Chanakya Rest in Peace, But for a While

Chanakya (350-275 BC) is among the few classic political thinkers of the world who are regarded as masters of the art of statecraft. We have the distinction of educating him in our ancient Taxila University, where he stayed on as a teacher of political science and economics. Then it was Nanda Empire (323 BC onwards) that ruled over most of what is Pakistan now and central Indian territories. The Nanda king was indiscreet enough to mistreat Chanakya thus earning his lasting ire which eventually resulted in destruction of his empire at the hands of Chanakya’s power manipulations. Chandragupta Maurya became the new emperor with Chanakya’s help and set up an even larger empire and founded the Maurya dynasty. Chanakya was a consummate scholar; philosopher, jurist, economist and royal political advisor.


Chanakya shares his vision more with Machiavelli by way of surgically separating day to day ethics and morality from diplomacy. That was a bold departure from the established state practice and a praiseworthy focus on serving national interest regardless of any other considerations. Very well, but for the practitioners of this particular school of political thought, just like any other practicing ideology, there is a price to pay. Viewed in the context of the possibilities of immediate gains the cost appears insignificant as it provides the practitioner state a geo-political ascendency over the target state, which is what seems to matter then. However, slowly but inexorably the illusion of success begins to unravel and with that the erosion of the moral authority of the parent state sets in, just as the duplicity and falsehoods begin to unpack. It is this illusion which drives statesmen to mount a Chanakyan/Machiavellian manoeuvre. When the strategic effects begin to appear they tend to construct a mosaic of strategic gains. This is where the trouble lies as few realize that those gains are like cotton candy; colourful, voluminous but hollow. US invasions of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq are objective lessons of just such a flawed preference in modern history, of which multiple invasions of Afghanistan are particularly salutary. All the three ill fated manoeuvres destabilized respective regions and seriously jeopardized world peace in more than one ways. They produced uncontrollable insurgencies whose mother roots were their own proxies to begin with. Afghan Taliban and ISIS were US proxies which spun out of control and have become such a menace. Bordering state facilitators like Pakistan, who were inducted under a combination of need, greed and coercion were pushed into terrible socio-political quandary, abandoned and then being castigated. Since all US interventions are queerly measured in dollars, the cost of these forays run into trillions of dollars and is mounting; untold human miseries not withstanding. The architect of the US’ Afghanistan debacle was brilliant Zbigniew Brzezinski. It is educative to learn what he thought he was doing and why? His achievement could be a dream of any foreign affairs strategist and truly a matter of pride for Machiavelli. The lethal debris which that venture has left in its wake has become a minefield for the US and the perennial loss of a honourable regard in the region. It may only be a matter of time before US bases in Afghanistan are viewed by Afghans, in the unfortunate way the fortified US embassy was regarded by Iranians in Tehran just before the Khomenite revolution. Afghans are far more inscrutable than any in the region. Their sense of gratitude is aroused with the greatest of difficulties and therefore an unsuitable premise for lasting relations.


Brzezinski’s matter of fact singularity of purpose is quite remarkable. When asked, this is what he had to say: “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene [in Afghanistan],’ Brzezinski said in 1998, explaining his geopolitical masterstroke (Operation Cyclone) in this Cold War edition of the Great Game, ‘but we knowingly increased the probability that they would…..that secret operation was an excellent idea. Its effect was to draw the Russians into the Afghan trap’. Asked about the operation’s legacy when it came to creating a militant Islam hostile to the US, Brzezinski was unapologetic, ‘what is most important to the history of the world?’ he asked. ‘The Taliban (Afghans) or the collapse of the Soviet Union? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Eastern Europe and the end of Cold War?”


(Alfred W. McCoy, Geopolitics of American Global Decline)
Notice Brzezinski’s cold clinical disregard for massive loss of life and property and attendant hardships suffered by Afghans and Pakistanis. However, US interests were well served for the moment, regardless. His views are not only Machiavellian but astonishingly like that of Chanakya whose inheritor and latest practitioner in South Asia is Modi’s India.


India’s neighbourhood is constantly in awe of her aggressive posturing, military interventions and clandestine meddling into their state affairs. Pakistan is a particular object of her ire and intricate manipulations in conjunction with the US which eggs her on to undertake obstructive external and destabilizing internal manoeuvres against this troubled country located at a sensitive geo-strategic juncture. Significant intermediate objective appears to be to create a state of regulated chaos in Pakistan, conditioning her political will to the level where the country becomes fully pliant and a client satellite entity.


Their chosen methodology is diplomatic arrogance, risqué attempts to choke off international support and repeated military provocations along LoC and Working Boundary to force a military/diplomatic error upon Pakistan. They have found sympathetic ears in US whose latest flirtation with India has its own China ax to grind. Modi’s rise to power seems to have let the dogs of war and demons of regional domination out in the open in India. Unfortunately both these notions play directly into the latent reservations of countries on her periphery. Unlike US, China and EU, India is one larger political entity which engenders apprehensions from her neighbours rather than harmony and cooperation. Coercion never produces peace, it breeds temporization to live with the wolf. Just as arrogance begets abhorrence not respect.


