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Why India’s Foreign Policy needs to stop obsessing over Pakistan?

Why India’s Foreign Policy needs to stop obsessing over Pakistan?

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GS 2 || International Relations || Indian Foreign Policy || Challenges of IFP

Introduction

  • India’s foreign policy, like that of any other country, aims to broaden its sphere of influence, strengthen its role across nations, and make its presence felt as an emerging power. In pursuit of foreign policy objectives, this year presents a slew of challenges and opportunities.
  • For example, India is concerned about the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s allegiance with the Taliban and China’s rise and influence in its neighbourhood. 

India-Pakistan Relations

  • Relations between India and Pakistan have been complex and largely hostile due to a number of historical and political events.
  • Pakistan is a civilizational revisionist state in an ideology that puts its claims on even Mughal monuments in India. There is large scale intolerance and discrimination towards religious minorities in Pakistan.
  • Indo-Pak relations have been characterized by several conflicts and military standoffs. The root of the continued tension is territorial claims in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (now, union territory).
  • From 2015 onwards since the Indian Prime Minister’s Pakistan visit there has hardly been any constructive dialogue between the two countries.
  • The 2001 attack on the Parliament of India had been carried out by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) – two Pakistan based terrorists.
  • The main standoffs in recent years-
    • Pulwama Attack 2019 – Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy carrying security personnel on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway was attacked by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethpora in the Pulwama district.
    • Balakot Airstrike 2019- Move by Indian Government to attack training camp for Jaish-e-Mohammed, the terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the bombing.
    • Indo-Pak Fighter Jet clashes where Pakistan crashed a Soviet-era MiG-21 plane and captured Abhinandan Varthaman, an Indian pilot.
    • Heavy financial loss to the Indian aviation sector due to Pakistan closing its air space for 140 days in 2019.

Why is it difficult to continue constructive dialogue with Pakistan?

  • It is important to keep some semblance of dialogue going on even with an aggressive nation like Pakistan, given the complicated geopolitical world order.
  • Not just the Pakistani military, but also common citizens are fed on a staple diet of hatred against India right from their childhood years.
  • Pakistan is very irrational in thinking that talks and cross border terrorism can be conducted together. Pakistan is more a nuisance for India than being a major threat.

Challenges in front of India’s Foreign Policy

  • A Rising and Powerful China: China is the only major country with a positive growth rate at the end of 2020, and its economy is expected to grow even faster in 2021.
    • China has militarily strengthened itself and now seeks to dominate the Indo-Pacific Ocean with the announcement of the launch of its third aircraft carrier in 2021.
    • A breakthrough in Sino-Indian relations is unlikely, and the conflict between Indian and Chinese armed forces is likely to continue.
  • India’s Self-Imposed Isolation: Currently, India remains isolated from two important supranational bodies of which it used to be a founding member, viz., the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
    • Furthermore, India has withdrawn from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
    • This self-imposed isolation is incompatible with India’s ambition to become a global power.
  • Weakening Ties with Neighbors: A more concerning concern for Indian foreign policy is the deterioration of ties with neighbours. This can be seen in instances such as China’s Cheque Book Diplomacy with Sri Lanka, the strain in relations with Bangladesh over the NRC issue, and the recent border dispute with Nepal as a result of the release of the new map.

 A Sole focus on Pakistan is not fruitful for India

  • India went to the United Nations in the hope that the international community would notice Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir.
  • However, the United Nations Security Council declared a ceasefire, resulting in the PoK problem, which we are still attempting to resolve.
  • At the same time, Pakistan’s occupation of Kashmir (PoK) separated India from the energy-rich Central Asian countries.
  • In the 1960s, 1980s, and again after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, India grossly underestimated Pakistan’s importance to American and Chinese global strategy.
  • All nations’ foreign policy reflects an assessment of opportunities and compulsions, as well as risks and rewards. Even a minor misreading of the larger picture can be costly.
    • For example, India’s visit to the United Nations on Jammu and Kashmir misunderstood the Anglo-American alliance’s intent at the time, as well as the gravity of the Cold War.

