India’s Foreign Policy: Its Twists and Turns
|Talleyrand, Foreign Minister of Napoleon and the Bourbons, is remembered as a shrewd foreign policy maker. He advocated pragmatism and Western nations have always pursued pragmatic foreign policies. He also advised eschewing excessive fervour while pronouncing foreign policy.
“The art of diplomacy, as that of water colours, has suffered much from the fascination which it exercises on the amateur”, said Harold Nicholson. This observation aptly applies to India’s diplomacy post-independence in 1947. Indians, somehow, have been extravagantly demonstrative, persistently delusive and high sounding while pronouncing their foreign policy.
The cold war era provided a near-perfect setting for spewing idealism at an ideologically divided world that was gracelessly recovering from the holocaust of a catastrophic world war. Those times also saw the end of colonialism and dawn of freedom for India. It gave a larger than life world stage to a Universalist Nehru who illumined it with the light of idealism and, like an angel, befittingly fluttered his wings over it ineffectually, while the Victors of World War Two—USA, UK, France, Russia and China—grabbed the world stage as leaders of peace!
According to Lord Carrington, “Foreign and defence policy essentially has to be about the obtaining and management of influence.” Foreign Policy demands astute sense of timing and shrewdly worked out strategies. Morality is certainly not a weakness of the major world powers. International diplomacy and relations have always been and remain amoral. In the prevailing international dispensation, bargaining, national interest and cool calculation determine relations among nations. India has yet to master the art of diplomatic negotiations and striking accurate equation with important world powers.
In 1947, India emerged as the largest democracy in the world. It, however, lacked the matching military and economic power. Since then it has fully participated in international politics, adhering to the letter and spirit of international treaties, conventions and protocols. India substituted word power for effective power to vie with the world powers. The tactic worked, at times poorly, when popular and maximum leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi were the Prime Ministers. Under their rule, India’s foreign policy was more for internal consumption than for impacting on the international order. They could afford to make errors and yet have their way. But costs were heavy for the nation. India had to bear dire consequences for some of their foreign policy errors of judgement, because they placed trust not in India’s friends, but in its antagonists.
High-sounding principles of Panchsheel led to a shocking betrayal by China from which India has yet to recover. “Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?” Sardar Patel is known to have asked Nehru. Patel warned him in 1949 that the Chinese Communists would annex Tibet, the historical buffer between India and China. Nehru, however, cajoled China and went to the UN on Kashmir against Patel’s wish. Nehru’s “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” turned out to be a bitter shibboleth and Kashmir became the source and fount of terrorism and remains an unhealed, self-inflicted wound.
According to observers, Jawaharlal, the architect of India’s Non-alignment Policy, died of the Chinese treachery. Atal Behari Vajpayee, a man of sterling qualities yet imitated Nehru, and his diplomatic “bus to Lahore got hijacked to Kargil”. Earlier, in 1972, though a better strategist and negotiator “Indira Gandhi slipped up at Simla by trusting Zulfikar Bhutto’s word on Kashmir”.
Currently, India is militarily and economically a stronger country, though it has weaker and minimum leaders. But happily, and perhaps compulsively, our Foreign Policy under Dr Manmohan Singh’s rule is more pragmatic and in tune with the times and practices of the so-called international community.
The disintegration of the Warsaw Pact or Soviet Union in 1990 is regarded as the verge of a new era in international polity. USA emerged as the sole, unrivalled super-power with global reach. By force of its military presence in Central Asia, the Gulf region, the Afghan-Pak area, the Indian Ocean, South-East Asia, the China Sea and North-east Asia, it also became a next-door neighbour to India, China and Russia. Its interests and stakes in Asia are extensive and appear to be long-term, even permanent. It has obviously become an “Asian power”.
The Yankee stranglehold can be felt from Egypt to Pakistan in West Asia and from Philippines to Thailand in East Asia. Uncle Sam no longer attaches very great importance to its client States, such as Japan and Australia. On the other hand, it is seriously engaged in developing new political equations, and if need be, alliances with more and hitherto adversarial countries, including India. The US security interests and concerns fall together with India’s security arc at this time.
China’s rise as the Super-Asian military and economic power and India’s own increasing military and economic power are equally important developments of recent years. “The US, China and India, along with Japan and Russia, constitute the pentagonal power complex of the 21st century; all of them are acknowledged nuclear weapon powers.
