Authors: Antony Clement, Jessica Lucas
Indian Ocean has been a vital strategic trade route since the early medieval period, but was substantially exercised by the Europeans in the 16 to 19th century to gain an economic and political foothold within the region.
During the Cold War, India’s non-aligned foreign policy enacted by Prime Minister Nehru effectively dismantled the permanent shadow of superpower presence in the Indian Ocean. However, attempt to contain China’s ‘peaceful’ rise and eager stare towards the Indian Ocean signifies warning signs for Indian diplomacy and security. The unfolding events and environment seem to validate the statement by David Kaplan that “the Indian Ocean could be the 21st century playing field for the major powers.” The shadow of the Cold War in India’s backyard could be inevitable if New Delhi fails to respond effectively to both Beijing and Washington.
Under Prime Minister Modi’s direction, the foreign ministry’s articulation of foreign policy has the solid mind-set of “the Indian Ocean is India’s Ocean”. Modi’s visits to the Indian Ocean Islands can be seen in this regard, with the world closely monitoring the diplomatic engagements of the tour; from the renewed relationships within the Indian diasporas to Modi’s dress code, to the broad range of military and civilian assistance being offered to the strategically significant islands to veer Chinese influence from the Islands’ current security embrace. Cancelling his visit to the Maldives during his Indian Ocean tour, the Prime Minister citied political turmoil and arrest of opposition leader and former President Mohammed Rasheed as the main consideration. With mounting speculation of the Male governments’ intentions to prohibit Nasheed from participating in the next general election, along with Nasheeds vocalized criticism of Chinese influence in the region, India’s response was discouraging. With the long term objective of decreasing Chinese Naval presence in the region, New Delhi’s non-interference and non-intervention in the Maldives political situation is an appropriate, rationale and safe long term strategy, however over-looking and neglecting the issue entirely is a disappointing strategy to employ.
The potential forge of political tensions is exacerbated by the controversial Maldiven President Abdullah Yameen’s strategic trajectory toward China and the growing influence via the recently ratified law that allows foreign ownership of land. In a speech Yameen reassured intentions of maintaining the Indian Oceans demilitarized status; however, concerns mount in New Delhi as the move attracts significant commercial expansion from Beijing, with the inevitability of a Chinese naval presence following to protect economic interests.
At the moment it is unclear exactly how much this will impact Modi’s policy, but rhetoric grows surrounding the Indian Ocean Islands becoming vital ground for regional competition between the two dominant Asian powers. Amidst the race for great power status, the question rises of India’s action towards China’s influence and presence in the Indian Ocean. With decades of warm diplomatic relations between Modi and Beijing officials coupled with the ‘all weather friendship’ between China and Pakistan, the Indian Ocean cannot solely remain India’s Ocean. With China extending diplomatic relations and financial assistance to smaller and more distant islands, it is clear that Beijing does not intend to stop flexing its political and economic muscles. Modi’s current policies that seek to renew regional engagement and provide a more stable security role is proving effective, particularly as more Asian nations tilt from the increasingly aggressive influence of China. As naval expansion becomes the prominent strategy for Chinese containment, India’s position in the Indian Ocean is jeopardised by accusations of multi-lateral Chinese alienation and isolation tactics; such as the Quadrilateral Security Initiative. For New Delhi, this remains a contentious and complex issue of balancing security engagements with Indo-Pacific neighbours, as well as embracing China economically but simultaneously attempting to restrain their maritime influence, creating a fragile environment in the Indian Ocean.
India’s fears of permanent Chinese expansion into the Indian Ocean have been validated with the $20 billion dollar ‘Maritime Silk Road’ project announcement by Beijing. With commercial and military infrastructures already a primary concern for New Delhi, the project aims to fully expand into the Indian Ocean to utilize the lucrative trade routes and protect Chinese commercial interests and vital energy lines from Africa and the Gulf.
This will inevitably sharpen regional tensions as India continues to rapidly modernize and expand its navy along with embarking on more naval exercises with East and South Asian nations. As China and Pakistan’s relationship tightens; with Pakistan gaining more advanced military hardware from China, China will gain complete access to Pakistan’s coastline and the peripheries of the Indian Ocean.
