Priority For the Next Govt- Reshape India’s Foreign Policy

Written by: Pathikrit

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Even as elections are less than a month away, the whole discourse among the electorate has veered primarily around massive corruption and price rise over the last one decade. However, there are other critical issues as well which requires equal attention. One such thing that the next government at centre would need to take care of is India's foreign policy. The reason why foreign policy has always been a critical dimension of a nation's overall welfare is that it is no more an abstract discourse in international arena of academic interest but is essentially a theatre of hard bargaining among nations for securing self interest. Geopolitics in other words is not a simple man's academic indulgence anymore.

A few days back the Chief of Staff of Indian Air Force, Air Marshall Arup Raha stated to a Parliamentary committee that it would be difficult for Indian Air Force to contain a joint China-Pak attack on India. This is as much a failure of India's foreign policy as it is a failure of India's Defence planners at the Ministry of Defence to expedite the acquisition of critical weapon systems on time. Incidentally there is a massive shortage of combat aircrafts in Indian Air Force in addition to several similar critical weapon systems of Indian Army whose acquisition process is pending with the Ministry of Defence with several years now.

The Chinese Encircling of India and India's Failure to Prevent it...

Is the possibility of a joint China-Pak attack on India a reality? If one looks at the footprints of some of the key developments in South Asia over the last several years, one would witness the manner in which China has been gradually encircling India through its String of Pearl Policy. From the massive infrastructure at the Gwadar Port that China is developing in Pakistan to the Hambantota Port that it is developing in Sri Lanka, from the Chittagong Port that it is developing in Bangladesh to the submarines that it plans to supply to Bangladesh Navy, from the gradual stranglehold that it has been able to establish in Nepal to the massive military modernisation of Pakistan that it has been financing, to the discerning eyes, they may all be used against India when the time comes.

It is beyond any doubt that in these ports of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in the near future it would be the Chinese Navy that would dock its warships and would also intelligence gathering centres. It is beyond any doubt that the Chinese funding of Pakistan's military modernisation is not aimed at anyone else but India. In spite of the clear and present danger shaping up in front of their eyes, mandarins of South Block at India's Ministry of External Affairs have often preferred to define all these developments at bilateral engagements between concerned countries and that India has nothing to do with it. Yet when it comes to India's turn of developing similar relationship with countries like Japan , Vietnam, South Korea and even US, the Indian policy makers often developed cold feet at the thought of deepening military relationship with these countries lest it antagonise China. Does China ever bother to consider India's concerns while deepening their military relationship with Pakistan?

India's Pacifist Approach and China's Aggressive Stand on Arunachal and Ladakh Region

The inch by inch acquisition of Indian Territory that China has been consistently doing would not have happened had India taken a strong stand. Veteran Indian Army Generals have often gone on record in stating that China might be militarily powerful but Indian Armed Forces too are strong enough with enough firepower to stand on its ground and thwart the mischief of the Chinese and the Pakistanis if only India's political leadership had the resolve and the conviction to permit that. Be it Vietnam, Phillipines and even a petite Taiwan has often taken strong stand against China, in spite of the massive disparity between their firepower to that of China. Yet their resolve and conviction have often forced China to stand back.

India Failed to Use its Soft Power to Deepen Its Influence in Asia

Quite often many of the South East Asian countries have looked up to India to take a stand, become the flag bearer of the Asian democratic countries and become the perfect counterforce to the expansionist approaches of China. Yet, instead of realising the inherent strength in terms of economy, military and human resource it has, India has more often than not, especially over the last ten years, spent more time to make sure that her actions don't end up antagonising the Chinese than working towards materialising her own global aspirations. There is an extremely deep cultural, linguistic, historical and religious bondage that India shares with most of the South Asian, South East Asian and even East Asian countries. Whoever has visited the Bangkok must have noticed the name of the Bangkok Airport as Suvarbhumi or the Golden Land as well as the giant sculpture of Samudra Manthan inside airport, an indication of the deep cultural bondage that the two countries share and the linkage to the Vedic past. The same goes for many other countries of the regions mentioned above including the connection Buddhism that connects most of these countries to India. And yet India has consistently failed to leverage that to deepen economic and military ties with these countries.

India’s Foreign Policy has become more of Foreign Appeasement Policy

Does India Really Need to Appease Anyone?

In all respect India's foreign policy is in tatters today. It has become more of a foreign appeasement policy that a foreign policy. On most critical international issues, India simply does not have an independent stand and most often it lacks the confidence to take a stand. That typical mundane statement of not commenting on the internal issues of another country is nothing but an excuse for lacking the conviction to be a real player in a realistic world.

The Maldives Incident and India's Shocking Silence ....Or Rather Capitulation?

Take for instance incident that happened in the tiny island of Maldives. The country which has been receiving millions of dollars of aid from India every year and was rescued by Indian Special Forces from a foreign coup in 1988, has now become a safe haven for radical Islamic elements and have completely come under the fold of Chinese influence which dictates terms to the island nation. In 2012, after a coup in which the then democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted, the new government formed by Mohamed Nazim cancelled a $500 million contract for the development of the Gale Airport given to a consortium led by India based GMR. There were clear indications of a Chinese hand behind the cancellation of the contract since China did not want an Indian controlled airport in the vicinity of its sea routes frequented by Chinese ships. The termination of the contract to the Indian consortium by the Maldivian literally coincided with the award of a $500 million loan to the Maldivian Government by China. Yet on both occasions, be it the coup during which the then President Mohamed Nasheed had pleaded for help from Indian Government or the forceful termination of the contract to GMR, India remained a mute spectator and blindly allowed another South Asian country after Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka to come into the Chinese contours of total influence.