Europe is no longer the focus of international power politics, as it was in the twentieth century. At the very onset of the twenty-first century, it has shifted to Asia and promises to stay there in the foreseeable future. Europe is comparatively free of conflict and threat to its peace. It is going through a period of political transition and is occupied with the challenges of its political unification and economic integration. The world’s peace and security now onwards depend on what kind of conditions will prevail in Asia. The World and Asian powers, at this juncture, feel compelled to work out new equations among themselves, to meet the challenge of emerging Asian realities.
The world has radically changed. Of necessity, the five World Powers and other nation-States are recasting their foreign policies to encounter new developments. The shift in Washington’s India policy is a part of this ongoing international process. It is a response to and recognition of the reality of a changed world. India, too, is called upon to break out of its musty mould and redesign it’s foreign, economic and security policies. It has to, like other big countries and nations, safeguard its interests internationally.
The USA has recognized India as a responsible nuclear weapon power. It is in USA’s long-term interests to see India as a strong and stabilizing power in its region. Therefore, it feels persuaded to assist India in enlarging its global role. Can or should India shun Washington’s overtures? During the last half-a-century of diplomatic experience, India is expected to have gained enough diplomatic maturity to understand that there are no “free lunches” in international relations. Reciprocity has to be on a “give-and-take” basis. It is no use saying that India abhors being a US-client State like Japan, Australia or Pakistan. International exigency is compelling India to decide its course of action and pay the price for the choice or choices it makes.
India’s changed stature does not permit it to blame others for its own diplomatic errors or justify them on moral grounds. It has itself to decide how far, fast or slow, it wishes to develop its relations with USA and other countries, and on what terms. China, only three decades ago, was a sworn enemy of USA, but now it is USA’s most dynamic trade partner. China, in fact, has become a world economic, and consequently a world military power, with the American support. Yet, China, by no means, is a client State of USA. Contrarily, it is a pain in the US neck. On the currency issue and revaluation of Yuan, it has not yielded to pressures and warnings from USA. India, too, is free and independent and big enough to look after itself. If it chooses to abjure the present opportunity, its inaction could prove too costly. Evading the foreign policy challenge will mean evading the future itself.
India must know and practice the maxim that there are no “permanent friends or foes” for reshaping its foreign policy competently. Ideological forces have disappeared from the international scene. Pragmatism is in the ascendant. India must recognize and evaluate its national needs and interests, because national interest alone is the all-encompassing coordinate that accurately structures a country’s foreign policy.
No country is self-sufficient in all respects. Interdependence and exchange of goods and services form the basis of abiding relationship among nation-States. India today is well placed to seek diplomatic accords and agreements for mutual benefits. It has to assess its needs and the extent to which foreign resources are required to satisfy them. For example, India needs enormous measure of nuclear energy and state of the art technologies for its industry and agriculture. India also needs speedier expansion of trade and investments, an infrastructure conforming to international standards and to modernize its military. Can a vast underdeveloped democracy find or raise internal resources to satisfy these needs?
If the answer is “No”, then, India has no alternative but to find friends and partners from amongst other nations to provide the necessary resources. At the same time, it must calculate coolly what it has to part with as a price. India has to remember that even the so-called international assistance from the Soviet or Western bloc in the cold war days had price tags. Assistance and cooperation were not free then and they will certainly not be free now. In fact, India today has sufficient bargaining power and should go into the international “diplomatic market” as a confident diplomatic bargainer.
India’s immediate goal in international power politics was to become an equal member of the nuclear suppliers group. That has now been achieved with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) accepting India as a responsible nuclear power, of course, with help of USA. As a reciprocal gesture, it is absolutely in our national interest to oppose nuclear proliferation, especially within and near our regional boundaries, as it affects our security. Whether it is Pakistan or Iran, possession of nuclear weapons of mass destruction by them poses danger to us. Our opposition to Iran’s nuclear stand is dictated by our own national interest. It is not surrender to USA.
India's voting for the IAEA resolution, critical of Iran, has been interpreted in some quarters as kowtowing to USA. But former foreign secretary Shyam Saran’s forthright arguments favouring a new global non-proliferation order show that the vote wasn’t a one-off, ad hoc reflex—rather, it was backed by an articulated and coherent sense of India’s foreign policy priorities.