New Delhi is greatly aware of the growing significance that the Indian Ocean strategically offers in international politics. Coupled with China’s continued attempts to gain hegemony within the region, Modi has made a decisive break from New Delhi’s decades-old foreign policy and ambivalence, to the insistence that India becomes primarily responsible for ensuring regional peace and stability. The reinvigoration of stagnant diplomatic relationships and application of more ambitious strategic policies by Modi, is building a foundation for India to regain the Indian Ocean sphere of influence without relying on geographic advantage.
The multi-faceted relationship between Russia and India continues to ensure the strategic vision for India’s backyard. The second largest market for sales for the Russian defence industry, India is also the only recipient of Russian strategic weapons. New Delhi also continues to be held in high regard within Moscow through a combination of history, political relations, expansion of cooperation, and commonalities within global policies and interest. Russia has noted the benefits India can provide regionally and globally in becoming a strong military centre, and is willing to support and supply New Delhi to ensure this rise of power and influence.
As the Indo-Pacific region transcends to become a central hub for global economics and strategy, Prime Minister Tony Abbot and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are also developing and deepening their already warm relationship to ensure regional stability. Both nations aim to secure trade routes and reduce the risk of regional destabilisation by supporting for economic interdependence between emerging and major nations in the Indo-Pacific area. By building a solid foundation of shared values and interests, emphasizing cooperation over competition and highlighting the importance of an open dialogue, the potential for misinterpretation, tension and escalation into conflict is not entirely removed, but is significantly lowered.
The recognition by several prominent nations that India is a critical role in supporting the security environment developing across the Indian Ocean not only provides testament in terms of New Delhi’s capabilities in exercising regional power and willingness to expand its security framework.
With the Indian Ocean rising to become a significant but tense corner of the world, particularly as Asia and Africa continue to house the world’s fastest growing economies, India’s management of its own backyard provide authenticating credentials as a reliable and valuable Asian superpower.
Saudi Prince Mohammed’s religious moderation unlikely to change Asian realities
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be seeking to revert his kingdom to an unspecified form of moderate Islam but erasing the impact of 40 years of global funding of ultra-conservative, intolerant strands of the faith is unlikely to be eradicated by decree.
Not only because ultra-conservatism has taken root in numerous Muslim countries and communities, but also because it has given opportunistic politicians a framework to pursue policies that appeal to bigoted and biased sentiments in bids to strengthen their grip on power. Nowhere is that more evident than in Asia, home to several of the Islamic world’s most populous countries.
Examples of the fallout abound among recipients of Saudi largess. They include institutionalized discrimination In Pakistan against Ahmadis, a sect considered heretic by orthodox Muslims, as well as biased policies towards non-Muslims and Shiites in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Basic freedoms in Bangladesh are being officially and unofficially curtailed in various forms as a result of domestic struggles originally enabled by successful Saudi pressure to amend the country’s constitution in 1975 to recognize Islam as its official religion. The amendment was a condition for Saudi recognition of the young republic and the promise of substantial financial support.
Reports that Prince Mohammed in a dramatic gesture to Shiites, who have been discriminated against for years in the kingdom and demonized by its religious and political leaders as part of Saudi Arabia’s public affairs war with Iran, plans to visit the Shiite religious citadel of Najaf in Iraq is likely to do little to change things on the ground in Muslim majority nations in Asia.
Neither will his meetings with Christian religious luminaries in Egypt and elsewhere even if they demonstrate that Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s two most holy cities, is, under Prince Mohammed’s guidance, embracing principles of inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance.
Reporting on a visit to the ultra-conservative Indonesian region of Aceh, Islam scholar Kamaruzzaman Bustamam-Ahmad noted that “supporters for anti-Shi’ah in Aceh are Wahabism, an Islamic political party, a group of young Acehnese who finished their study in the Middle East….They play their role in urban areas. After the Tsunami (in 2004), many of pesantrens (religious seminaries) from Wahabism were built in Aceh. They received funding from ‘outside’ Aceh.”
Bangladeshi journalist Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury, who fled his country after a failed assassination attempt by religious militants, recently sketched Bangladesh’s migration from a nation founded with aspirations of “economic, political and intellectual emancipation” to one in which the “will of the military and its leadership was key in shaping politics towards selfishness and subornation” and “political parties are willing to go to any length to hold on to power.”
