By Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal
Issue: Vol 24.4 Oct-Dec 2009
The India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm-al-Sheikh during the NAM conference in which Balochistan was mentioned for no rational reasons has once again brought into sharp focus, lack of direction, absence of any strategic thought and a shocking unawareness of our national interest on part of our foreign policy establishment. Those who have been carefully following India's foreign policy since independence will not be surprised. Our foreign policy has been a continuous muddle ever since. A country follows a foreign policy so that gains are accrued. Here we have been following a foreign policy which has resulted in an unending chain of disasters. What is worrying is that no one seems to bother.
When we became independent in 1947, a need arose to evolve a conceptual frame work of foreign policy. Nehru abrogated to himself the role of the sole arbiter of our foreign policy. Foreign office mandarins were only too happy to follow in his wake. They followed the dictum 'Papa knows best'. Nehru was heavily influenced by the Gandhian thought of occupying a moral high ground to put the adversary at a disadvantage. Since this model brought us independence or so it was thought, Nehru visualized that this concept could be applied to foreign policy as well. Non-violence and non-alignment became the cornerstones of our foreign policy. We deliberately overlooked the fact that Great Britain had been bloodied white in the Second World War and was in no position to hold on to its colonies and in a few years the mighty British Empire unfolded. We could have been in occupation of the moral high ground had we maintained equidistance from the two superpowers during the Cold War. But in practice we became a part of the Soviet camp. So the entire foreign policy approach was flawed from day one.
Armed Forces as an Instrument of State Policy
Unlike the West and even China, India has never had a strategic culture. Perhaps the reason was that India has never been an entity as it exists today. Akhand Bharat has only been a concept not a reality. The result was that invader after invader kept coming and we were subjugated to hundreds of years of foreign rule. This should have taught us that Armed Forces need to be co-opted in the foreign policy as an instrument of state policy. But it did not happen. There are two reasons for this glaring omission. One is the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence which heavily influenced Nehru and others at the time of independence. Immediately following partition in 1947, Nehru continued to ignore military considerations in dealing with foreign policy issues. A story goes that - The British General Sir Rob Lockhart, first Commander-in-Chief of free India's Armed Forces, was left in no doubt by his Prime Minister when he went to him with a Defence Paper, asking for a formal policy directive on defence. Nehru glanced through Lockhart's paper but was not in the least amused. 'Rubbish! Total rubbish!' the Prime Minister exploded (according to Lockhart). 'We don't need a defence policy. Our policy is ahimsa (non-violence). We foresee no military threats. As far as I am concerned you can scrap the army - the police are good enough to meet our security needs'. It is thanks to the 'J&K war of 47-48′ which brought home the harsh reality to our rulers. The second reason is that in the early fifties, when Nehru looked around, he found most of our neighbours and the countries of Africa and even Europe being ruled by military dictators. That gave rise to an unnatural fear of the Armed Forces and instead of co-opting them in the national foreign policy framework, all attempts were made to keep them out of the decision making loop. In fact, the single point agenda for the politician and the bureaucracy became emasculation of the Armed Forces. We have already paid a heavy price for this and unless the concept of using the Armed Forces as an instrument of state policy is understood, we will continue to be denied our due place in the comity of nations - our 8 percent annual growth rate notwithstanding.
The J&K Problem - A Self Goal
Nothing illustrates our muddle headed approach in foreign policy more than the festering store of the J&K problem - entirely our creation. When our Army was poised to clear J&K of Pakistan raiders and regular army, we took the issue to the UN, thereby turning a bilateral problem into a world problem. The problem gets compounded thereafter. Take the case of the UN Resolution of 1949 which is in three parts. Part I says there will be a ceasefire between India and Pakistan. Part 2 says Pakistan must vacate aggression and withdraw all its regular and irregular forces from J&K and Indian administration will extend to the entire state of J&K as hitherto fore. Part 3 says that once conditions become normal, plebiscite will be held. So as shall be seen, the UN Resolution is highly favourable to us. Instead of trashing the UN Resolution, we should have been harping on Part II and not mention Part III at all like Pakistan only mentions Part III, ie, the plebiscite bit. After the '71 war we started saying that the Shimla Agreement supersedes all UN Resolutions. The world does not agree to this. A UN Resolution becomes null and void only when a resolution is passed to that effect and this has not happened yet in the case of J&K. Shimla was a golden opportunity to solve J&K problem once and for all, but we allowed this opportunity to slip by. The J&K problem will continue forever.
