South Asia

One-eyed policy poses danger to India
By Ramtanu Maitra

During the past months of intense diplomatic maneuvering concerning Iraq, it was distressing to note that while all major nations were involved in the effort to resolve the crisis, India could do no more than issue occasional statements by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee expressing the nation's desire to have a peaceful resolution. Despite the fact that a potentially dangerous situation was developing in India's own back yard, New Delhi had no ability to participate, and other nations had no interest in what India had to say.

The present paralytic state of India's foreign-policy making, and the nation's inability to contribute in a meaningful way on the major issues that concern the security and peace of the world, is the result of a deliberate process that began with the advent of the V P Singh government in late 1980s. Since then, India has increasingly abandoned looking at the world independently, slowly but surely narrowing its foreign-policy sights.

The explosion of nuclear devices in 1998 presented a way out of this hole. At that point, like it or not, New Delhi showed up on the radar screen of all major countries. There was a growing expectation that the government's bold step was a mark of mature self-confidence, and that the declared nuclear-weapons state would broaden its foreign-policy outlook and seek a place among the major nations.

What followed, however, was the spectacle of groveling at Washington's feet. At the end of the 10 rounds of talks, projected in New Delhi as diplomacy, and after a loud endorsement of the war on terrorism, India's entire foreign policy appears to be more tightly wrapped around Pakistan than ever. At the same time, the country's domestic policy has strayed far from the path of removing abject poverty and building up the nation, hurtling down the path of least resistance into the abyss of exploitation of caste and Hindu-Muslim conflicts. Ayodhya, Babri Masjid, Ram Janambhoomi, Gujarat killings, Jammu and Kashmir ... the list goes on.

Beginning of marginalization
In theory, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s took the straitjacket off Indian foreign policy. But instead of refashioning an independent direction to meet the nation's needs, the Indian foreign-policy establishment fell apart. Under the US-backed V P Singh government in1989, India abandoned its leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement. But there has been no hint of a positive step or direction in India's own neighborhood or beyond.

The South Asian Association of Regional Countries forum, conceived by India in the early 1980s, has not been advanced by even an inch. Nor has a finger been lifted to convince the major nations that India, with a billion-plus people, has a right to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

India remains merely a place on the world map. The success of Indian professionals in the area of information technology was a bright blip noticed by some. The mandarins of New Delhi's South Block have tried to milk the IT success, but it did not fill many buckets.

It is not as if nothing of significance has been happening in the subcontinent since 1989. Sri Lanka was ravaged by terrorism unleashed by the Tamil Tigers who were once nurtured by India. Nepal moved away from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy to absolute chaos. Myanmar underwent a sea-change. Five new Central Asian nations emerged on the world map and immediately drew the attention of all major powers. And the Southeast Asian nations, bolstered by the growth of a powerful and stable China in the neighborhood, reached out to integrate further with the subcontinent.

In the 1980s, it would have been inconceivable that any solution of the Sri Lankan conundrum, or Nepal's chaos, could emerge without India's full involvement in the process. Today, the United States and even Japan, whose foreign policy is drafted in Washington, are more involved than India in finding solutions to the problems in India's immediate neighborhood.

False moves
Despite overt invitations from the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, India could not put a firm foot forward in either the economic area or security matters to announce a presence commensurate with its size. External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, in a fit of sanity, went to Indochina in 2001 to inaugurate the Mekong-Ganga development plan, but the initiative remains stillborn. There are reasons to believe that it was meant more to counter China's initiatives in the area than to develop effective infrastructure linkages between India and Southeast Asia.

BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation), established in 1998, is another such stillborn project. It could have been the first step toward cooperation with India's neighbors in the east, but the Indian External Affairs Ministry showed no ability, or interest, to make it work. In Myanmar, India's foreign-policy thrust is directed principally at thwarting the development of a stronger Sino-Myanmar relationship - a negative approach that is doomed to fail.

New Delhi has abrogated its responsibility in most of the nations contiguous to India, while its relationship with Southeast and East Asia remains frozen in hesitancy and uncertainty. In the Middle East, where Islam rules the roost, India - with its 130-plus million Muslim citizens and separated from Arabia by just a short stretch of the Arabian Sea - is becoming increasingly insignificant, even though oil-producing Arabia will inevitably become vitally important to oil-short India in the not-too-distant future.

Only in the region encompassing Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan has Indian foreign-policy making shown a spark of ingenuity. That, too, began only after the transfer of Jaswant Singh to the Ministry of Finance late last year after holding the foreign-affairs portfolio.

Why the lethargy, or worse?

The babus of the South Block
The answer can be found in looking at India's foreign-policymaking apparatus - the babus of the South Block who hijacked India's foreign policy after the departure from the scene of the last of the Nehru-Gandhi family members in the late1980s. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi created a vacuum in foreign-policy making. The minions of the South Block grabbed it with both hands and have since squandered it.

A present-day Indian Foreign Office bureaucrat must possess two basic requirements to reach the top of the heap. First and foremost he or she must be categorically anti-Pakistan - the more virulent the better - and simultaneously an anti-China ideologue. The entirety of the foreign policy of a nation of a billion-plus flows from there.

Under the circumstances, one might expect politicians within the government or sitting on the opposition benches to act as guides and balancing factors. But, sadly, most of today's active politicians in India are too ignorant to have any understanding of an increasingly complex world. Others are simply not interested.

The marginalization of India is showing up in every area, despite the denial of that reality by India's External Affairs Ministry, and the uninterest of others. India will soon face a crisis in the form of paying a very high indirect cost for such policy limitations.

