When India became independent in 1947 there was considerable speculation as to her political alignment. Both USA and USSR were keen to see her tilt in their favour.
The Soviet Union kept some distance between herself and the Indian leaders, because under the Stalinist regime most of the Third World Countries were dubbed reactionaries.
The credit for formulating an independent nonaligned foreign policy keeping in view the paramount importance of national interests of our country goes to late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who steered the country clear of both the power blocs and provided us with a new image in the world.
Jawaharlal Nehru was one of the founding fathers of the policy of non-alignment in which he was very ably supported by Marshal Tito who had his own scores to settle with the leaders of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II.
The foreign policy of the country had always been shaped; keeping in view its national interests and is changed only when the national interests warrant it. No wonder, a country’s foreign policy is dictated by national interests and not by whims and fancies of either an individual or a political party.
Even the Janata Dal rulers did not deviate drastically from the non-aligned policy formulated by the Congress Government though while in opposition, they were critical of every overture to both Pakistan and China.
During the 13th Lok Sabha and the 14th Lok Sabha elections (Sep.-Oct. 99, and April-May 2004, respectively) major foreign policy was not a very important factor in the manifestoes of most of the political parties. The basic approach of all of them aimed at strengthening India’s image abroad and improving relations with its neighbours.
The fundamentals of India’s foreign policy can be summed up as follows:
1. Friendship with all and enmity towards none.
2. Reliance on the movement of non-alignment: India has been one of the most important leaders of Non-Aligned Movement which owes its existence to zeal and enthusiasm exhibited by Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The NAM remains relevant even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
3. Another cornerstone of our foreign policy is to maintain close relations with our neighbours. This policy received special attention of the Janata Dal Government which did everything possible in order to improve upon relations with our neighbours, especially Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan.
The National Front Government also was committed to the improvement of our relations with Pakistan and China. The United Front government of Mr. Deve Gowda received a shot in the arm when in the first week of June 1996, Mrs. Benazir Bhutto offered to initiate a process of dialogue with India on all issues and also extended the status of MFN (most favoured nation) to India.
I.K. Gujral formulated the so-called ‘Gujral Doctrine’ which aimed at formulating friendly relations with our neighbours. The National Democratic Alliance followed the foreign policy formulated by the previous governments.
Our relations with our neighbours have gone through a bad patch. Pakistan continues to raise the pitch on Kashmir; it has tricked India into a controversy on Baluchistan.
At the June 09, NAM Summit, Dr. Manmohan Singh made a faux pas on Baluchistan which was subsequently exploited by The PAK politicians Prime Minister of Nepal & the king of Bhutan visited India in 2009, the latter in Dec. 09. The situation in Nepal has been compounded by the anti India rhetoric of Prachanda, the Maoist leader. He has been blaming India for all of Nepalis problems.
4. India had developed a very special relationship with Iran during the reign of the former Shah of Iran. The government established contacts with Ayatollah Khomeini while he was still in Paris and a fruitful relationship between Iran and India exists. The new regime in Iran is very friendly to our country and the Indians working in Iran were not harassed during anti-West agitations in Iran.
Iran is keen to extend the pipeline carrying crude oil through Pakistan right up to India. The land route depends on the willingness of Pakistan to cooperate. Iran played a key role in early 1994, when Pakistan raised the issue of human rights violation in the Kashmir Valley at the United Nations Organisation in Geneva. Both Iran and China lent their support to India.
Jaswant Singh visited Iran in mid-2000, one of the first high-ranking Indians to do so. Iran tried to dissuade unsuccessfully the fundamentalist Taliban government of Afghanistan from blowing up the Bamiyan Buddha statues.
The Prime Minister, Vajpayee, visited Iran in early 2001 to continue the Iran-Indian dialogue initiated earlier- India is keen to befriend the countries which were once very close to Pakistan. President Khattami was the chief guest at the Jan. 26, 03 Republic Day. In Sept 03, India was spared the embarrasment of voting against Iran in the IAEA, when the latter was likely to be indicted for its nuclear weapons programme.
The Iranian Foreign and Oil ministers have visited India in late 2004 ostensibly to finalise oil cum gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India. OVL (ONGC Videsh Limited) has also invested sizably in one of the oil blocks in IRAN. The U.S. has been putting pressure on India not to go ahead with the proposed IRAN-PAKISTAN-INDIA gas pipe line.
We refused to fall in toe. India has kept out of Iran’s internal turmoil concomitant to the disputed elections in mid 2009. We are more keen to strengthen our economic relations especially import of oil rather participation & pass Judgements on Irans Foray into nuclear weapons on its relations with Israel.
5. India has emerged as a donor of financial assistance to the countries of the region. Liberal credits have been provided to some of them, especially Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mauritius and Mozambique.
On account of the burgeoning foreign exchange reserves, we have extended loans to some of the S. American countries at the behest of IMF. We have also prepaid high interest loans to IBRD & other lending institutions. During the Tsunami tragedy of Dec. 2004, India lent a very important helping hand to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
6. A significant aspect of our foreign policy is friendship with the Arab world. This friendship goes back to prehistoric times when both the Indians and the Arabs conducted mutual trade and were on very cordial terms.
