Robert Kaplan is one of the most respected geostrategy analysts in today’s America. We confess we have learned more from him than from just about any non-financial author. In our opinion, Stratfor hit a home run by hiring him. A couple of months ago, Kaplan wrote the single best article about India. The most intelligent section of that article, India’s Riveting Centrality, was the penultimate paragraph about US expectations from India:
- For as the United States and China become great power rivals, the direction in which India tilts could determine the course of geopolitics in Eurasia in the 21st century. India, in other words, looms as the ultimate pivot state. But the U.S.-India relationship can never be transactional: that is to say, Washington cannot expect New Delhi to equally reciprocate its friendship.
- It is not a matter of what India can do for the United States. Rather, it is the very fact that India’s rise, militarily and economically, automatically balances against China because of India’s proximate position on the map. Thus, the rise of India, however uneven and admittedly over-hyped, has been the best piece of strategic good luck the United States has had since the end of the Cold War.
- For the U.S.-India alliance to work it must be subjective and somewhat covert: a matter of quiet, regular bilateral military training exercises rather than of loud public statements and summitry. India can help the United States, but only if the United States always plays its hand subtly.
Every sentence, every word of the above quotes rings absolutely true and sets Kaplan apart from other European-American analysts.
“India’s Geographical Dilemma” from the “Revenge of Geography”
Kaplan begins the chapter, “India’s Geographical Dilemma”, with the first quote listed above from his Stratfor article. Then he broadens the warning to the American Establishment:
- But even as the Indian political class understands at a very intimate level America’s own historical and geographical situation, the American political class has no such understanding of India’s. Yet if Americans do not grasp India’s highly unstable geopolitics, especially as it concerns, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China, they will badly mishandle the relationship. India’s history and geography since the early antiquity constitute the genetic code for how the world looks from New Delhi.
Kudos to Robert Kaplan for getting it so right. The above is how the first paragraph of his India chapter ends. In the rest of the chapter, Kaplan demonstrates his knowledge and superb understanding of India’s geography. We have already quoted extensively from his views about the Indo-Afghan continuum in last week’s article Robert Kaplan on Afghanistan- From the Revenge of Geography.
Geography Yes; History Absolutely Not
While Kaplan understands India’s geography, Kaplan demonstrates in his book that he is uneducated, ignorant, and frankly, programmatically prejudiced about India’s history. The difference between Geography and History is of paramount importance.
Consider the case of an Asian analyst who is an expert on Israel’s geography. Now assume that analyst doesn’t know anything of Jewish history, not even the story of Moses, his demand to the Egyptian Pharaoh to “let my people go“. Assume therefore that the analyst doesn’t understand the deep, intense desire among Jews for their own homeland. Would Kaplan trust the judgement of that analyst about Israel? He would probably argue that if you don’t understand how the history of Jews is tied with the geography of Israel, you are bound to fail in your judgement and analysis.
That is Kaplan’s problem about India. Kaplan demonstrates in his book, that he is totally unaware of pivotal periods of Indian history, events that shaped Indian minds for the past 3-4 millennia, events that go back to the pre-Buddhist period and pre-Christian periods. We have come to expect this ignorance from other European-American authors, but seeing it in Robert Kaplan is depressing. And in Kaplan’s case it is not just ignorance. It seems like a case of an intellect programmed by centuries of Anglo-European half-baked thinking.
Why? Because Robert Kaplan has repeated the erroneously arrogant characterizations from his two year old book, “Monsoon”. Today’s “Revenge of Geography” incorporates every single mistake, every single prejudice from “Monsoon”. Rather than repeat those, we encourage all to read our detailed description published in Analysis in Robert Kaplan’s “Monsoon” – Similar to Analysis of Sub-Prime CDOs? That article was published on November 20, 2010. Every single criticism we made of Kaplan’s lack of knowledge is as valid today as it was in November 2010.