It was a process abetted by Saudi Arabia. Mr. Chowdhury noted that “the healthy trend of democratic and progressive politics was never able to regain a footing in Bangladesh” with freedom of speech and the press as one of its major casualties. Unlike human rights lawyer and writer Ikhtisad Ahmed, Mr. Chowdhury shied away from referring to the role of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism in his country’s political development.
One strand of ultra-conservatism, Salafism, that Saudi interior minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz wanted to elevate to an official Islamic school of thought shortly before his death in 2012, gained, according to Mr. Ahmed, currency under the coalition government in the first years of the 21st century formed by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, a controversial group that opposed the country’s independence.
Like in Pakistan, of which Bangladesh was part until, 1971, the military as well as political parties maintained opportunistic ties to militants such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Harkat-ul-Jihad that were often as opposed to secularism as they were to Saudi-style monarchy.
As a result, Bangladesh, the world’s fourth largest Muslim nation, is at the heart of a struggle between liberalism and ultra-conservatism that questions Saudi Arabia’s legacy and is about reforms that go beyond anything envisioned by Prince Mohammed. It is a battle in which free-thinking, journalists, writers and intellectuals have paid a heavy price.
In the latest incident earlier this month, prominent scholar, award-winning science fiction author and outspoken critic of religious militants, Muhammed Zafar Iqbal was stabbed and seriously injured in a knife attack in the north-eastern town of Sylhet.
Mr. Iqbal was the latest victim of more than 30 machete attacks, shootouts, and bombings in Bangladesh in the past three years, including last year’s assault on the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in which 22 hostages were killed.
The country’s battle was fuelled by a 2010 Bangladesh Supreme Court decision to roll back the Saudi-inspired amendment of the constitution and restore secularism as its basic tenant as well as the execution of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes during the 1971 Pakistani-Indian war that gave birth to Bangladesh.
In response, ultra-conservatives and militants demanded death for “atheists and apostates” who had demonstrated in favour of the death penalties, stricter anti-blasphemy legislation and a crackdown on alleged un-Islamic cultural practices.
To be sure, Saudi Arabia, a country that is itself in transition, is unlikely to be backing the ultra-conservatives and militants. Yet, their struggle and deep-seated polarization in Bangladesh are offshoots of the kingdom’s past ultra-conservative support and the creation of an environment in which politicians and state organs can opportunistically exploit religious sentiment.
Criticism of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s weak response to the violence, if not inaction, coupled with the battle for the soul of Bangladesh serves as evidence that reversing the fallout of four decades of Saudi promotion of ultra-conservatism as an anti-dote to Iranian revolutionary zeal will take time and often be volatile. The same is true for efforts to counter creeping ultra-conservatism in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
In fact, what the struggles in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia suggest is that today’s culprits are not Saudi Arabia, even if it bears a responsibility, but politicians and/or national governments. Said Mr. Chowdhury: The failure to bring culprits to justice in many of the recent attacks in Bangladesh has “been the deliberate goal of the government. It supports their ambition to continue holding on to power by silencing critics and pandering to the religious right.”
Hurdles in Pakistan’s Quest for Reaching Space
Space exploration is an expensive national objective for the state to pursue. In addition, if a state is a developing country facing much pressing traditional and non-traditional threats, space exploration has a tendency to end up an optional objective.
Every state has a right to prioritize which ever national objective it wants to achieve first. When it has issues like poverty, corruption, unemployment and terrorism etc. at hand, aiming for the space becomes a herculean task. Same happened in case of Pakistan.
However, a question arises that in the age of globalization, telecommunication and information technology is it plausible for a state to achieve its national objectives without investing into space technology? Space technology is becoming an essential as dependency on modern technology is increasing. Developing state cannot stand with developed nations of the world without investing into space technology. Space satellites are becoming a necessary technology to not only ensure state’s progress in information technology but they are vital for military interests of state as well. Space satellites are dual use technologies that are equally effective for military usage. These satellites enable the states in intelligence gathering, navigation and military communication, high resolution imagery and most importantly in developing early warning systems. With the help of early warning systems, states could detect the flight paths of incoming ballistic and cruise missile from enemy as well.