Who does not know that muslin which adored the Roman beauties was carried by the Arab traders from India? Geopolitical considerations also are responsible for our very cordial relations with the Arab world. India was one of the few countries in the world which advocated the cause of the Palestinians who were victims of Israeli aggression in July-August 1982.
Strains are appearing in this relationship because of the close proximity between Israel and India much to the chagrin of the Arabs. The latter may play the Pakistani tune if our relations warm up to the Israelis in the field of nuclear and defence cooperation.
The Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians and the Egyptians have themselves warmed up to the Israelis, and no eyebrows will be raised if we also become friendly to the Israelis. Home Minister L.K. Advani visited Israel to explore co-operation in talking terrorism and fundamentalism.
Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli Prime Minister, visited India in Sept 03, the first ever visit of such a senior dignitary from Israel. A red carpet was laid out for him; it was generally believed that the two countries can forge a fruitful relationship in defence, science and technology. Both India and Israel can also fight the common menace of terrorism and share information on the same.
7. One of the landmarks in our foreign policy has been the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka accord by leaders of the two countries on July 29, 1987. Under this accord Indian peace-keeping troops were dispatched to the strife-torn island.
It was probably the first time in our history that such a mission had been undertaken. The IPKF was withdrawn in March 1990, in deference to the wishes of the late Sri Lankan President, Mr. Premadasa.
8. The religious fundamentalism from across the borders and a few of the Islamic countries has been aimed at destabilising the country. The March 12, 93 bomb blasts in Bombay and the aggravated insurgency in Punjab and J & K have been masterminded from across the border.
The Organisation of Islamic Conference during its meeting in Kuala Lumpur in Oct, 2003 referred to the plight of Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir and advocated their right to self-determination. The United States of America is also convinced of Pakistan abetting terrorism in the border states of India.
We are surrounded by Islamic countries, and we should not take any step against the Muslim minority which might further infuriate these countries and turn them against us.
The Pakistani game plan has already failed in Punjab, where militants from across the border made a determined bid to destabilise the country from 1981 to 1993. Punjab was in the grip of sectarian and secessionist violence. Over 25,000 people, most of them innocent women and children were killed. Economy of the border state suffered immensely.
The elections in Punjab in 1993 and the policy of tolerance and compassion adopted by the Centre turned the tide against Pakistani trained militants. Normalcy has been restored in Punjab. Jammu and Kashmir continue to be in the grip of violence and militants from across the border are active.
In J & K also the peaceful conduct of the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha and the role played by the army and para-military organisations shows that the end of insurgency is in sight. The 2003 elections in the Valley resulted in the formation of a govt, by Mufti. Mohd Saeed, who’s Peoples Democratic Party tied up with the Congress.
The new govt, is making a determined effort to restore normalcy. A record number of tourists visited the Valley in the summer of 2007 in spite of sporadic terrorist attacks. The centre in Late 2009 initiated a process of dialogue with the various groups. There is considerable pressure from the friendly countries to sort out the mess.
There was a talk of autonomy in 2010; Subsequent to a report submitted a group formed for the purpose the BTP objected. The report being submitted to the Chief Minister rather than the Prime Minister.
9. Our relations with China received a severe setback, when George Fernandez termed China as our ‘Enemy No. 1’. One of the ostensible reasons ascribed to our nuclear explosions in May ’98 was the danger from China. India was, however, quick to improve its relations with China.
Mr. Jaswant Singh visited China during the Kargil war and succeeded in securing Chinese support. Pakistan’s foreign minister was snubbed by China, and the latter refused to endorse the Pakistani intrusion across the LOC. The relations have now been normalised especially after the state visit of former President Narayanan to Beijing.
The Russians have even suggested that Moscow, Delhi and Beijing should form a triangle to check the growing ambitions of USA. Initially China was not so enthusiastic, now it is somewhat changing. Vajpayee’s visit to China in June, 03 further strengthened the ties. The UPA government is also persisting in previous government efforts to further improve relations with China.
Mrs. Sonia Gandhi visited China in 2007 and was accorded a warm welcome. China & India displayed rare unity & commonality of interest during The Copenhagen climate Summit of Dec. 2009. Both countries put up a united front to upstart. The demands forums-lateral reduction of emissions demanded by The Developed world. President Obama blamed India & China for the lack of an accord; but we owed a commitment to our hungry billions.
10. The most important landmark to the foreign policy has been signing of the nuclear deal between India and USA in July, 2005, by Dr. Manmohan Singh and George Bush. President of America.
The supporters of the treaty maintain that it will afford an opportunity to India to get access to the latest nuclear technology and thereby increase the share of percentage of the atomic energy in India. The detractors, however, point out that the treaty will put severe restrictions on India on testing nuclear weapons when necessity arises.
