An Open Letter to Professor Amartya Sen about Singur etc

A letter to Prof. Sen

First published in The Statesman 31 July 2007, Editorial Page Special Article

Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University

Dear Professor Sen,

Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.

I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.

The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.

Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).

Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.

You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.

You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.

Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou.

All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”

Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.

Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.

You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.

West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.

With my most respectful personal regards, I remain

Yours ever

 

Suby

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Works of DH Lawrence

It seems incredible that DH Lawrence from about 1910 until his death in 1930 produced this immense body of creative work and perhaps more I am unaware of:

Novels:

St Mawr

Aaron’s Rod

Kangaroo

The White Peacock

Sons and Lovers

The Trespasser

The Lost Girl

Women in Love

The Rainbow

The Plumed Serpent

The Virgin and the Gypsy

(with ML Skinner) The Boy in the Bush

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Short Stories:

The Prussian Officer

England, my England

The Captain’s Doll

Twilight in Italy

The Woman Who Rode Away

Poetry

Bay

Look! We have come through!

Amores

Birds, Beasts and Flowers

Tortoises

Love Poems and Others

New Poems

Pansies

Collected Poems

Plays

Touch and Go

The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd

David

Belles Lettres etc

Studies in Classic American Literature

Movements in European History

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious

Fantasia of the Unconscious

Sea and Sardinia

Mornings in Mexico

Translations of Giovanni Verga: Lttle Novels of Sicily

Phoenix: Posthumous Papers edited and with an introduction by Edward D. McDonald

The Letters of DH Lawrence, edited and with an introduction by Aldous Huxley

(Secondary Literature: DH Lawrence: Novelist by FR Leavis)

Of related interest here: “DH Lawrence’s ‘Phoenix'”; “On Lawrence”.

America’s Pakistan-India Policy

US Pak-India Policy
Delhi & Islamabad Still Look West In Defining Their Relationship

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article,

July 27 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

By Subroto Roy

“Balance of power” between other nations while pursuing one’s own commercial and political self-interest, was the leitmotif of British foreign policy throughout the 19th Century and up until World War I. This came to be broadly absorbed and imitated by US foreign policy-makers afterwards. It remains the clear leitmotif of US policy between and towards Pakistan and India in recent years, especially since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Pakistan’s armed forces have been induced through the usual incentives of modern weapons like F-16s, comfortable officer-visits to US military academies, and hard cash to behave cooperatively with perceived American objectives.

Osama bin Laden
For some bizarre and unknown reason (though it might be as simple as ignorance and thoughtlessness), the USA has made itself believe that arch-enemy Osama bin Laden has remained in the Pashtun areas ever since the American attack took place on the-then Taliban Government in late 2001. The Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar certainly remained there or in Balochistan, but anyone who recalls the reported last conversation between Omar and Osama at the time may well have surmised that Osama was planning a long and permanent trip away from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The present author’s own speculation has been that Osama bin Laden probably moved westwards and has been in a safe and comfortable hideout somewhere in the deserts of North Africa ~ while everyone continues to frantically and ridiculously look for him very far away from where he is.

American policy towards Pakistan has been determined by the parameters of the new policy towards Afghanistan ~ which has been to prop up the Hamid Karzai Government in the hope a pro-American “moderate” “modern” Pashtun like Mr Karzai might one day become a constructive role model for all other Pashtuns, while NATO extends itself “pacifying” any new Pashtun insurgency and attacking poppy-crops on the pattern of the anti-narcotics war in Colombia, and US “Special Forces” continue to look for Osama and friends. Pakistan’s Musharraf has been expected to play along with this, and, in order for him to release and transfer some 80,000 soldiers towards that end, India has been requested not to give him a reason not to want to do so.

