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India’s Foreign Policy 2004-2014 Dismally Failed: Challenges Ahead

Paper No. 5973                                    Dated 22-Jul-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

India’s foreign policy 2004-2014 dismally failed under the stewardship of Congress Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and his selected National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon , (earlier his Foreign Secretary), with its signature note of appeasement of the China-Pakistan strategic duo grossly adversarial against India.

India’s foreign policy 2004-2014 was also a dismal failure when it came to India’s strategic partnership with the United States and Russia, two nations which greatly mattered to India’s security needs in terms of enlisting some semblance of countervailing power against the India-destabilisation strategies of the China-Pakistan Axis, reminiscent of the Germany-Italy Axis of the Second World War.

India’s ‘Neighbourhood Policy’ during 2004-2014 was more than disastrous as India served Nepal and Sri Lanka on a platter to Chinese influence and sway. India was insensitive to Bangladesh’s strategic significance for India. In fact all these three countries matter significantly for Indian security along with Bhutan.

Looking back at this period of complete divorce of India’s national security imperatives as determinants of India’s foreign policy, one wonders what factors or foreign policy ends played on the minds of India’s Congress Prime Minister and his chosen National Security Adviser, otherwise reputed to be an ace diplomat.

In fact, it needs to be noted that there is no such foreign policy precept as “Strategic Non-alignment” which was being espoused during this period.

In fact, when the Congress Party came into power, reflected in my SAAG Papers at that time, were observations that both China and Pakistan were expecting some hardening of India’s stances after BJP Prime Minister Vajpayee’s equally dismal handling of China and Pakistan, with appeasement as the central motive. Regrettably it did not turn out that way.

Such an extended failure of India’s foreign policies towards China and Pakistan raises many disturbing questions. Can this failure be attributed to Indian Prime Ministers’ lack of strategic vision, their insistence on conduct of a personalised foreign policy, and their penchant especially in case of Pakistan to reach a ‘peace deal’ for effect which facilitates the conferring of a Nobel Peace Prize?

Can India’s extended foreign policy failures be attributed to a fact that India’s National Security Advisers do not provide professionally competent foreign policy advice to Indian Prime Ministers arising from their own personal predilections, or are they “situating their advisories” to the Prime Misters, to what the Prime Ministers would like to listen?  Or, could it also be the case where Indian National Security Advisers do give strategically realistic advisories to the Prime Minister of the day, but get over-ruled? If the last be true, then it can be concluded that the National Security Advisers have lacked the moral courage to put in their resignations and fade away. But that would be too much to expect from Indian National Security Advisers, all from Indian bureaucracy, whether from the Foreign Service or Intelligence backgrounds, where the prevailing culture is the security of the sinecures.

Media reports indicated that Congress Prime Minister when not pleased with National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan’s ‘hard-line approaches to China and Pakistan, synchronised his exit to a gubernatorial post with advent of UPA II government and brought in Shiv Shankar Menon , just before the Havana Summit Indian sell-out to Pakistan. Havana Summit, Thimpu and the Sharam-al-Sheikh were all Pakistan appeasement exercises.

Obviously, two things are required to correct the above state of affairs. Firstly, the selection of the National Security Advisers should not be restricted to Foreign Service diplomats. They tend to concentrate India’s entire foreign policy conduct in their own hands, shutting out institutional inputs from the Foreign Office. Prime Ministers should ensure that Foreign Office inputs are also independently taken into account by them.

In 2015, India has a lot of damage-control to be done to retrieve the foreign policy losses of the 2004-2014 period.  The conduct of India’s foreign policy and noticeable thrusts emerging in 2015 can be summed-up as follows:

  • India has made noticeable gains in its ‘Neighbourhood Policies” by regaining trust in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh. These countries matter to keep them out of Chinese overtures and influence. India’s peripheral diplomacy with these countries have to be of a high order to prevent China gaining predominance in these countries.
  • India’s relations with the United States are moving ahead to forge a more substantial Strategic Partnership. However, a word of caution needs to be injected that India needs to demonstrate that in India’s growing proximity with the United States there are no free lunches on either side.
  • India’s relations with Russia have downslided from its traditional proximity, with Russia trying to play the ‘Pakistan Card’ against India. This is not a failure of Indian policies but a failure and spin-off from India’s China policy, giving exaggerated importance to China over Russia.
  • India’s China and Pakistan policies still continue to be bedevilled by Indian foreign policy mind-sets of abject appeasement of these two nations which figure in India’s threat perceptions as foremost military adversaries.

India’s China Policy in 2015 betray Prime Minister Modi’s personal inclinations to tilt towards China which if persists would then be replicating the Nehruvian syndrome. What impels Prime Minister Modi to willingly join all sorts of China-Centric and China-Controlled organisations ranging from Asian Infrastructure Development Bank to accepting full-membership of the China-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organisation? Does India need a Chinese Inner Line Permit for access to the Central Asian Republics? By joining various China-Centric organisations, India is sending wrong signals to the United States. This is not India signalling India’s ‘strategic autonomy’ but signalling that India is heading towards becoming a ‘tributary state’ of China. India’s priorities in choosing between China and the United States must be clear.

India’s new Foreign Secretary is equally effusive on China like the previous National Security Adviser. Media reports today quote him saying that Asia’s strategic balance will be determined by the United States-China-Japan. Patently wrong, as neither the United States nor India can adopt co-optive approaches to China for an Asian strategic balance. Asian strategic balance against a disruptive China can only be achieved by the US-Japan-India Troika by additional enlisting of Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The Indian Prime Minister, National Security Adviser and the Foreign Secretary must exercise utmost reticence in their pronouncements on China: there is no strategic space for effusiveness on China.

The Indian Prime Minister needs to be consistent on his Pakistan-policy. When it comes to Pakistan there is no scope for the diplomats-preferred so-called “carrots and stick” strategy.  Earlier, Pakistan was a state-sponsor of terrorism and now in 2015 Pakistan is fast emerging as “proxy war cat’s paw of China” in China’s strategic adversarial games of China against India.

The Indian foreign policy establishment needs to recognise that China and Pakistan are not India’s natural allies like USA, Europe, Japan, Vietnam and Australia. They are India’s military adversaries with no indicators available on the horizon that they will forsake their adversarial stances against India. China and Pakistan are India’s implacable enemies engaged on a daily basis to undermine India’s security and jointly engaged in “Strategic Diminution” of India. Our foreign policy responses need to be therefore crafted accordingly.

In 2015, India’s biggest foreign policy challenges are to cut-short the extended losses right across the board and “Rebalance India’s Foreign Policies”  to give predominance to incorporation of national security imperatives in our foreign policy formulations, implicit in which is the reality that India must strive to strategically rebalance China and Pakistan. Contextually, no scope exists for any Indian foreign policy “game changers” as regards China and Pakistan, as their joint strategy is to restrict India’s strategic space all around; Indian appeasement foreign policies will not induce China and Pakistan to cede strategic space to India in the region or in contiguous regions. On the contrary in the authoritarian mind sets that prevail in China and Pakistan policy establishments, Indian appeasement policies are construed as Indian timidity which is open for exploitation.

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