India’s foreign policy ambitions and capabilities

India’s foreign policy ambitions and capabilities

The implementation of an effective foreign policy requires clear vision about self and pragmatic understanding of the prevailing international environment. For newly independent countries, the role of leadership, especially founding fathers, becomes naturally very important for defining the core objectives of foreign policy of the country. Defining the institutional structure and structuralisation of long-term core foreign policy agenda requires leadership having the ability to make sense of outside world through the prism of pragmatism.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the founding father of India and first prime minister of the country, viewed India as a great power. Compensating the hard power deficiency that India had, Nehru took a normative stance for projecting India as a major power. He viewed India as the leader of South Asia. The policy of supporting the freedom movements in the third-world, especially Africa was designed for promoting the soft power of India.

The policy of non-alignment by Nehruportrayed India as a major power. During Indo-China border dispute, the great power claims by Indian leadership were put to the test in ruthless international politics structured on realism. A swift, conclusive and humiliating defeat at the hands of China brought fundamental reassessment of means that India utilised for securing its foreign policy objectives.

For interaction with countries outside theSouth Asian region, India took a benign foreign policy approach. Within South Asia, India even under Nehru followed an assertive foreign policy under the assumption that India was the leader of South Asia.Its aggressive foreign policy made Pakistan insecure and forced Pakistan to look options for balancing conventional superiority of Indian military by joining the US-led military alliances.

Ironically, instead of addressing the threat-hurling mindset of Indian leadership that forced Pakistan to join Western camp during the Cold War, Pakistan was blamed for involving outside powers in South Asia. Indian foreign policy makers and analysts failed to appreciate the fact that the insulation of the region from outside powers desired by India for dominating small states in South Asia was detrimental to national security interests of Pakistan. Indian expansionist foreign policy stance and threats to the territorial integrity of Pakistan meant that Pakistan was bound to look for military assistance from either of the powers leading Cold War.The policy of strategic autonomy that India followed was designed as a facade with the real purpose of establishing Indian dominance over South Asia while sending a message to great powers that South Asia belonged to India.

The development of military capabilities by India for plugging the gaps in its claim to great power status became a priority after a defeat at the hands of China. Under Indira Gandhi, India practically distanced itself from nonalignment movement (NAM) and became closely associated with the Soviet Union for the military buildup. The lack of in-depth knowledge and a skill base for manufacturing advanced military hardware made India dependent on imported weapons from countries around the world. Economic reforms in India during the last decade of the 20th century have propelled India among top 10 economies of the world. Capital deficiency problem that India faced at the time of independence is now addressed to a great extent, and at the same time, it has become an attractive destination for foreign investment.The power of the purse and the size of the market has made India a sought-after country by major powers of the world. The gains made through rapid economic development are utilised by India for a military build-up to back bids for major power status. India views its economic rise benign in nature, producing public goods for other South Asian countries except for Pakistan.Within South Asia, through economic power, military threats and coercion, India has been making efforts for securing support to be recognised as the legitimate leader of the region.

The US for its national interest is promoting and encouraging India to play a broader role in South Asia and Indian Ocean Region (IOR), without considering the destabilisation effect of such moves on regional politics.By signing multiple military agreements with the US, India has sacrificed the policy of strategic autonomy for long term strategic alignment with the US for a greater role in world politics.For short-term economic interests, nuclear deals that the US, Russia, Japan, and Australia have signed with India, are adversely affecting the strategic stability of South Asia. The denial of the permanent membership of United Nations Security Council at the hands of the US after World War II has been Indian misplaced grievance. Though India claims to have a nuclear programme for countering security threats from China – the real purpose of the programme is none other than but adding credentials to its major power claims.

Without resolving outstanding territorial disputes with Pakistan, the Indian claim to be the leader of South Asia will essentially be challenged. India is trying to manufacture legitimacy through coercion and military threats. After becoming anovert nuclear power in response to the second nuclear test by India, Pakistan achieved a balance of power by offsetting Indian conventional military superiority. After losing the conventional military advantage over Pakistan, India has shifted to nonconventional tactics for destabilising Pakistan from within by promoting and financing terrorist groups in Pakistan.

Pakistan should continue to oppose India’s bid for permanent membership of United Nations Security Council till India resolves the Kashmir dispute as per the wishes of Kashmiris. It is a new low for countries that have shown willingness to extend diplomatic support for Indian membership of UNSC, keeping in mind that India continues to disregard UN resolutions on Kashmir.India continues to be the biggest arms importer in the world that means even today India lacks indigenous base for developing hard power capabilities. Maintaining necessary conventional and nuclear military capability is essential for countering military threats from India. Further deepening and broadening of strategic relations with China are required for offsetting the pressure of extra-regional powers on Pakistan. Establishing relations with Russia on strong footing is essential for diversifying foreign policy option. Estranging the US will be counterproductive for Pakistan’s objective of bringing peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to play balancing act while devising long-term accumulative foreign policy centred on the promotion of its national interest. Learning from our adversary India, revival and expansion of economy of Pakistan is the first step for enhancing foreign policy option of Pakistan.

The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.