Friday June 14, 2024

Misreading the Indian mind

By Javid Husain
July 17, 2020

Sun Tzu laid down a fundamental principle of strategy in the following words: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Unfortunately, we have overlooked this fundamental adage in the formulation of our India policy. If we had paid due attention to this principle in handling our relations with India, we would not have faced the disaster of the dismemberment of the country in 1971 or the Kargil fiasco in 1999, just to quote two instances of gross mishandling of our relations with India.

While it is not easy to read the mind of as large a country as India with its long history, religious and cultural diversity, and political complexities, an effort nevertheless must be made to comprehend the various factors which influence its strategic thinking and goals, and how they affect its foreign and security policies.

Since India is an overwhelmingly Hindu-majority country, it is inevitable that Hindu religion and culture, which in a marked contrast with Islamic principles of human brotherhood and social equality are based on the impregnable division of society into castes barring vertical mobility, will deeply impact both its internal social conditions and strategic thought.

Internally, people belonging to lower strata of society, especially the ‘untouchables’, must be resigned to a life of abject misery and deprivation in a Hindu-majority India. The followers of other religions, whether Muslims or Christians, can expect an even worse treatment in Indian society which is currently swayed by Hindu fanaticism because of the growing appeal of Hindutva. This factor has spillover effects on India’s relations with a Muslim-majority Pakistan. We should, therefore, be prepared to face a hostile India in the foreseeable future since the huge rightward shift towards Hindu fanaticism in India reflects a long-term trend rather than an aberration.

India’s animosity towards Pakistan is aggravated because of the deep unhappiness of Indian politicians, policymakers and scholars at Pakistan’s initial emergence as an independent country, and their long-term strategic goal to integrate Pakistan into a greater India. Shyam Saran, a former Indian foreign secretary, in his book, ‘How India Sees the World’, offers the following revealing comments:

“This section reflects my view that the Indian subcontinent is a single, interconnected geopolitical entity and ecological space with a shared history, strong cultural affinities and dense economic interdependencies. The eventual integration of this space, transcending national boundaries, will remain an enduring objective of Indian foreign policy.”

In simple words, India’s long-term foreign policy goal is to turn Pakistan either into a satellite of India or subsume it into an Indian federation/confederation through the process of economic integration and the formation of a South Asian Economic Union, which will be dominated by India because of the heavy weight of its huge size.

It is a pity that despite these obvious dangers of the formation of a South Asian Economic Union, which have been elaborated at considerable length in my book, ‘Pakistan and a World in Disorder – A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century’ published by Palgrave Macmillan from New York, Pakistan’s leaders and policy makers, including also the Foreign Office, have continued to support the establishment of the South Asian Economic Union in the Saarc declarations. This was indeed a serious case of the misreading of the Indian mind.

It is by now well established that the pursuit of hegemony in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is India’s main and enduring strategic goal. As long as Pakistan resists India’s attempts to dominate South Asia and refuses to be reduced to the status of its satellite, there would be long-term and enduring tensions and hostility between the two countries. This factor combined with the festering Kashmir dispute, which is fast turning into a civilizational dispute because of the growing sway of Hindu fanaticism in India, precludes the possibility of friendship and a harmonious relationship between Pakistan and India.

Pious statements by Pakistani policymakers envisaging friendship with India, therefore, are unrealistic and reflect a mirage. In fact, the trend has been in the reverse direction, especially under the Modi-led BJP government in India which has virtually annexed IOK in a blatant violation of the UNSC resolutions and adopted a muscular style of diplomacy in dealing with Pakistan as reflected by the heating up of the LOC and New Delhi’s sponsorship of acts of terrorism in Pakistan.

Indian strategic thought is deeply influenced by Kautilya’s teachings as contained in the Arthashastra, which was written for the benefit of Chandragupta Maurya around 300 BC. The book is recognized as an important guide on strategy by Indian policymakers and scholars.

Just to give some flavor of the book, it propounded the concept of “silent war” in which the ruler and his ministers acted publicly as if they were interested in peace with the opposing state, but all the while secret agents were busy assassinating important leaders in the other state, creating divisions among key ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation with the ultimate objective of weakening and subjugating it. This bears an uncanny resemblance to what India has been up to in dealing with Pakistan, especially under the present Indian government.

India despite its enduring hostility towards Pakistan is not in a position to inflict a conclusive military defeat on it since both of them are nuclear powers. However, local skirmishes and low level military conflicts between them cannot be ruled out.

The main focus of the Indian strategy, however, would be on destabilizing Pakistan politically though disinformation and terrorism, weakening it economically through various stratagems, and undermining its separate cultural identity to overcome Pakistan’s opposition to its hegemonic designs in South Asia. Pakistan will have to attend to these areas in the formulation of its grand strategy to counter India’s offensive moves while maintaining a credible security deterrent and strengthening its strategic partnership with China.

The writer is a retired ambassador and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs. Email: