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India – an aspiring hegemon

Source: Nation

“India’s grand strategy divides the world into three concentric circles. In the first, which encompasses the immediate neighbourhood, India has sought primacy and a veto over actions of outside powers.” – C. Raja Mohan

India with a population of 1.24 billion and GDP of $2.19 trillion in nominal terms looms large on the South Asian subcontinent. None of the other South Asian countries comes even close to the size of India’s population and economy. In fact, its population and GDP are more than the combined population and GDP of all the other South Asian countries.

By way of comparison, the population and GDP of Pakistan, the second biggest country in South Asia, are estimated to be 183 million and $258 billion respectively. Thus, Pakistan’s population is about one-seventh of that of India and its GDP is about one-ninth of India’s GDP.

Over the past decade and a half, India has also succeeded in achieving far higher economic growth rates compared with those recorded by Pakistan. Its advantage over Pakistan in economic wealth has accordingly increased with the passage of time because of the latter’s dismal economic performance.

India has also increased rapidly its defence expenditure and acquisition of advanced weapon systems to translate its growing economic strength into military power. India received nine percent of global arms transfers from 2006 to 2010, making it the world’s leading importer of weapons. It is, therefore, generally recognised by the world community as an emerging great power.

In view of the anarchic nature of international system, it is in the nature of an emerging great power like India to seek hegemony as pointed out by John J. Mearsheimer in his widely acclaimed book, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. After analysing the characteristics of international politics, Mearsheimer concludes: “Thus, the claim that states maximise relative power is tantamount to arguing that states are disposed to think offensively toward other states even though their ultimate motive is simply to survive.

“In short, great powers have aggressive intentions. Even when a great power achieves a distinct military advantage over its rivals, it continues looking for chances to gain more power. The pursuit of power stops only when hegemony is achieved” (p.34, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics).

It should not cause any surprise, therefore, if India as an emerging great power seeks hegemony in South Asia. Its determination to achieve hegemony in South Asia was unequivocally elaborated by noted Indian security analyst, C. Raja Mohan, in an article, entitled “India and the Balance of Power”, published in the Foreign Affairs issue of July-August 2006: “India’s grand strategy divides the world into three concentric circles. In the first, which encompasses the immediate neighbourhood, India has sought primacy and a veto over the actions of outside powers. In the second, which encompasses the so-called extended neighbourhood stretching across Asia and the India Ocean littoral, India has sought to balance the influence of other powers and prevent them from undercutting its interests. In the third, which includes the entire global stage, India has tried to take its place as one of the great powers, a key player in international peace and security.”

Interestingly, the first of the three factors that in Mohan’s opinion have prevented India from realising its grand strategic goals was the partition of South Asia and the creation of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh) along religious lines.

This factor, according to him, left India with a persistent conflict with Pakistan and an internal Hindu-Muslim divide, separated India from Afghanistan, Iran and, one may add, Central Asia, and created profound problems for India’s engagement with the Muslim Middle East because of Pakistan’s character as an Islamic state.

The other two obstacles identified by Mohan, in the way of the realisation of its grand strategic goals, were its socialist system and the Cold War, which put India on the losing side of the great political contest of the second half of the twentieth century.

He further points out that while the second and the third obstacles identified by him have disappeared, India needs to deal with the first obstacle, that is to say Pakistan, in the realisation of its grand strategic goals.

The foregoing establishes conclusively India’s hegemonic ambitions in South Asia. The historical record reinforces this conclusion. The way India tried to destabilise Pakistan soon after the partition through the delay in sharing cash balances with Pakistan, cutting off the supply of river water from two headworks under its control in 1948, and the stoppage of trade with Pakistan in 1949 because of the latter’s refusal to devalue its currency were early examples of India’s hegemonic ambitions.

India’s blatant military intervention in East Pakistan in 1971 was an obvious attempt to cut Pakistan down to size. New Delhi’s handling of the disputes with Pakistan, particularly Kashmir, Sir Creek and Siachen, also reflects its hegemonic mindset. The same is true of India’s frequent resort to coercive diplomacy when things don’t go according to its liking in relations with Pakistan. India’s quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council is again in pursuit of a great power status to which India thinks it is entitled.

The latest firing incidents across the Line of Control (LoC), particularly the killing of a Pakistani soldier, who had strayed across the LOC, and the threatening statements made by the Indian commanders during the past few weeks were designed to convey to Pakistan that it would have to accept India’s hegemony and learn to live in a subordinate position in the region.

Pakistan’s domestic political instability, the debilitating war on terror in which it is engaged, its deplorable economic performance over the past decade and a half, and the constant American pressure on it because of the crisis in Afghanistan have worked to weaken Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis India.

On the other hand, India has been emboldened in the pursuit of its hegemonic ambitions by its much faster economic growth, its rapidly growing military strength, its status as a stable democracy, and the US strategic shift in its favour to contain a rising China.

The issues of peace and security are ultimately decided in this anarchic international system through the logic of power. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s power relative to that of India has weakened over the past decade and a half. If the trend of the relative decline of Pakistan’s power vis-à-vis India continues, the latter’s ability to dictate to Pakistan would grow in strength. Under the present circumstances, the chances of the resolution of major Pakistan-India disputes on satisfactory terms from our point of view appear to be quite remote. India’s decision to resile from the Pakistan-India agreement on Siachen is a case in point.

To safeguard our vital national interests, Pakistan has no choice but to resist India’s hegemonic designs in the region. This would be possible, however, only if we are able to achieve internal political stability and increase our economic strength relative to that of India, while maintaining a credible deterrent at the lowest level of armaments and armed forces.

Our diplomacy should focus on defusing tensions with India to reduce the risk of an armed conflict and to enable us to divert our scarce resources from the military to the urgent task of economic development. We should maintain a firm position on major Pakistan-India disputes without being provocative.

Trade with India should be conducted on a level playing field and a mutually beneficial basis.

Finally, we must strengthen our strategic partnership with China and friendly relations with Iran and Afghanistan to balance India’s power advantage over us.

 

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