Though Pakistan is a developing state but it never shied away from pursuing ambitious technological pursuits. Pakistan’s space program “Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO)” established in 1961, is an example that as a nation importance of space exploration is not lost on state. Pakistan was the first country among its regional neighbors to pursue space program. However, these glittering generalities are part of the past that Pakistan witnessed regarding space satellites. Currently Pakistan is lagging in space program. In this day and age Pakistan has yet to launch remote sensing satellite in space which is essential in monitoring, recording change and in intelligence gathering as well.
Contrary to Pakistan its neighbor India which initiated its space program 8 years later, is now a record holder of sending more than 100 commercial and national satellites in one go. Furthermore, India has so far launched more than 100 satellites and establishes its network of satellites not only for commercial purposes but for military purposes as well. At the moment, India is using its 13 satellites for military purposes including Cartosat 1 and 2, Risat 1 and 2 and GSAT-7 or INSAT-4F for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over enemy areas.
The fact that India is also a developing country where the population is increasing and resources are becoming scarce by the day, is thought compelling. It is evident that by being mindful of military and economic benefits of space exploration India never gave up on its progress in arena of space technology. Significant contribution to India’s space program came from the development of strategic ties with the US and consequently its accession to MTCR and Wassenaar Arrangement. It’s beyond any reasonable doubt that India’s space program achieved its glorious heights after making strategic ties with the US.
International support received by India is one of the significant reasons behind robust success of its space program but the same is not the reason behind slow pace of Pakistan’s space program.
There are several contributing factors behind inactive space program that Pakistan is running. One of the biggest technical short comings Pakistan is still facing in its space satellite program is the dearth of launching vehicle for space satellite. The satellite launch vehicle enables a state to enter its payload into an outer orbit from earth’s surface through the help of carrier rocket. Recent telecommunication and digital satellite launched by Pakistan utilized China’s assistance. So, the biggest short coming in technical sphere is absence of satellite launch vehicle. Pakistan is a state with sufficient man power but needs financial sources to build satellite launch vehicles.
To reserve finances for space program it is essential that government builds state narrative on importance of space exploration as satellites are not only essential for military purposes but is also a growing industry. In a time where super power is governing international system through the help of information technology and globalization has massive effects on state affairs, space satellites are becoming economic opportunity to be seized. So far in South Asia only country which is tapping space is India and thus seizing all the economic benefits along with military benefits. Economic benefits of the space exploration are undeniable; states providing launch facilities to the host space satellites earn huge revenue for providing the launch facilities. At the moment, India is only South Asian regional player which is hosting commercial satellite and is even providing services to companies like Google.
Another concerning matter is smart spending of budget when it comes to technological innovation. This concern should be considered as the need of the hour for Pakistan. Lamentably, it is evident from the political history of Pakistan that the leadership in its particular residency was more concerned with spending on items that helped their political cause rather than for the matters of national interest.
Therefore, along with economic resources, public support and technical innovations to develop a space program at its full potential is mandatory. A democratic government should show staunch political resolve in favor of space exploration. This will not only enable Pakistan to have an eye in the sky but it can put money in state reserves by providing commercial services to international/national actors and take nation to glorious technological highlights. Moreover such initiatives are essential for making Pakistan self-sufficient state and will endorse the political resolve to alleviate unemployment by creating jobs in the new avenues for the generations to come.
NAM, NaMo- NATO? Indian Foreign Policy in Transition
Trajectory of a nation’s growth rests on its past, and looks towards a better future with the present middling its way, improving upon the former and consequently attempting to improve the latter. India has had the dubious distinction of being just stable and detached enough to warrant a cold shoulder, sometimes self inflicted, from the major powers at their heights of confrontation. It has never been a ‘frontline’ state in any ideological or grand struggle, be it the Second World War, the Cold War or the War on Terror. The country was led by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru for almost 17 years, the statesman also donning the role of External Affairs Minister and for a brief period of time, Defence Minister. These years were crucial as they shaped the way Indian strategic thinking would evolve. While its western neighbour Pakistan has milked its sponsor since 1947 by first presenting itself as an ally in the war against communism and later creating and charging to destroy a Frankenstein monster of terrorism, its huge eastern neighbour has thrived under a unique combination of communist authoritarianism and state sponsored capitalism, creating the perfect dialectic. However, India today has been accorded an opportunity to help usher in a more liberal international order or at least maintain the status quo, in face of an ambitious and belligerent China, state sponsored terrorism, non-state actors, migrant crisis, ethnic cleansing, an increasingly hostile nuclear environment and climate change.
