy thus: 'It (i.e. the final resolution of the boundary question) is therefore a strategic objective and to achieve it, we should be willing to take some pragmatic decisions. The aim is to release considerable military energies and finances for other more purposeful activities.
Hints of this have been in the air ever since the Prime Minister returned from his China trip and the resultant upgrading of the interlocutor with China to political level viz. Mr. Brajesh Mishras appointment as Indias Special Representative at the recently concluded round of talks. These developments exhibit the confidence felt by the government at the threshold of concessions to China on the border dispute. In effect, India is finally on the verge of exorcising its 1962 Syndrome.
Indias 1962 Syndrome has not received the attention it merits, principally because Indias security concerns have never been central to the national consciousness. The closest they get to the public arena is in the political mileage that scams in the defense sector gain for political parties and when media hype temporarily turns barren mountain crags such as those as Siachen and Kargil into the core of national interest and honor. Nevertheless the loss militarily - and in terms of prestige - to China in 1962 was a defining event for Indias security establishment. Those at the helm of political and strategic affairs today are of the generation that was the most psychologically affected by the setback. As a result we witness in them the compulsive need for supporting diplomatic positions with requisite armed might.
Insight into this is provided by Kanti Bajpai writing of a seminar at the premier institute turning out Indias top brass, the National Defence College. At the seminar, K. Subrahmanyam, the doyen of Indian strategists, let on that, interalia, India required to go nuclear in order to deal from a position of strength with China in resolving the border dispute. He indicated that nuclear equivalence with China would suitably impress Indians thereby ensuring that any concessions that the government makes are not politicized. Following the fission-fusion test of Pokhran II and the development of the 3500 km-range Agni III with it's reach of China's eastern coast, the nation is now deemed to be in a position to countenance the concessions that talks inevitably imply.
But the ghost of 1962 isn't fully laid to rest. We see this in our Pakistan policy, where the country has been unable to reach a similar position from which the government can act without worrying about the domestic implications of doing so. On this front, the 'pragmatic policies' the Prime Minister has advocated for our dealings with China are not visible. Instead the government has manouevered to attain a position of dominance, attempting thus to end the conflict through compellance rather than negotiations. The logic of the policy outlined for China appears more persuasive with respect to Pakistan, but the government has chosen not to connect the dots that would release national energies towards more productive ends.
With the military being praised for its firmness, it is unlikely that alternatives to more of the same will emerge from the security establishment. Vishal Thapar, who made his mark as a reporter during the Kargil War, reveals in his informative pieces on defence matters in the Hindustan Times, that the latest trend in military life on the LOC is head hunting. Apparently, the jehadis, with the support and participation of the Pakistan Army have resorted to severing and carting away heads of Indian troops attacked on the LOC, possibly as a perverse initiation ritual or merely to keep the Indians under siege while infiltrators slip by into the Valley. The report is of at least one case, that of the Jat Regiment, being authorized to conduct a revenge attack with a head brought back as proof.
From this it appears that the professional conduct of Indias Army is under considerable pressure from provocation designed to bring about the same. It is hardly likely that the Armys input into political level decision-making will be benign under the circumstance. As a result, the changing of perceptions being done with some success with regard to China is unlikely to occur with respect to Pakistan anytime soon.
Signals from other developments are also ambiguous, despite the media interest generated by the visit of Baby Noor and the Pakistani quartet of women swimmers at the Afro Asian Games. A quote below from Gagan Ajit Singh, who can be partially credited with the rising fortunes of Indian hockey, serves to indicate that a great investment in perception management would be necessary prior to any substantial moves on the Indo-Pak front: I cant explain why, but I am more than worked up to give my best against Pakistanis. Even successful exertions by Ganguly's team in the forthcoming test series in Pakistan aren't about to generate the political confidence to engage that country on terms that may appear to accord legitimacy to Pakistan's version of the Kashmir 'dispute'
In his speech - which history may judge as a landmark in Indo-Chinese relations - Mr. Vajpayee also suggested a two-pronged strategy to his military commanders to deny bases to terrorists in neighboring countries and to strongly focus on economic development. These prongs naturally emerge from Indias power and prosperity trajectories that have of late made it deserving of the appellations emerging power and emerging market. However, the price of the 1962 Syndrome is that we will continue to privilege power over development, even though it is economic development more than military power that has brought about these feel-good days.
Pakistan, burdened by its own 1971 Syndrome, similarly places the quest for military confidence above all else. Even as we seek parity with those who once defeated us, we must confront that very same ambition in others we ourselves vanquished. The quest for the elusive position of strength must cease, not only for the many lives it will consume but also for the strategic sense in doing so - rightly alluded to by the Prime Minister but in a less urgent context.