We don’t mind lack of education or ignorance. Because these can be corrected. We do get concerned when we see evidence of a programmed mind. Of course, Kaplan is not unique in this regard. Europeans gained access to India after a prolonged conflict with Muslims rulers of the Middle East. Their first and early access was by bypassing the Muslim Middle East by sailing past the horn of Africa. Europeans learned about India by studying Muslim descriptions and analysis of India. And Kaplan has learned what he knows about India by studying those Europeans.
Europeans landed in India during Mughal rule of North India. By that time, Muslim Turko-Afghan invaders had already ruled North India for 2-4 centuries. And Europeans came as technologically advanced and geographically knowledgeable invaders while Indians were insular and ignorant. There was little or no reason for Europeans to study either the history or culture of pre-Islam India.
If you read Kaplan’s description of visionary thinkers in the first part of his book, if you look at his set of references, you will find that Kaplan’s sources are virtually all European. Kaplan himself attributes a racist tendency to one of his most cited thinkers. No wonder Kaplan is programmed to ignore and minimize any historic or Sanskrut-based Indian thought. Look at his description of the Indus area:
- …for millennia similar cultures occupied both the high plateaus and the lowland, riverine plains, whether Harrappan, Kushan, Turkic, Mughal, Indo-Persian, Indo-Islamic or Pushtun, to name but a few.
Look at the jump from Harrappan to Kushan. The period between Harappan and Kushan (100 BCE) is about 1,500-2,000 years long and it is precisely the period during which Indian culture was developed. This was the period when the Ved were written and Indian culture spread from Gandhaar-SaptaSindhu (today’s Af-Pak) into the rest of North India. This was the period when Universities like Takshashila became globally renowned for their scholarship. This is the period which defines Indian culture to this day, the India of the MahaBharat (1,400 BCE). The length, the depth and the importance of this period required two huge volumes in the scholarly “History and Culture of the Indian People” series of
the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
This was the longest and most important cultural period in the history of the Indian subcontinent and Kaplan doesn’t even mention it in his listings of cultures. This in itself points to Kaplan’s intense programming. Next comes the European myth of Aryans not being Indian in origin, the favorite concept of both Adolf Hitler and British writers. Kaplan relays this dutifully:
- McNeil writes, for example, that the Aryans developed a different, less warlike cultural personality in India’s Gangetic plain than they did in Mediterranean Europe because of the influence of the subcontinent’s forests and the monsoonal cycle, which encouraged meditation and religious knowledge.
This fits well with Hitler’s favorite concept that European Aryans lost their aggression as they lost the purity of the Nordic race by intermarrying with native Indians.
Then Kaplan introduces his own version of Indian history by writing:
- Aryans may have infiltrated from the Iranian plateau, and together with the subcontinent’s autochthonous inhabitants were a part of the process that consolidated the political organization of the Gangetic plain in northern India around 1,000 B.C. This led to sets of monarchies between the eighth and sixth centuries B.C., culminating with the Nanda Empire…
We have no idea where Kalpan got this understanding of Indian history. He certainly did not get it from any Indian scholar who has studied Sanskrut-written history. Kaplan didn’t need to go far and wide to learn. He could have just glanced at “The Vedic Age”, the 570 page Volume I of the “History and Culture of the Indian People” published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. This work began in 1951 and contains the contributions of about 10-12 exceptional scholars.
Read the statement below by Dr. R.C. Majumdar, one of the most celebrated scholars of Indian history, in his preface to the first edition (1951) of The Vedic Age:
- It has been hitherto customary to divide Indian history into the Hindu, Muslim and British periods, and assign equal space to each….But it can hardly be regarded as equitable. Looking at the matter from a broad standpoint, it would be difficult to maintain that the 4,000 years of pre-Muslim India of the history and culture of which we possess a definite knowledge, though brief in outline, should rank in importance as equal with that of the Muslim period of about 400 or 500 years, or the British period of less than 200 years.
Forget being equitable. Robert Kaplan dropped Indian history completely as he jumped from Harrappan culture directly to Kushan culture. Immersed in the programming of William McNeil, Kaplan couldn’t be bothered to read R.C. Majumdar.