General Musharraf was one of the major beneficiaries of the officer-exchange programmes between the US and Pakistan militaries in the past. Like Benazir Bhutto, he is a “known” quantity, well-understood and hence rendered predictable by the American military and diplomatic establishment. Both are also explained and advocated for by their go-betweens, the extremely influential Pakistani bureaucrats within the Washington Beltway and their K-Street lobbyists. Musharraf’s departure to a nice retirement/exile in the USA helped by royalties from his book etc as well as his already-exported son, presumably constitutes a well-planned exit strategy for him personally.

The American problem is that Musharraf may be among the last if not the last of such pliable old-style Pakistani generals ~ the officer-exchange programmes came to slow down or end after the USA pulled out following the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan, and at the same time Zia ul-Haq had initiated an overt Islamisation of younger officers of the Pakistan military. With such a level of uncertainty as to where the post-Musharraf Pakistan military can or would take itself (along with the country and its nuclear weapons), the only strategy has been to buy them out.

In the current Foreign Affairs, Daniel Markey of the US State Department and Council on Foreign Relations says as much (amid the usual little rhetoric about supporting Pakistani democracy): “Washington must win the trust and confidence of Pakistan’s army. This goal can only be achieved through closer working relationships and tangible investments that lock the United States into a long-term commitment to the region” (italics added).

If American policy towards Pakistan has been to pay to pacify Pakistan’s unpredictable nuclear-armed military, the policy towards India has been one of business, business, and more business. The “US-India Business Council” is merely an official Washington lobbyist protecting American business interests in India such as getting the Governments of India and Maharashtra to pay several hundred million dollars over the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. Yet that is where senior Indian politicians, like the Finance and Commerce Ministers, feel the need to routinely visit on pilgrimage if only to be made to feel important while in the USA. Even Dr Manmohan Singh felt the need to send a personal emissary to gift Condoleeza Rice a basket of Indian mangoes not at her office in the US State Department but when she was addressing a closed-door meeting of that business-lobbyist.

Certainly in case of the so-called “nuclear deal”, there is a political motivation on the American side that India must be prevented from conducting future nuclear explosions, although this may be something mostly symbolic as US intelligence agencies had notoriously failed to predict Pokhran I and Pokhran II. And there is doubtless some reliance that the Indian side to the negotiations has not really properly understood the intricacies of the American political and administrative system, e.g. the insignificance of a Presidential “signing statement”. Hence, if the deal goes through as seems likely now, it will certainly indicate the American side is more than comfortable that if a future Indian Government does not do what the US-side has intended in the nuclear deal (whether or not the Indian negotiators have understood that now), a future US Congress and President will be able to reverse the deal without too much difficulty.

What has mainly driven the deal on the American side is the prospect of very large nuclear business ~ specifically, that India will import six to eight American lightwater reactors. As I have said before in these pages, India’s national energy outlook will barely improve through the nuclear deal (given the miniscule size of the nuclear sector compared to coal and hydro), though a few favoured metros, and Delhi for sure, may see improvement after a decade or two when and if these expensive nuclear reactors become operational.

Short-sightedness
The short-sightedness and indeed sheer imbecility of Indian and Pakistani foreign policy is made clear by the fact we are unable to properly communicate with one another about our common interests as neighbouring countries with the same history and geography except through Washington. The elites of both countries have either fled already or would like to flee or at least travel to the USA to visit their exported adult children as often as possible. It is not dissimilar to our imperial relationship with Britain, where Indians had to travel to London to have their Round Table Conference, England being of course a place of national pilgrimage as the USA has now become. The result is not merely that the militaries and polities of Pakistan and India have wasted vast immeasurable resources in struggles against one another and continue to do so, but also and as importantly, have failed to define robust national identities after six decades.


Gold standard etc: Fixed versus flexible exchange rates

Author’s Note September 2008: Most of this material has now been published in my article in The Statesman “Indian Inflation”, republished elsewhere here.  I should add that this note  written in 2007 is extremely rudimentary and was written in a few minutes; I have not altered it as it is has been a popular read, but if I rewrote it, I would say the gold exchange standard was  far more complicated than I have made it out to be in this note. Please see e.g. my recent article “October 1929? Not!” in Business Standard republished elsewhere here.