There was an intensive debate in the Lok Sabha in December, 07, as the CPI (M) had raised many issues of concern on the proposed treaty. Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the Foreign Minister, responding to the nuclear debate in the Lok Sabha, argued, “What would make the agreement India-specific, with the assurance of uninterrupted fuel supply, launch for creating a strategically reserve of nuclear fuel for an atomic reactor under safeguard, and recognition of India’s strategic programme.” Both the BJP and CPI (M) opposed the nuclear deal for different reasons.
The Agreement has now been approved and with the visit of Hillary Clinton the U.S. Secretary of State, in 2009, the two countries signed a wide ranging Treaty on Defence & Nuclear Co-operation.
11. Of late, however, our relations with Russia have been deteriorating as our foreign policy is leaning more towards USA. The Russians have been irritating the Indians with the various signals, amongst them in Nov. 2007 not to arrange meetings of senior Russian leaders, when Pranab Mukherjee visited Moscow.
The Russians have also been demanding a much higher price for the various items defence equipment. They have almost doubled the price of aircraft carrier “Gorshkov,” which India proposes to buy from Moscow. India is trying to diversify its defence purchases and may opt for F-16 planes from the USA much to the chagrin of the Russians.
The cordiality has resurfaced with the December 2009 visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh to Russia. The imbroglio over Gorshkov had been sorted out, and the two countries have signed an agreement on nuclear co-operation which is more favourable than the one signed with the USA in July 2005. Russia is committed to supply the enriched uranium without preconditions.
12. In late 2007, India has been rattled by severe disturbances in the neighbouring countries. The military junta in Myanmar let loose a reign of terror against the Buddhist monks killing a large number of them.
India has not outright condemned the atrocities committed by the military junta. Our economic and strategic considerations in Myanmar have prevented us from being too critical of the junta. The ASEAN has also not beam too critical of the army rule and did not expel Myanmar from the prestigious body, fearing that the country would disintegrate and create severe problems for its neighbours.
Aung San Su Kyi continues to be under detention which has been extended by 18 months as a sequel to the visit of the American John Yettaw the US. Politician Webb secured his release and held discussions with the military Junta in June 09.
Elections are likely to take place in 2010, and hopefully the scenario may change. The United States has also shifted stand from confrontation to reconciliation, a top level US delegation met the senior army commanders to ease dictatorship
13. General Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in Pakistan in early November, 07, and thrashed lawyers for opposing the same, dismissed judges of the Supreme Court and appointed ones loyal to him who promptly extended the legal sanction and legitimacy to President Musharraf.
On November 27, 07, General Musharraf shed his uniform and appointed General Ashaq Kayani as the head of the army. India can do nothing but only hope that the borders remain peaceful and Pakistan does not resort to any military action as a diversionary tactic.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack on Dec. 27, 2007, has further worsened the situation, and President Musharraf promptly announced investigation by the Scotland Yard and announced a reward of Rs 1 crore for tracing the killers.
Musharraf is now ensconced in London, and could face charge of violation of the countries, constitution and also its subversion. Pakistan faced serious challenges from the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Some order was restored in Sept 09, when number of the top Taliban leaders were either arrested or killed.
The U.S. drone attack killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban masterminded in August, 09. The Pakistani Supreme Court slammed charges of corruption against all senior politicians including President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani & the Interior Minister in Dec. 2009.
14. The situation in Maldives is getting worse as for the first time; Islamic militancy has raised its head in the island republic. The situation in Nepal is no different where the relations between the Maoists led by Prachanda and Prime Minister GP. Koirala are also on the rocks.
The demand of the Maoists that their cadres should be integrated into the Nepalese army is totally absurd, to say the least. India is more or less surrounded by failed states which are casting their shadows on its foreign policy.
Madhav Nepal, the new Prime Minister of Nepal, visited India in Sept 09; Nirupama Rao, India’s foreign secy., visited Nepal in Sept 09 and the visits reaffirmed Indo-Nepal friendship. The Maoists, however, remain trained and have stepped up their anti-Indian and pro-China stance. The King of Bhutan visited India in Dec 09 and strengthened the mutual relations between the two countries.
15. The UPA chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, visited China and was accorded a warm welcome. The trade between the two countries exceeds $ 40 billion and is set to touch $ 60 billion by 2011. India is seen as bending backward to please China, when in late 2007, a directive was issued to the ministers and officers not to attend a proposed reception in honour of the Dalai Lama.
The government’s attempt to distance itself from the Dalai Lama is perplexing indeed. The holy man had earlier made a statement that after his death, the new Dalai Lama will be from Tibet only.
Relations with China have flared up especially after their the incursions into the Indian territory. A number of violation, were reported in Sept. 09 however, the two countries are not likely to let the situation get out of control.
16. Our other neighbour Bangladesh is also going through turmoil both politically and geographically. The political system has now been resolved the hapless people were hit by cyclone ‘SIDR’ in Nov. 2007, causing enormous loss of life and property.
The new Bangladesh regime displayed its friendship is The India when it arrested the top leaders of UCFA & other terrorist organisations including Barua in Dec. 2009.