One problem with people who delve into strategic matters is that they are tempted to theorize. It’s not easy to theorize credibly in the rich arena of politics and international relations, for enough has been said already. But experts in matters of war are undeterred. There are many theories, for instance, on the essential conditions for nations not to go to war.
The evidence, as they say, is mixed:
Remember mutually assured destruction, or the MAD doctrine? The idea that nuclear weapons-equipped nations will not go to war against each other because that will be the end of both of them? Well, that just came true, didn’t it? North Korea called America’s bluff, and plodded on with its nuclear programme—to alternating global reactions of derision (oops, it fell it into the ocean, Kim) and real alarm (Oy, you nearly hit us this time, watch it).
American pressure piled up after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016. In effect, it wanted immediate unilateral disarmament, but North Korea held out. Trump called Kim the “little rocket man" and threatened to “totally destroy" the Asian communist nation. After mulling over Trump’s insult—made at the UN no less—for two days, Kim came back with an equally impressive rejoinder: “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged dotard with fire."
When someone is acting mad, shed your nuance, diplomacy and sobriety. Act equally MAD, measure for measure, insult for insult.
The result? After a year that saw the largest number of troops participating in joint South Korean-US war games and the North Koreans firing off the highest number of missiles, Trump flew to Singapore for a historic summit meeting with Kim to sign a joint agreement. The agreement pledges North Korea to “work toward" denuclearization in exchange of American guarantees of peace (i.e., non-invasion). The terms of the peace became somewhat clearer in the hour-long press conference that followed the summit: the US would not only call off its war games with South Korea, but would also withdraw the estimated 20,000-30,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, a force that was first deployed in 1957 in the aftermath of the Korean war.
There’s more: A day after the summit, the North Koreans revealed Kim had invited Trump to visit Pyongyang and that the American leader had accepted. At the presser, Trump said he would “absolutely invite" Kim to the White House. The two men, he said, had a “very special bond." Of course.
The other theory about nations not going to war is the one grandly titled the Golden Arches Doctrine—that countries with McDonald’s fast food joints don’t go to war against each other. Apparently thought up by American journalist Thomas Friedman, this pro-market ‘theory’ today is the subject of online derision by writers, who point to Big Mac-endowed Russia, Iraq, Serbia, Georgia, etc. Most of all, according to Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Massachusetts, the burger doctrine stands discredited by the 1999 Kargil War between India and Pakistan. India is home to 290+ McDonald’s outlets and Pakistan to 72, according to Wikipedia.
Which, in the subcontinent, leaves us with the game of cricket. The point is no head of government or state here talks like Trump or Kim.
Yet, South Asia is a conflict-ridden region. India, on account of its size and economic dominance, has to manage smaller neighbours in spite of provocations. On its north, Pakistan is a constant provocation in Kashmir. In the south, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have been kowtowing to the Chinese. In the east, Nepal upset New Delhi with a constitution skewed against those in the Himalayan nation who live in the plains and share close family ties with people living in neighbouring regions of India. There are two nations with whom India has so far enjoyed friendly relations with a degree of continuity—Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
The biggest unifier in this stressful scenario involving over a billion-and-a-half people is the game of cricket. And India is the biggest home of cricket in the world. Its cricket board is the richest, and more people watch cricket here (but only when it involves Indian players) than in any other part of the world. Which is why, when a teenage Nepali cricketer burst into the Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament this summer, it made news.
Sandeep Lamichhane, a 17-year-old leg spinner, didn’t get to play much for his team, Delhi Daredevils, but on the few occasions that he did—toward the tail end of the tourney—he was superb. He picked up five wickets at an economy rate of 6.83, helping Daredevils beat Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings (CSK), the eventual champion. In the match against CSK, he was named man of the match. The first Nepali to have made it to IPL, he was strongly backed by Australian legends Ricky Ponting and Michael Clark.
Others from the subcontinent who featured in this year’s IPL tournament included players from Sri Lanka and the now-established and rapidly rising cricketing nation, Bangladesh. Significantly, there were also four cricketers from Afghanistan—a nation that wasn’t associated with cricket until recently. With 320 cricket clubs, the war-torn nation became a full member of the International Cricket Council in 2017. This could well become the one sport this nation will be identified with.
India doesn’t allow Pakistanis to play in IPL in retaliation against support to anti-India terrorists by sections of the Pakistani security establishment. Nevertheless, a ‘Pakistani’ did manage to play in this year’s edition—Imran Tahir, the dynamic Pakistani-born spinner who has South African citizenship, was snapped up by champions CSK.
In March this year, Nepal won ODI status in cricket, which will allow them to play with the big boys of the sport. And in England next year, Afghanistan will take the field in the ICC World Cup.
What are the chances of war between India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh? Zero, I’d say, and it’s got nothing to do with eating burgers or acting completely insane.
Dipankar’s Twitter handle is @Ddesarkar1