Two foreign-policy kowtows on the same day last week have highlighted the rot that has set in at the Indian establishment. The kowtows to China and Pakistan also raise the question whether the “incredible India” that the current tourism ad campaign proclaims will remain in reality a “credulous India” that simply refuses to learn from past mistakes or even realize the costs of a meandering, personality-driven approach to policymaking.

It has become a tradition for any Indian Prime Minister visiting China to make an important concession to his hosts. Even though Manmohan Singh travelled to China for the BRICS meeting, he still delivered a gift-wrapped, two-in-one concession to President Hu Jintao—a double Indian climb down on the issue of bilateral defence exchanges.

In resuming defence talks, India agreed both to delink it from the stapled-visa issue and to address China’s concerns over the makeup of the Indian military delegation by agreeing to dilute the level of its representation. Recall that India froze defence exchanges in response to two actions—a new policy by China (which occupies one-fifth of the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir) to question India’s sovereignty over the Indian-controlled part of that state by issuing visas on a separate leaf to its residents; and its refusal to issue a normal visa to even the Indian Army’s Northern Command chief who was to lead the military team to China last summer.

It took China just four years to first resurrect the Arunachal Pradesh card and then hone the Kashmir card against India. It even shortened the length of the Himalayan border it claims to share with India by purging the 1,597-kilometre line separating Indian J&K from the Chinese-held Aksai Chin plateau, which is the size of Switzerland. Thanks to China’s growing strategic footprint in Pakistani-held J&K, India now faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its J&K. The deepening China-Pakistan nexus actually presents India with a two-front theatre in the event of a war with either country.

Singh travelled to China just days after the Northern Command chief publicly said that the influx of Chinese troops into Pakistani-occupied J&K had created a Chinese military presence even along Pakistan’s line of control with India. He thus wondered that “if there were to be hostilities between us and Pakistan, what would be the complicity of the Chinese.”

Singh, however, ignored all that by blithely delinking the military-talks resumption from China’s use of the J&K card against India. Beijing has not yielded even on the stapled-visa issue, with Singh’s national security adviser acknowledging that the matter remains under discussion.
Furthermore, New Delhi has agreed to address Chinese sensitivities on the Indian military delegation’s composition by leaving out the team leader—the Northern Command chief. Instead it will send a team in June led by a less-senior Northern Command officer but also including representatives from other military commands.

If India is so ready to appreciate Chinese sensitivities on team composition and on the J&K issue, why did it suspend military exchanges in the first place? After all, in the months since the exchanges were frozen, China has only tightened its iron fist further, extending its military footprint in Pakistani-held J&K to the LoC. Should respect for another country’s sensitivities produce abject spinelessness?

Take the second kowtow—the decision to resume bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan without having secured any anti-terror commitment. Indeed, Islamabad has had the last laugh: the Pakistan-based masterminds of the Mumbai terror attacks remain untouched and the terrorist-training camps near the border with India continue to operate, yet New Delhi has returned to square one by resuming cricket ties and political dialogue at all levels.

The use of cricket to reengage Pakistan at the senior most level, with Mohali representing only the first step, mocks the memory of 26/11. Since Pakistan launched its proxy war against India in the 1980s, India has blended cricket with politics to court Pakistan on three separate occasions, with Singh the architect of two of those instances. 

Tellingly, only the victim of terror has practiced cricket diplomacy, not the terrorist sponsor, which refuses to make any amends. The victim, in fact, has rubbed salt in its own wounds. The decision to resume bilateral cricket ties, for example, followed Tahawur Hussain Rana’s disclosure before a US court that he acted on behalf of Pakistani state agencies in carrying out reconnaissance to set the stage for the 26/11 attacks.

Whereas the culpability of the Pakistani state in scripting, aiding and abetting 26/11 is clear, the culpability of Indian decision-makers in letting Pakistan off the hook over those attacks has received little public attention. New Delhi actually responded to 26/11 by fashioning a new and unique tool—dossier bombing. The weighty dossiers, delivered at regular intervals, only persuaded Pakistan to stay its ground, with India eventually climbing down.
The cyclical pattern of dealing with Pakistan—terror strikes, followed by suspension of talks, then renewed bonhomie after a gap, and yet again terror attacks—predates Singh. In fact, no PM followed a more frequently shifting policy on Pakistan than the weak-in-the-knees Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who actually went down on his knees to propitiate Pakistan, only to get kicked in the face.

No PM before Vajpayee dared to take India on a roller-coaster ride on Pakistan. Even IK Gujral knew what the limits were in giving shape to his give-more-take-less foreign policy. In a mid-2003 visit to Beijing, Vajpayee even surrendered India’s remaining leverage on Tibet.

India is paying the wages of corruption, which is softening the state, hallowing out institutions, and undermining national security. During Vajpayee’s reign, his foster son-in-law played the same role that Asif Ali Zardari did in the Benazir Bhutto government.

Today, amid the unending carousel of mega-corruption scandals, an important distinction has been lost: It’s one thing to seek peaceful relations with scofflaw neighbours, but it’s entirely different to invite more pressures by presenting India as a weak, vacillating, inconsistent state that is unable to uphold principles, objectives or even national self-respect.