After all, to Robert Kaplan, India is “Al-Hind”.
Robert Kaplan on “Al Hind” and the Mughal Rule
Kaplan’s passion is Iran, the Arab & Turko-Muslim invasions, and the Arab concept of Al-Hind as India:
- “The frontier of Al-Hind”, as South Asian scholar Andre Wink – echoing an Arab term – calls the whole region from eastern Iran to western India, dominated by Persianized Muslim populations, has throughout history been very much a fluid cultural organism, so that defining state borders is inherently problematic”.
This “Al-Hind” concept of India is dear to Kaplan’s heart and McNeil’s thoughts are rooted in his mind:
- …as the dynamism of Iranian culture, abetted by invasions since the time of Achaemenids (6th-4th century BC), led to Persian being the official language of India until 1835…India, thus, is both a subcontinent and a vital extremity of the Greater Middle East. Here is where we can really understand William McNeill’s point about the mixing and melding of civilizations.
- The Mughal Empire was a cultural and political expression of this fact [McNeil’s idea ]. Few empires have boasted the artistic and religious eclecticism of the Mughals. They ruled India and parts of central Asia vigorously from the early 1500s to 1720…
Mughals as religiously eclectic? Has Kaplan heard of Aurangzeb, the most important Mughal ruler?
Mughal Rule as Indian? Freedom struggle as Insurrection?
Yes, he has. Kaplan celebrates Aurangzeb as “world seizer” and completely ignores Aurangzeb’s Salafi-Talibani philosophy, his destruction of important Hindu temples of Varanasi and Mathura, his forced conversion of hundreds of thousands of Hindus to Muslims, and his imposition of Jiziya tax, the tax imposed on Hindus for just being non-Muslims.
Instead, Kaplan calls Mughal rule “brilliant” and lauds its “redeeming cosmopolitanism“.
What confuses us is the sentence below:
- But Mughal rule, as brilliant as it was, had signified yet another Muslim invasion from the northwest, one to this day is denigrated by Hindu nationalists.”
Kaplan himself calls Mughal rule as another invasion from northwest, an “embodiment of Persian culture“. And yet, Kaplan criticizes Indian Hindus for “denigrating it” and calls them “Hindu Nationalists“, that ultimate pejorative of European Christians. So what does Kaplan expect of today’s free Hindus – that they celebrate and revere a foreign Mongol-Persian invader of India?
Perhaps, Kaplan wants to argue that Mughals were Indians and their rule was legitimate Indian rule:
- The Mughal or Timurid Empire, which took form under Akbar the Great, Babur’s grandson, had a nobility composed of Rajputs, Afghans, Arabs, Persians, Uzbeks and Chagatai Turks, as well as Indian Sunnis, Shittes, and Hindus, not to mention other ovelapping groups;
First what’s with segregating Rajputs from Hindus? Secondly, this motley collection is Indian?
By this definition, British rule was far far more “Indian” than Mughal rule. If rule of Timurid-Mongols is “Indian”, then why isn’t British rule “Indian”? And British rule had nobility or ceremonial title holders from all over India, from Bengal, Panjab, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu while Mughals mainly gave titles to Rajputs. And Curzon led India to far greater heights of regional dominance than Akbar ever did.
Kaplan doesn’t stop there. He calls the Maratha warriors fighting for their independence from foreign Muslim rule as “insurgents”. Imagine calling Hindus, at least 90% of India’s population at that time, fighting for their own rule against a Timurid-Mongol invader Muslim regime, as “insurgents”. What does he call George Washington? At least, British rule over America was of the same ethnic people and of the same religion. Kaplan wouldn’t dream of calling Washington & America’s founding fathers as insurgents. Yet he calls Hindus fighting for Hindu rule in their own predominantly Hindu land against a Central Asian Muslim regime as “insurgents”.