Gross failures
The Jaswant Singh-led groveling began to flower after the US declaration of war on terrorism in September 2001. At the time, India threw its full support into the US campaign - a not unreasonable move except that it was motivated exclusively by the hope that the United States would help India curb Pakistan's support of Kashmiri militants.

Obsessed with Pakistan and clutching on to the US promise, India's policy toward Pakistan became enmeshed with the United States' policy toward Pakistan. When the Indian parliament was attacked on December 13, 2001, India could not move against Pakistan because Washington prevented it. Subsequently, India assembled some 700,000 troops with armaments along the Pakistan border, threatening to invade. After six months and billions of rupees, the troops were brought back. That, too, was done under pressure from Washington.

It became evident at that point that having made the Pakistan problem the center of its foreign policy and latched on to the US to deal with it, India had lost everything.

New Delhi's failure to extract any concession from Pakistan in the war on terrorism has made it more anti-Pakistan than ever. Having come to realize that Washington will do little to help on cross-border terrorism, New Delhi feels the need to prove to the Indian people that it has not given up its hostile posture to Pakistan. The political decision to remain obsessed with Pakistan has further distorted India's ability to play any role in world affairs.

The biggest failure of the Indian policymakers was in not realizing that Pakistan is the cornerstone of Washington's global "war on terrorism". It was well known that the Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had nurtured and strengthened the two elements that the US was keen to eliminate - the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. Without Pakistan's help, which came in fits and starts, Washington had no ability to achieve even a nominal level of success in this venture.

The US agenda never included elimination of Kashmiri militants, notwithstanding what Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage promised or didn't promise. What Washington had in mind was to prevent an all-out war between India and Pakistan, fearing a nuclear exchange. The US policy to bring India over to its side in the "war on terrorism" was to prevent such a war. This simple fact was ignored by New Delhi.

One of the reasons that India walked into that foolish trap is the in-built anti-China mindset of most of the External Affairs Ministry babus. China considers Pakistan its strong ally and has helped it develop its nuclear capabilities. China did that for a number of reasons, and it cannot be the basis for Sino-Indian relations.

In New Delhi, however, the Sino-Pakistani entente is projected as definitive proof that China considers India an enemy and is working through Pakistan to undermine its stability. India's External Affairs Ministry has found the Vajpayee government an easy listener to this atrocious analysis. The corollary of the anti-China mindset of the South Block babus is the "soft sell" of the India-US axis to counter the emerging China. This is sold by a strong anti-China lobby in the United States and has been lapped up by a section within the Indian army and foreign-policy makers.

Dangers ahead
The Pakistan-centered foreign-policymaking process has created other distortions. For instance, a number of members in the present Indian government, driven by their anti-Muslim obsession, have found a new ally in Israel. Major-General Uzi Dayan, head of Israel's National Security Council, visited India last year for a "joint security strategic dialogue". Former foreign minister Shimon Peres, during his visit to India last year, dubbed India "Israel's best friend" in the region.

For years now, policymakers aided by oodles of arms deals signed between India and Israel with the blessing of the United States have muted India's voice in support of the Palestine nation. In total, more than $2 billion in arms contracts have been signed between Israel Aircraft Industries and the Indian Defense Ministry, with Israel selling surface-to-surface Barak missiles, pilotless planes and radar systems, and renovating hundreds of MiG-21 and MiG-29 planes and Russian-made T-72 tanks. India is also in the process of acquiring Israel's Arrow Theater Missile Defense System. Significantly, Israel is also providing consultancy to India on how to deal with the cross-border terrorist influx from Pakistan.

Washington's interest in consolidating India-Israel military relations became apparent when India sought to purchase three Phalcon early-warning aircraft from Israel, systems that the US has prohibited Israel from selling to China. The Indo-Israeli missile defense system also serves the Pentagon's goal of advancing an international missile defense architecture.

The killing of Muslims in Gujarat last year and the emergence of a powerful anti-Muslim bloc within the ruling government in India poses an additional serious threat to India's ability to play a meaningful role in world events. The longer-term danger for India is the Muslim issue. There is no question that the Pakistan situation will not improve in the foreseeable future. The Pakistani army will continue to have a firm grip on the nation's foreign policies.

That means that the Kashmir issue will be kept alive, and the Pakistani policy of bleeding India in revenge for India's role in breaking up Pakistan in 1972 to create Bangladesh will continue. The BJP's polarization and the Israeli influence in the country's policymaking vis-a-vis Pakistan and the Muslim population will further endanger India's security. Disgruntled poor Muslims have already become vulnerable to the machinations of the Pakistani ISI. A further polarization would bring to the fore the criminal elements among the Muslims in India.

Israel wears a very definite anti-Pakistan mask, which helps Indian Interior Minister L K Advani exercise authority over the anti-Muslim hawks within the present government.

A delegation from the Jewish Institute of National Security Agency (JINSA), a US-based pro-Israel think-tank that has become increasingly powerful in light of the war against Iraq, was in Delhi this year. It included a number of high-level military Israeli officers. From the United States came General Wayne Downing and former Federal Bureau of Investigation counterintelligence chief Steve Pomerantz, who is known to partner with Islam-bashers.

By directing India's foreign policy to align with the anti-Islam, anti-Muslim cabal, New Delhi has set on a dangerous path. India, with a billion-plus people and a well-developed technological base, may soon be identified as an anti-Muslim nation - a prospect India cannot afford. India's future success, and the nation's stability, will depend on how it interacts within the region and beyond it. Should India get bogged down as an anti-Muslim nation, with two Muslim nations - Pakistan and Bangladesh - to its west and east, the country will be truly, permanently straitjacketed.

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