Friday, June 03, 2011

Does India have a foreign policy, in Afghanistan or in Africa?

Prime minister Manmohan Singh, it is reliably learnt, quite often remarks to his Congress colleagues that India is doing well on the international front, and that India's problems lie inside the country. On the face of it, Singh's observation rings true but it does not bear scrutiny. India is looked up to in the Western, developed world as never before. Market-savvy Asean is recognising India's market value to counter the overwhelming economic clout of China. Africa, the new economic frontier, is more comfortable with India than with China.

South Asian neighbours, including Pakistan, grudgingly accepting the fact that the world – governments and businesses – look to India with both admiration and respect that they, especially Pakistan, can only dream of at present. Islamabad can needle India through the jihadi groups
operatinng on its soil and through the peeved and disgruntled generals but it offers no real advantages to Islamabad.

It would be nice to believe that if India improves its economic performance at home with more economic reforms, its value in the world arena will increase proportionately and that it will have an incremental increase in power at global financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and that it would ultimately become a permanent member of an expanded and reformed and a defanged UN Security Council. Singh's belief seems to be that if India remains quiet and keeps a low profile, it can accumulate its credits and collect its reward points. It is a characteristic of the prime minister himself and his thinking for the country is an unconscious projection of the personal trait on to the country.

This attitude is reflected in New Delhi's position in Afghanistan. It was clear in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 terror attacks, that the United States would need Islamabad more than New Delhi in pursuing its war aims in Kabul both for the logistic and strategic reasons. It was the right policy for Washington, but it is not clear whether India should have accepted its designated place at the margins. Though India's contribution to economic reconstruction in war-ravaged and Taliban-traumatised Afghanistan was substantial in material and psychological terms, India did not feel confident enough to press home the advantage.

Back channel interlocutors reveal that Pakistan has been trying to convince India the need to deal with the 'moderate' Taliban however distasteful Indian hardliners find it to deal with the Islamic group. On the other hand, New Delhi has failed to evolve an alternative strategy of aligning with Russia and Iran to check untrammelled Pakistan and Taliban domination of the Afghan political scene.

Apart from the rhetoric of post-colonialism and anti-imperialism of the 1950s and 1960s, African countries have always admired the funcitoning Indian democracy and its economic boom in the last two decades. For fear of being seen as an economic predator or a market giant, India kept away from Africa when it could have shared its expertise and gained advantages if only there was an articulate stance over redefining an old relationship.

Former Australian prime minister John Howard used to say that his country always punched its country above its weight. India, it is clear, punches below its weight. Singh insists that India is a poor and developing country. It is true that nearly one-third of the population still lives below the much contested poverty line, and there is a long way for the country to go before it can claim to be a developed country. India still has to get beyond its vaunted soft power in the services sector – especially in information technology (IT) – and strengthen its manufacturing base as well as its military prowess. The patrolling of the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean from Somalia to Indonesia will ultimately fall to India. There is no point in shying away from the task.

What India will have to do is get its policy framework right. The dominant view that at the moment there is a strategic convergence between India and the US may have to be revised for the simple reason that India will have to find its own rationale to be the dominant player in the international arena, and it will have to give it a positive and benign trapping as well. The staid position that national interests determine foreign policy will have to give way to a finely articulated realpolitik. The rhetoric of the oppressed will have to be replaced by one of shared political and economic values.

2 comments:

Dr. Subbarayudu G.K. said...

"For fear of being seen as an economic predator or a market giant, India kept away from Africa when it could have shared its expertise and gained advantages if only there was an articulate stance over redefining an old relationship."!!
Are you kidding? After Idi Amin's Ugandan punch, what choice did the Indian "predator" really have?
Indian foreign policy has been all wishy-washy throughout. Apart from a meaningless intervention in the Maldives, India's attempts to assert the 'player' status have failed-- the IPKF in Srilanka is a glaring example. If the Panchsheel was paid with the Chinese war, the IPKF left a PM dead.
The US has always been quite unmindful of India's concerns. Nobody supports India's claim for a permanent position in the UNSC. Whatever be India's strenghth in the next 2 decades, foreign policy and its success is certainly not going to be one of those.--G.K.Subbarayudu

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr said...

A sharp and pointed comment, Subbu. What you say is both accurate and relevant.

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