Should India worry about the Alliance of Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan? 

  • Religion remains the only ideology around which Pakistan centres its policy and decisions especially when it comes to its foreign policy towards India.’The recent fall in Kabul and the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has become worrisome for India as it fears the allegiance of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s allegiance on the region would become disastrous as geography also favors the two countries.
  • India should not see it through Pakistan’s angle as the Taliban is a threat to Pakistan itself
    • Pakistan fails to understand that even if the Taliban’s power again in Afghanistan is a threat to Pakistan itself, as it will try to impose its version of Islam, which will threaten Pakistan, as Pakistan does not have a strong Islamic identity.
    • Also, the Taliban is bound to reassert the demand for Pashtunistan, which will be the nemesis for Pakistan.
    • It will only lead to the Talibanization of Pakistan, which will not only be detrimental for its future but will also reverse the strategic depth policy Pakistan practices.

Way forward 

  • A Sole focus on Pakistan needs to be avoided- India should avoid focusing solely on isolating Pakistan as this would detract from India’s ambitions to be a global leader.
    • India must shed its obsession with Pakistan and devote more political and diplomatic energies towards tending its relationships with its other neighbours. In the absence of a consistent political tending of the neighbourhood, India will find itself repeatedly confronting poisonous weeds.
    • Despite the bitterness from some of India’s past involvement in the civil wars in its neighbourhood, India must take an active interest in resolving the regional conflicts. Avoiding them, for the fear of domestic political consequences or other considerations, will not provide an escape for India from the spillover of these conflicts.
  • Need for Multi alignment
    • Today’s world is characterized by complex interdependence (where countries are competing on geostrategic issues and cooperating on geo-economic issues). Therefore, Indian foreign policy requires strategic hedging.
    • However, it is difficult to reconcile between RIC (Russia-India-China) & JAI (Japan-America-India), Quad & SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), Iran & Saudis and Israel & Palestine.
    • In this phase of geopolitical transformation, India needs to follow an approach of working with multiple partners on different agendas. Therefore, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas is relevant in foreign policy.
  • Reworking on other Immediate neighbours– India must move quickly to rework the special treaty relationships with Nepal and Bhutan. The old agreements based on the notion of “protectorates” cannot be sustained in the present-day world. The inevitable review and revision of these treaties will be painful and messy, but India has no alternative.
    • India’s activism in the conflicts next door need not necessarily mean excluding others from the region. India’s objective should be to work with friendly great powers to promote principled and reasonable solutions to the conflicts in the region.
  • Regional interests need to be a priority- Working with outsiders on regional conflicts will not be easy. India must find ways to shape and manage the international interest in its neighbourhood, rather than oppose it. The mobilisation of external interest could, however, provide expanded space for India to douse the anti-India sentiment in the region and nudge it in the right direction.
  • Revamping of economic strategy-Third, New Delhi needs a massive revamping of its economic strategy towards the neighbours. India needs to take full advantage of natural geographic conditions and the pressures of economic globalisation to quicken the pace of the inevitable reintegration of the South Asian market. India cannot allow political pinpricks from its neighbours to come in the way of pursuing freer regional trade through unilateral action where necessary.

Conclusion

  • Since Partition, India has inherited about 15,000 km of land borders which are predominantly vexed. This moved India’s strategic thought entirely to the land borders.
  • The land  borders have taken our attention away for long from our vast, 7,500-km-plus coastline.
  • Perhaps it’s time that India leave the Pakistan obsession aside, even forget Afghanistan for now and focus on our maritime power and opportunities. This turmoil in Afghanistan presents a greatest opportunity in 75 years to shift our strategic gaze from the north to the south.

Mains model Question

  • India’s Foreign Policy needs to stop obsessing over Pakistan? Discuss

References