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Understanding Indian Strategic Culture

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Strategic culture can be defined as a collection of ideas, norms, belief systems, value systems, religious associations and historical experiences that collectively affect the policy choices of a nation. There are numerous reasons and motives for a nation to behave in a specific way. Some are warmongers while others are pacifists. Not long ago, academicians recognized that the strategic culture plays a central role in shaping a nation’s behavior during peace and wartime.

Alastair Iain Johnston describes strategic culture as a lens for a nation to observe the strategic behavior of other nations and a tool to engineer the policy options on the basis of observations. Johnston further explains that, for a state, strategic culture majorly deals with its reflection on the role of war in the global political systemthreat perceived from its adversary and lastly the use of force. Hence, it can be argued that a state’s foreign policy, national security strategy, and incentives for peace are highly influenced by its strategic culture.

Understanding the matter better

In the South Asian context, which is a region home to one-third of the global population, the peace and stability are fragile mainly because of two nuclear adversaries i.e. India and Pakistan. The decades-old animus relations between two rivals and neighbors are one of the major reasons for the present state of affairs. The article attempts to analyze Indian strategic culture to better understand its hostile behavior and to decipher India’s rationale behind certain policy choices. As aforementioned, strategic culture has played a central role in shaping regional trends. In India’s case, its obstinate behavior and hegemonic ambitions coupled with its growing military capabilities continue to pose a grave threat to regional peace.

According to Dr Asma Khawaja, ED CISS AJ&K, Indian strategic culture has evolved into Hindu strategic culture as it draws heavily from the Hindu religious textbooks and Chanakya Kautiliya’s political philosophy. Both mentioned sources of Indian strategic culture clearly ask for the superiority of the Hindu religion, supports the ultimate foundation of undivided India and regard a deceitful and mendacious person as an excellent leader. While the recent blasphemous remarks by the ruling party member further support the Dr Asma’s argument.

In the Vedas, the Hindu divine book, repeatedly it is written Veshma Dharma ki Jay (The Hindu religion remains victorious). Whereas, the Hindu religious text also claims the South Asian region as Brahman’s territory. Today, the majority of followers of such teachings are residing in India. And only India’s regional hegemony could pave a way for Veshma Dharma ki jay in the region.  Such dissolute ideology can be deciphered from Indian foreign policy also.

Particularly, Nehru’s policy of India’s strategic foothold, Indian unilateral actions in Kashmir and Nepal, the political pressure on Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, selective economic ties in the region, increased influence in the Indian Ocean and even the Indian nuclear weapons program. All are depictions of India’s regional hegemonic ambitions which are dictated by its religious texts.

Simultaneously, the instigation of the Siachen conflict in 1984, Operation Parakaram in 2001, the so-called airstrikes of 2016, the Balakot airstrikes of 2019, the development of pro-active warfighting doctrines, the recent formation of theatre commands, nuclear blackmailing, inflexible behavior for cooperation with Pakistan and immense arms procurement despite having conventional superiority vis-à-vis Pakistan, all represents Indian motivations to turn South Asia into Brahman’s territory.

Chanakya Kautiliya’s Arthshastra, the explanatory textbook of Vedas, still acts as a central policy guideline for Indians.  The three methods of diplomacy proposed by Chanakya in his book are, Upeksha (Ignoring the enemy), Indrajala (Faking Military Strength), and MAYA(Keeping ambiguity). Out of three, MAYA plays a dominant role in Indian diplomacy. Indian nuclear doctrine and its strategic force posturing rely majorly on the MAYA principle. Such ambiguous force posturing is undermining South Asian strategic stability.

Similarly, Arthshastra regards a deceptive person as an excellent leader. Dr. Zafar Iqbal Cheema in his book, Indian Nuclear Deterrence: Its Evolution, Development and Implications for South Asian Security, have argued that India conducted its peaceful nuclear explosion just ten years after Nehru left the office, in 1974. While it was the Nehru who advocated for global nuclear disarmament at the United Nations. How it’s possible he was not aware of the Indian nuclear weapons development program. Simultaneously, Nehru’s intentions to exploit peaceful nuclear programs for weapon purposes are on the record. Hence Nehru was a brilliant deceiver and an excellent leader according to Kautilya, rather than a good secular, as portrayed.

On the same patterns, Chanakya advocates mass brutality against the enemy and own masses for the survival and security of the state. India’s inhuman actions in Kashmir are in the open. Simultaneously, severe atrocities against minorities within India are increasing gradually. Also, Indian navy officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, caught in Pakistan has admitted that his prime objective was to support terrorism in Pakistan.

All prove that extensive violence acts as an official policy of the Indian state

With the BJP in power for continuous two terms, the classical Hindu strategic thought has further deepened its roots in the country’s foreign policy. Also, RSS’s Akhand Bharat (undivided India) concept is in line with Indian hegemonic ambitions. It also justifies BJP’s and RSS’s motivations to turn India into a pan-Hindu nationalist state. As the prime responsibility of the leader is Veshma Dharma ki Jay. Modi and his parent organization RSS are methodically working on it. And the eventual goal is a realization of an extremist state with classical Hindu thinking. Resultantly, nuclear-armed states warmongering in the region.

Whereas, Pakistan is a security-driven state. It is a nuclear-capable state and will not undermine its sovereignty like other weaker states did in the region. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is the only challenge in the realization of Akhand Bharat. Pakistan’s threat perception has become more sensitive due to Indian policy choices. Eventually, South Asia has become more fragile and unstable in terms of peace. While this fascist ideology continues to grow within India, Pakistan will endeavor to put efforts to strengthen the peace and stability of the region.

About Author: 

Fakhar Alam is a researcher in Islamabad based think tank

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