October 5, 2022

2022: The year of promise

Gunners Shot wishes you and you family a very happy and prosperous 2022

By Lt Gen PR Shankar (R)

2022 is a year of great promise for all of us.

The enigma is that what will it take India to realize this promise.

If the Virus is under control anywhere in the world at present, it is in India. An NRI  with whom I interact believed that India has found its unique way to deal with the Chinese Virus. Of course, we have had to pay a heavy price to collar it in the middle of 2021 when the Delta variant was rampant, and our government was absent. Happily, for us, past that time of crisis, our vaccination program has picked up steam and is standing the test of protecting us. With vaccinations for teenagers and booster shots on the anvil, India is well poised to face the Omicron challenge squarely. With the Prime Minister making it a point to address the nation more frequently, it is reasonable to presume that all hands are on the deck to tackle challenges coming ahead. The greatest promise I see in 2022 is that the Virus will be taken head on to allow the industrious and hardworking Indians to go about their daily chores. The economy will therefore keep turning over and India will keep progressing. In my opinion, India has learnt to live with the Virus. It is time for the Virus to learn to live with India or get out, notwithstanding the oncoming third wave!

The greatest promise I see in 2022 is that the Virus will be taken head on to allow the industrious and hardworking Indians to go about their daily chores. The economy will therefore keep turning over and India will keep progressing. In my opinion, India has learnt to live with the Virus. It is time for the Virus to learn to live with India or get out, notwithstanding the oncoming third wave!

When I look around globally, I see ideologically fixated autocratic leaders like Erdogan of Turkey, Imran Khan of Pakistan, Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and the Taliban in Afghanistan putting their personal ambitions ahead of their people.  When one looks elsewhere,  one also sees confused leaders like Boris Johnson in UK and soft leaders like Joe Biden in USA. They seem to be doing a lot to grapple with the diverse situations in their countries but are unable to make a mark. There are also examples of stable leaders like Macron of France, Jacinda Arden of New Zealand, Scot Morrison of Australia, and Putin of Russia who are piloting steadily even if you do not agree to their point of view. In our own case, our chastened leadership seems stable and quite focused to tackle our myriad problems. There is no doubt, under the given circumstances and in contrast with the lack of able international leadership, our leaders are doing a reasonable job even if we do not agree with many of their ideas. A significant aspect is that, at state level  we  have able leaders who are doing well and are a foil to national level leaders, lest they get away with the idea that they are irreplaceable. All of them, together or otherwise, will guide us through 2022 quite well despite many party and ideological differences. The problem is there seems to be no alternative vison at the national level.  That is worrying for a great democracy like ours.   

There is something unusual happening in China, our foremost adversary. A tussle is emerging between the Xi-Mao ideology vs the Deng- Hu- Jiang school of thought. China has also turned distinctly revisionist and is on a slow melt. Big Tech and Real Estate / Infrastructure , the major drivers of the Chinese economy are in reverse gear. The virus is spreading thick and fast enough to impose extensive lockdowns, mass testing and dampening the economy. The population has started ageing and shrinking. By the end of 2022, the early effect of this phenomenon will show up. China’s military ramp up will continue unabated. Its  race into space will progress. Both are costly hobbies which the slowing economy cannot support without consequences. Overall, China is out of balance. Watch out for internal purges.  Prepare for enhanced propaganda to convince you about the communist heaven on earth.  Externally,  China will be even more aggressive and belligerent than before. Its anti-India stance will continue. We cannot let down our guard on the LAC or elsewhere. 

Pakistan is in a state of  great uncertainty. Imran Khan’s rudderless government will continue to be ineffectively lethal. The tectonic geopolitical change in Afghanistan, with the return of Taliban, will pose Pakistan with complicated foreign policy, economic and security challenges. The imminent economic collapse and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan will have a direct  bearing on Pakistan. Its Faustian bargains with the TTP and TLP will be costly. Violence will only increase within Pakistan. Its economy is in tatters and will plumb further depths. Its Army will continue to rule the roost and be the kingmaker. The question is who is the Jack to replace Taliban Khan? Pakistan will remain  handicapped, but somehow survive the ongoing regression.   While there are great uncertainties about Pakistan on many issues, there is one certainty. Pakistan will do whatever it takes to harm Indian interests. Pakistan will remain our most dangerous adversary.  Watch out for problems in Kashmir and Punjab. India needs to be prepared to deal with the Sino Pak collusive activates which will continue unabated in the Gray Zone. 