China Races Ahead in the Energy Security Game While India Fails to Get its Act Together

Even as the theatre of economic activities has shifted significantly towards Asia, most expect China and India as the major economic and military powerhouses of the future. Yet while China has judiciously leveraged its economic strength to spread its influence far and wide and stamp its presence across the continent of Africa and Central Asia and securing lucrative energy resources, India at best has been playing the catching game with no integrated, cohesive and determined approach. One does not need to go to far off African countries but can merely visit Sri Lanka and witness the massive Chinese investment in that island nation to believe how India has been squandering the opportunities that China has been lapping up.

In case of acquiring energy assets abroad, China has raced far ahead of India in acquiring oil fields abroad. The Chinese oil companies like Sinopec, CNPC and CNOOC have invested hundreds of billions of dollars abroad. In certain cases Indian companies too have been trying to do the same but in most cases they have been individual attempts unlike the integrated approach of the Chinese wherein wherever they go they have complete financial, political and strategic backing of their Government. India has a lot of catching game to do.

The Culture of Obnoxious Neutrality and Inability to Take a Stand

The most critical thing on which India needs a massive change in its foreign policy is its age old tendency to be ambiguous or the ‘neither here nor there' approach. Take for instance the mayhem and the civil war going on in Syria. It is a clear case of blatant externally aided terrorism. It is no more a secret how much Saudi Arab has been financing and training the Al Qaida and other Jihadi elements to get into Syria and continue with the mayhem. Yet the standard and almost state statement of India on the Syrian issue is the same old one that Syria should go for "political settlement of the crisis involving all parties to the conflict".

Now, this means that India's Government is asking the Syrian regime to go in for political settlement with those having strong linkages with Al Qaeda and Wahabi Jihadis. Would India ever do what it is preaching to the Syrians? Or is it that the Indian Mandarins in the South Block does not have the conviction to speak out the truth about the atrocious terror campaign being orchestrated in Syria by the Saudis much like what Pakistan has been doing in India? The same is the case of the Wahabis in Saudi Arab using their petro dollar to fund extremism in India as well. India's moderate Islamic ethos of Sufism and Shiite culture is being threatened extensively through huge amount of funds being channelized into India from Middle East for fomenting extremism. And yet India has consistently failed to take the Saudis to task.

India's Failure to Stand by Iran and Frequent Succumbing to US Pressure

If India's muted silence on Saudi funding of extremism is because of the issue of India's dependence on OPEC or oil from the Arab world and especially Saudi Arab ,then it essentially has the option of deepening its ties with Iran for securing long term oil contracts. But here too, India has failed consistently to deepen its ties with Iran and unlike China, it has repeatedly succumbed to the pressures of US to reduce oil procurement from Iran.

If India is indeed an independent nation with an independent foreign policy then why would India always have to toe to the American line and do what they think is good for the world? It is a known fact that the Americans have been soft on the issue of the Suadi involvement in extremism and it is also a known fact that it is the Saudi monarchy which has been hell bent to push US to fight in Syria and to attack Iran because the Saudis are apprehensive of the rising clout of the Shias of Iran and Iraq. For India, Iran any day is a much more dependable and trustworthy ally than the Saudis can ever be.

War is Not Always the Only Way Out- India Failed to Corner Pakistan Diplomatically Too....

In the same league, India has also failed to corner Pakistan internationally. As a nation, In spite of the rhetoric, India could never use its international clout to have stringent embargoes on Pakistan and make it loud and clear to the world at large that one can either trade with Pakistan or trade with India. Given the enormity of the Indian market, few would have opted for Pakistan at the cost of antagonising India and China would not have been an exception either given the fact that India is one of the largest trading partners of China. Such international isolation would have cost Pakistan dearly and would have forced it to deal with terrorism and radical elements more sternly. It is because India never is aggressive in its stands that the world, including Pakistan takes it for granted.

Need of the Day- A Brand New and a Pragmatic Foreign Policy

Therefore, it is imperative for the next government to fix India's foreign policy with as much vigour as it is needed to reshape India's economy and defence, for there is a strong correlation between a nation's long term economic well being and security with its foreign policy. India has to come out of its legacy of the past and realise that it is not a utopian world anymore but a realistic world with real time allies and foes. India's quest for a seat in the United Nations Security Council is a legitimate one but one has to make sure that India's pusillanimous and often ambiguous foreign policy with a ‘neither here nor there' foreign policy does not lead to India becoming a laughing stock of the world. India has all the potential, be it military, economic as well as a global reach through cultural, spiritual and a massive Non Resident Indian population to make its stake and words count. India needs to choose its friends carefully and stick to them through thick and thin. All that it would take is for India to realise its intrinsic strength and shed its pacifist approach. Much is thus expected from the next government to stem this systemic rot in India's foreign policy.

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