On September 15, the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat posed a question before a gathering of Delhi’s strategic community. He asked them, rhetorically, whether China’s growing engagement with Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan would lead to the rebooting of the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ theory with the Chinese and Islamic civilisations joining against the Western world? The query raised by the CDS was part of an intellectual discourse and not, by any standards, a policy statement. But the media reported it as such and ended up seeding a controversy during a sensitive phase in China-India relations.
A day later, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar chose to clarify the doubt before his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Dushanbe: “India had never subscribed to any clash of civilisations theory”. But the CDS, who is no stranger to controversies, again found himself at the receiving end. The episode raises questions about civil-military-media relations that need scrutiny.