Monday, April 27, 2009

Fault Lines

Fault Lines
Author: Capt. Bharat Verma
Publisher: Lancer Publishers
Pages: 336, Price: Rs 495

In geology, a 'fault line' refers to a fault within the earth's crust, often running along the boundary between two tectonic plates. Geologists say 'differential or shear motions' between plates cause it. Most earthquakes occur along these lines because it is caused by energy release during rapid slippage along a fault.

Scientists also say that the strain at the origin of the quake can be both accumulative and instantaneous depending on the rheology of the rock. It is important to understand what rheology is. According to Wikipedia, it is the study of the flow of matter-not only of liquids, but also of soft solids or solids. "Rheology is principally concerned with extending the 'classical' disciplines of elasticity and fluid mechanics to materials."

Capt. Bharat Verma, the editor of the prestigious Indian Defence Review, has extended this concept to geo-politics.

While reading his latest book entitled Fault Lines, I pondered the 'elasticity' of the Indian State and wondered if some earthquakes could shake India in the near future.

Under this disturbing title, Verma has published an anthology of editorial pieces which have appeared in the Indian Defence Review from 1998 to 2009.

These editorials are more than relevant to the present geo-political environment-they not only go deep into the movements of the different subcontinental plates, but also often anticipate some of the upheavals that the country may have to face in the coming years and offers preventive measures.

Verma tries to answer several pertinent and crucial questions facing the nation's security: "Can the West led by America win the war in Afghanistan? Will China fight India to the last Pakistani? While the Chinese threat grows, does India continue to sleep? What is India's fault line? Will Pakistan's fault line splinter the state? Is stable Pakistan in India's interest? Is New Delhi's influence shrinking on its borders? How to tackle the creeping demographic invasion on our borders? What are the dangers to India's territorial integrity? Should we take the war to Pakistan? Why must India develop cutting edge defence industries? Should India form an international alliance with other democracies? How can India acquire great power status?"

These questions are particularly relevant at the time India is going to the polls. But read the headlines of any newspaper or switch on your TV and zap through any 'breaking news' channel, and you will never hear these questions-which are the most critical ones for India's survival. This is the real tragedy.

As Verma points out, India is 'ringed by turbulent states'. He has calculated that India has "a 14,058 km-long land frontier impacted by a perpetually hostile or semi-hostile environment." He believes (and demonstrates) that "Indian security stands threatened by demographic assault, arms and drug smuggling and the safe havens that the insurgents have in India."

This is without taking into account the 7,500 km-long coastlines that are as porous, if not more, than the land frontiers. The 26/11 attack in Mumbai is the latest concrete proof.

India is soon going to elect a new Parliament. But who cares today about these issues, certainly not the candidates for the Parliament. The question can rightly be asked: will the newly elected members of Parliament begin looking at India as a whole, the day they sit on the benches of the Lok Sabha?

If the answer is negative, it is a tragedy-a terrible constitutional fault line. A senior Indian politician and former Union minister recently told me that the so-called National Legislative elections had already become regional elections during the last polls, but today they are local elections-with local politicians debating local issues, and local power struggles remaining at the forefront.

Where are these fault lines?

Though Verma does not use the term, the question seems to be of rheology. The subjacent plates-whether you call them terrorism, Taliban, Naxalite, corruption or casteism-collide incessantly with India's interests. Will the 'accumulative' energy become too much one day? Is India 'elastic' enough to swallow or ingest these subterranean movements? Or will the energies have to be released through a 'national' seism?

One can always argue that the tectonic shocks are far greater in the neighbouring states, particularly in Pakistan. Some experts recently gave only a few months to the Pakistani State to implode. The problem is, in today's scenario, can a state be seen in isolation? What happens in India's neighbourhood has serious consequences for India.

