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Amid reports that the government is planning to 'impart military training ' people living near the India-China border at the level of a paramilitary force, Shyam Saran – a former foreign secretary and PM's special envoy, and current chairman of the National Security Advisory Board – has cautioned that this may not necessarily be the solution. He has also admitted that India's leverage in situations like the current one in Iraq is limited and blamed US actions partly for the crisis there.
In an exclusive interview to HT, Saran said, "The proposal (to militarily train border population) does not seem to be thought through. The India-China border is a very long one, and it is sparsely populated. The question is who is to be armed? And if the idea is to settle people there, who do they have in mind?"
Saran recalled that after the 1962 war, ex servicemen were settled in border pockets but over a period of time, these settlements ceased to exist. "To think that sparsely populated segments in scattered pockets – if armed or militarily trained - would be able to counter an assault is a mistaken notion." At best, these people could serve as an 'early warning system'.
Saran admitted that Indian leverage in a situation like Iraq is limited. He candidly said, "To think that India has any great leverage is exaggerated. We are dealing with forces outside one's control. I am sure all networks which can be used are being used discreetly but these can't often be put out in public domain."
He said the larger issue was the 'shattering of the geopolitical balance' in the Middle East, after the US intervention in Iraq. This was then aggravated by US actions in Syria. "I don't understand what US interests are. Syria may have been authoritarian, but it was a secular regime and an island of stability. The regime has been actively destabilized, and the country has now become a base for groups which have now turned against you."
Funds meant for Syrian rebel groups, he said, got 'leaked' to outfits like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. "Obviously, these places have internal dynamics but US responses have not helped. Intervention should be avoided unless aftermath can be managed."
With regard to the immediate humanitarian crisis, he said even if India had anticipated the risks, it is doubtful that advice to citizens would have been heeded. "Despite advisories, we see that many citizens chose to stay on for the pay. In a democracy, what do you do to redress such a situation?"
Turning to the question of US snooping on government, amid new revelations about how the NSA spied on BJP, Saran said the idea of privacy of citizens being violated was against all norms of international law and democracy. Asked about the nature of Indian responses so far and his prescription, "We don't know the exact conversation India had with US on this issue. Strong counter terrorism co-operation with US which have helped in CT efforts may have been a factor in Indian responses…But India as a liberal democracy must make its voice heard as a matter of principle."