“Rather than debating a new conceptual framework for our foreign policy – more “nationalistic” or resting on an “India first” foundation – we could look at how some concrete issues should be addressed by a Modi-led government”, says the author.
Now that it appears that the next government in New Delhi could well be Modi-led, questions about the possible changes in India’s foreign policy are being raised inside and outside the country. India’s external challenges are well known and policy responses have been examined over time by governments in power. Whether or not existing policies represent the best balance in coping with our external environment with the capacities we have can always be debated.
Some say that our foreign policy is weak and accommodating, too risk-averse and lacking in self-confidence. Others argue that we are unsure of what we want and consequently we are reactive, allowing others to define the agenda on which then we position ourselves. ‘Modi is not above the law’: NaMo insists he has nothing to hide from snoopgate probe and denies corruption slur against Vadra Hurriyat supports Army Chief’s statement that Kashmir is the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan Pakistan Army chief calls Kashmir the country’s ‘jugular vein’ Such a foreign policy is not seen as compatible with India’s stature and role in international affairs.
Some others advocate that the Modigovernment should make a break with the Nehruvian foreign policy that India has been practicing, even under the previous NDA government. The implications of this are unclear. It could mean that we should defend our interests more vigorously, worry less about international opinion and attenuate the moral overtones of our foreign policy. Inflammatory: Pakistan’s army Chief General Raheel Sharif recently termed Kashmir Pakistan’s ‘jugular vein’ More importantly, we should develop the necessary military sinews to pursue a more robust foreign policy, including accelerating our strategic programs and climbing down from the nuclear disarmament bandwagon.
It could mean therefore a more muscular China and Pakistan policy. It could also mean discarding our allergy to alliances, getting rid of the malady of non-alignment that still afflicts us, shedding leftist, third world rhetoric and not allowing concepts of “strategic autonomy” to constrict more decisive foreign policy choices. Rather than debating a new conceptual framework for our foreign policy – more “nationalistic” or resting on an “India first” foundation – we could look at how some concrete issues should be addressed by a Modi-led government. Pakistan is a perennial problem, embodying the worst challenges India faces, whether of terrorism, religious extremism and nuclear threats, all linked to its territorial claims on us.
The latest statements by Pakistan’s Interior Minister and its army chief reflect Pakistan’s abiding hostility towards us. Nawaz Sharif has been harping aggressively on the Kashmir issue, calling it Pakistan’s “jugular vein”, a phrase repeated by the current army chief. By speaking highly politically about Kashmir, the army chief has drawn a red line for Pakistan, besides signaling support to the separatists in Kashmir. An unreconstructed Nawaz Sharif is lobbying with the US and UK to intervene in the Kashmir issue.
If by “jugular vein” Pakistan means that we can inflict death on Pakistan by thirst, it is dishonestly ignoring India’s strict adherence to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty despite the 1965, 1971, 1999 armed aggressions by Pakistan, its terrorist onslaught against India since the mid-1980s, with the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks capping its emergence as the epicenter of international terrorism, and its policy of derailing our power projects on the western rivers allowed by the Treaty by dragging us into international arbitration.
Meanwhile, by acquiring contiguity with China through its illegal occupation of parts of J&K and preventing our contiguity with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s “jugular vein” receives plentiful sustenance to counter us strategically. These Pakistani statements helpfully give room and reason to a Modi-led government to reject any hurried dialogue with Pakistan and exclude Kashmir and Siachen from any future structured agenda.
Pakistan’s intransigence also argues against any back-channel contacts, because unless Pakistan can publicly speak of its willingness to compromise over its differences with India, the back-channel is simply a means to “soften” India and exploit its attachment to a come-what-may, dialogueoriented and “readiness to walk the extramile” approach to extract concessions. China presents a more complex case as it has outshone us in its diplomatic, economic and military performance and has decisively gained ground on us regionally and internationally. By mismanaging our democratic politics internally, neglecting our defense preparedness and failing to sustain high rates of economic growth, we have gravely weakened ourselves vis a vis China.
China is thus setting the agenda for our bilateral engagement, advancing its interests, keeping us on the defensive with calculated provocations and evading any serious response to our concerns. We should continue our engagement of China but make it more balanced by calibrated countervailing steps by us like winding up the Special Representatives mechanism which is no longer serving the specific purpose for which it was set up, apart from allowing the Dalai Lama to call on India’s new leader after May 16, refusing visas to Tibetans in any Chinese delegation visiting India, avoiding any official meeting between the two sides on Tibetan territory and the new prime minister visiting Tawang and Japan before the expected visit of the Chinese president to India.
The US seems to be giving diminished political attention to India while stepping up economic pressure on us. Its threats of isolating Russia and sanctioning powerful Russian political and business personalities for actions in Crimea in disregard of Russia’s nuclear armory, its huge resource base, European energy dependence on Russia, and the risk of losing Russian logistic support for Afghanistan and for dealing with Iran and Syria, contrasts with the US reluctance to punish Pakistan for its misdemeanors in the region that has cost American lives too. US’s domination of the global financial system and its readiness to use it as an instrument of coercion stresses the need for India to assess more carefully the future of the India-US strategic partnership. Much more than this will be on the new government’s plate, of course. But if the big morsels are chewed well, the smaller ones can be swallowed with ease.