What do I mean when I say India has an opportunity of a lifetime? Who or what presents this? Why only India? To answer this, lets take a broad look at the current international scenario, region wise. US, the borderline global superpower finds itself oscillating between an isolationist (withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership TPP and Paris Climate Deal) and interventionist stance (Expanding presence in Africa, continuing interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, pressurising Iran and sanctions on North Korea). From an overt nuclear posture to assisting the Taliban and colluding with Pakistan, Iran and China, Russia presents a broad spectrum of challenge (subconventional to nuclear) to the US and its allies. The entire West Asia/ North Africa (WANA) region is in disarray. Turkey has initiated its own war with the Syrian Kurds, post military rout of ISIS, with battles raging in the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin. Iran may suffer a renewed round of sanctions. Most of South and South East Asia has been charmed, coerced or compelled to be part of China’s or more specifically Xi Jinping’s mega project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The future of EU is uncertain. A migrant crisis, coupled with Brexit, lone wolf attacks and rise of xenophobia has forced cracks in the supra-state. India, due to its current stability and especially its past stands on the cusp. An opportunity has been created due to a diametrically opposite combination of India’s past and present resulting in a transitional foreign policy whose future is still uncertain.
India has followed a policy of strategic restraint since its independence. Its leaders saw the armed forces as wasteful expenditure and contributors to imperialism. The Non Aligned Movement (NAM) was created by Nehru, in conjunction with prominent leaders of the Third World, out of a need to stay away from the two heavily militarised Cold War camps. India’s posture of non alignment had benefits for Jawaharlal Nehru’s image as an internationalist. It also created India’s image as a non-aggressive, peace loving nation and a chaotic yet stable democracy which believed in the rule of law. However, as an incipient nation state, flanked on two sides by hostile neighbours, India found it difficult to carve out a strategy to either contain, suppress or rationalise relations with Pakistan or China. Fears of an omnipotent military, exacerbated by coups and dictatorship in Pakistan and China distanced the political class further from the armed forces. As a result, India was able to generate military force but never military power, an important component of any state’s foreign policy. After all, a country’s success in its foreign affairs, whether one may admit it or not, rests to a great extent on its country’s coercive strength, whether latent or overt. Non alignment also meant missing out on security umbrellas, technical knowhow and state of the art weaponry. What non alignment did allow was for India to attempt to chart an independent course for itself. By taking part in the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) in the aftermath of the Korean war, it established itself as an impartial mediator in conflict resolution. It undertook a genuine humanitarian intervention by stopping the genocide in then East Pakistan in 1971. However, shackled by Nehruvian restraint, India, whether under the Congress or the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), still tried to act and behave under a moral shroud, unmindful of the dangers of indirectly appeasing a country like Pakistan which kept on pushing India’s non-existent red lines.