“Someone at the Ron Paul Forums asked for an explanation of the gold standard etc, so I posted the following brief note on it:

Gold standard etc: Fixed versus flexible exchange rates

Subroto Roy

First published at the Ron Paul Forums and at DailyPaul.com etc

The “gold standard”, “gold exchange standard”, and “dollar exchange standard”/Bretton Woods system are examples of “fixed” exchange rate systems.

In a pure gold standard, gold is used as money, ie interchangeably with paper money and the Central Bank of a country guarantees it will exchange gold for the paper money it issues at a certain announced price. If that price changes upwards or downwards, there is devaluation or revaluation of the currency with respect to gold (depending on how you count it).

A gold exchange standard is similar except gold is not used as money and the central banks of nations guarantee the announced prices of their paper moneys with respect to gold in transactions with one another.

In the so-called dollar exchange standard (or the Bretton Woods system from 1944 to 1971), the US Government alone and uniquely undertook to guarantee the price of the dollar at $35 a troy oz of gold in transactions with all other central banks. That was the underpinning of the international financial system until President Nixon “closed the gold window” on August 15 1971 because the US had largely financed the Vietnam War through money-creation, and other countries’ central banks (eg France) had accumulated large dollar-balances.

Since then, the world has been on floating exchange rates where currencies find their own values. and gold is merely one asset among many. Obviously the price of gold at $35 an oz had become unrealistically low, and shot up at once.

Milton Friedman had argued for floating exchange rates 20 years before they came into being. Fixed exchange rate systems can lead to speculation, runs against currencies and the irresponsible international export of inflation which floating exchange rate systems tend to avoid because there will tend to be market-determined movement in the exchange-rate instead.

As I have said before here, Dr Ron Paul’s discussions about monetary economics are probably better than that of any other candidate or politician in any party but they are not robust.

Dr Subroto Roy, Kolkata, India”

Political Stonewalling

Political Stonewalling
Only Transparency Can Improve Institutions

By Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, July 20 2007, Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net


“Stonewalling” has come to mean being continually evasive and misleading in politics by, for example, parroting a party line against fair public inquiry or criticism. “I want you to stonewall it”, was Richard Nixon’s infamous instruction during Watergate. (The original meaning was not ignoble: General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson, during the US Civil War stayed on his horse under constant fire, taking all the bullets “like a stonewall” until he was killed.)

Stonewalling is what we are likely ever to receive from Pratibha Patil and the present day Congress Party. It is not as if India and the world will not survive if she becomes our President. Rashtrapati Bhavan has had undistinguished occupants before, even ones with clouds of disreputable or nefarious public deeds hanging over their heads. All that will happen is that our political institutions shall retrogress for five years; a pity but not something catastrophic in view of our long history ~ Nadir Shah’s brief stay set the standard for catastrophic behaviour in Delhi.

“Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Disraeli. Nation-building would become that much harder, our pessimism and disillusionment about whether we will ever succeed would become that much greater.

Corrosion
The corrosion of our political, financial, academic and other public institutions over decades has been something in which all our official political parties and religious formations are hand-in-glove complicit. In the case of Pratibha Patil, it is the PM and UPA Chair who are directly responsible for the institutional corrosion taking place in full view of all with respect to the highest office of the land.

But then Dr Manmohan Singh, despite his sojourns as a young social scientist in Britain, has not cared a hoot that the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy must seek to be an elected member of the House of the People. Also, ever since 1991, he has permitted the flattering fiction to develop that he or any of his acolytes had something to do with the origins of the economic reform.  As for Sonia Gandhi, her list of naïve misjudgements only grows longer ~ cardinal among them being her having apparently retained as trusted advisers around her persons who had been warned about the vulnerability of her husband to assassination. Had Rajiv not been assassinated, Sonia would have been today merely a happy grandmother and not India’s purported ruler.

