Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
HAD the 1914-19 and 1939-45 world wars not taken place, the odds are that much of the world would have managed its liberation from countries in Europe only about now. In the case of India, a factor that has never been mentioned in the hundreds of books written by official historians of that period was the growing sense of injustice felt by “native” soldiers in the British Indian Army. Although several millions of such troops fought and died in both world wars on the side of the Allies, their contribution has been ignored. Indeed, when France celebrated the 50th anniversary of the entry of Allied troops on its soil in 1944, India was not invited, despite the fact that the (then undivided) country had put several times more troops into the fray than had the French during 1939-45,who during that war were under occupation by Germany for four years during that period.
A similar neglect was the case in the UK, the country that used up vast numbers Indian manpower and quantity of resources against Germany in both wars. In contrast, India was given an honoured place at celebrations in Moscow for what is called in Russia the “Great Patriotic War”. Whether in Europe or in Asia, “native” troops saw that the privileged men from Europe in their militaries were often very poor fighters. In particular, the sweep of the Japanese victory over British, French and Dutch forces in Indo-China during the 1939-45 war broke the myth of superiority that had been used till then to keep those of Asian origin from attempting to shake off their European tormentors.
The discriminatory treatment of non-Europeans caused resentment that led to an eruption of mutinies in the army and the navy. It was clear that in a very short time, the British in India would face a full scale revolt of the “native” component in their armed forces that would be much bigger than the proportion which revolted against their British overlords . Without armed force, there was no way the British Indian Empire could survive, which was why it was reluctantly accepted that the Union Jack would need to come down permanently from flag staffs all across the subcontinent.
Immediately after he took office as Prime Minister of India on August 15,1947, Jawaharlal Nehru chose the former residence of the British Commander-in-Chief of the Indian army as his official home. Subsequently, he downgraded the status of the military, so much so that in India, the men and women in uniform have very little say in decisions concerning them, being excluded even from positions in the Ministry of Defence. Over the decades, police and paramilitary forces took on the uniform, the plumage, of soldiers, including the fixing of stars on their official vehicles, while the Ministry of Defence has since 1947 been run by officials without any training in matters of national defence, a lack that shows itself with high frequency in the quality of decisions which get taken. As for the politicians who nominally are in charge, most look only to selected deals and leave other matters to the civilian bureaucracy. Those who are admirers of Prime Minister Modi are hoping that he will ensure that specialist ministries such as Finance, Defence, Commerce, Home and Human Resource Development will be staffed by cadres with domain knowledge, and also include recruits from outside the official machinery at all levels. Thus far, Modi has been very slow to make fundamental changes, preferring to proceed in incremental steps so as to avoid any confrontation with powerful lobbies within the bureaucracy, although there are signs that such a policy of “hastening slowly” may soon change
The wars of the future will not be the same as battles fought in the 19th and 20th centuries. They will involve the extensive use of cyber and information technology, as well as methods such as drone warfare and lasers. Psychological operations will be important, and brainpower will prevail over muscle power, in that flexible tactics and speed and surprise will ensure victory. Given the vast pool of Information Technology recruits in India, the potential for such new methods is significant. However, this will come about only through decisions taken at the top. In such a context, the example of NATO is relevant. That alliance invariably goes into action only against much weaker foes, especially regimes which have been denuded (or denuded themselves) of high-impact weapons.
However, despite having spent vast amounts of money and deployed weapons of a sophistication far above that of other military alliances, NATO has suffered defeat after defeat, including in the longest war it has fought, that with the Taliban since 2001. That militia is still not only alive but kicking, and kicking hard, so much so that NATO commanders seem to be clueless as to how to overcome this foe. Because of failure to eliminate the Taliban, even the US is desperately searching for “Good Taliban” ie those fighters who will leave its and allied militaries alone.
In contrast to NATO, which for two years could inflict very little damage on Daesh (IS), within a year the Russian Air Force has notched up much more successes on the field than the French, British and US air forces combined, while the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) in Iran has shown itself to be the most capable of the many forces battling ISIS on the field While India needs to enter into a robust partnership with the US, this ought not to be at the cost of continued closeness to Russia, or indeed to Iran.
In the war on IS, this columnist has since 2013 argued in favour of carrying out air strikes on Daesh targets in Iraq and Syria with the cooperation of the authorities in Baghdad and Damascus. It is a welcome sign that the Minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar,is soon to visit Iraq and Syria to discuss the war on terror. Rather than go the way of 19th century Europe, where countries weakened the continent and themselves by fighting each other, 21st century Asia needs to cooperate together against the terror threat ,especially that posed by Daesh.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.