Kaplan then criticizes Aurangzeb, the only criticism Kaplan ha
s of Aurangzeb or any Mughal ruler:
- Aurangzeb’s preoccupation with the great Maratha warriors- to the exclusion of imperial problems elsewhere- made it easier for the Dutch, French, and British East India companies to gain footholds on the coast, which eventually led to British rule in India”.
This is the stupidest statement by Kaplan. Aurangzeb was evil, a salafi-talibani who despised Hindus. But he was a brilliant man, a master tactician. Aurangzeb understood what the programmed mind of Kaplan cannot grasp – that the war by the Marathi people was a war of independence that, if successful, would lead to the destruction of the Mughal rule in India. That is why Aurangzeb came to Maharashtra with the bulk of his army and fought the Marathi people for over 20 years. A defeated Aurangezb died in Maharashtra, his army vanquished and the Mughal rule in tatters. Secondly, Aurangzeb’s rule never mattered in Indian coastal areas, especially the southern coasts where the Portuguese, the French and British built their first settlements. So Aurangzeb had nothing to do with the eventual British rule in India.
The above is what happens when a man superb in geographical analysis tries to delve into history without any serious study and with a pre-programmed mind.
The Mistake Kaplan acknowledges & Its relevance to India
The only mistake Kaplan acknowledges in his book is about Turkey:
- And that was the big thing I got wrong. Because moderate Turkish Islamists were then relatively open-minded about Israel, I assumed they would always be so. In fact, circumstances would change dramatically; the results of the Turk’s own historical evolution as electronic communications brought them closer with pan-Islamist thought (the defeat of geography in other words), and the specific actions and mistakes of both the American and Israeli governments in the coming years.
Actually, Kaplan is wrong about what constituted his own mistake. Kaplan often quotes the dictum of Yale Professor Paul Bracken that “technologies of wealth creation and war go hand in hand“.
What Kaplan doesn’t seem to understand is that wealth creation & growing military strength go hand in hand with increasing conservatism and greater adherence to historical, cultural goals. As Turkey became wealthier, militarily stronger in the last decade, it was guaranteed to become more determined to reclaim its historic identity, a defender of Islam, and the dominant power in the Middle East & near Europe.
Kaplan is making the same mistake in his writings about India. As India gets wealthier, militarily stronger, India is getting closer to its independent or pre-Muslim history, to its roots of Vedic culture. That doesn’t mean India will jettison its tolerance of other religions or cultures. India grew by accepting and assimilating other cultures and religions into the Indian mainstream. It means that India will become more and more “Hindu”-centric over the next two decades and religious minorities, admittedly with some difficulty, will get more accepting of core Indian traditions. That process may already have begun. Recently, the Deoband madrassa encouraged Indian Muslims to learn Sanskrut and last month, some Muslims clerics publicly requested Muslims to not eat beef during Eid.
We were much more charitable in our review of Kaplan’s mistakes in “Monsoon”. Following the “fool us once, don’t fool us twice” doctrine, we can’t be so charitable about his second book. That is why we have been explicit but fair in our criticism above.
That does not diminish our respect for Kaplan’s insight into the
impact of geography on geopolitics. We will continue to read his
writings and follow his works. We recommend our readers to do the same with caution. Because it is exceedingly important to know where Kaplan is brilliant and where he
merely conveys his intellectual programming.
We confess we are depressed about Kaplan’s lack of study, his lack of understanding about India, its culture, its history. Kaplan has only studied his European predecessors and inherited the prejudiced ignorance of 3-4 centuries of pro-Muslim & supremacist European thought. That worked fine when Europe was predominant. But that programming might lead to mistakes and danger in the years ahead.
We paraphrase Robert Kaplan to state:
- If European-Americans do
not grasp India’s ethos, especially as it
concerns, Culture, History, and Religion, they will badly mishandle
the relationship between America and India.
We add a warning as well:
- If Indian thinkers and writers do not explicitly articulate India’s ethos to European-Americans, especially as it concerns, Culture, History, and Religion, they will continue to wail about America’s lack of understanding of India, as they have done for the past 60 years.
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