India needs to balance its vision with both a clear policy and capability
Even as the payback time for close relations with the United States has started a bit too early, New Delhi will need to formulate and make clear its policy on certain national security issues. Let us start with the recent events in Iran and Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding repeated US threats emanating from President George W. Bush downwards, Iran is certainly not buckling under the pressure being generated through the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Simply too much is at stake for Teheran. If it were seen as weak on its nuclear fuel policy, its grown stature in the Middle East, especially after the fall of Saddam’s Iraq would take a hard knock. Then it has friends like Russia and China who would ensure that the UN sanctions, if they were ever to come about on Iran, would not be applicable on its oil industry. In any case, bilateral relations of Russia and China with the US are getting strained by the day, and neither would accept the US’ roadmap, including use of military power, for peace in the Middle East. Given its strong position, Iran has made it known to India that its duplicity will not be acceptable. It cannot vote against Iran at the IAEA and hope at the same time to partake Iran’s oil and gas on friendly terms. Just in case India thought that it had managed to be clever by half, there are reports that India has been excluded in the first gas pipeline project by Iran-Pakistan combine. So, it is not so much the US’ reprimand to India on its oil diplomacy with Iran, but India’s duplicitous behaviour that has led to this pass. Worse, there is also the US$22 billion LNG deal signed in 2005 between India and Iran on which Teheran has expressed inability to go ahead. The stakes for India are much higher than mere oil relations with Iran; it is being seen as a stooge of the US.
This explains the unfortunate recent killing of the Indian engineer, K. Suryanarayan by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is well known that President Pervez Musharraf is not pleased with the growing ties between India and President Hamid Karzai whose writ does not run beyond Kabul in Afghanistan; even for that he needs full US backing. Even as Musharraf is fighting al Qaeda and hardened Taliban alongside the US, he has managed to wean away the undecided Taliban mostly of Pakistani origin to do his bidding in Afghanistan and Jammu and Kashmir (Karzai is attempting to do the same rather belatedly by inviting Taliban to join hands with him). Musharraf is simply not prepared to forsake the Pakistan Army’s claims in J&K and Afghanistan because his very survival depends upon keeping his army commanders satisfied if not happy about his close ties with the US. In very simple terms, relations between nations that affect India’s national security policy are aligned in the following manner: Major powers like China and Russia has both spelt out their policies on key issues and are working fervently to develop their own alignments to contain US power. The world is entering a new paradoxical phase where political and diplomatic differences between the US and major powers will widen even as economic linkages get strengthened. Second rung powers like Iran are using its assets and prestige to cull out relations with major powers to defeat what it views as US hegemony. Meanwhile, Pakistan that has few assets but has nuclear weapons and a strong military is having a party; it has China’s full backing, is making the most of growing relations with the US, is hobnobbing with Russia and Israel, two countries who have ignored it for decades, and is fomenting trouble for Afghanistan and India. Just in terms of its foreign and national security policies, Pakistan appears clearer than India in where it stands and what it wants.
The problem with India is that it neither has a stated policy on key national security matters nor the needed capability to back it. For example, foreign secretary Shyam Saran recently told journalists that the Taliban who killed Suryanarayan would be punished. How exactly does he propose to do this? Considering that India does not even have a policy on how to deal with terrorists, and that we have been unable to stop Pakistan from exporting these Talibanised elements into J&K, Saran’s remarks are laughable. India says that it will be firm with terrorists, and at the same time is willing to negotiate with them (under pressure of its public opinion fanned by the electronic media), speaks poor of its political leadership. Moreover, New Delhi wants the US to help India become a major power (why should the US do anything that does not serve its own interests?), even as India desires that it should not be seen as US’ poodle is indeed strange. Furthermore, India’s pronouncement that its area of interest includes South and Central Asia, and runs from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca is an overstretched vision; especially when there is no policy on how to protect India’s assets, including people working in these areas. Before it becomes a laughing stock, India would do well to do a reality check between its desires and capabilities.