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Self-interest and the Strategery of Errors



CHIDANAND RAJGHATTA Musings on life, politics and economics from TOI's Washington correspondent

If you are one of those who's starting to roll your eyes at the mere mention of the term "strategic" anything (ties, dialogue, planning etc), welcome to the club. Few expressions have been as overworked in recent days as this lemon-come-lately. It's not clear when the phrase kicked off and ticked up, but it must have been meaningful enough in its heyday before it became a dreadful, tiresome cliche.

These days, every man and his dog is having a strategic dialogue, not to speak of parents and children, husbands and wives, and neighbours too, just not neighbouring countries. It's gained so much currency that there is even an "Institute of Strategic Dialogue" in London. Comics extended its run further by inventing the word "strategery" as a Bushism, which led to a genuine, accepted coinage such as "Department of Strategery" and "Strategery Group" to describe Bush's political consultants.

India is one of the early entrants to the "strategic" racket. We have had strategic dialogues leading to strategic ties with almost every significant country on earth, save Pakistan, which in many Indian eyes is utterly insignificant although it is always irritatingly in the field of vision. Our strategic ties range from the ones with the United States and European Union, to "strategic partnership" with Iran (momentarily unglued) and a more recent "strategic vision" with Saudi Arabia.

Not to be outdone, Pakistan has unveiled its own string of "strategic" whatevers with the US, with the UK, with China, with Syria, with Turkey, and with just about anyone who's willing to suffer its never-ending neuroses, shrill hysteria, and overbearing rhetoric. Last heard, it was reaching out to Mongolia and Burkina Faso, neither of which knew where Pakistan is, and nor, for that matter, did Pakistan know where they were. Well, you get the point. This strategic bunkum has gone too far;it's time to call the bluff.

Let's look at the etymology of the word 'strategy' first. Apparently, it is of military origin, deriving from the Greek word strategos, which roughly translates as general. Its early uses are invariably military related. Strategy, says a newer definition, is the utilisation, during both peace and war, of all of a nation's forces, through largescale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory (tactics, its lesser cousin, deals with the use and deployment of troops in actual combat. )
So it appears that, typically, in a strategic dialogue, both sides would be vying for security or victory. Obviously, more advanced nations with a culture of long-range, large-scale planning backed by stronger forces (in other words, greater powers) will come out on top in a strategic relationship. That pretty much settles the nature of the "strategic relationship" between the US and Pakistan. But what of the US and India, whose strategic partnership was initially underpinned by fear of a rising China? And can a country have separate "strategic" relationships with two other mutually antagonistic countries since the US is also "strategic" dialoguing with Islamabad and Beijing?

Anyone who believes that the United States has a grand strategy for itself, much less the world, need only look at its erratic, haphazard, slapdash moves since 9/11. It abandoned a widely supported war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda to refocus on Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, kept getting distracted by Iran (which also had nothing to do with 9/11) before refocussing on al-Qaeda and its cohorts, who were supposed to be in Afghanistan but are actually in Pakistan, where the real war needs to be fought. Now no one knows whether the US is coming or staying or going;about the only thing certain is that the Taliban and al-Qaeda, perpetrators of 9/11, are undefeated. Very rightly did someone say America is a country that doesn't know where it is going, but is determined to set a speed record getting there.

So this whole business of strategic dialogues and ties makes no sense when the world's foremost power is so completely clueless and lost. Anyone who believes the US will come to India's rescue if it gets into a scrap with China or will help Pakistan if it ratchets it up with India is smoking some very potent stuff. Strategy is all imagery;it all boils down to tactical self-interest.

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