Stonewalling has become standard government practice in 21st century India across party-lines. The BJP stonewalled after the post-Godhra pogrom in 2002 and held none of its own responsible; the CPI-M has done precisely the same after the Nandigram pogrom a few months ago.

In October 2005, the Supreme Court ~ proving yet again that there are or can be institutions which do work in India ~ found the Union Government had behaved unconstitutionally. Lesson 101 of Constitutional Politics says: If you are uncertain whether a head of government commands confidence, ask him/her to prove his majority on the floor of the house. Instead the Sonia-Manmohan Government had launched a pre-emptive putsch against an aspirant for a democratic majority in a State assembly. What Sonia-Manmohan should have done in response to the Supreme Court’s finding was to recall or transfer the apparent culprit, and express regret to Parliament and the Court. That would have ended the matter and also engendered some moral growth in the polity. What they did instead was stonewall. Worse stonewalling was to follow from the whole of Parliament itself in the “office-for-profit” scandal.

Aristotle said politics was the supreme good because the ends of all other activities are subsumed in politics. This means that if the politics of a national society gets corroded, so does everything else. It is because India’s politics have become rotten, that our financial, academic and other institutions have followed.

The private American “equity group” Blackstone recently purchased Hilton Hotels for 26 thousand million American dollars cash. Why is that significant to Indians? Because India’s Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, took the unprecedented step of naming Blackstone along with one private Indian citizen, Deepak Parekh in his February 2007 Budget Speech. He referred to a Government of India financial scheme by which favoured private businesses can “borrow” India’s foreign exchange reserves to pay for purchases of foreign assets. The same Reserve Bank of India which cracked down on Pratibha Patil’s dubious bank-dealings has now been bullied into allowing India’s foreign exchange reserves to be “borrowed” ~ and quite possibly never to be returned. Furthermore, foreign exchange reserves are not like tax-revenues but largely constitute already borrowed funds!
In academia, Mr Arjun Singh tyrannises defenceless medical students but presides (like his predecessor Dr Murli Manohar Joshi) over appointments at national institutes of full professors without postgraduate degrees or any experience of teaching or research. The Union Finance and Education Ministers report in the Government and their party to the PM and the UPA Chair. But neither Dr Singh nor Mrs Gandhi can have any effective control over the rot in India’s macroeconomic, financial, academic or other institutions when they are presiding over political rot themselves.

Shameless behaviour

Stonewalling is the political behavour of the shameless. Shame used to be a cultural means of political self-control in traditional societies. Modern politics makes a distinction between private and public domains, and says that transmuting valuable public property of any kind into private wealth or advantage constitutes nefarious corruption. It is possible our subcontinent has not wished to or has not yet entered the world of modern politics. Instead we remain feudal in our political behaviour ~ where large rival clans perpetually battle over what is the ill-defined common property of the realm. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the militaries predominate and participate in this feuding. In India the feuds take place within a framework which outwardly seems democratic with institutions of a free society like a free press and official civilian control of the military. Our feuds are between three large rival clans: the Indira-Sonia Patriarchal Matriarchs, the Hindu Patriarchs, and the Communist Matriarchal Patriarchs. The Congress, BJP and Communists are yet to become modern parties, and unless and until they do, our politics shall remain in retrogression.


Lal Masjid ≠ Golden Temple

Lal Masjid ≠ Golden Temple

Wide differences are revealed between contemporary Pakistan and India by these two superficially similar military assaults on armed religious civilians

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman, July 15 2007, ww.thestatesman.net, Editorial Page Special Article

There is a superficial similarity between what happened in Pakistan’s “Operation Silence/ Sunrise” at the Lal Masjid a few days ago and what happened in India’s “Operation Blue Star” at the Golden Temple in May-June 1984. In both cases, heavily armed religiously motivated civilians were holed up in a place of worship, and were laid siege to and then killed or arrested by an assault force sent by the national government.

That, however, is about as far as the similarity goes, and it would be a gross error to equate the two and suppose General Musharraf has been only doing something similar to what Indira Gandhi did twenty three years ago. In fact, revisiting the Golden Temple case allows a vivid contrast to be drawn between the very different kinds of national societies modern India and Pakistan have become.

Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was an unexceptional preacher who shot into prominence and fame after first being used by Sanjay Gandhi and Zail Singh in Punjab politics, and later causing the Akali Dal itself to become more communal in nature. Bhindranwale was initially set up by the Sanjay-Zail Congress Party in 1978 to oppose the heretic Nirankari sect, in an attempt to make the Congress gain local electoral support relative to the Akalis by seeming more chauvinistic and less secular in outlook. By July 1982, Bhindranwale, whose associates had been implicated by the police in a number of murders, was holed up in the Golden Temple complex and apparently never left again until he was killed in Operation Blue Star in early June 1984.

Officially, “minimum force” was to be applied in Blue Star: soldiers went in barefoot “with humility in our hearts and prayers on our lips” and sustained heavier casualties than they would have otherwise. Fierce fighting saw Vijayanta tanks and armoured cars being attacked by Chinese-made rocket-propelled grenades that had been smuggled in from the Afghan war. Innocent civilians and surrendered prisoners came to be killed (see Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, 1985.)

Yet even so, India’s military had only an instrumental role to play in the Golden Temple siege and assault. The root causes that made the siege inevitable had nothing to do with India’s military itself but were a result of the myopic, ignorant and rather evil nature of our democratic politics during the Indira-Sanjay era ~ something which has continued in slightly milder form to this day throughout the country.

By contrast, the current Pakistani situation is one in which the assault was ordered by the retired head of the Pakistan Army, Pervez Musharraf, who has refused to quit office since being dismissed eight years ago by the last civilian Government headed by Nawaz Sharif. Instead he carried out a coup d’etat against Sharif, and has maintained himself in office claiming, like Ayub Khan, he will one day restore democratic institutions better than the nascent ones he has destroyed. To his credit, Pakistan’s press has been freer than before.

Pakistan’s generals and retired generals have seemed to occasionally grumble, especially when Nawab Bugti of Balochistan was killed, but not do more. This may be because Musharraf has made clear, most poignantly in his January 2002 speech, that any price would be paid by him, including succumbing entirely to American pressure on all matters, so long as the paramount goal of the Pakistan military was maintained, which has been, after all, that of trying by hook or crook to wrest Jammu & Kashmir from India.

J&K has remained the external objective of the Pakistan military as an institution even while, internally, officers have amassed vast personal fortunes over the decades and become major businessmen involved in innumerable foreign collaborations, especially with the Chinese. Musharraf, when asked by an Urdu TV channel not long ago what would happen if India did not relent on J&K, even murmured that war could then continue for a 100 years. Such has been the ostensible driving force of the Pakistan military and the raison d’etre of its domination of all aspects of the economy and society of the country.

At the same time, Pakistan’s military has constituted an Anglo-American reserve bastion for decades, and been a major destination of Western and Chinese armaments ~ paid for often by soft loans or grants from the Gulfs states and Saudi Arabia where thousands of Pakistani personnel serve to staff Arab militaries. Many commentators (e.g. Ayesha Jalal and WE James and myself in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Husain Haqqani and Ayesha Siddiqa today) have pointed to the smothering effect the military has had on all matters of modern Pakistan’s political economy.

The French diplomatic scholar Frédéric Grare has described the situation bluntly: “The fear of an Islamic threat has been the driving force behind most Western countries’ foreign policies toward Pakistan in recent years. The possibility that violent Islamists will kill President Pervez Musharraf, throw Pakistan into turmoil, take over the country and its nuclear weapons, and escalate regional terrorism has dominated the psychological and political landscape. Such fears have usually led to support of the Pakistani military as the only institution able to contain the danger. But the Islamist threat is neither as great nor as autonomous as many assume. True, Pakistan has experienced more than its share of religious violence, both sectarian and jihadi. But serious law-and-order problems do not mean the fate of the state is at stake. No Islamic organization has ever been in a position to politically or militarily challenge the role of the one and only centre of power in Pakistan: the army. On the contrary, the Pakistani Army has used Islamic organizations for its purposes, both at home and abroad. Islamist organizations balance the power of rival mainstream political parties, preserving the army’s role as national arbiter. The army has nurtured and sometimes deployed violent Islamists in Afghanistan (with US support at first), Kashmir, and other hot spots on the subcontinent.” Pakistan: The Myth of an Islamist Peril, Carnegie Endowment, February 2006. Pakistan’s Army may be effectively beyond anyone’s control other than itself. The fox has placed itself in charge of the hen-house.

