“I Don’t Think The New World Order Would Be Chinese. It Will Come Back To Us – India”: Vikram Sood

| Updated: 19 October, 2021 7:32 pm IST

Vikram Sood is former head of India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). Apart from his expertise in espionage, he has written two books – The Unending Game and The Ultimate Goal. Both the books are phenomenal as they deal with complex topic such as espionage with great ease and a crisp narrative. In reason with Aarti Tikoo

Aarti Tikoo: Some of the developments in the last one and a half years have left us baffled. Take Coronavirus Pandemic, for instance. What exactly happened in Wuhan?

Vikram Sood: The way the situation developed, and how the nations behaved (particularly China), indicate that there is something fishy about the whole thing. Whether the Chinese were just trying to cover themselves up or whether there was something more sinister to it, is anybody’s guess. We’re all beating about the bush. Nothing is being done about it, because the Chinese won’t let you investigate. Personally, I think it was unintentional. Possibly, the research was for developing a bio-weapon. But, that went out of hand. The leak may not have been deliberate.

Aarti Tikoo: When the pandemic hit the world, the economy collapsed. America itself was unable to cope and yet, China from where the virus originated, seemed much in control. It appeared as if China emerged as the biggest and more effective than any other superpower in the world. Do you think there was a shift, a disruption in the world order since World War Two?

Vikram Sood: Though the US had been preparing for a Pandemic-like crisis for years altogether – they even shaped their policies to fit in the disruption – they could not handle the pandemic well. Whether it was political or economic, that can be argued, but they failed. As for China, I am not sure whether the Chinese succeeded to the extent they claim to. China is a closed society, so there is no way we would ever find out. But they did succeed in controlling the pandemic in a much better way than the Europeans or the Americans did. In fact, we did better than the Americans and the Europeans, considering our resources or the lack of them. So the shift has begun to occur.

Aarti Tikoo: Can we say that we have arrived at a point where the balance of power has tilted towards China, and has moved away from the US?

Vikram Sood:

The way the Chinese control the American economy and the amount of funds that they have at their disposal, all speak for itself. I am told the Chinese have bought the biggest pork manufacturing company in the United States. That makes them the biggest employers of Americans – within their country and in their trade. So bit by bit, they’re eating into the system. The impact is partial, definitely economic, maybe not military yet.

Aarti Tikoo: There haven’t been any signs of military confrontation between the US and China, so far. Are you saying that the US and China at some stage might end up in a military confrontation?

Vikram Sood: I don’t think they will ever fight each other man to man. There are greater chances of them engaging in a high tech war – it could be AI Wars, or one that involves hacking into the systems. In the US, the liaison between the defense industry, the US Congress, Pentagon, and think-tanks is very tight and well balanced. So they look forward to a good war. No war means no sales and no sales means no profit. The biggest gainers in these last few years have been the five major defense contractors – Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon and McDonnell. Uncertainty means everybody wants to buy arms and be ready for whatever.

Aarti Tikoo: Would you say that the war on terror in Afghanistan, which the US fought for 20 years, was a result of the military industrial complex? It appears only some big corporate, military companies and arm dealers have gained from this war in the last two decades?

Vikram Sood: In 2009, when Barack Obama became the US president, he had announced that the US would withdraw their forces from Afghanistan by 2011. But it took them 10 years to do it. There was intense pressure from the Pentagon and other agencies to not draw down yet. Probably, there were contracts in the making. That’s one aspect. The other is that despite its military strength, the US had to leave simply because it had the wrong ally.

Aarti Tikoo: Who was this wrong ally?

Vikram Sood: Pakistan is fighting its own war. They are not fighting for Afghanistan or Islam in Afghanistan. Their focus is India. They have been placing their terrorists on another land and pretending that it is someone else’s doing and not theirs. It is the military mindset. Enmity is the word. Take away that enmity against India, what are you left with?

Aarti Tikoo: Are you saying that this shift in the world, where the balance of power appears to have tilted towards China, is because of Pakistan?

Vikram Sood: Not so strongly. The US lost because of its follies and for its refusal to read the picture. If they had read the picture right, this would not have happened. I mean, how can you fight the Taliban one day, and want to protect it the next? There is a lack of logic in their system. You claim to be fighting the terror but not the source of terror. In fact, it’s a case of mollycoddling the source. They never imposed any sanctions on Pakistan. Except for when they tried to go nuclear. The US sanctions Myanmar for much less reason. Pakistan was responsible (through the Taliban) for the killing of the Americans.

