India’s Foreign Policy In 21st Century

Foreign policy in the 21st Century is going to be very different from what it was when India became independent.  At that time, there were two well known blocks, the USA and the USSR.  India’s foreign policy rightly did not wish to become a part of either of the 2 blocks and evolved what it is known as a non-aligned group of nations.  Notwithstanding this, sometimes, our tilt towards USSR- sometimes, too much, for instance, when it invaded Afghanistan in 1980, the disastrous consequences of which have since followed, and our silence, when Russian troops moved into Hungry into 1956, made our claim of an independent policy somewhat blunt.  We were, however, along with other non-aligned nations like Tito of Yugoslavia, Sukarno of Indonesia and Nasser of Egypt, able to project the concept of non-aligned foreign policy.

This broad arrangement continued with minor ups and downs till a very serious change came about with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.  By this time, USA became a single super power.  Russia,  after the break-up of USSR, was expected to keep some kind of balance but unfortunately, because of its internal contradictions and economic collapse, was not able to keep up the pressure.

There was, of course, the other aspect of Europe trying to come together- the European Nations’ efforts to make and have European Union strong and big so that it would be able to challenge the USA in various matters. Unfortunately, however, they have not succeeded at present because their own material interests are at stake.  That influence is also going to now lessen because of the reflection of referendum on constitution by France and the Netherlands.  Apparently, this will stoke the ambition of the USA to behave irresponsibly and to behave like Don, ignoring completely the sensitivities and the interests of other nations.  There were other reform priorities- the US was undecided about the overall enlargement plan.  But the bottom line was clear enough: Germany was not welcome to join the club.  And if people thought that had something to do with continuing US resentments over Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s outspoken opposition to the Iraq war, then they might not be all that wrong. Another recent point of difference between EU and USA is whether to open up contact with Hamas, a powerful group in Palestian; EU realizes its potential for peace or continued hostilities, if ignored, but the USA, blinded by its unallowed loyalties to Israel, looks askant.

Another strain is the attitude to Iran- European Union wants to engage Iran in talks so that a flash point is not reached, but the USA is adopting the same tactic of false statements, as used with Iran about danger of nuclearisation from Iran.

India has never been a favourite with USA nor, in my view, have we tried  to cater to that.  Rather, India, in the past, has had an uncomfortable relationships, even hostile, with the USA.

But since the last few years and the rapid opening up of the economy (one is not happy at the undiluted way in which it is done), which could have serious consequences,  USA has now, because of its potential of market in India, somewhat changed its tone and has at least lessened its hostile stance.

This stand has been encouraged a little by somewhat over indulgence by the various policies of the Central Government, namely its cooperative approach even in the matter of USA’s arms supply, joint military exercises and other exchange of delicate information.  The further domination of USA in the wake of 9/11 has made matters worse.  USA is now impervious to the U.N. pressure.  It treats even the Secretary General’s pleas with disdain. USA’s venture in Afghanistan met with some opposition but it was not strong enough to prevent it.  The neo-conservatives in US are ruling therein and have now embarked upon a programme of action and international behaviour wedded to the sole objective, i.e., how best it will serve USA’s interests even by causing damage to world peace or the world economy.  So much now is the indifference of USA that it is continuing with its Iraq policy and occupation of Iraq, notwithstanding that it has now been proved beyond any doubt that the excuse of Weapons of Mass Destruction being stored by Iraq and the danger of it being used by Saddam was a deliberate false cover up, and that this was so unashamedly done that the officials of USA did not even feel embarrassed to put on record (which documents have now become public) that this whole attack was in the planning for almost a year immediately after Bush got re-elected.  The whole venture of Iraq must be understood in the oil diplomacy that is now the sole determining feature of USA’s foreign policy, which has to be kept in view by all countries, especially by India when deciding its foreign policy for 21st Century.  The latest example of this is to be seen in the strong statement where the USA’s Secretary of State, Ms. Condaleeza Rice threatened Pakistan not to enter into an agreement between India, Iran and Pakistan to supply Iran’s gas to India.  There is so much of brazenness and contempt for other nations that USA’s Secretary of State has made no secret of the fact that if Pakistan goes through this project, it will affect Washington’s relations with Islamabad.  

Of course, so far as India is concerned, though there may not be publicly slated opposition to it,  the fact is that India-Iran pipeline cannot be worked at an economic advantage, unless Pakistan is a party to it.