The Chinese Malevolent Shadow
If one word can describe Indian foreign policy as far as China is concerned since 1949, it is appeasement. We were one of the earliest to recognize the People's Republic of China. Incidentally the USA decided to do so only in 1973. When the Chinese marched into Tibet in 1950, we lacked the moral courage to condemn this act of blatant aggression. Not only that, from day one we started espousing the cause of China's admission into the UN even after its aggression in Tibet and Korea. This turned out to be the classic Arab and Camel story. China today is not only a member of the UN Security Council but opposes tooth and nail India's entry into the expanded Security Council if it ever comes about. On the border question, appeasement continues till date. We did not break off diplomatic relations with China even after the '62 war. Our China policy, if at all it is, lacks logic, is formulated as a result of irrational fear of China and non reciprocity, a great foreign policy failure which has resulted in our strategic encirclement with a rogue nuclear power Pakistan in the west, a sullen Nepal in the Centre and an inimical Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east. Bhutan is under pressure to cede territory to China and establish diplomatic relations with it which will effectively abrogate Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1950. The Chinese oppose everything that we do, whether in the Nuclear Supplier Group or Asian Development Bank and there is not even a whisper from us. Chinese transgressions and intrusions are taken with a stoic calm. This supine attitude is called maturity.
India's Pakistan Policy
Pakistan has been a craw in our gullet ever since its unnatural creation in 1947. The biggest challenge for India's foreign policy establishment has been on how to tackle Pakistan and it has miserably failed to evolve a coherent and consistent policy in respect of Pakistan. Pakistan has managed to outmaneuver us on all issues. There are two schools of thought on Pakistan policy. The 'bleeding hearts' say that a stable Pakistan is in India's interest while the 'hawks' want it to be dismembered into its four constituent provinces. India's mandarins have not been able to decide what policy to follow. On the other hand, Pakistan suffers from no such dilemmas. Its policy is clear. India must be balkanised by whatever means - fair and foul - war, proxy war, terrorism, nuclear blackmail, et al. It has successfully managed to convince most of the world that it is India which is in illegal occupation of J&K. What could be worse than this is that we have not been able to convince anyone that J&K problem is a creation of Pakistan right since 1947.
Perhaps the biggest failure of our foreign policy in recent times has been in tackling terror. We suffer Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacks endemically and what is our response? Pull out the age old list of most wanted, dust it up and send it to Pakistan with great urgency who, with equal urgency, throw it into the trash can. Nothing illustrates our failure more than the recent joint statement in Sharm-Al-Shaikh where we allowed India's involvement in Balochistan to be included - and not a word on of J&K problem. Only a moron could have drafted such a disgraceful joint statement. And either our dear Prime Minister did not have the time to read it or he qualifies to be the most naïve Prime Minister in the world. And you think any action will be taken against anyone in the foreign office. Forget it. It never happens in India. We talk of evolving a joint terror mechanism with a country which is the epicenter of all terrorism in the world. One despairs whether we will ever learn.
A Sullen Neighbourhood - Proof of Bankrupt Foreign Policy
Has our foreign policy establishment ever paused to think as to why Bangladesh, which should be eternally grateful to us for its creation, has walked into Pakistani arms? Or why Nepal, which is landlocked and is crucially dependent on India for almost everything, is perpetually complaining? Their standard reply is that India is big brother in the region. So is America. Are Canada, Mexico, Panama, Honduras complaining. There has to be something wrong with our foreign policy that we have not been able to convince our neighbours that we are not poised to grab them at the first opportunity. The list of failures is long. We have failed to convince Bangladesh not to allow its territory to be used by the ISI, Chinese, ULFA and other terror groups. We have failed to convince Nepal that we only have it's welfare at heart otherwise we could have bled it white in ten days flat and China can do nothing to help them. Bhutan is conducting border talks with China in contravention of the India-Bhutan Treaty of 1950. Does it bother anyone? We rush in to advise Sri Lanka on issues we have no business to. Thank God Prabhakaran is no more, otherwise this was another problem stuck in our gullet. With Sri Lanka, we concluded the most puzzling Accord wherein we sat down with Sri Lankan leaders to decide Prabhakaran's fate, but the Accord does not bear his signatures. How was he bound by this Accord? No wonder be denounced this Accord soon as he was allowed to go to Sri Lanka by us. That old fox Jaywardhene let IPKF and LTTE fight it out. The other problem of our foreign policy in respect of our neighbours is that in our anxiety to be seen as a major power in the making, we only want to hobnob with important countries in the world and tend to take our neighbours for granted. This is a case of Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. The neighbourhood is in turmoil but we are busy ingratiating ourselves with the sole super power and others.
Non-Aligned Movement - Flogging a Dead Horse
Why are we keeping the Non-Aligned Movement on life support system long after the Cold War ended defies all logic? Even we gave it a near burial in 1962 when following Chinese aggression, we sought help of Western powers, particularly USA and UK by way of arms aid. Prior to this we had taken a hypocritical stance when for all practical purpose we were firmly in the Soviet camp and castigated the Americans at every opportunity. We did not learn a lesson even after the '62 war, when, except for Egypt, Malaysia and Ethiopia, not a single member country of the Non-Aligned Movement supported our case.
We Indians are a status quo people. No one wants to rock the boat. So this directionless foreign policy has gone on for six decades without anyone questioning its rationale, causing immense harm to issues of national interest. The policy needs complete overhaul and not cosmetic changes. Whether it will happen or not remains to be seen. The chances are that status quo will prevail.