India’s proclivities are independent of both US and Iran. They put Indian interests first. India has objected to American double standards in upbraiding Iran, but indulging Pakistan whose nuclear advisor A.Q. Khan set up a nuclear Wal-Mart.
It must be noted here that western countries and major world powers, too, cannot escape the charge of proliferation. China has been extending nuclear know-how to North Korea and Pakistan. Israel’s nuclear capabilities have been gained with West’s connivance. Pakistan’s nuclear scientists have smuggled sensitive data from western countries. Moreover, India cannot be expected to fight for other countries’ interests at the cost of its own interests. Therefore, India has to continue to oppose Iran in IAEA voting, irrespective the hue and cry by the Left parties.
Sentimentality, romantic attachment to the Non-alignment will only blur our foreign policy focus. Has Iran done any extraordinary favour to India? Do other NAM countries consult India while exercising their international options? Should we consult Cuba or Venezuela before voting at the international forums? Do our actions at international meets need certification from any quarters to prove that our voting is or is not pro-American? A section of the media and the Left political parties appear to believe so. If this is their idea of India’s standing, role and place in global politics, then they have only a squinted view of India’s heightening status in world politics.
Non-Alignment Movement got launched in mid-twentieth century when most of the Afro-Asian countries were gaining their Independence and cold war was furiously raging. NAM’s assumed plank of neutrality between the Soviet and Capitalist blocs in the context of decolonization, anti-apartheid campaign and nuclear disarmament, placed the poor and week nations in positions of advantage. The two blocs vied with each other to enlist their support and offered inducements for it. They corrupted their leaders and weakened these Afro-Asian countries. NAM is now a relic and NAM-like neutrality or non-alignment a passé. The buoyant movement of the cold war times is now a conglomeration of diverse and in-cohesive nations with conflicting political and economic interests. India is the only country among its founding members to have gained in stature. Indonesia, Ghana and Egypt have declined; Yugoslavia has disintegrated and disappeared.
Yet, India has not abandoned NAM. It has been trying to revive the movement with a new agenda of economic and development cooperation. India’s leadership at the WTO has been strident as it successfully launched the G-22. NAM can adopt the G-22 agenda if it wishes to resurrect itself.
The foregoing observations on Indian Foreign Policy provide a perspective for understating India’s relations with major world powers, immediate region, a large number of other countries and the UN.
India’s greatest foreign policy frustration has been its unwholesome relations with its immediate neighbours. The major SAARC countries are culturally so close but politically so averse to neighbourly feelings with India. A ramification of the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq is its closer watch on Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. All these countries have terrorists of various hues operating against India, with the State connivance and even State backing. Major western powers that were callously indifferent, after 9/11 Terrorist Attack on USA have become alive to the terrorist threat emanating from these countries. These countries are infested with Osama or Maoist (link between the two is more than suspected) elements and bases. The entire western world is in a state of scare of the terrorist threat, especially the Islamic terrorism. They also know that Pakistan and Bangladesh are harbouring dangerous terrorists. Uncle Sam’s overseeing these countries is a minor relief to India, as it is no longer alone while countering the nefarious terrorist designs.
India has been tolerant and accommodative toward its immediate neighbours, keeping them in productive engagement.
Relations with ASEAN and Singapore are the cornerstones of our “Look East” policy. “India-ASEAN Partnership for Peace, Progress, and Shared Prosperity” lays out a short to medium term road map of India-ASEAN cooperation in various sectors, such as economic, science and technology, information and communication technology, agriculture, health, pharmaceuticals and people to people contacts. India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreements are a continuing process.
Russia remains India’s biggest supplier of defence equipment and has given assurance on the supply of spares and made new offers on equipment. India, too, is supporting Russia in its accession to the WTO and its being treated as a market economy in anti-dumping investigations.
Lastly, we must remember that “in the world beyond parliaments, the press and think tanks, ideologies are being jettisoned to survive. Only the fittest will act internationally and manage change”. Will India change and choose a foreign policy befitting the challenge of times? Nation States are interdependent and foreign policy is now a central part of a nation’s political programme. War and Terrorism are everybody’s nightmare.
“May the pens of the diplomats not ruin again what the people have attained with such exertions.” Lord Palmerston’s this 19th century wish is today the 21st century India’s fear!