India, on the eve of national elections of 2014 was on shaky ground, in terms of international prestige and national security. BJP’s election manifesto of 2014 promised a sea change in India’s foreign policy and national security apparatus including an overhaul and review of India’s strategic nuclear programme. Instead of treaties and deals based out of fear or dependence, this manifesto aimed at leveraging India’s advantages in constructing a web of interlocking relationships that would be favourable to all parties involved. Instead of behaving as an arrogant power or regional hegemon, India invited all the countries in its neighbourhood to interact with it on an egalitarian basis. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi (NaMo) embarked on an ambitious tour of countries (56 and counting) in his three years since coming to power on a landslide victory. Following an aggressive stance and creating personal rapports with heads of states, NaMo revitalised India’s foreign policy. From heavily focusing on the economic and strategic parameters of its relations with ASEAN and beyond in a revamped Act East Policy to strengthening ties to the US to connecting with West Asia and Iran, NaMo has prioritised India’s national interests above everything else. Some of the foreign policy benefits that have accrued to India due to NaMo are:
Conversion of Look East into Act East
Given that around half of India’s foreign trade is dependent on the economies of South and South East Asia, it was just a matter of time when India had to focus on the region. Actuation of the Act East Policy (AEP) is an acceptance of the same. AEP heavily focuses on increasing connectivity between India’s still-neglected North East and the East Asian countries. A number of connectivity projects have been initiated, both single mode and multi-modal, to give impetus to people-to-people and economic links. AEP has graduated from a solely economic and cultural policy to a more strategic one, with the Indian Navy playing an important role in ensuring safe passage of merchant traffic and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), apart from conducting multinational exercises and humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) operations. The Indian Navy’s primary area now extends from the Red Sea, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden, Southwest Indian ocean, Indian Ocean Region (IOR) island nations and East African littoral states, while the secondary area for the first time addresses South China Sea (SCS) as well as Western Pacific and East China Sea. Indian warships will start patrolling the Malacca Straits for protecting the SLOCs. This is a signal that India aims to act as a Net Security Provider for the SLOCs passing through the greater Indo-Pacific region. Signing of an agreement giving Indian ships logistics rights at Changi, Singapore is a step in that direction. India has also agreed to take part with Japan, Australia and the US in a grouping of democracies called the Quadrilateral (Quad). This has been ostensibly to coordinate in the fields of ensuring Freedom of navigation (FoN) in international waters, a free and open region and adherence to rule of law but considered as a counter to rising Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific region. Many analysts consider it as the beginning of an ‘Asian NATO’ though its feasibility still remains to be tested.
Neighbourhood First Policy
NaMo has focused on improving relations with its neighbours, although that seems to be floundering at the moment. From HADR missions to Maldives, indirect financing of weapons for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through Russia, negotiations over Teesta waters and exchange of enclaves, concluding a civil nuclear agreement with Sri Lanka and attempting dialogue with Pakistan, NaMo government has made connecting with the neighbourhood his priority. NaMo has understood that for India to flourish economically, militarily and culturally, its neighbourhood has to offer a conducive environment. This can only with an active policy of shaping events and policies as per its national interests. India has offered SAARC nations benefits of telecommunications and e-medicines through the use of SAARC satellite, sacrificed real estate on its eastern border for better relations with Bangladesh and come to Bhutan’s aid when defending its territorial integrity in face of Chinese aggression. India has however sent tough signals to Pakistan that its benevolence cannot be taken for granted by conducting surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads post the Uri attacks of September 2016.
Entries into Strategic Clubs
Modi’s presentation of India as an emerging power and his personal style of diplomacy has ensured entry of India into various ‘untouchable’ clubs and groupings such as the Australia Group, Wassenaar Agreement and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This has helped India in inching close to the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which will help in it gaining access to unprecedented nuclear material, technology and equipment, without acceding to signing the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Also, India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) may help it in gaining access to the Central Asian Republics (CAR), alternatives to India’s dependence on the Middle East for energy sources.
Closing in with the US
With an unprecedented five trips to the US, Modi has indicated a definite change in its non aligned mode towards coordinating with the US on a number of converging issues. India’s entry into important clubs and groups has been facilitated by the US, its status has been upgraded to being a Major Defense Partner of the US, it has been feted as a pivot for countering China through the Quad and President Trump in his newly unveiled Afghanistan strategy has admitted to India’s stabilising role in the war-torn country. Major defence deals such as acquisition of M-777 Ultra Light Howitzers, C-130 and C-17 transport aircraft, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and Guardian drones for the Airforce have resulted in the further diversification of India’s arsenal, long dependent on Russia. The US has designated Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), an old pro Pakistan terrorist organisation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) along with placing its chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist. An India-specific Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has been signed based on the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA). However the rest two foundational agreements also need to be agreed upon and signed in order to provide a platform for future collaboration with the US forces in countering common foes and sharing of sophisticated technology with India. There however needs to be a note of caution for India for not hugging the American coast too closely, as it still needs to find its feet.
