Since the end of the Cold War, the world order has been in a state of dynamic transition. With unprecedented military, economic and technological preponderance, the US dominates the scene. Europe is reunited, at peace and engaged in consolidating its political unity and economic integration. NATO, a remnant of the old order, without a security role in Europe, has found something to do in the heart of Asia in Afghanistan.
European military meddling in Asian countries (as part of a NATO force) could revive bitter memories of the oppressive imperial era and hinder the process of reconciliation between pacific Europe and a resurgent Asia.
The US has established a firm presence in several regions of Asia. China’s emergence as the pre-eminent Asian military and economic power is another dramatic development of the last decade. A new role, as a major regional military and economic power, also beckons India to make its contribution in the making of a new Asian equilibrium of peace and security. Russia with its vast Asian stretch, and Japan, the world’s second largest economy and a military power of note are equally significant players in the unfolding Asian drama.
Stress on stability
The centre of gravity of world power and international focus have, therefore, shifted from the Euro-Atlantic region to Asia which, regrettably, is also the scene of several issues of discord. It is here in Asia that the questions of peace and security will be decided by the equations and interactions in the next quarter century among these five powers — China, India, Japan, Russia and the US. The foreign policies of all these powers are undergoing changes in varying measures. Hence the tectonic shift in the USA’s India policy and Beijing’s unwonted expression of desire for improved relations with India. It is a time — and a world of uncertainties and contests for influence and supremacy and surprises. The task before the statesmen of the 21st century is one of forging working partnerships to create a stable equilibrium of peace and cooperation in which none of the five powers mentioned above feels trapped in an environment of hostility; none is threatened with exclusion and none feels emboldened to walk into a seeming vacuum causing a clash of interests with another power.
China abuts on India and its sub-Himalayan neighbours, and India is not likely to enjoy the luxury of watching the scene in aloofness. Both countries need peace and stability: both need cooperation of the other three powers for trade, technology transfer and arms and each will determine its own priorities and decide which power or combination of powers will best help advance its economic, political and security interests. The nature and scope of the relations of China, Japan, Russia and the US with India’s neighbours, especially China’s relations with Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar will largely determine India’s priorities.
Foreign policy begins with neighbours, and as Kautilya teaches us, difficulties are inherent in relations between neighbours. Kautilya also observes that a great power loses stature if it remains bogged down in neighbourhood entanglements, which in a sense has been the story of India since Indira Gandhi’s demise. Circumstances are now ripe for India to pull away from the mire of South Asian controversies, and play its due role on the larger world stage. Pakistan’s foreign policy began with its invasion of Kashmir within weeks of its birth.
In its dealings with India ever since it has relied on the use of force with the support, alternatingly, of the US and China. The US has finally veered away from that course, but China’s commitment to Pakistan seems to have deepened because of their shared objective to keep India strategically locked in South Asia. Washington’s current perception of India’s place and role in the world provides a firm base for vastly expanded cooperation between the two countries. Pakistan will also remain important in American calculations, but we need not lose sleep over the nature and extent of their dealings.
India should tend its own relationship with Pakistan with care, patience and perseverance. Considering that India cannot give up Kashmir and Pakistan cannot forcibly take it, Pakistan’s pointless agitation and jehadi terrorism should be expected to continue by fits and starts. Nevertheless, the current peace dialogue must proceed to a settlement of the problem on the basis of a large measure of autonomy for the Kashmir Valley as well as "Azad Kashmir" and the northern areas under Pakistan’s control.
Bangladesh’s antagonistic posture receives encouragement from both Pakistan and China. India should deal firmly with its provocations on the border, its sheltering and nurturing of Indian insurgents and its undeclared policy of encouraging its surplus population to infiltrate and settle down in neighbouring Indian states. This policy poses a serious future security threat to our sensitive Northeastern region. There should be a parallel conciliatory approach also. Bangladesh is a functioning two-party democracy, and we must at all times cultivate both parties. In matters of trade and development cooperation also India needs to be a good deal more accommodative of Bangladesh’s needs.
Nepal is in the grip of a crisis threatening the country’s unity and integrity. The King’s perseverance in his present policy of marginalising the pro-democracy parties accompanied by the failure of the Royal Army to suppress the Maoist rebellion has pitted the monarchy against a threat to its own survival. Dangers lurk in this situation for India and efforts must continue to bring the King and the pro-democracy parties together for restoration of democracy in Nepal.
Having got rid of the Rana anarchy, the people of Nepal are unlikely to submit to the autocratic rule of the Shah dynasty. India must also find ways of exerting pressure on the Maoists to give up violence and seek redress of their complaints through democratic processes.