At present, with good relations between India and Pakistan on the rise, Pakistan is more than willing especially considering that it could earn upto 600 million US dollors a year from this pipeline which agreement is to be for 25 years on this 4 billion pipeline.  Ms. Rice, however, not only warned Pakistan against joining this India-Iran project, but also, without any embarrassment, suggested that Pakistan think of the alternative gas from Qutar and Turkmenistan ,which are being handled by USA oil companies.  Naturally, Iran is justifiably angry because its Oil Minister has publicly stated that it is unreasonable to prevent India and Pakistan from accessing Iran gas.  Here is one of the challenges to our foreign policy experts, because to give in to pressure by USA in such an important matter of our national economy could send wrong signals.  India needs to tell the USA that though it wants a friendly relationship with USA,  it cannot allow USA to suggest policies which will damage and delay the economic uplift of the country.

Another conflict being looming large before India’s foreign policy relations is the proposal for expansion of the Security Council.  The Group of 4 – India, Brazil, Germany and Japan are putting forth a proposal for expansion of the Security Council and their inclusion as permanent members.  They have even softened their approach on not having Veto rights straightaway, but providing for an interval of at least 15-20 years for this.  The USA, in brazen partisan manner, has opposed this matter being taken up in the current UN Assembly and is pressurizing other countries to Vote against it.  This opposition, apart from anything, is really aimed at India and Germany.

The opposition by USA to Germany was as mentioned above. But maybe, USA does not want India’s potential enhanced further by inclusion in the Security Council.  Maybe, it is sending a message to Pakistan who, unfortunately, notwithstanding some relaxations between India-Pakistan relations seems to be against India’s inclusion in the Security Council.  China is also opposing, more so, because it feels that if Japan and India are included its sole monopoly from Asia will suffer.  Naturally, we want good relations between India and China.

It will be one of the challenges of the 21st Century’s Foreign Policy as to how to combine our self-interest and justify our posture of wanting to play a bigger role in the international arena and, at the same time, not spoil our relations with China and Pakistan.

This needs a very delicate handling and understanding that, whatever the position of India, it will never be hostile to the interests of Pakistan or China.  Rather, we need to create an atmosphere, in which China should feel that it would play an even greater role if it, along with India, Pakistan and Japan, if were to form a workable understanding on major topics which, in any case, are common to these countries more than to the interests of USA.  In that connection, one was not very happy at the arms supply from USA, in the shape of pact which India did with USA but also for manufacturing advanced improved version of F-16.  To be drawn into arms manufacturing with USA does not fit with India’s Foreign Policy of settling the matters peacefully and of creating a world without conflicts.  The danger of joint arms manufacturing is that one is drawn inevitably in the orbit of USA which can have serious consequences in our independent relationship with China and also, especially for the up-coming countries like Brazil, Venezuela.

One of the touchy and delicate matters of our Foreign Policy is our approach to Myanmar.  For some time, the  Indian Govermment. is quite silent on the release of the leaders Aung San Suu Kyi.

Maybe, in its own interests, considering that there are portions in Myanmar which are the headquarters of the armed insurgents operating in North-East, India has to walk a little delicately.  But an impression should not be given that we have completely washed-off our hands against the pro-democratic movements in Myanmar.

If USA can publicly show its pressure, there is no reason why India, which is such a close and friendly neighbour to Myanmar, should not use its influence with understanding to seek the release of the Myanmar leaders of Burmese parties.

India’s Foreign Policy must give the top-most priority to improving relations with Pakistan.  The recent controversy on Advani versus Jihhah’s role in this country has been an unfortunate one- not in the sense that it may lead to weakening of BJP; if this was so, I would certainly welcome this development.  My worry is that the Congress, without properly appreciating the significance, jumped into a controversy of whether Mr. Jinnah was secular or not.  I believe it is a totally uncalled for controversy.  Quaid-e-Azam is the founder of Pakistan and deserves all respects like Gandhiji does in our country.  Gandhiji & Jinnah are the icon of their respective countries.  There may be an in depth and critical study by historians and serious political scientists on the respective merits and demerits of the contribution by Gandhiji and Jinnah, but I think it is not in the interest of our countries that politicians or media hacks should fall in the trap of discussing the merits and demerits of their contribution during the freedom struggle and of their work pre-1947 and purporting to give them honour or dishonour for any of their political thoughts.  These are not matters in which political parties at present have any business to enter into nor are they relevant at this stage.  Pakistan is an established reality.  Howsoever it came into being, the Indian Government must even in internal foolish jibes with opposition reiterate as a solemn pledge that the integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan is an established reality, and that our foreign policy is based on a friendship between two independent countries with an effort to make both these countries stronger.  One should expect the ruling party to stay clear of it because it is justifiably engaged in improving good relations with Pakistan and taking reasonably good steps towards it.  It needs to be accepted that without real good open friendship a goodwill between India and Pakistan, neither of the countries can play any worthwhile role in the international field.  It is, therefore, in the interests of both the countries not to, in any way, spoil the atmosphere if we really want to be counted as a rising force in the world.