India’s pro-active neutrality on Ukrainian war is a winner
Reasons are evident. India has never invaded a nation. On the contrary, it has been at the receiving end of invaders - Pakistan, China, Greeks, Mughals and Britishers.
It is eleven weeks since Ukraine war began but India has not budged from its principled stand - diplomacy and dialogues will alone end the conflict after recognising security concerns of all parties to the dispute, calling Putin an invader and a war criminal and arming Ukrainian forces will not bring parties to the negotiating table, what Ukrainians and Russians need is immediate cessation of war in order to render humanitarian assistance and to prevent world economy from destabilising. India has also not relented on buying oil, fertilizer, military hardware etc. from Russia, disregarding UN, US and EU sanctions and has not minced any words to expose the hypocrisy of world leaders in selectively enforcing economic sanctions and fighting war for others.
The question is how could India not sound like an apologist and align itself not with any country or block but only with its core national interest, in a clear departure from previous years and yet remained extensively engaged with the west in economic, defence, strategic, space, environment and blue energy sectors. Indeed, it was ridiculed and even threatened initially for following a policy that they said was opportunistic and unhelpful for greater economic and strategic cooperation with the west. But slowly the condemnation gave way to expressing disappointment and now, to an understanding of India's position.
Reasons are evident. India has never invaded a nation. On the contrary, it has been at the receiving end of invaders - Pakistan, China, Greeks, Mughals and Britishers. The record of the US, France, Germany etc on this count is least flattering.
In the instant case, while Russian forces have invaded Ukraine, US and its allies have unleashed a proxy war by stepping up supplies of military hardware, sharing critical intelligence inputs with Ukrainians and imposing severe economic sanctions against Russia. The west probably hopes that Russian military will eventually split vertically and there will be widespread unrest in the country forcing Putin to retreat in humiliation. How could India call out any one an aggressor when no one wants to give peace a chance to succeed.
Putin, Zelensky and Biden seem unmindful that scars left behind by bombings and attacks and counter-attacks will take generations to heal.
India's pro-active and pragmatic neutrality reflect actually the character, compulsions and aspirations of this nation. It's an India now that is confident to defend its territory and strategic interests on its terms. It has called out Pakistan's nuclear bluff by attacking Kashmir-bound terrorists twice, ended the irony of India having two constitutions by splitting J&K and integrity it and took on Chinese headlong in 2020 and reacts to every provocation from any quarters in equal measure.
Gone are days when India begged and borrowed. Its economy has opened up like never before attracting massive foreign investments. Covid -19 demonstrated that it can feed its people despite minimum economic activity, vaccinate 80% of its population with indigenously developed vaccines and use the pandemic as an opportunity to digitize transactions and services and unleash national energy to become self-reliant in defence production, space, alternative source of energy, manufacturing etc. It may still take another 10 to 15 years to fully realize its potentials. Until then, India has to depend on resources and technology of other countries.
For example, it cannot forsake Russia from whom it imports oil, fertilizers, coal and 72% of arms including S-400 air defence systems and Akula class nuclear-powered attack submarines to counter Chinese and Pakistani aggression. It cannot dump Ukraine either, because the bilateral trade touched 2.8 billion US dollars last year. It also needs Ukraine to upgrade AN-32 transport planes, sell R-27 air-to -air missiles and a plethora of Ukrainian defence equipment to reduce its dependence on Russia.
With US, it is currently engaged in an unprecedented level of strategic consultations on trade, commerce, education, space, science and technology, defence and nuclear cooperation, which it cannot abandon. With Australia, Japan, US and UK, it is part of QUAD to prevent Chinese from dominating navigation in the Indian Ocean. And, with leaders of almost every European country, it has to constantly bid for cooperation in expanding trade and manufacturing, developing green energy and boosting its defence production. The present political leadership in Delhi has thus been deftly balancing its internal challenges with dynamics of ever changing external relations.
(Amar Bhushan worked with the Research and Analysis Wing for 24 years after briefly serving in the BSF intelligence, State Special Branch and Intelligence Bureau. He served as the Special Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat before he retired in 2005.)
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