Arthashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, was written by Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, around 300 B.C. Kautilya was a key adviser to Chandragupta Maurya who ruled from 322-298 B.C. The treatise, which was meant to advise a king how to govern, was extremely influential in ancient India and continues to influence India’s leaders and policy makers even now. Just a few years ago, a former Indian National Security Adviser praised this book as an important guide on strategy. So it should be a matter of interest for us to study it and see what kind of advice it offers to Indian policy makers in the conduct of relations with Pakistan.
Arthashastra is a book on political realism and not on morality. It describes politics as it is rather than what it should be. Commenting on it, Max Weber wrote in Politics as a Vocation, “Truly radical ‘Machiavellianism’, in the popular sense of that word, is classically expressed in Indian literature in the Arthashastra of Kautilya (written long before Christ, ostensibly in time of Chandragupta): compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.” Henry Kissinger, in his comments on Arthashastra in his latest book World Order, writes, “This work sets out, with dispassionate clarity, a vision of how to establish and guard a state while neutralizing, subverting, and (when opportune conditions have been established) conquering its neighbors. The Arthashastra encompasses a world of practical statecraft, not philosophical disputation.”
Kautilya believed that the goal of politics was power to control not only outward behavior but also the thoughts of one’s subjects and enemies. A wise ruler needed to bring together all elements of power into a coherent whole in pursuit of his strategic goal. The various elements of power including economic strength, military prowess, diplomacy, espionage, law, cultural traditions, and public morale and opinion need to be shaped by the ruler into a coherent strategy to strengthen and expand his kingdom. According to Kautilya, contiguous states existed in a state of latent and permanent hostility. He argued that every nation acted to maximize its power and promote its political, economic and military interests, and therefore moral principles or obligations had little force in inter-state relations. The purpose of strategy was to conquer other states. A weak nation forced to rely on the kindness of neighbouring states is doomed to destruction.
Kautilya recommended that a wise and conquering ruler should choose his allies from among his neighbours’ neighbours with the goal of an alliance system with the conqueror at the centre. According to him, the enemy would become vulnerable when he is squeezed between the conqueror and his allies. In pursuance of this approach, the wise ruler would make one neighbouring state fight another and having prevented the neighbours from getting together, would conquer his own enemy. In short, Kautilya did not recommend, “Prepare for war, and hope for peace”, but instead, “Prepare for war, and plan to conquer.”
Kautilya wrote that there were three types of war: “open war, concealed war, and silent war.” While the concept of open war is obvious, Kautilya had guerilla war in mind when he talked about concealed war. But his original contribution was the concept of silent war. Silent war, according to him, is a kind of warfare with another state in which the ruler and his ministers—and, unknowingly, the people—act publicly as if they were at peace with the opposing state, but all the while secret agents and spies are assassinating important leaders in the other state, creating divisions among key ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation with the ultimate objective of weakening and subjugating it. To put it in Kautilya’s words, “Open war is fighting at the place and time indicated; creating fright, sudden assault, striking when there is error or a calamity, giving way and striking in one place place are types of concealed warfare; that which concerns secret practices and instigations through secret agents is the mark of silent war.”
In view of the commitment of the present Narendra Modi-led BJP government in India to Hindutva, the probability that its strategy in dealing with Pakistan would be deeply influenced, if not governed, by the rules laid down by Kautilya in Arthashastra cannot be totally ruled out. From Pakistan’s point of view, the situation becomes even more dangerous if one takes into account India’s known hegemonic designs in South Asia, its rapidly growing economic and military power, outstanding Pakistan-India disputes like Kashmir and Siachin, and Narendra Modi’s known anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim bias.
There is little doubt by now that India is pursuing a carefully worked out strategy to establish its hegemony in South Asia and Indian Ocean regions. Henry Kissinger in his book “World Order” says that on the pattern of the Monroe Doctrine which laid down a special role for the US in the Western Hemisphere, India is striving to carve out a special position for itself in the Indian Ocean region between the East Indies and the Horn of Africa. He adds that “India in the region of its special strategic interests conducts its policy on the basis of its own definition of a South Asian order” obviously with India at its centre as the determining factor. Other scholars of international politics have also taken note of India’s hegemonic designs in South Asia. For instance, Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book “Strategic Vision—America and the Crisis of Global Power” mentions that “Indian strategists speak openly of a greater India exercising a dominant position in an area ranging from Iran to Thailand. India is also positioning itself to control the Indian Ocean militarily.”
Therefore, a situation of latent hostility is likely to persist between Pakistan and India for the foreseeable future. Tensions rather than a climate of amity are likely to be the hallmark of the relations between the two countries as long as India does not give up its quest for hegemony in South Asia and disputes like Kashmir and Siachin remain unresolved. The periods of absence of tensions between Pakistan and India are likely to be few and far between. In such a state of continued hostility, India is likely to employ all the tricks of trade to destabilize, weaken, and demoralize Pakistan, which were recommended by Kautilya for fighting “concealed” and “silent” wars. If one takes into account the reports about India’s clandestine support to the militancy in Balochistan and terrorism in the rest of the country, this may be already happening.
Obviously Pakistan needs to maintain its guard against India’s threatening designs. We must take steps to strengthen internal unity and stability, accelerate our economic growth, promote religious and sectarian moderation, settle the issue of political unrest in Balochistan through political and economic initiatives, and root out the menace of terrorism, while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of armaments and armed forces. The prospect of enduring tensions between Pakistan and India rules out the possibility of our joining the latter in an economic and monetary union. Simultaneously, we should strengthen our friendly relations and cooperation with both Afghanistan and Iran so that India does not succeed in turning them against us as Kautilya would have recommended. The strengthening of our strategic cooperation with China and improving our friendly relations with Russia should remain the cornerstone of our foreign policy. At the same time, we should maintain our friendship with the US despite the latter’s strategic partnership with India.