Friday, March 11, 2005

INDIA: Communist recipe for disaster

China is rapidly expanding the logistical capabilities of its armed forces in Tibet. China remains a major supplier of defence equipment to Pakistan. It will soon provide Pakistan with scores of "jointly developed" JF-17 (Super 7) fighters for which engine designs of the frontline MIG-29 have been purloined from Russia. The "Al Khalid" tank being built in Rawalpindi is of Chinese origin. General Musharraf recently indicated that he would not hesitate to provide base facilities to the Chinese navy in the Gwadar Port. China is reported to have agreed to strengthen Pakistan's naval muscle by the provision of new frigates.

Communist recipe for disaster

The Communist Parties in India cannot be accused of inconsistency. They have a track record of advocating foreign and national security policies designed to make India a surrogate or protectorate of one or another external power. Throughout the years of the Cold War, the Communist Party of India (CPI) took its directions from Moscow and wanted India to follow a policy of strident criticism of the US and western world. This line continued till the mutual dislike between Mao and Stalin led to a widening Sino-Soviet rift. When China and the USSR parted ways, the Communist movement in India split.

The CPI(M) adopted a posture of equidistance between the two squabbling Communist giants, with strident rhetoric against the western world. The CPI became anti-Chinese when the Sino-Soviet rift was at its height after the military clashes across the Ussuri River in 1969. The CPI(M), in turn, had little to say when Nixon and Mao embraced each other and formed a Sino-US axis directed against India during the Bangladesh crisis in 1971. Both Communist Parties could not hide their embarrassment and discomfiture when in February 1979, China with American backing, attacked a "fraternal" communist country Vietnam that had earlier concluded a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union.

The Communist Parties in India have faced similar dilemmas after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They now advocate national security and foreign policies that will not only weaken our national defence, but also effectively make us a protectorate and client state of China. During the General elections last year, the CPI(M) found fault with the NDA Government for supporting the US Government in its "war on Afghanistan". Was the CPI(M) thereby suggesting that we would have been better off with continued Taliban rule and the presence of Osama bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen operating in Afghanistan? The Communist Parties have called for an end to all military cooperation with the USA and Israel.

Are they suggesting that while it is alright for their comrades in Beijing to continue weapons procurement from Israel, we should deny our soldiers essential electronic sensors from Israel to check infiltration across the LOC? Similarly, is it the Communist viewpoint that our artillery should make do without American supplied gun locating radars while the Pakistanis lob heavy artillery shells across the LOC? Have any family members of our Communist leaders ever served in frontline military formations and faced bullets and artillery shells fired across the border?

While Communist rhetoric on its "fraternal ties" with China's Communist Party could be humoured, one cannot ignore their total silence on the collusion and collaboration between China and Pakistan on nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems. By advocating the "denuclearisation" of South Asia, our Communist friends are suggesting that we should abandon our long-standing policy of keeping our nuclear options open, while expressing our readiness to pursue the goal of universal and comprehensive nuclear disarmament. "Denucleari-sation" of South Asia has been a long-term goal of both the US and China as this would, in effect, involve our acceding to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by the backdoor.

China has demanded that we should renounce our nuclear programme, dismantle our nuclear weapons and end all testing, development and deployment of missiles. While swearing adherence to the NPT, China has supplied Pakistan with unsafeguarded facilities for plutonium reprocessing, designs of nuclear weapons, components for Pakistan's nuclear enrichment programme and M11, M9 and M18 missiles that have now given Pakistan the capability to target every major population centre in India. In these circumstances any talk of "denuclearisation" that excludes China is meaningless. The US National Intelligence Council has assessed that thanks to Chinese missile supplies, Pakistan has developed an edge over us in strategic nuclear delivery systems. Despite this, our communist friends oppose our acquiring missile defence systems to protect our cities against nuclear tipped missiles of Chinese origin!

While our Communist Parties cannot now "roll back" our nuclear and missile programmes (an objective they share with the erstwhile Clinton Administration), what is of immediate concern are the pressures being mounted by our Left Parties to reduce defence expenditure. During pre-Budget consultations, the Communist Parties had suggested a drastic reduction in defence expenditure from the level of Rs 77000 crore spent in 2004-2005. India presently spends less than 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence, even though the eleventh Finance Commission had advocated a target of three per cent of GDP for defence spending. China and Pakistan spend well over four per cent of GDP on Defence. Chinese Defence expenditure is to increase by 12.6 per cent this year.

China is rapidly expanding the logistical capabilities of its armed forces in Tibet. China remains a major supplier of defence equipment to Pakistan. It will soon provide Pakistan with scores of "jointly developed" JF-17 (Super 7) fighters for which engine designs of the frontline MIG-29 have been purloined from Russia. The "Al Khalid" tank being built in Rawalpindi is of Chinese origin. General Musharraf recently indicated that he would not hesitate to provide base facilities to the Chinese navy in the Gwadar Port. China is reported to have agreed to strengthen Pakistan's naval muscle by the provision of new frigates.

Out historical experience has unfortunately been that our neighbours invariably take advantage of situations when reduced defence spending results in our defence potential being weakened. China made bold to humiliate us in 1962, primarily because our armed forces were starved with minimal defence budgets and our soldiers did not even possess winter clothing and automatic rifles to confront superior numbers and firepower. Field Marshal Ayub Khan tried his luck with us in 1965 because he was emboldened by American military assistance and Chinese political support. He failed primarily because we unexpectedly hit across the international border.

Between 1965 and 1990 defence spending steadily increased and neither China, Pakistan or any other regional power could take us for granted. It was only after 1990, that defence expenditure steadily fell and we lost the strategic edge that we had over Pakistan for over three decades. The net result was that Pakistan was emboldened to attempt its intrusion in Kargil. The Narasimha Rao and Deva Gowda Governments must bear the responsibility for the neglect of defence modernisation in the 1990s even though the economic crisis of 1991 necessitated reduction in Government spending. One hopes that those managing national security issues in the UPA Government will remember this.

Experience has thus taught us that maintaining a qualitative edge over our neighbours is essential for peace in our neighbourhood. Weapons we acquired three decades ago from the Soviet Union are now obsolete. There are a number of pending acquisitions including multi-barreled rocket launchers, artillery, advanced fighters, submarines and warships that we need in the immediate future. These acquisitions cannot be further delayed if we are to guarantee our security and remain a credible power in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood. Our Communist friends would do well to remember that the gross subsidies given to our loss making, corrupt and inefficient State Electricity Boards in 2004-2005 are estimated to be over Rs 34000 crore.

These subsidies are estimated to grow by over 12 per cent annually. If we are unable to fund our anti-poverty and social development programmes adequately it is not because our defence expenditure is high, but because our politicians prefer populism over efficiency and avoid reforming corrupt delivery systems in our socio-economic and anti-poverty programmes.