No nation is an island, the English poet John Donne might have written metaphorically if he had happened to have been a statesman.
Chinese and Japanese gunboats stand off in the icy waters of the north Pacific. Syrians of different religious hues start killing each other by the thousands. American mothers say they want their soldier sons home again — and their president listens to them.
And because of these far-off events stuff happens in India: the Delhi Metro is built, petrol prices fall at Indian pump stations and, suddenly, more jawans are being killed along the Line of Control with Pakistan.
Scientist Edward Lorenz showed how the flapping wings of a single insect could trigger, through a series of events, the creation of a mighty hurricane. This theory, in common parlance, is known as the Butterfly Effect.
If you have ever wondered why Indian governments invest so much time in diplomacy, military projections and international pomp and glory — here is an explanation. It is not merely that Indians import their petrol, fertilizer, cellphones and cooking oil and export their students and software.
Here are three examples of how global chickens come home to roost. Be assured there are dozens of other possibilities.
The country may be turning inwards as elections approach, but it helps to remember that India is just six degrees of geopolitical separation from many things that take place around the world.
How Syria’s civil war could help India.
1. Damascus: Successful popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, lead to a Sunni revolt against the Shia minority dictatorship of Bashar al Assad. Iran throws its weight behind the Syrian regime, its main ally in the Arab world.
2. Tehran: But supporting Assad makes Iran wildly unpopular with the rest of the Sunni Arab world. Decades of positioning Iran as the leader of the Arab Street — going back to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who wanted Iranian foreign policy to “be more Arab than the Arab” — go to waste.
3. Tehran: Iran, any way reeling under US-led sanctions, decides its time for a rethink. Arabs having soured to Iran, Tehran focuses on a more domestic agenda: a) preventing an Israeli air strike, b) reviving its economy.
4. New York: The path to both is through America. So President Hassan Rouhani woos Barack Obama at the UN. He tweets “Happy Jewish New Year.” Even US threats to missile Syria didn’t change anything. Message: Tehran doesn’t need Damascus the way it used to.
5. Washington: Rouhani and Obama have a phone call. Suddenly there’s talk of Gulf détente. If US and Iran patch up — still a while to go — then Iranian oil will be back on the market. It also means an economy-destroying war of Iran vs US and Israel is on the backburner.
6. New Delhi: If Iranian oil is free of sanctions, there will be an oil glut. Also, a fifth of the present price of oil is a risk premium based on fears of attacks on Iran. Present oil price: $110 a barrel. If US and Iran bury the hatchet, prices could be $80. India would save billions. Current account deficit problems over. Inflation down.
How China’s Bullying of Japan Helps India Get Infrastructure
1. Beijing: Two years ago China deliberately upped the nature of its long-standing territorial squabble with Japan over the Senkaku Islands — Daiyu in Chinese — by sending fishing boats, then patrol boats and then fighters into the disputed areas.
2. Tokyo: The then ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which had sold itself as a friend of China, looks foolish. Forced to respond in kind, Japan also begins more aggressive coast guard patrolling and scrambles fighters. All of this gives a fillip to the nationalist stance of Shinzo Abe, from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.
3. Shenzhen: In September last year, anti-Japanese protests spread across China. In Shenzhen, Japanese cars and products — including a Ramen shop — are vandalized and rising sun flags burnt. A number of Japanese factories across the country shutdown for a few days.
4. New Delhi: India, Vietnam and other countries on China’s periphery but with poor relations with Beijing begin to receive increased Japanese investment and even feelers for military relations. India, already a beneficiary of earlier Sino-Japanese tensions in the form of the Delhi Metro, gets billions of yen to build the massive Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.
5. Tokyo: Abe wins a landslide election in Japan and makes it clear that developing strategic ties with India will be at the cornerstone of his foreign policy. Announces plans for the Emperor of Japan to make a rare foreign visit, to India in November, to signal a geopolitical bond between New Delhi and Tokyo.
6. New Delhi: As India’s economy flounders, Japan emerges as a good Samaritan. Last month, Japan provides India a $50 billion currency swap which stems the fall of the rupee. Chinese scholar warns India in a May oped piece, “Overheated strategic cooperation with the Abe administration can only bring trouble to India” and warns of the “peril” India will face. Japan is now committed to transforming the Indian economy and helping make India a great power.
How Obama’s promise is making Kashmir bleed
1. Washington: In 2011 US President Barack Obama announces the complete withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan. The deadline is 2014. He is both fulfilling an election promise, siding with the US public’s war-weariness and accepting that the financial burden of the war is too much for a recession-hit US.
2. Kabul: Washington believes Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self, but still wants a stable regime in Kabul after it leaves. Obama’s formula for stability: rejig the Afghan government to the liking of Pakistan.
3. Islamabad: Pakistan has its own formula: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban should negotiate a joint agreement to share power in Kabul. Pakistan’s generals tell Karzai they want India to be expelled from Afghanistan, among other things.
4. New Delhi: India is horrified. It believes this would, in time, mean a Pakistan-friendly Taliban regime ruling Kabul. The fall of the original Taliban regime and the US troop presence in Afghanistan had led the Pakistan military to turn off the heat in Kashmir after 2003. With both developments being reversed, India worries Pakistan will be back to its old tricks.
5. Kabul: Karzai, who agrees with India’s view Pakistan cannot be trusted, stalls peace talks with the Taliban. He feels he can fight the Taliban but needs money and arms — four of five billion dollars worth a year. India, Iran and Central Asian states can’t provide. Some hope the US, post-withdrawal, might at least provide aid.
6. Kashmir: As India had feared, from 2011 violence along the Line of Control rises and militant violence in the Kashmir Valley sees a comeback. Lashkar e Tayyeba chief, Hafiz Sayeed, declares the jihad will move from Afghanistan back to Kashmir. New Delhi hopes Karzai or his successor will pin down the Taliban, and thus Pakistan, in Afghanistan but is stuck on how to give Kabul the help it needs to do so.