In 2017 our foreign policy challenges will essentially be those of 2016. Our principal external challenges are known as we have grappled with them for decades without success. In some ways these challenges sharpened in 2016, and 2017 will therefore test our foreign policy mettle even more.
In 2016 we moved away from the passivity of the past in dealing with our principal adversaries. We want to change the rules of the game in our neighbourhood, hitherto played at our cost because caution and even timidity have governed our responses.
The challenge in 2017 would be steadfastness in the new course, for which political stamina and strong domestic consensus will be needed.
Some quarters have begun to criticise the government for mismanaging our relations with China. We are told that China’s GDP is five times ours, its military budget is much larger and that the gap between the two countries is now unbridgeable. We must not, therefore, provoke the dragon. This argument is fallacious.
India has been exceedingly defensive in its dealings with China despite grave provocations even when it was nowhere as strong as it is today. A form of mental defeatism dissimulated as rational policy choices have marked our China policy, and this needs to be shed.
The critics not only ignore China’s persistently hostile policies towards us, but often blame India for provoking them. Whereas China’s policies are viewed as a legitimate exercise of power, our response to protect our interests is considered ill-advised. China has over the years given itself the political and security margin to contain India regionally and globally under cover of a high level dialogue and economic engagement bilaterally, as well as in international forums.
If India, as it is beginning to happen now, seeks to develop a similar margin for itself, China’s official spokespersons and its controlled media use condescending language to notify us of the dangers we are courting. China is now revealing more openly its imperious intent.
It is adamantly opposing our NSG membership even though its interests are not directly affected. China argues that we are not NPT signatories, even though the non-proliferation regime is strengthened by our membership, which, in deed, was the rationale for exempting India from the NSG guidelines in the first place.
|Some of our China experts have even begun to advocate the advantages of India joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.|
China proclaims its commitment to combat international terrorism, but it has systematically blocked the designation of Masood Azhar and others as international terrorists by the relevant UN Security Council committee. In both cases, China has hyphenated our case with that of Pakistan, both to protect Pakistan’s interests and underline that China sees its dealings with India essentially from a South Asian regional perspective, not Asian, much less international.
China’s reaction to our Agni IV and Agni V tests reveals the same haughtiness. Its spokesperson implied that these tests were illegitimate as they violated UN resolutions and endangered the strategic stability in South Asia. He added that if the international community recognised India’s right to develop ICBMs, it should recognise Pakistan’s right too.
The hint here is that just as China expanded its nuclear cooperation with Pakistan to balance the India-US nuclear deal, it will assist Pakistan in further developing its missile capability. In defiance of reality and reflecting its hubris, China has reiterated its position that it does not recognise India as a nuclear weapon state.
Some of our China experts have even begun to advocate the advantages of India joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the ground that it will contribute to the stability of the region through economic development, which is precisely the argument the Chinese make.
The fact that the corridor passes through territory that is legally ours is skirted by the proposition that this could be without prejudice to the legal position. China occupies our territory in Ladakh and not only claims Arunachal Pradesh but opposes even development projects there, especially those involving third parties.
In the context of the South China Sea arbitral award, Chinese leaders have pronounced that they will never compromise on territorial issues and will not yield an inch of territory bequeathed by their ancestors. In this light, the willingness of some Indian commentators to endorse China’s violation of our legal rights in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is astonishing.
The Modi government raised the nation’s morale by publicising our “surgical strikes” after the Uri attack which enlarged our political space to deal with Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. By mentioning Balochistan in his 2016 Independence Day speech and announcing our intention to exercise our full rights under the Indus Waters Treaty, Modi opened up unprecedented points of pressure against Pakistan.
The challenge in 2017 is to pursue these options without flagging. Already our quietude after the Nagrota terror attack raises doubts about the tenaciousness of our new approach. The statement by a MEA minister that Pakistan has to be engaged as it is a neighbour (but underlining that terrorism and dialogue cannot go together) and the new Army chief Bipin Rawat’s comments in favour of a ceasefire to avoid civilian casualties add to these doubts.
Nawaz Sharif’s latest broadside (January 5, 2017) against India on Kashmir that again mentions the "martyrdom" of Burhan Wani indicates, however, that hopes of a serious policy change in Pakistan with the appointment of a new army chief are misplaced.
We have our challenge cut out in dealing with Pakistan in 2017.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)