ON THE WEB, 26 December 2010
The year 2010 saw India’s remarkable rise on the global stage. It was a year when the world’s top leaders — US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev — came calling, looking for long-term partnerships with this rising power. Their visits were in every way an indication of how they perceive India’s stature in the new world order.
These successful visits not only fulfilled the economic and commercial ambitions of our nation, but also helped it step closer to fulfilling its aspiration to be part of the UN Security Council as a permanent member, with four of the five nations backing our campaign.
What India is experiencing today is a strong and confident foreign policy which date backs to 1998 when the nuclear tests took place. That was the beginning of a new phase of diplomacy and foreign policy for India, and it was in contrast to the preceding five decades of cold war. What started with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1947 continued like a single thread till the government of PV Narasimha Rao.
So what are the differences between our new and our old foreign policy? As events of 2010 have demonstrated, our foreign policy has become less ideological now. For the first 50 years, we followed the policy of non-alignment and we looked at the world in terms of our non-aligned status. Secondly, our new foreign policy is a more complex mix of national interests and is no longer focused exclusively on political issues. Diplomacy in classical terms meant interacting with other countries at a political level.
Today, foreign policy is made not only in South Block where the prime minister’s office and the ministry of external affairs are located, but in the North Block, which houses the home and finance ministries as also in Udyog Bhawan where the commerce and industry ministry is located. Also, we have integrated the concept of security in the foreign policy. The ambit of security has gone way beyond the protection of our border into areas such global sources of energy and raw materials and areas of high remittances, trade and investment.
Finally, we have a sense of priority in our partnership with other major powers. Our friends now consist of old-timers such as Russia, France and Germany, new friends like Japan, Australia, South Africa and Brazil and even old adversaries like US and China. So we have a new horizon of countries and regions that are strategically important for us.
The point of departure was the nuclear tests that we conducted in 1998. We were slapped with fresh sanctions and seemed isolated in the world, but the positive side of the nuclear tests was that the US and the rest of the world started taking us seriously. The first intensive, high-level and sustained dialogue between the governments of US and India took place within a month of the nuclear tests when Bill Clinton sent deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott to India to start a dialogue with his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh. And then Bill Clinton came in 2000. Since then, the procession hasn’t stopped.
During the cold war period, India’s image was that of a destitute nation with a dysfunctional democracy. Today, we are seen as a power to reckon with. For the first time, American businesses started taking interests in what they perceived to be a multi-billion dollar market in India. But it took much more to bring India to the attention of the political world. Here Indian professionals working in the US, the Indian-American community’s political activism and New Delhi’s assertive foreign policy worked in our favour.
Indian diplomacy is displaying a new self-confidence. Our diplomacy has performed well, not just in terms of traditional skills of negotiations that we saw during the nuclear deal but in taking a bold stand on issues, keeping in mind India’s national interests. India’s nuanced stand on Iran’s nuclear weapons programmes and our rejection of China’s demand for abstaining from the Nobel ceremony illustrate new clarity in the official thinking on international issues. This is in the best traditions of our foreign policy: Assess your national interests and stand up for what you think is right.
Today, our prime concern is terrorism — sponsored, aided, abetted and promoted by Pakistan. In the beginning, it seemed as if our government was indecisive on whether we should have a dialogue with Pakistan or not. The prime minister’s logic reflected his strategic thinking: that India, in order to sustain its high growth and emerged as a global power, required peaceful relations with all its neighbours, including Pakistan. However, the clumsy formulation at Sharm–El-Sheikh gave an impression that India would carry on the dialogue even if Pakistan continued to export terror to India. The PM soon realised that the country and his party were not with him. Today, the government has a more nuanced policy.
The erratic behaviour of China in recent years is of major concern to our policy makers. We need to take note of an increased Chinese presence in our neighbourhood, their nuclear missile and conventional military transfers to Pakistan and growing Chinese naval presence in Indian Ocean area. India is better prepared to deal with China in 2011 than in 1962. This confidence extends to our Tibet policy as well. We may have surrendered the Tibet card in the past. But, for the first time this year, India did not accept a reaffirmation of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in the joint statement with Prime Minister Wen. If this is a departure from our policy of passivity in dealing with China, then I applaud it.
Our most important relationship is currently with the US. Our earlier strategic partnership was with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the second most important one is now with the US. The build up started with Clinton, whose state visit in 2000 initiated normalisation of relations after five decades of hostility. Then came Bush, who was the author of the concept of strategic partnership with India. Through the Indo-US nuclear deal, he succeeded in removing the bulk of the technology sanction on India which were in place for over three decades. Our co-operation has spread to other areas like commerce, agriculture and education. The strategic relationship has acquired a depth and width which wasn’t there before. It is clear that the relationship is here to stay.
The biggest achievement of Obama, if you set aside the bilateral and regional issues, was to gently push India into the global arena and urge India to play a proactive role beyond the South Asian region.
In 1947, all indicators suggested that the government should focus on domestic issues following the trauma of partition and magnitude of problems faced by a newly independent nation. Yet, Pandit Nehru made India one of the most active players on the world stage. We have forgotten now that India was an influential power when its economy was down and out. Today, as a nation with political stability, military strength and a growing economy, why should we be so hesitant to act as a world power?