Indeed, unlike the Indian case during the Bhindranwale period, where religious differences were attempted to be marked between Sikhs and Hindus to allay the perpetual Sikh fear of being reabsorbed into the Hindu fold, the present Pakistani case has had less to do with religious differences than it has to do with the concentration and dispensation of political power. By kidnapping Chinese masseuses in Islamabad, Lal Masjid protestors were hardly making a large religious point but rather one of political powerlessness and lack of voice or exit.

As for the people of J&K on both sides of the Line of Control, if they are objective in their assessment of the histories of India and Pakistan that they see before them, they may conclude once more as they did in the past that, all things considered, their political ancestors especially Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad were prescient indeed back in 1947-1951 in pressing the future of J&K with the new secular democratic India and not a Pakistan that remains petulant and militarist. Pakistan’s military has expanded itself using J&K as the ostensible cause, yet the more unpleasant Pakistan’s political economy becomes because of that military, the less attractive modern Pakistan becomes to all the peoples of the subcontinent. As the present author said in these pages on 3 September 2006, “To be a man of destiny, Musharraf must transcend the military-business complex he rules over and reduce its role in Pakistani life, not increase it.”

Has America Lost? War Doctrines of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War

Has America Lost?
War Doctrines Of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, July 3 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

By Subroto Roy

Has the United States lost the war in Iraq? How would we tell if it has or not? If American commanding officers of general rank, once they go into retirement, say the Iraq war is lost or if the vast majority of the American people say it is not worth fighting, does that mean the USA has lost? When someone loses someone else wins ~ there are no “draws” or runners-up in war. If America has lost, does that mean Saddam won? How can a man who was hanged in sight of the whole world win a war from beyond his grave? It is all very strange in this most abominable of all wars.

Battle of Borodino

In the Battle of Borodino in 1812, the Russians under Marshall Mikhail Kutusov withdrew and the French held the field of battle at end of day ~ the single bloodiest day of warfare in modern times with between 66,500 and 125,000 casualties including several dozen generals. Though the French won, it signalled the end of French power and fall of Napoleon. Borodino was a Pyrrhic victory.

Marshall Kutusov, against his generals’ advice, and courting extreme unpopularity with St Petersburg, continued to withdraw after Borodino and declined to give battle to defend Moscow itself. His remaining forces and most of the civilian population withdrew beyond Moscow. The city was emptied and allowed to burn. The French took it without a fight, Napoleon entered and tried to feel himself its ruler, his generals tried to create a cooperative local government from among the remaining residents.

Kutusov waited, waited and waited some more without giving battle. Then one day, some months later, just as Kutusov had been praying, news came that Napoleon and the French had gotten up and left. Napoleon’s retreat was the biggest catastrophe his Grande Armée suffered, and they were harassed by Russian attacks all the way to the border.

Saddam was reported to have had two Russian generals advising his army, who quietly left before the Anglo-American attack occurred. Russian generals learn about Kutusov on mother’s knee. Even Stalin invoked Kutusov’s name when his 1939 pact with Hitler had failed and Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. (Iraq had both Nazi and Soviet influences: Stalin tried to appease Hitler in June 1941 by recognising the then pro-Nazi Government of Iraq.)

