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India’s Foreign Policy 2017-The Pitfalls Ahead

Paper No. 6232                                  Dated 14-Mar-2017

By Dr Subhash Kapila

India’s foreign policy while focussing on India’s national interests cannot at the same time in 2017 be oblivious to China’s and Pakistan’s concerted efforts for a geopolitical and strategic diminution of India to arrest its upward rise.

While India would ideally not like to be in a state of perpetual conflict with China and Pakistan but the reality that should not be overlooked by Major Powers and the Indian peaceniks is that this state of perpetual conflict stands foisted on India by China and Pakistan and not the other way around. Till such time China and Pakistan adapt to India’s political and military rise and calibrate their respective policies accordingly, India must be alive to the pitfalls that these two adversarial relations, China and Pakistan, generate against India.

Successive Governments in New Delhi of different political dispensations have succumbed to Chinese and Pakistan’s spasmodic sugar-coated overtures to what Indian foreign policy establishment on the advice of a motley group of Special Advisers and Special Envoys misconstrued as a change of  heart in so-called political approaches of China and Pakistan to India.

Let it be initially flagged that in the 21st Century, India is destined and doomed to live with an irretrievable reality that China and Pakistan would not deviate from their implacable hostility towards India. China and Pakistan would therefore hover high in India’s military threat perceptions despite their odd friendly transactional approaches. India’s political leadership and its policy establishment should therefore not de-emphasise the ‘China Threat’ and the ‘Pakistan Threat’ and the joint threat from the China-Pakistan Axis.

Any such Indian political tinkering with these historically established perceptions of the China Threat and Pakistan Threat undermines India’s national security significantly in terms of India’s development of military capability to meet these two pronounced threats. It seriously affects focus on India’s force structures, war preparedness and putting in place timely logistics grid to meet these unceasing military threats from China and Pakistan.

One has been provoked into focussing on this theme and the attendant pitfalls by unfolding foreign policy related developments both external and in India’s internal debates.

Beginning with China first, it is observable that China has been successful in unleashing two internal debates in India through the medium of writings of senior journalists and some academics. China’s two-pronged strategy is focussed on two major issues. The most immediate for China is that India should withdraw its objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and should opt to join China’ One Belt One Road project in order to improve regional connectivity and trade. The second point which China has released through Indian journalists is that India could consider bartering Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, not for Aksai Chin in Ladakh, but some Indian territory under Chinese occupation in Arunachal Pradesh.

Chinese propaganda through Indian journalists highlighting India’s gains in accepting CPEC traversing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir which is India’s territory and the OBOR project can be dismissed outright in that both the Chinese projects have strategic and military end-aims which impinge on India’s national security interests. Indi’s senior journalists have overlooked this aspect.

The Indian Prime Minister would be well advised not to attend any China-sponsored Summits on these two Chinese initiatives. Further, the Ministry of External Affairs should have press briefings for Indian journalists on these two issues so that they do not fall prey to Chinese propaganda offensives.

As regards the bartering of Tawang, this is a highly mischievous Chinese proposal. The strategic importance of Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh stand highlighted in the past decade in two SAAG Papers of mine written in similar contextual circumstances. The end-aim is military and has nothing to do with any other pious motives.

Preceding these two developments can Indian diplomats and the policy establishment forget that China has vehemently opposed India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and more painful for India, China vetoed international efforts in the United Nations to designate Pakistan’s rabid Islamic Jihadi leaders targeting India as ‘international terrorists’. Surely, these are not the hallmarks of a China that wishes to extend an olive branch to India.

Moving to Pakistan, Indian peaceniks both within the Indian policy establishment and outside, a clamour is slowly building up that India after having made its point with it surgical strikes against Pakistan in retaliation to the Uri attacks by Pakistan, should now initiate a political outreach to Pakistan.

The moot question that needs to be answered by this pro-Pakistan lobby is as to what has changed in Pakistan’s policy attitudes and demonstrated performance in relation to India that merits an Indian political outreach to improve relations with Pakistan?  Nothing has changed substantially. Pakistan still continues to harbour terrorist leaders wanted by India and shields them with China’s complicity. Pakistan still continues to stoke fires in Kashmir Valley. Pakistan has not ceased expanding its network of ‘sleeper cells’ within India to carry out terrorist attacks. Pakistan still continues in wholesale printing of fake Indian currency to sustain its proxy war against India. Have India’s media personalities and academics and Special Envoys and Special Advisers on Pakistan anything to have offer in defence of Pakistan in this regard?

Moving to the external pressures for an Indian political outreach to Pakistan, one fears that the United States even under the Trump Administration is falling prey to the traditional US policy establishment proclivity to sustain Pakistan as a balancer against India. This shall be examined in a separate Paper. Suffice it to say that discernible events and statements by senior US Generals indicate that India’s policy of isolating Pakistan is leading to dangers of nuclear conflict in South Asia. The age-old American bogey against India seems to be in a revival mode despite a US House Resolution introduced that US should declare Pakistan a terrorist state and also the strong rhetoric emanating from Washington supporting the US-India Strategic Partnership.

Concluding, all the factors examined above, suggests that Indian political leaders and the foreign policy establishment avoid the following pitfalls likely to plague India’s foreign policy in 2017:

  • China offers no space for India compromising on its strategic opposition to China’s CPEC and OBOR projects. Both are detrimental to Indian national interests.
  • China offers no space for any Indian political outreach to China in the hope of normalisation of relations. India should de-link itself from all China-dominated or China-sponsored organisations and Summits. They only belittle India’s stature
  • Pakistan offers no optimism for India for a political outreach to that nation. We can expect further collusive China-Pakistan activities to the detriment of India.
  • Lastly, India should not once again drop into the abyss of outsourcing its Pakistan-policy to Washington like the UPA Government and nor should India succumb to US pressures for any unwarranted political outreaches to Pakistan.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at drsubhashkapila.007@gmail.com)

 

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