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Kaun banega anti-imperialist?

?Strategic defiance? is the new ?non-alignment?. It?s actually even sillier, writes Manoj Joshi.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 03:53 IST
Manoj Joshi
Manoj Joshi

December 1990: Kuwait has been invaded by Saddam Hussein and the US is creating a coalition to recapture it. In Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff, General Mirza Aslam Beg declares his country will not send troops to fight Iraq. The master-strategist moots a policy of ‘strategic defiance’ of the US. Beg’s strategy comes apart as Saddam collapses, but that hasn’t since stopped the Azamgarh-born general from forecasting perdition for the US (routinely in Afghanistan since 2001, and then again in Iraq beginning in 2003).

February 2006: A prophet without honour in his country, Beg’s ideas have found root in India. Across the land, ‘strategic defiance’ — code for non-cooperation with the US — seems to have become the idea of the day. Retired ambassadors who had routinely ignored India’s security concerns in the interests of diplomacy are suddenly worrying about it; atomic scientists who had never heard of diplomacy, unexpectedly become vocal about it; peaceniks who opposed India’s nuclear tests start fretting about the capping of the Indian nuclear arsenal; two parties at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, the BJP and the CPI(M), discover congruence in their foreign policies.

There is a certain defensiveness suggested by the word ‘defiance’, which connotes an intention of contending, though not quite the act of doing so. It is distinct from the ‘anti-imperialist struggles’ or national liberation wars of the Fifties and Sixties. Strategic defiance today is, at one level, about preventing regime change, as in the case of Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba. At another level it is about posture and slogan, press statements and declarations, trashing of cities to protest G-8 or WTO meetings. Or, in the case of India, backing Iran’s dubious nuclear activities in the name of sovereignty; derailing a favourable nuclear agreement because it happens to be with the US, and attacking globalisation as neoliberalism.

This new found strategic vision is a product of contemporary global history where those who fought against the US in the Fifties and Sixties — China, Russia and Vietnam — have discovered the virtues of strategic engagement. The rhetorical ring of ‘strategic defiance’ hardly has any resonance in these countries. They, after all, have been there and done that. But it does reverberate in the memories of Third World elites who indirectly warmed themselves in the fires of these struggles, without quite being scorched by them.

Indian anti-imperialism was always more of posture and slogan because we negotiated our imperial master away, and our Yenan remained a non-starter. Nehru’s ersatz socialism and fake non-alignment ‘strategically coopted’ the second strongest political force at the time of independence, the Communist Party of India. Dislike and suspicion of the US are deeply embedded in the minds of the heirs of Nehru, as much as those of B.T. Ranadive and P.C. Joshi. Both these strands have now come together in India not as an actual anti-imperialist struggle of old, but in the form of posture and slogan encapsulated by the words, ‘strategic defiance’.

We would be wise, however, not to ignore the sinister edge to even gestures. Beg’s strategic defiance led him to conspire with his ISI chief Hamid Gul to send Pakistani jehadis into Kashmir and exploit the opening made by the JKLF. A.Q. Khan has disclosed that Beg approved sharing nuclear weapons technology with Iran. Beg denies this, but according to Ishaq Dar, Pakistan’s minister of finance in the Nawaz Sharif government, he had suggested a $ 12 billion price for nuclear assistance to Iran.

The Indian acolytes of strategic defiance, too, following Beg, have a tendency to get things wrong, and by the same measure, compelling the country to adopt self-destructive policies. Without quite considering the evidence that persuaded 27 out of the 35 countries in the IAEA board to tell Iran that it needs to clarify serious doubts about its nuclear intentions, the Left weighed into the government. As it is, it is difficult to explain Iranian actions — the 20-year secrecy, the razing of the Lavisian site, the late disclosure that the A.Q. Khan network had offered it the technology for machining plutonium into cores for a nuclear weapon, the unanswered questions about its P-2 centrifuges.

Farcically, till mid-January, the Left urged India to heed the Russian and Chinese example. When these two powers decided to support the motion, the defiants urged New Delhi now to follow the example of Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, the real core of NAM in their view (not the majority of eight members who voted along with India).

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 03:53 IST