The progress of the SAARC has been obstructed by Pakistan’s support for jehad in Kashmir and its negative policy of making trade and economic cooperation with India contingent on a Kashmir solution. India need neither be in the driving seat of SAARC nor mourn its slow demise. Instead, we should invest every possible bilateral effort - political, military and economic - in strengthening our links with willing neighbours, namely, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
India’s foreign policy and diplomacy must increasingly look at the world beyond South Asia where the closest possible working relationship with the US would appear to be India’s best bet. There is growing convergence of their political, economic and security interests in the regions surrounding India. The United States is expected to maintain its supremacy in the foreseeable future, and that rules out the viability of a "China-India-Russia Strategic Triangle", for in varying degrees each country is dependent on the US for technology, trade and other support.
India needs Washington’s active support to enhance its nuclear energy resource, be rid of the NPT regime constraints and find its way into the Nuclear Suppliers Group as a responsible nuclear-weapon power. And since there is no unilateral bounty — gifting in international relations, we must also be meticulously attentive to US interests and willing to meet its expectations of reciprocal cooperation.
Nothing should be allowed to diminish our time-tested relationship with Russia which is bound to be dominant in the sensitive and oil and gas-rich Central Asia. There is scope of considerably enlarged relationship with Russia in energy, trade, science and technology.
We should want the best possible relationship with China, but its nuclear and other military support for Pakistan places a ceiling of sorts on Sino-Indian relations. While we should put the 1962 war behind us, and freeze the border issue if that is what China wants, in our on-going dialogue with this great neighbour, we must squarely ask why China shows such insensitivity to India’s political interests and security concerns in its immediate sub-Himalayan neighbourhood. China’s puzzling policy of settling Muslims along Tibet’s borders with India cannot be a source of confidence and comfort to India.
Japan, the world’s second economic power, is apprehensive of China’s rise and what it spells for the future of its own economic and security interests. Many Japanese see a Chinese strategic design behind nuclear weapons reaching North Korea from Pakistan in return for Chinese missiles. Japan’s new interest in a closer economic and political relationship with India is a welcome development to which India must respond constructively. We need Japanese investments and technology and an overall, expanding political relationship to facilitate cooperation in these areas.
The EU-India relationship is flourishing into a "strategic partnership" , satisfactory to both parties. From among the major European countries, trade and economic links with France should be strengthened in the areas of agriculture, vocational education, water management, arms supplies and technology transfer. France has given us valuable support on critical political and security issues. It is India’s most likely collaborator in nuclear energy generation in the years to come.
Our neglect of South-East Asia since independence has allowed China’s dominance in the region’s economy and politics. The region’s countries look to India for diversification of their political, cultural and economic links but India’s "Look East" policy has yet to acquire substance. The region can be an important source of energy supplies and vastly expanded trade for India.
In a globalised world, India’s foreign policy will have to focus increasingly on economic objectives, trade enhancement and attracting foreign investment and advanced technologies to enable the country to achieve a steady growth of eight to 10 per cent of the GDP per annum. But diplomatic salesmanship abroad has to be reinforced by measures at home to liberalise the economy, reform and rationalise labour laws, and remove bureaucratic corruption and hurdles.
It is a common complaint abroad that an investment proposal requires clearances at 52 separate points, with delays and demands for bribes at almost every point. Several new areas now form the subject of complex international negotiations — environment, women’s rights and other social issues, HIV/AIDS and drugs, disaster management cooperation etc.
It is necessary to re-equip the Ministry of External Affairs and enhance its capabilities for these new tasks. The MEA needs a stronger economic policy wing, a Science and Technology Directorate, and much closer coordination than what now exists with the ministries of Defence, Commerce, Finance and the sundry departments dealing with energy security. Its inert Policy Planning establishment is in need of refurbishing.
All this will give the MEA the versatility it needs in the changed world. At the moment, it is without adequate qualified personnel, expertise and the resources needed for proper cultivation of India’s political, cultural and economic relations with African and Latin American Countries. The government must concentrate efforts and resources for the achievement of the larger objectives of policy. The four year-long campaign for permanent membership of the UN Security Council has only detracted from Indiaimage as a rising world power.
As India’s economic and military strength grows and acquires greater visibility, the world, even the USA and China, will want India in the UNSC. Policy-makers are often confronted with difficult choices between different sets of interests and objectives.
Inevitably these days, a great deal of diplomacy covering a variety of issues is conducted at the summit level. Perhaps, the Prime Minister should have a Foreign Policy Advisory Group of his own to collate and coordinate inputs from concerned ministries and departments on any given issue.
The overarching objective of Indian diplomacy now should be to project India as a resurgent and self-reliant country capable of safeguarding its interests and willing to play its proper role for peace, security and stability in Asia and the world.
The transformation of India into one of the world’s leading economies, a responsible nuclear-weapon power with demonstrated scientific and technological competence and a stable democracy is a truly phenomenal achievement of our time. This wonder of diversity and dynamism as a development model for democracies in the Third World needs portrayal on the world stage in language and behaviour characterised by modesty, dignity and restraint.
— The writer is a former Foreign Secretary.