Under NaMo’s leadership, India is currently transitioning from a strategic self restraint phase to a more assertive one. But this can easily be set aside as an aberration rather than the accepted norm considering India’s past policy of under-influencing events. The momentum that has been gained will suffer setbacks as happened in Nepal, Maldives and Sri Lanka but India has to push on. India has to accept the rise and ascendance of China on the world stage. It has to accept that it cannot match China’s financial investments in its neighbourhood that have led to China leaning governments in Nepal and Maldives, re-encroachment on Doklam in Bhutan and fructifying of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India’s tryst with realism is still in its infantile stage due to a number of reasons. The way forward is to leave the past of non alignment behind, and engage the world based on its priorities. This will lead to situations where policy decisions affecting one country may be a hindrance to another. A classic example is India’s relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). On one hand, India has a major strategic relationship with Israel especially in arms deals, on the other India trains the officers of PA’s small military in its academies. These discrepancies will arise and will have to be dealt with in a diplomatic and mature manner. Instead of Non Alignment, India needs to follow National Alignment, facets of which can be summarised below:-
Improving Diplomatic Footprint
Though NaMo leads from the front when engaging nations, this personal touch must be seen as a superimposition over India’s diplomatic prowess and not as a standalone setup. India’s pool of 3000 diplomats compares poorly with countries such as Japan (5700), South Korea (4500) and the US (20000). Change of government may reduce the personal nature of diplomacy currently being followed and dedicated and expanded cadre of officers will be able to handle the political fluctuations.
China has arrived on the global stage. This is a fact. States have to learn to live with this. Despite the US egging on India to take on China and Japan clamouring for giving the Quad more teeth, India needs to realise its present strengths and limitations. It needs to deal with China more diplomatically and needs to give dialogue more opportunity to work. It has to realise that the US and Japan each have their own motives to counter China and those motives may not resonate with India. India needs to focus on reducing its trade deficit with China, upgradation of its border infrastructure and engaging in dialogue but ceding no space on Doklam. Despite India’s stance on CPEC crossing India’s sovereign territory, a pragmatic decision can be made on agreeing to be part of BRI as India’s projects in South East Asia will invariably clash with it, and a collaboration outlook should be more constructive for the countries involved. Indian armed forcesneed to be upgraded in its eastern sector to deter Chinese aggression.
India needs to slow down future investments and step up completion of already promised projects in various countries. The much heralded Trilateral Highway connecting India’s North East to Myanmar and Thailand, a crucial link in India’s AEP still remains incomplete with the earliest completion date now being pushed to 2020. India’s soft loans of around $24.2 billion in the form of ‘lines of credit’ to various countries in Central America and Africa also needs constant monitoring.
Stop Moralising, Start Realpolitiking
It is not important that two countries’ national interests align perfectly. Although US expects its allies and major strategic partners to follow its foreign policy, India needs to chart its own course as per National Alignment. As an example, post pullout of the US from the Paris climate agreement, India must coordinate more deeply with China with regards to climate change. Despite voting against shift of Israel’s capital to Jerusalem, India can still expect to consummate an extensive arms deal with the country. India also needs to take on board the US, Russia and China in terms of countering terror. As of now, India seems to be the only country that seems to straddle many boats and in the process, promote a horizontal bonhomie amongst nations.
The days of the strategic alliances are all but over. NATO may have got a second chance at survival with the resurgence of Russia but whether Article Five of collective defence will be sustained by the Europeans is not as clear as it states. The current US administration’s self professed isolationism in major issues has put the efficacy of security umbrellas in question. India, unlike the US, understands that all international problems do not have a military solution. It needs to step away from contemplating a NATO like model, even with like minded democracies (Quad) and focus on diversification that helps its national interests. But it should also shed its inhibitions regarding establishment of overseas bases, basing of ships and troops of other countries and conducting joint exercises with the Quad on ground and air. The idea of two mutually destructive superpowers sitting on an arsenal of nuclear weapons can be replaced with that of society of states with economic, cultural and technical linkages but with adequate coercive power to deter a challenge. What lies in India’s destiny? Part of a NATO like entity or an independent yet interconnected foreign policy? Its the latter that would benefit the entire world.
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