Saddam’s propaganda spokesmen in the early stages of the March 2003 invasion alluded to a Kutusov-like defensive doctrine: “the US and British administrations have depended on their strategy and planning based on the information obtained from the traitors, whom they call opposition, and from some intelligence services of some Arab countries…. They said: ‘Let some missiles be fired for the maximum of three days and then everything would be over.’ Therefore, we find them in a state of confusion. They prevent the media from having access to the facts about the military operations under security pretexts. They say that they are heading towards Baghdad and that they covered more than 160 or 180 km towards Baghdad. I would like to tell them, that in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300 km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time. However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh.” Iraq’s Army did a vanishing act, men and materials disappeared, Baghdad fell without fighting.

By contrast, the USA has followed textbook doctrines from Baron Clausewitz’s On War ~ a work influenced by Napoleon’s successful campaigns though Clausewitz himself fought at Borodino as part of Kutusov’s armies. Like Napoleon and now the Americans, Clausewitz was unable to reconcile his notion of war as aggression and destruction with his notion of war as a means of politics. Clausewitz’s “Absolute War” is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will…as each side in war tries to dominate the other, there arises a reciprocal action which must escalate to an extreme”. Hence “disarming or destruction of the enemy … or the threat of this…must always be the aim in warfare”. But Clausewitz’s “Real War” sees war as “a political act… an effective political instrument, a continuation of political commerce and a carrying out of this by other means”

What we may have been witnessing ever since the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq is the outcome of a clash between the doctrines of Clausewitz on the American side and Kutusov on the Iraqi/ Russian side.

American forces began with “Shock and Awe”, followed by disbanding Iraq’s Army and banning the Baathists. Then came “Light Footprint” or “War Tourism”, where American forces left their bases only for specific jaunts outside, while attempting to create a new “Iraqi” Army in an American image. Recently, the purported strategy has changed again to “Clear, Hold, Build” requiring the current infantry “surge” of 30,000 extra troops to try to pacify specific Baghdad neighbourhoods and then “build” political institutions.

Thirty years ago, Professor WB Gallie pointed to the contradiction Clausewitz had been unable to reconcile: “All commentators are agreed that Clausewitz’s greatest difficulty was to explain the relationship between (Absolute War and War as a Political Instrument)”, Philosophers of peace and war, Cambridge Univesity Press 1978. War-making as destruction and war-making as politics are incompatible. The cruelties of Iraq may explain and demonstrate the root of this contradiction most clearly: defeated, disarmed and destroyed victims of an Absolute War are hardly going to feel themselves agreeable to then being manipulated into any political institutions or agreements designed by the perpetrators of the violence. You cannot declare “Absolute War” on Fallujah, kill or arrest every able-bodied male citizen there, and then expect Fallujah’s women, children and old people to participate happily in town hall meetings you wish them to hold. “America has lost because it has not behaved like a great nation”, said one ordinary Iraqi initially in favour of Saddam’s overthrow. America’s retired generals are saying Iraq has been America’s greatest strategic defeat.

Resistance

The result of the clash between the two doctrines of war has been 30,000 American casualties (dead and wounded at about 1:8), while Iraqi dead exceed 650,000 with millions more wounded, rendered homeless or made refugees. Future historians may speak of a genocide having occurred in Iraq.

Did Saddam win if the Americans have lost? Of course not. Iraq had its Mir Jafars, and Saddam was at most a Shiraj, not even that given his odious past. Iraq now has its Tippus, Bhagat Singhs and Khudi Rams as well.

“The Resistance is the natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better. It is for humiliating people, and chaining them and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions which make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people.” Such was what an anonymous Resistance officer told the Australian journalist Michael Ware.

It seems impossible for one nation to govern another in the 21st Century. The cycle of imperialism followed by nationalism and socialism/ communism may merely restart. What Iraq needs urgently is for its Tilaks, Gokhales, Jinnahs, Gandhis, Jawaharlals and Vallabhais to arise, or it may be condemned to extinction and being consumed by its neighbours. As for the United States, its military may find a need to revise its war doctrines.