Non-alignment to multi-alignment

India’s foreign policy has finally rid itself of Cold War trappings in favour of a wider engagement with world powers. But one Cold War-era reality remains: when it comes to Pakistan, one couldn’t be careful enough.

January 05, 2016 01:52 am | Updated January 28, 2020 07:09 pm IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Twitter/@PIB_India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: Twitter/@PIB_India

December has been a significant month for India and Indian diplomacy. This was not limited merely to defence acquisitions, but also included new initiatives on the foreign policy front.

If anything remained of the concept of non-alignment, India’s outreach to both Cold War antagonists, in December, appeared to signal its final demise. Non-alignment served India well during the difficult years from the mid to the late 20th century, but had apparently outlived its utility. The time had possibly come to sound its requiem, and India did just that in December.

M. K. Narayanan

Deepening India-U.S. ties It was, hence, not difficult for Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, within the course of a few hours of discussion with his counterpart >during his visit to the United States in December , to enhance the quality of their defence dialogue and strengthen the defence engagement between the two countries. Outcomes from this visit of the Defence Minister are certain to further enlarge the scope of the already booming defence relationship. Among the more significant takeaways are: the progress made regarding the joint working groups on both aircraft carrier technology and jet engine technology; the approvals given for additional numbers of Boeing P-8I maritime patrol aircraft, C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft, and M777 ultra-light howitzers; the progress achieved regarding long-deferred “foundational agreements” such as CISMOA (Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), and a further strengthening of the partnership on “high technology” under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI).

Reaffirming ties with Russia and Japan During this same month of December, >Prime Minister Narendra Modi took off for Russia to reaffirm the strong links that exist between the two nations. Statements made on the occasion reveal the determination on both sides to reinforce the strategic ties that date back to the Cold War years. Few, however, expected that the visit would also result in Russia regaining its position as India’s principal defence supplier.

The list of agreements drawn up in Moscow covers nuclear, space, energy and defence. Russia has committed [earlier] to building additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam (Tamil Nadu) and in Andhra Pradesh. In terms of conventional energy, India has secured a bouquet of deals, including a 10 per cent stake in Russian oil company Rosneft, and commitments regarding a possible stake in another field in East Siberia. In the area of defence manufacturing, both sides have pulled out all the stops. Agreement was reached with regard to co-production of Kamov-226T utility helicopters (the bulk of which would be built in India), and the possibility of securing 48 MI-17 V5 medium-lift helicopters, S-400 Triumf/Triumph missile systems and stealth frigates.

>Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India , also during the same month, meantime, proved to be more than a strategic interlude, with defence, foreign policy, and economic aspects all receiving attention. Japan’s willingness to cooperate on peaceful nuclear energy will have the same kind of positive impact as that which followed the iconic India-U.S. civil nuclear agreement of 2008. Japan’s willingness to acknowledge India as a reliable and trustworthy nuclear power (despite not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is again certain to have a positive impact on nuclear establishments across the world.

Japan’s willingness to share defence equipment and technology, facilitate the exchange of classified military information, and arrive at an understanding of emerging threats in the Indo-Pacific — implicit in the India-Japan Agreement with regard to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea — has opened a new chapter in relations. This was further buttressed by the provision of financial and technical aid for a high-speed rail link between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, in addition to overseas developmental assistance for various projects across India. Mr. Abe’s affirmation, that no other bilateral relationship in the world has the kind of potential which ties relations between India and Japan, was clearly no hyperbole.

The Pakistan puzzle On the return trip from Russia, >Prime Minister Modi paid a visit to Afghanistan where he inaugurated the new Afghan Parliament building (built with Indian aid). Making a stirring speech on the occasion, he complimented Afghanistan’s determination to stand up to terror from across the border, and criticised attempts made to unsettle Afghanistan through the use of terror tactics. En route to Delhi from Kabul, the Prime Minister made an “impromptu” stopover in Lahore to wish Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his birthday. This evoked euphoric headlines in the Indian media. Not everyone, however, saw this as heralding a new chapter in India-Pakistan relations, with long-time Pakistan watchers well aware that the “path to Pakistan’s perfidy” is usually paved with good intentions on India’s part.

The real motive underlying the >Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan remains unclear. Mr. Modi is well aware that Pakistan has given no indication whatsoever of having “changed its spots”. Only a few hours prior to the Lahore visit, he had implicitly warned Afghanistan of the threat posed by Pakistan. Less than a fortnight ago while addressing the Combined Commanders’ Conference on board INS Vikramaditya, the Prime Minister had struck a sombre note, warning that “we see terrorism and ceasefire violations; reckless nuclear build-up and threats; border transgressions; and continuing military modernisation” in our neighbourhood. All this leaves little room for anyone to think that the Prime Minister nurtures any illusion of a change of heart on Pakistan’s part. It would, hence, be unrealistic to think that he was hoping to remove the obstacles that stood in the way of a reconciliation between the two countries with this grand gesture. Mr. Modi is also well aware that there can be no substitute for hard negotiations, or the need for a great deal of effort, to narrow the gap between the two countries.

The real danger is that it could lull the nation into a false sense of complacency and security on account of the circumstances surrounding this sudden move. Any mistaken step as far as Pakistan is concerned needs to be avoided. Pakistan is presently going through a very “promising” phase in its turbulent history, and is being wooed by both China and the U.S. It does not, however, show any signs that it has reduced its animosity towards India.

The potential benefits from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are expected to substantially improve Pakistan’s economic fortunes. The U.S., in the meantime, appears to have reversed some of the policies it had adopted after 2013, and is demonstrating a higher degree of sensitivity to Pakistan’s concerns. It is at present actively courting Pakistan in view of its strategic location vis-à-vis Afghanistan and Central Asia. The sale of additional F-16 fighter aircraft, and continuation of the Coalition Support Fund beyond 2016 reflect this. Reported U.S. support to facilitating projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, U.S. support for a sustained dialogue between India and Pakistan “to resolve all outstanding territorial and other disputes, including Kashmir”, and a reference to “working together to address mutual concerns of India and Pakistan regarding terrorism” in the joint statement issued following the visit of Mr. Sharif to Washington in October, well reflect some current realities. This cannot be viewed as mere straws in the wind.

It would thus be premature to offer congratulations on an end-year “breakthrough” in India-Pakistan relations. Instead, there is need for greater vigil and more careful thought on what needs to be done so as to prevent a Kargil-type situation, exploiting the current euphoria, from taking place.

(M.K. Narayanan is former National Security Adviser and former Governor of West Bengal.)

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