Bottomline | Ambitious Over-Reach

India’s new policy of being a global player is simply unrealistic

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

While most analysts have given a thumbs-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy on completion of one year in office, opinion on the security policy appears muted, mainly because of non-clarity on threats to India. Considering that a nation’s foreign and security policies should complement one another, the dichotomy in India’s case suggests a gap between means and end. The image that India showcases is incongruous with the capabilities it has.

In a major policy shift, Modi’s India has decided to position itself as a global player instead of a balancing power. In an interview with the Tribune newspaper, Modi said, “Thus far we have been a balancing power, always seeking others’ favour. How long can we continue to do that? Why don’t we grow into a global player? It is clear in my mind we are no more just a balancing power, but a global player. We speak on equal terms with all, whether it is the United States or China. Today, we approach the world with greater self-assurance. We have shown the confidence to engage all major powers simultaneously and effectively. With our seven neighbours, our guiding principle is to have humanitarian approach.”

While the Prime Minister spoke little on policy towards Pakistan, a senior diplomat told me that the government has decided to build connectivity with other neighbours both through SAARC and bilaterally. ‘This will put pressure on Pakistan to either join the regional bandwagon or get ignored,’ he said. According to him, ‘Pakistan’s policy of sponsoring terrorism in India since 25 years has failed; today Pakistan is seen as a pariah country. Even China is uneasy about its investments in Pakistan.’

India’s new policy pronouncement is nothing short of unrealisable outstretch. China took over three decades (starting with Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation call in 1979) to traverse the distance between a balancing power (between the two blocs during the Cold War) and a major power under Xi Jinping by focussing on four areas of science and technology, economy, defence, and industry. Modi believes that building perception through an aggressive hard-sell is enough to compensate for lack of capabilities. While this approach may charm the domestic constituency, the world is not impressed.

For example, at the recently held Shangri la dialogue in Singapore, the Asian nations were worried about being caught in major power rivalry between the US and China; the two powers in the region which is universally agreed to be the fulcrum of economic and security activities in this century. India got a footnote mention at the dialogue as a nation with which the US seeks closer partnership in the Indian Ocean just as it does with Vietnam in the western Pacific Ocean. Thus, despite Modi’s clarion call of ‘Act East Policy’, the littoral nations know that India’s greatest assets for regional stability are its geography and potential as a balancing power.

If India had understood this reality, it, before embarking on a global role, would have strengthened its defence capabilities (which are abysmally low) and addressed outstanding security issues with China and Pakistan, two neighbours determined to derail its rise. A week after Modi’s China visit starting May 14, his national security advisor, Ajit Doval has admitted a lack of progress on the disputed border problem which he accepted will determine relations between India and China. While calling for a ‘larger plan’ to resolve issues with China, Doval has expressed inability to have devised one.

This is not surprising. India will keep groping in the dark as long as it shuns talks with Pakistan; the road to resolving contentious issues with China goes through Pakistan, its closest ally. Since Pakistan has been strategically and militarily strengthened by China to meet the Indian challenge, the answer to addressing bilateral issues with Beijing is not by war, but by meaningfully engaging Pakistan. In this way, the need to build capabilities to fight a two-front war (which is impossible to win) will no longer be there.

The beginning for this approach for India is to accept that Pakistan has a formidable military and there are outstanding unresolved issues. Just like India is irked at China’s lack of enthusiasm for resolving the border dispute, Pakistan is determined for a closure to the Kashmir issue. The latter is clearly unpalatable to the Modi government, which given its ideology believes that the only unfinished bilateral agenda is for Pakistan to vacate occupied Kashmir.

Since this ideological logjam is impossible to break for India, time is on the side of the China-Pakistan alliance, which will only grow with the economic corridor which connects the two. Unfortunately, the hawkish Indian policymakers and most analysts fail to understand that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has grave security implications for India.


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