NUST Global Think Tank Network (GTTN) arranged an interactive session on Friday, 27 January, 2017, on Chanakya’s Arthashastra or ‘science of politics’ and its relevance to contemporary Indian strategic and foreign policies. The session was attended by statesmen, diplomats, military officers, scholars, researchers, and students.
The opening lecture was delivered by Brigadier (R) Amir Yaqub, Director, Operations and Collaboration at NUST GTTN. The lecture proved to be an adroit stroke of sweeping historical comparison of the grand strategies of multiple civilizations with special reference to India’s South Asia policy centered on its long-simmering antagonism toward Pakistan.
The session explained that there existed identifiable historical constants in old and contemporary grand strategies of states that made possible, in turn, an informed prognosis of their current and future behavior. Although culturally varied, yet these constants were aimed at the unceasing accumulation of power, considered by statecraft to be the highest good that guaranteed the very existence of states. This relentless pursuit of power manifested classically in a state’s actions against its perceived enemies, whether these enemies were other individual states, coalition or alliance of states, or non-state actors. Even the non-antagonistic interaction of states were not exempt from this pursuit. Different variants of competition and conflict marked this pursuit. Even every act of cooperation of states was determined in the last instance by the circumambient reality of competition and conflict. This reality was not always apparent because conflict had different variants and all variants were not based on visible aggression and violence.
The text under discussion, it was remarked, was inspired by this ever-present reality of conflict and competition. The book’s one outstanding admonition to the state-builders was, to use the 21st century parlance, the increase in own hard and soft powers simultaneously and actions that served, directly and indirectly, to reduce those of the adversaries. It was further stated that the philosophical and political premises of the text have remained major sources of inspiration and guidance for the Hindu political and strategic thought.
The book was like a mirror held unto the Hindu fundamentalist tenet of aggrandizement that fueled its regional hegemonic ambitions. It was patently clear that satellitization of its South Asian neighbors was the dream conjured up by the heat-oppressed mind of Hindu extremism. It was not difficult to see that Indian policymakers had learned the Chanakyan lesson too well for their own good. The presentation stressed that the empire-making ambitions cherished by the Indian leadership under Modi were deeply indebted to Arthashastra’s doctrine of political amoralism. This amoralism was itself founded on a dark Hobbesian view of human nature and its political expression.
An attentive look at the Indian polity and society would reveal the insidious workings of this paranoid distrust that normally lied buried under the veneer of formal democracy. Riven by widespread internal unrest and devastating poverty, the fabric of Indian statehood was held artificially together by its state security apparatuses and the crippling inertia of underdevelopment that robs marginalized social groups of all initiative. India had always existed as a profoundly troubled national security state, albeit a well-disguised one, that was obsessed with seeking the source of its problems like multiple secessionist movements outside itself. Blaming Pakistan for its own internal failures rather than casting a critical and honest look at the origin of those failures was a case in point. This otiose externalization of its domestic problems, coupled with the shoddy pursuit of its hegemonic ambitions in the region, had deeply disturbed the Indian policymakers.
India’s well-sold tall tale of accusing Pakistan of things that the former itself was doing to the latter seemed to have found its doctrinal justification in a particularly warped reading of the text’s counsel on propaganda. Whether it was India’s provocations along Line of Control (LoC), or the revisionist statements of Modi against the status of Indus Water Treaty or dyspeptic reaction and opposition to the development of both One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it was not difficult to see that Indian moves were being hexed by its classical envy of its neighbors. This was the result of an agoraphobic mindset bottomed upon a deep-seated desire to refashion the world according to its own narrow ideals.
It was worth exploring whether secularism in a country where almost 80 percent of the population subscribed to one particular faith would not eventually be subjected, even if unwillingly, to the political and socioeconomic demands of the preponderant segment of the Indian population. The session drew attention to the fact that the regional hegemonic behavior of India was an outcome of the passions unleashed during the course of the Hindu domination of the Indian polity. It was a moment of trepidation for those who wanted a peaceful and prosperous South Asia that the world seemed to have missed this sorry correspondence between India’s domestic and foreign policies.
The domestic vehemence of Hindu fanaticism would, per force, lead to increased regional instability. It had to be grasped by the world that this vehemence was procrustean in nature both in domestic and regional terms and, was, moreover, in the unenvious condition of being its own cause and effect, forever doomed to stay chained within a circular eternity non-fulfilment. This very non-fulfilment, however, made it a virulent presence in the region.
It could be easily seen that India’s foreign policy was the reverse of China’s regional policy. China’s policy was aimed at common and equal development of multiple regions of the massive Eurasian landmass but the Indian policy was sadly anachronistic and, unfortunately, based on playing off one state against another, itself misled, and, therefore, misleading others through a selective and distorted reading of history disingenuously worked into its foreign policy narrative.
The session pointed out that due to the current disposition of the global inter-state system, the world, especially, countries like Afghanistan and Bangladesh, was particularly susceptible of India’s anti-Pakistan drive. India’s economic growth, though sizable, would only serve to buttress its misguided regional policy orientation. In this regard, its growth could become cancerous for the region as a whole because it had willfully chosen conflict or threat thereof as a vehicle for attaining its regional goals.
The session concluded that it was only the systematic, rapid, equitable, and holistic domestic development of Pakistan that would enable it to neutralize the negative dynamics of India’s regional policy. However, the possibility of India buckling under the unbearable weight of its own overweening ambitions could also not be ruled out.