Challenges to India’s security
V. N. Datta

Will the Iron Fence Save A Tree
Hollowed by Termites?
Defence Imperatives Beyond the Military.
by Arun Shourie. Rupa. Pages 587. Rs 595.

Will the Iron Fence Save A Tree Hollowed by Termites?This big book (not the short one, as the author claims), full of massive information, and overflowing with facts and figures, focuses on the challenges, particularly military, that India faces from her neighbouring countries: Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. This work is a revised and extended version of the Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa and J. N. Chaudhari Memorial lectures, which Arun Shourie had delivered to the armed forces in 2002 and 2004, respectively. Shourie’s credentials as a writer are impeccable of 19 books, he is acknowledged as an outstanding journalist and an acute analyst of contemporary politics.

In the opening chapter, Shourie attacks the Indian political leadership for mishandling the crucial political questions for which we are still made to pay a heavy price both in men and material. He does not spare Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who he thinks, committed a grave blunder in taking the Kashmir problem to the United Nations, when there was absolutely no need for doing so. Shourie thinks that Indira Gandhi too dithered. She could have resolved the Kashmir question at Simla after Pakistan’s defeat in 1971. But she lost the golden opportunity. The author maintains that it was the political immaturity of Indian leaders that led to the recrudescence of terrorism in Punjab, insurgency in Assam, the infiltration of lakhs of Bangladeshis in India, and a complete collapse of administration in Bihar. Shourie asks, "Is not UP going the Bihar way?"

A major portion of Shourie’s book, almost one third, discusses the genesis, growth and nature of terrorism in Pakistan. He shows how the mushrooming of various Islamic organisations inspired by a fanatical spirit of Jihad had caught the imagination of the youth, who indulged in reckless killing in the name of Islam. He emphasizes that a process of ideological mobilisation always precedes terrorist violence. In this connection, he analyses closely K. K. Aziz’s study of the textbooks prescribed in Pakistan for schoolchildren. The textbooks, Shourie maintains, by their wilful distortion, misrepresentation and concoction of facts, have fostered a spirit of antipathy and inveterate hatred among the Muslim youth against India and her people.

From chapter 9, Shourie’s main focus is on China. It is a matter of concern to the author that China is collaborating with Pakistan in developing atomic weapons. He sums up the China policy as "grasp, hold and time passes". Shourie warns that we should not be taken in, as had happened in 1961, by the Chinese smiles and courtesies. For India, still the issues remain unresolved: Tibet, Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Shourie states that just as China can stand up to the US, why can’t India muster strength and will to fight back. Strength, of course, the author emphasizes, does not lie in weapons but in the development of our capacities. Hence we should concentrate on modernising our military equipment.

The most illuminating part of the book relates to Henry Kissinger’s negotiations with Chinese Prime Minister Chou-En-Lai, which Shourie discuses in the light of the secret US documents reproduced in the US Press. Shourie shows how countries professing lofty moral principles play with "clinical aloofness" a game of ruthless "Realpolitik" for promoting their national interests.

In Chapter 13, Everyone for Himself, Shourie gives primary importance to self-reliance in the building of a nation. Towards the end of his life, Bismarck was asked: "How did you make Germany a great country?" The Iron Chancellor replied: "Alone, alone, alone." But, I think, it was Bismarck’s system of alliances and alignments that enabled Germany to consolidate. I wish that Shourie had emphasised the need for refining our diplomatic skills, too.

Shourie emerges from this assiduously conducted research work as a fervent Indian nationalist deeply concerned about the future of his country in a topsy-turvy world. He is absolutely right that there is a total absence of scholarly work on security issues—the quantum of serious studies on China, Japan and Nepal is woefully little. He asks, "How many persons in RAW are fluent in Chinese, Japanese and Farsi." Doubtless, there is an urgent need for us to know our neighbours through their history, literature and languages.

It appears from this study that Shourie’s formulation of the principles of foreign and military policy have a close resemblance to that of Bismarck and his disciple Henry Kissinger’s, who regard military power and balance of forces as instruments of a successful state policy.

Throughout the book, the author persists in suggesting maxims for guiding political and military leaders for forming government policies. Such a convenient rule-of-the-thumb approach universally applied tends to overlook the role of "contingencies" and " in the vicissitude of human offices. History, by no means, is a cookbook to offer recipes, as Kissinger tells us. History cannot give us any conceptual framework within which evolving political or military systems can be conveniently fitted. Towards the end of the book, Shourie urges his countrymen to "make nationalism their religion". The learned writer should know better than this reviewer that nationalism, unless leavened by liberalism, turns into chauvinism and fascism.

This work is a document of primary importance for policy makers interested in strategic thinking on crucial political and military issues facing India.