Foreign policy challenges for UPA 2.0

What India’s foremost experts say

WITH PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh forming a second-successive government at the head of the UPA coalition in May, Pragati asked several leading Indian experts what, in their opinions, were the top foreign policy challenges and priorities for the new government.

C Raja Mohan

Many of India’s national security and foreign policy priorities come together in the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region. These include the unmet challenge of terrorism with links across our Western borders, the management of the bitter legacy of Partition with Pakistan, the projection of India’s power beyond its immediate borders in Afghanistan and the consolidation of India’s most important great power relationship with the United States. Therefore getting the policy towards our north-western neighbourhood is likely to be at the top of the new government’s agenda.

The post-Mumbai pessimism about engaging Pakistan and the expectation of a less-than-warm relationship with the Obama administration seemed to have lent a dark edge to the foreign policy calculus of Dr Manmohan Singh in the second term.

I would in fact make the case for a more optimistic and even ‘opportunistic’ approach to the Af-Pak region. Whatever the pessimists might say about Pakistan and Mr Obama, the current crisis in the region between the Indus and the Hindu Kush is too valuable to be wasted. India must make a bold attempt at using American weight and its current extraordinary interest in the Af-Pak region to produce long-term structural change within Pakistan and in the relationship between New Delhi and Islamabad. This will require shedding many of the shibboleths that currently guide India’s policies towards Islamabad, Kabul and Washington.

C Raja Mohan is professor of South Asian Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

VR Raghavan

The election results have ushered the Indian state and its citizens into a period of political stability. The government has the opportunity to boldly go forward on definitive measures in the security and strategic arena. The first need is to put into place a more responsive, effective and integrated internal security arrangement to make the country safe from catastrophic terrorist acts like 9/11 or 26/11. This requires improved centre-state co-ordination and far superior intelligence management than hitherto.

The second priority should be to build a national consensus on India’s international nuclear disarmament commitment. What would India’s position be if the United States and China ratify the CTBT? In my view India ratifying the CTBT, after the U.S. and China, will attain two purposes. It will enhance its role as a responsible nuclear weapons state. It will also encourage Pakistan to do so.

Third, the government should push for building the foundations of economic and social growth. Infrastructure development and widening the reach of school education are the key to national power in the long run.

Lt Gen (Retd) V R Raghavan is director of the Delhi Policy Group and president of the Centre for Security Analysis.

B Raman

Our relations with Pakistan should have the topmost priority because of their impact on our internal security situation. How can we convince Pakistan that it will never be able to change the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir by using terrorism against us?

Our relations with China should have the second priority. Military confrontation with China would be unwise, but we should strengthen our economic relations hoping that the economic linkages and the Chinese interest in sustaining those linkages would moderate its present rigid stand in Arunachal Pradesh. Political power flows out of economic power, and we are at least a decade behind China in our economic power.

Our relations with the United States should have the third priority. The Obama administration’s only interest is in preventing us from retaliating against Pakistan for its acts of terrorism in Indian territory. This policy will act as a speed-breaker for further strengthening India-US relations. Despite this, we should be open to new ideas coming from the United States, provided those ideas are not detrimental to our national interests.

Our relations with Russia should have the fourth priority. Russia might be able to moderate Chinese policies towards India and is still a dependable supplier of arms, ammunition and nuclear power stations.

Our relations with Bangladesh and Nepal are important because they too have an impact on our internal security. Now that the LTTE is gone, we should get rid of our inhibitions in playing a more active role in Sri Lanka as we were doing before 1991.

Internal security management has not received the attention it deserves. Our persisting internal security problems in different parts of the country are acting as a drag on our emergence as a major economic power. We have many weaknesses, including intelligence collection and assessment, rapid intervention capability, and retaliatory self-defence capability. Finally, the preparation of a long-term perspective plan for the modernisation of our armed forces needs attention, as well as the development of military-related technologies and production capabilities.

B. Raman is director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Chennai.

K Subrahmanyam

India’s top priority is to mobilise international public opinion to combat jihadism as an ideology as was done with respect to Nazism. Support from Muslim populations, especially in non-Arab Muslim countries and cooperation with the United States, European Union and Russia is absolutely essential. The final aim is to de-jihadise the world, just as it was de-Nazified.

On regional issues, India must pay a lot of attention to Bangladesh and improve relations, security and economic cooperation to the maximum extent. It must play the pre-eminent role in the relief and rehabilitation of Tamils, and promote economic integration with Sri Lanka. A new treaty with Nepal should be negotiated. Faster economic growth of Nepal and job creation there should be our priority and friendly external powers may be encouraged to get involved there.

Particular attention needs to be paid to relations with United States, with the projection of soft power. We must develop a basic strategy of parallel defence R&D and manufacturing cooperation with Russia and the United States, as well as Israel.

Finally, success in foreign policy depends on success in economic policy. Our diplomats should understand this. The Foreign Service should give up its generalist orientation and start developing expertise on specific areas and subjects. There should be far greater co-ordination between the ministries of external affairs, commerce, defence and science & technology.

K Subrahmanyam was formerly director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and convener of the National Security Advisory Board.

Mohan Guruswamy

India’s foremost priority should be to ensure international economic stability and work to reduce the usage of the US dollar as the preferred international reserve currency. The United States’ profligacy is uncurtailable and its appetite for debt undiminished. India can contribute by establishing bilateral currency trading relations with major trading partners. India must also support the enlargement of the Special Drawing Rights pool with the International Monetary Fund.