The original fault line

The original fault line (one could call it, the 'original sin'), was the work of the British who decided to partition the subcontinent on communal lines. All those who scream about 'secularism' today, agreed at that time to this 'shear motion' (to put it in geological terms). It has resulted in four quakes-in 1947-48, 1965, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil). With the fault line still very much present, the high volatility on the Pakistan side (despite the legendary Indian 'flexibility'), makes a new quake imminent on the Indian horizon.

The Genesis

As we have briefly mentioned, India has its own fault lines. Verma traces the genesis of the Indian fault line to many centuries of foreign domination of the subcontinent: "Its scars are deeply etched in our psyche. It inhibits us from developing a cogent strategy for the nation. Notwithstanding the large resources, genius, skills, young population profile and an imposing geographical location in Asia, this limitation manifests in creating multiple fault lines across the national canvas."

The Indian temperament is a major fault in the eyes of the editor of the Indian Defence Review: "By nature, the average Indian is highly individualistic and an entrepreneur. In every endeavour, his calculation is simply based on 'what's in it for me?' This kind of entrepreneurial society requires a steel frame of military, naval and air power to ensure that India's accommodative temperament and societal characteristic of gentleness remains protected from the turbulent violence that assaults the values of democratic policy".

Many in India believe that centuries of colonisation is past history; unfortunately the samskaras are still very much present today. Says Verma: "The tendency to create their own make-believe world convinced many of our countrymen that the invasions from our land frontiers for centuries could be ignored as the subcontinent assimilated the invaders into the existing society. How misplaced and erroneous, a perception.%u2026 Our helpless, bewildered ancestors, with their petty bickering, were left with no choice and, therefore, tried to make a virtue out of consistent defeats. It persists in the Indian mind."

Take the policy vis-a-vis China-since Nehru's era, Delhi lives in a 'make-believe world'. The deepest fault line (along with the Partition) came with the erasing of the buffer zone between India and China. When the PLA 'liberated' Tibet in 1950, Delhi demonstrated an incapacity to react. Nehru could only express 'regret': "The Government of India can only express their deep regret that, in spite of the friendly and disinterested advice repeatedly tendered by them, the Chinese Government should have decided to seek a solution of the problem of their relations with Tibet by force instead by the slower and more enduring method of peaceful approach." Dhimmitude at its best!

Unfortunately, the attitude often continues today and several examples are given in Verma's Fault Lines.

The editorials are not negative in their approach. Verma proposes solutions and sees some hope in the new generation. "With generational change sweeping the entire spectrum of the Indian society, certain assertiveness is finally creeping%u2026 The generation next is extremely focussed, capable of comprehending the entire strategic picture swiftly, and displays a fine balance between tolerance and aggressiveness simultaneously.%u2026 Fortunately, the generation next is impelling India towards the great power status."

The reading of Fault Lines is riveting. Chapters such as "Indian Defence Philosophy: a 'no-win' concept; Limitations of the American Power; Creeping Invasion; Pakistan: the jihad factory; China will fight India to the last Pakistani; 'India First' Policy Mandatory: what they don't teach in Indian schools!; America Must Stop Mollycoddling Pakistan; Unravelling the Chinese Checkers; Pakistan's Fault Line; Carrot and Stick!; Threat from China; Stable Pakistan Not in India's Interest; Declining Military Prowess; or Take the War to the Enemy", are eye-openers and sometimes prophetic.

I wish politicians entering the next Lok Sabha would have the editorials of the Indian Defence Review as a compulsory read.

Today, for many observers, an earthquake seems bound to happen: the tectonic plates around and within India do not have the plasticity to adapt and the 'accumulative' circumstances have to release their energies one way or another. The only question is perhaps the quantum of the shock and how India will deal with the after-shocks.

It is difficult even for the best rheologist of geo-politics to predict the future of the subcontinent, but it is certainly better to be ready for any eventuality than to be caught napping. It is what Verma advocates throughout his editorials.

Has not Sun Tzu said long ago:

If you know the enemy and know yourself,
you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know yourself but not the enemy,
for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,
you will succumb in every battle.

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