Aarti Tikoo: But isn’t it strange that Pakistan is the only country in the world which is an ally to the US as well as China?

Vikram Sood: That’s a brilliant move. The Americans say theirs is an arrangement of necessity. They had to rely on Pakistan as it was the frontline state for Afghanistan. Also, the Americans may find it difficult to leave the region because of Iran.

Aarti Tikoo: Let’s talk about the Muslim world. Until recently, Saudi Arabia was considered the leader of the Muslim world. Is that position still intact? Or is Turkey vying for that position?

Vikram Sood: There may be more than one aspirant for that position. Pakistan could be one. In which case, Saudis would challenge, as would the Turks. Rather, I hope they will.

Aarti Tikoo: But Pakistan’s economy is in a crisis. There is a lot of dissent within the country. The Baloch militant movement against the Pakistan Army is gaining ground. Does Pakistan really have the capacity or ability to contest for that?

Vikram Sood:

Pakistan does not have the capacity to look after itself, let alone Afghanistan. So if they think that they can manage both countries, they are in for a shock. And yes, there are fissures in Pakistan, of the kind you mentioned. And so that gives them a lot of negative points. But then, Pakistan is a troublemaker. It’s a rogue nation. No normal country spends 20 years nursing insurgency, terrorising another Muslim nation, and then claim to be speaking on its behalf. You can’t be killing Muslims as a leader of the Islamic world.

Aarti Tikoo: What should be India’s official position on the Taliban?

Vikram Sood: Strictly speaking, we only recognise countries. So if there is a new government, we have the choice to deal with it or not. In my view, there’s no need to arouse them (the Taliban). We deal with Afghanistan only for its dry fruits. As for metal and minerals, China has made its intent clear. So the question is: why are we so anxious?

Aarti Tikoo: Has China gained advantage in Afghanistan? The Taliban refers to China as an ally and vice versa. Would this alignment affect the rest of the world?

Vikram Sood: If you look at the world map in terms of land borders, we have two inimical enemies. Both are nuclear powers. One practices terrorism and is trying to force its way in through unrest, and the other is looking at expansion. Both aim to move in to the mainland. As the case stands, China has strengthened its base in the region. It sits in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from Afghanistan. It has access to Turkmenistan and Iran (because of access to the Persian Gulf and Gwadar). So, it has been steadily setting up and expanding bases in the Middle East. Didn’t someone tell a Roman Emperor: when you want to build an empire and build roads? That is exactly what China has been doing.

Aarti Tikoo: Are we saying that India is cornered?

Vikram Sood: No. We’re not so bad. We have our own intrinsic strengths. We have 1.3 billion smart and hard working people. We have a strong army, and we have strong values. So we are not easy to ignore. The main thing is to get our economy going. No one can ignore a strong economy. Modi’s nationalistic policies such as Atma nirbharta and Made in India are leaving the other world sellers in a bind. The big question haunting them is – where do they sell? The world has already lost out to the China market. Now, they can’t afford to lose out in India. They can’t afford to have two big economies in Asia overturn the western system.

Aarti Tikoo: If you say China is on its way to becoming the biggest superpower of the world, does that mean a new world order?

Vikram Sood: Economic or military might alone do not determine your status. It is also about social and cultural impressions. We still do not relate to China on many accounts. The socio-cultural gap is immense. Acceptability is called for. We are more open to the west, especially the United States, Britain and France. We find their way of life acceptable and easy to fit in to. It’s not the same for China.

Aarti Tikoo: Is democracy the key here?

Vikram Sood: Democracy is good. It’s definitely better than living in a totalitarian estate. Some may argue that it is the state that delivers. That China acquired its current international status because of its system – because of its totalitarian way of life.

Aarti Tikoo: Is the new world order going the Chinese way?

Vikram Sood: I don’t think the new world order would be Chinese. It will come back to us, to India… to the world that thinks there has to be individual freedom. The West will have to make adjustments. It’s no longer at the top of the rung. When you are at the top, you have to work twice as hard to retain that position. Or you fall. That’s where the US made that mistake. They thought they were there forever.

Aarti Tikoo: So in this scenario, is Quad really a viable option? Can it lead the way?

Vikram Sood: Quad is not NATO, so it has no firepower. At the most, you can restrict Chinese activities, but that is only up to a point. I don’t see it doing anything much more than that. There is no military alliance. As is, we don’t sign military alliances. So it is good in a way, but it has its limitations.

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