India also needs to engage China more seriously, both as a regional threat and a partner on international forums. It must also concern itself more seriously with its growing economic and political asymmetry with China. China’s hostility towards India does not seem to be diminishing and India must support cost-imposing opportunities that come its way. China cannot be allowed to indefinitely subsidise the sundry consumption appetites of US and Western consumers and hurt other low-cost production countries by taking advantage of its totalitarian regime.

India also needs to renew its military relations with Russia as the collapse of the Russian arms industry gives the United States and NATO a near monopoly on hi-tech arms such as fifth-generation aircraft. India must also reconsider its military commerce with Israel, given the costs it imposes on its relations with Muslim nations and in dealing with its own Muslim population. A reduced focus on the United States and compliance with its domestic laws will only enhance the quality of its relations with that country in the long run. India must not forget that along with China and the United States it will be one of the big three world economies in the next two decades or so. It must now learn to carry a big stick and walk, and even talk, softly.

Mohan Guruswamy is chairman and founder of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Swaminathan S Ankelsaria Aiyar

The major foreign policy issue is undoubtedly security in the light of Islamic militancy. This has long been an issue in Kashmir, has now spread to the rest of the country. It has the potential to polarise Indian Muslims in ways that could seriously threaten internal stability. India on its own can do nothing to check the menace that threatens to take over Pakistan and Afghanistan. What can it do?

First, it needs to remain calm even in the face of fresh terrorist incidents like 26/11, and resist the temptation to bomb camps in Pakistan. Such bombing will do little damage and may even increase recruitment into the jihadi cause. Rather, India should offer military force reductions on the Pakistan border to enable the Pakistan army to move forces to the trouble areas bordering Afghanistan.

The Pakistani state is now threatened by the Frankenstein’s monsters that it once incubated, and is reluctantly acting against them. India’s strategic aim must be to enable Pakistani liberals to beat jihadis in the war for hearts and minds. This will have to be done subtly, so that Pakistani liberals are not “tainted” in domestic debates as Indian stooges.

Swaminathan S. Ankelsaria Aiyar is Research Fellow at the Cato Institute and consulting editor of The Economic Times.

Bharat Karnad

Four issues, I hope, will be foreign policy priorities for the Indian government. First, it must firm up opposition to signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. The nuclear deal will be leveraged by the U.S. to get India to sign these, but neither treaty is in India’s long-term interests, mainly because India’s thermonuclear weapon designs are unproven and unreliable and will require physical testing. The argument should be that given the American reluctance to accept time-bound and full disarmament, countries such as India cannot afford to remain vulnerable.

Secondly, Pakistan has to be helped to right itself. India’s position that it will begin talking only after Islamabad starts “dismantling the terrorist infrastructure” is to presume that Pakistan government is in control of Pakistan. Composite talks ought to get rapidly underway and the lesser issues, like Sir Creek, formally resolved.

Thirdly, before China or some other extra-regional power intervenes in Sri Lanka, India ought to take the lead in hammering out an enduring “federal” solution for the country, with Tamils given some measure of autonomy in the north and north-east, and sufficient representation in Colombo. Economic and reconstruction aid and massive military assistance should be ample and forthcoming.

Finally, strategic co-operation with Indian Ocean littoral countries and with countries on China’s periphery should be enhanced, and “free market” agreements should be extended.  This will geopolitically hedge in China and limit its political options and military reach.

Bharat Karnad is Research Professor at the Centre for Policy Research.

P R Chari

The major security challenges before India arise from its traditional concerns—Pakistan and China. The threat from Pakistan is multi-dimensional, including conventional conflict, sub-conventional conflict, cross-border insurgency and terrorism. There is, moreover, the danger of Pakistan losing control over its nuclear weapons and breaking up due to its inner contradictions, which has security implications for India.

A conventional conflict with China is a remote possibility, but it could instigate subversion within its vulnerable north-eastern states. More subtly, China is showcasing its development of Tibet, which contrasts vividly with what India’s non-development of its border regions. China has not abjured its traditional policy of spreading disaffection among India’s South Asian neighbours to box India within the confines of the subcontinent. The most important foreign policy issue before India will be crafting its relationship with the United States, while seeking meaningful relations with other power centres in the world like Russia, Japan and the European community.

India needs American support to meet the security challenges posed by Pakistan and China. India needs to craft its foreign policy, therefore, to respect American sensitivities on issues like climate change, but also join US efforts to stabilise Asia.

P R Chari is Research Professor at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

3 Replies to “Foreign policy challenges for UPA 2.0”

  1. Ashok Thakkar

    India’s foreign policy goals regarding tackling USA, China, Russia, EU, Israel and the neighborhood are fine. But we are forgetting the most important issue. The main reason the world is taking India less seriously than it deserves is that we do not act from the position of strength. Our own house is in disarray, how can we project the image of strength?

    The “position of strength” comes from internal stability. Corruption is eating away the moral core of our beloved nation. Corruption also allows terrorists and other criminals to enter and operate in India without much difficulty. Obtaining fake passports, drivers licences and other id’s is sooooo easy!

    The other issue is our internal security apparatus. How do you expect the world to respect us when we have the Naxalites, Kashmiri Jehadists, Bajrang Dal, and the Muslim Militant Organization (SIMI?), not to mention Dowd Ibrahim and other mafia dons operating so freely in the land? This is possible because our law enforcement is extremely weak. What do you expect from corrupt politicians and corrupt police force?

    The bottomline is, let us make ourselves strong – morally, economically and militarily. The world will be at our feet. That is the real strategy – rest is a tactical discussion.

    Ashok Thakkar (USA). (

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