India, Pakistan, US, China Flags

BJP Government’s Foreign Policy Should Be Rooted in Introspection:

Jaswant Singh made some poignant observations about foreign policy matters in one of his articles last week. While he seemed to approve of the BJP government’s “more emphatic international posture”, he also included a caveat – the Modi government must guard against “overzealous assertion of strategic autonomy.” To sum up his words of wisdom, India must move toward “economic and security alliances.”

While reminding the government that economic cooperation won’t be possible without sustained peace, he actually rubbed the salt on the right place. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan and border disputes with China could have hogged the maximum limelight in the recent discourse, but there are myriad related issues desperately seeking attention.

Bilateral Relations between India and Pakistan

Every analyst parrots a somewhat common theory: The ideal way to defuse bilateral tensions is to strengthen economic links. Of course, it’s easier said than done. Strengthening economic linkages requires a politically conducive environment. If we think of Pakistan, our closest neighbour on the western front, it is troubled by its internal issues. The country faces the threat of speedy Talibanization. Unless it manages to stem religious and cultural extremism and stop being a haven for international terrorism, no significant headway can be on cards.

Bilateral Relations between India and China

The equation is completely different with China. Unlike Pakistan, Beijing doesn’t allow bilateral disputes to mar economic ties with India. Despite having significant differences on political affairs, the two neighbors are continuously scaling up their trade relations. No one knows this better than Mr. Modi himself. However, India needs to safeguard the interests of domestic economy while allowing Chinese investments in important sectors such as manufacturing and infrastructure. Another challenge for the Modi government will surface when its opinion will be sought on the South China Sea dispute. While the issue of border incursions can call for rounds of negotiations between two parties, the larger issues such as regional territorial disputes demand an unequivocal response from the Modi government. Can India get away by proposing arbitration at a global level?

What didn’t help India’s cause was the US defense secretary’s recent allegation that Beijing has been ‘destabilising’ the South China Sea. When Chuck Hagel made a strong remark stating that China’s actions threaten the region’s prosperity, didn’t it become evident that India now has to take a stand? It did. Choosing sides is what India apprehends. The foreign policy dilemma is likely to have an impact on decision-making. We cannot let the Chinese Dragon loose, nor can we make our partnership with the US look fragile.

Indo-US Relations

It would be imprudent to underrate the economic and strategic importance of Indo-US ties. Both powers need to allay bilateral concerns over the US immigration reform and India’s retroactive taxation policy. Just when India has identified that stronger military cooperation, foreign investment in domestic defense sector, and increased technology transfer could deepen ties with the US, it must not let the momentum go by offending its important ally. Instead of working on confidence-building measures, the BJP government can’t afford to send a discouraging signal by keeping mum.

The new External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, has a steep road ahead as things haven’t been rosy on the global front in the last few weeks. Besides charting the course for satisfactory resolution of these disputes, India has to simultaneously concentrate on other concerns – territorial disputes with Bangladesh, maritime boundary issues with Sri Lanka, Dhaka’s blatant refusal to act against the fundamentalist group, and many more.

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