As anticipated but quite unnecessarily Pakistan has become the primary target of India’s wrongful power projection, however her unexpected resolve to stand upto bullying has begun to tell on India’s composure and caused quite a commotion in the South Block. A review of India’s anecdotal trajectory vis-a-vis Pakistan is instructive but indicative of destructive direction it is taking. Let’s consider certain recent developments to elucidate this point.


Modi invites Pakistani Prime Minister to his oath taking ceremony apparently as a decent gesture besides other regional heads of state; an unusually ostentatious event by India’s own populist ethos. It was a precursor to many other events to come including an expensive gold threaded suit worn by Modi to welcome Obama and strange selfies at Beijing. Against the norms of hospitality and courtesy Mr. Modi reads out the riot act to Pakistani PM, and his foreign secretary throws out of the window whatever was left of the good sense during her press briefing the same evening. Pakistani delegation returned home red faced to a scathing domestic criticism. Yet Pakistan agreed to hold foreign secretary level talks in her quest for normalization of relations. But that was not to be. India cancelled the talks on a flimsy pretext. Her diplomatic hubris was rising just as US and its mates were falling head over heels to woo the newest dame in town. Pakistan continued to plead for talks. World pressure began to build up; India relented and invited Pakistan for a meeting on the sidelines of Ufa Summit. Once again what a dismal performance that meeting was. The event appeared to be stage managed to create certain effects. Pakistani delegation was ushered in, like humble subjects, as if in the court of a king.


It was diplomatic discourtesy at its possible nadir. Mr. Modi kept standing majestically at the other end of a 40 feet hall while Pakistani delegation slowly moved through an indifferent line up of Indian diplomats on both sides. Skillful Modi had his way and a strenuous joint communiqué was read out at the end of the talks. For the first time during formal talks between the two countries Kashmir dispute was omitted to be mentioned, at least in the final press statement. Despite this unworthy treatment it was agreed to hold NSA level talks. Soon Mr. Doval, Indian NSA summoned Sartaj Aziz, NSA Pakistan to reach New Delhi for a follow up meeting.


Simultaneously Indian media was unleashed and a barrage of accusations and demands started to pour out from New Delhi. Indian Army’s persistent live fire violations of Working Boundary increased phenomenally, reaching a total of 300 serious ones within the last three years alone. India watchers knew that in such a vitiated environment it would be a miracle if the proposed NSA’s meeting came about. Their apprehensions began to take on a form as the tone and tenor of South Block became more and more strident. Their demands started to turn into preconditions and finally un-statesman like ultimatums. Indian deep state was at work again, and an atmosphere was being set up for another rebuke.


Unfortunately in his hurry, Modi seems to have taken the wrong leaf from Chanakya’s handbook. A resolute adversary does not have to be tackled head on, he advocates. In this case it is not one but two. Count China in as India’s precipitate adventurism with Pakistan tends to threaten the strategic flank of China’s major geo-political global counter manoeuvre. Consider CPEC from Kashgar to Gawadar. In any case, by uninspired handling of their proxies in Pakistan, India seems to have failed to sinter any advantages of their clandestine manipulations inside that country. In short, interior prong of India’s Pakistan strategy has failed and the exterior one is badly foundering.


Indian Foreign Minister’s press conference on 22nd August broke the camel’s back. Her delivery was characteristically brusque and coarse, “If Pakistani NSA meets Hurriyat leaders [in New Delhi] there will be no talks…we will only talk on terrorism and nothing else…Pakistan has time upto tonight to respond….” Hatred and bile was very thinly disguised. The response was obvious, Pakistan tightened its belt, refused to be pushed anymore, stood up and declared, “There will be no talks [with India] without [discussing] Kashmir dispute… Pakistan will not propose for talks. If they propose we will see.” Indian media simply went berserk in disbelief and after a stunned hush, the South Block ran out of their depth comprehensively. In retaliation they did what they do best; bite at the carpet and pull at the collar. Unprovoked shelling of Pakistani civilians and villages across the Working Boundry has increased. In their latest fit they killed 9 and injured 47 civilians including women and children on 27th August in Kundan Pur near Sialkot Sector. Next day in the Parliament, Pakistani Defence Minister announced, “If attacked [by India] we will retaliate the way we choose ….if war is imposed on us Pakistan will teach a lesson….” This reflects deep disappointment and the dark nature of things to come between the two belligerent nuclear armed countries. That is also the end of Pakistan’s latest round of one sided courtship with India. South Asia is likely to sizzle for some more time. India’s intrepid brinkmanship can have avoidable but unfortunate consequences if pursued. Sanity must prevail to prevent any catastrophic development.


Meanwhile there is a word of caution. Great master Chanakya’s political wisdom is unchallenged and his teachings are universally applicable. However what is wrong this time is that Mr. Modi is no Chandragupta Maurya nor his NSA Chanakya by any chance. Pakistan also is not Nanda Empire either. While all the three parameters are wrong, one may be right; Modi may be akin to Chandragupta’s son Bindusara who was touched by a drop of poison.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and former Director of ISPR. He contributes regularly for national print media. [email protected]

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