India’s relations with the rest of the world will keep growing in an upward trajectory. USA and India will continue to need each other to tackle the Chinese elephant in the room. The Indo US strategic partnership is a mutual necessity and will grow despite the plethora of differences which have historical moorings. Resultantly, India will keep assuming a larger role in the QUAD and other new alignments. As an extension, India’s ties with Japan will get even more solidified. The one which bears watching is the new found strategic relationship with Australia. Will it grow or flounder on fundamental differences which have plagued both countries? Much will depend upon the leadership of both. A growing Indo Australian equation has the potential to offer an alternate platform to China in South East Asia. India’s growing foot print in West Asia and Middle East will also expand in 2022 due to the reproachment between Israel and the Arab world. In terms of sheer scale and capability, it is only India which can be an alternative to China.  EU and UK are fully cognisant of this and it will be up to India to take the initiative to make things happen. India also needs to capitalise on its relationship with France and take it to a higher level based on congruent interests. While Iran will continue with its international intransigence, it is up to India to leverage civilisational values between the two, to mutual advantage. A significant event which happened at the end of last  year was Putin’s visit and revitalisation of Indo-Russian relations. In fact, this event has  opened up geopolitical equations as never before. Russia is clearly hedging bets against China and India has an alternative to USA. If 2021 has taught us anything, it is that India is a pivotal player in global affairs. India needs to cement its position as a key global player in 2022. It should be not be averse to enter new alignments to suit its national interests.    

India’s real promise and opportunity lies in its economy in 2022. Despite the manifold problems of our large democracy, there are reforms being attempted. Issues are not being swept away under the carpet. Some of these reforms will succeed.  Some will not. That is ok.

India’s neighbourhood will be a mixed bag in 2022. Our relations with Bangladesh and Bhutan should continue the upward trajectory with India exhibiting a largehearted approach. India should also continue to try to reach out to the people of Afghanistan whether our relations with Pakistan or Taliban improve or not. Sri Lanka and Myanmar pose an opportunity and a problem for India. Unless India makes a special effort to help these countries through their terrible times, we might end up losing our influence and space there. The problem I foresee is that our diplomacy is ambivalent and conservative in its approach to both these nations. Some bold initiatives are needed to swing Sri Lanka and Myanmar away from China. 2022 can be the year when India can emerge as an undisputed regional leader. However, we need to have focus and a suitable policy to achieve that. 

India’s real promise and opportunity lies in its economy in 2022. Despite the manifold problems of our large democracy, there are reforms being attempted. Issues are not being swept away under the carpet. Some of these reforms will succeed.  Some will not. That is ok. Notwithstanding our apparent muddle, India should end 2022 with an expanded manufacturing base which is ticking along nicely. If the government has its thinking cap on, it should widen its focus beyond semiconductor manufacturing. India needs to build an architecture to encompass its rapidly growing software prowess, semiconductor manufacture, indigenously designed and developed processors. All these must be leveraged with our traditional strengths and start-ups. Both these need to look beyond the service and retail industry. A concentrated effort must be made to develop disruptive technologies like AI and cyber. This is also a great opportunity to step up civil military fusion and stitch the commercial with the strategic sectors. I also visualise that the Indian Space program will set itself up and make a base in 2022, to expand geometrically in the years ahead. The danger in all the euphoria about our growth is that we should not become another China. India does not have the space or the capability to handle the pollution of unchecked and senseless growth. The government needs to ensure that the growth is balanced, sustainable, inclusive and penetrates into our hinterland. It should factor in that climate change will ravage India and its people if we get it wrong. The widening inequality needs to be stemmed. A renewed focus on poverty eradication will do well.

The untimely death of late Gen Bipin Rawat carries the danger of slowing down our defence reforms and modernisation. In this respect, the Armed Forces need to get their act together and forge ahead with jointness. If jointness is focussed upon, theatrisation will follow. The new CDS as and when appointed will have his hands full. However the platform already created should serve India well. The thing which concerns me is that the Armed Forces have not been able to put together a cogent thought process of modernisation incorporating futuristic technologies.  I foresee that 2022 will be the year of enhanced Gray Zone activities from our adversaries who will nibble and undermine us through manifold hostile actions – covert and overt. India  needs a security architecture beyond the Armed Forces to wage multi domain conflicts in the Gray Zone. The government should be fully aware of this new form of warfare which will be the norm.  

The big speck on our rosy horizon is the venality of our politics and inability to come on a common platform on issues of national strategic relevance. While competitive politics are a necessity of a great democracy, the ‘forever’ campaigning from one election to the other queers the pitch. India will rue the day when its political class attempts to shed plurality and enforce singularity as a way of life. It is well known that a singular India is an impossible idea, but any attempt to attain it will take us back to the philistines. We also need to be cognisant that India lies between a Pakistan which is tending towards being the radical of radicals and Myanmar which is enduring ethnic strife and internal violence of extreme brutality. The winds from either direction combined with the greedy opportunism of our myopic political class can wreak havoc in our multi-layered nation. 

Despite all this, there will be doomsday predictions that India will promise more only to deceive. However, I do think that India will continue to rise in 2022 and deliver to its own people notwithstanding the many twists and turns that lie ahead. That I am certain of. Here is to a promising 2022. Cheers.  

Despite all this, there will be doomsday predictions that India will promise more only to deceive. However, I do think that India will continue to rise in 2022 and deliver to its own people notwithstanding the many twists and turns that lie ahead. That I am certain of. Here is to a promising 2022. Cheers.  

-Lt Gen P.R. Shankar (Retd.) is ex-DG, Artillery, Indian Army, and is currently serving at the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

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