The recent wide ranging interview of the Russian Foreign Minister in The Hindustan Times must finally set in motion the long overdue need to work out a comprehensive strategy by the South Block to assess and meet the new post-cold war equations.
That the absence of the Socialist USSR would have a long term impact, irreversible at least in the immediate term, on India’s foreign policy, was anticipated in differing degrees, by the entire spectrum of Indian political and intellectual opinion.
Despite this, however, the absence of any comprehensive strategic approach by the Government of India is striking, notwithstanding the familiar rhetoric at the NAM, G15 and SAARC summits. While India correctly continues to adhere to certain fundamental positions, reflecting indeed a broad national consensus, on crucial issues like Kashmir and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the realisation that this by itself would not further India’s interests in the present context is absent.
That knee-jerk responses continue to constitute foreign policy responses is evident if one considers, among others the following three issues. First, Kashmir. The Russian Foreign Minister, has made a marked departure from the earlier Soviet position that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. He has instead asked India to “demonstrate moderation and search patiently for a peaceful solution”. To be fair, he has reiterated that the Shimla Agreement serves as the basis for such an approach. Pakistan, in the meanwhile on the one hand, continues with its belligerent postures and training anti-Indian extremists. On the other, it seeks to, once again, internationalise the Kashmir issue. In this effort, it hopes that the new Moscow dispensation may refrain from exercising its veto in the UN, as in the past. Given this situation, mere reiteration of earlier positions is not sufficient. It is incumbent upon the Government of India to take a series of diplomatic initiatives at the bilateral level. This is also necessary to prevent any outside interference especially by the only super power, USA. This is not to suggest that one ought to expect an immediate positive response from Pakistan. All indications are to the contrary. But unless initiatives for mutual confidence building measures are taken by India the attempt to internationalise the issue cannot be checkmated.
Secondly, with regard to the NPT India has correctly been reiterating the discriminatory character of such a treaty that not only ensures but perpetuates the exclusive power of the existing nuclear power countries. The need to keep our nuclear option open is of course, the most pragmatic course. But the US attempts to push India on the defensive on this issue continue. Hopes that Bush’s defeat may lead to some rethinking are negated by the tenor of Clinton’s victory speech where he vowed to continue America’s status as military super-power. In this context, counter-pressures must be created. It would not be out of place to revive the long-standing counterposing between the Pakistani proposal of South Asia as a zone of peace and India’s proposal of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace. The crucial difference between the two is that while the former excludes the US nuclear base at Diego Garcia, the latter includes it. It is only through such diplomatic initiatives can India counter US designs and protect its interests.
The unfolding of the US strategy of a “new world order” has an important consequence in the economic sphere. US pressures on the third world countries and India are being palpably felt today by the people. The November 20 agreement between the US and the EC, (notwithstanding France’s predicament; its inability to carry its own farmers with Dunkel proposals), markedly favours the US economy and its agricultural sector. The drastic reductions in acreage subsidies to farm exports and for produce for internal consumption in Europe will help the US to regain crucial economic space it lost due to continuing recessionary conditions.
The significance of this cannot be missed on the third world especially India. If the third world could resist the Dunkel proposals so far, it was more due to the conflicts within the advanced capitalist countries themselves. Unless some immediate initiatives are taken, the overall effect of the GATT negotiations that permit US to intervene in international commodity markets and manipulate agricultural trade to its advantage cannot be resisted.
It is precisely in this context that the vulnerability of the present Indian Government exposed. The effectiveness of any foreign policy is determined, in the final analysis, by the country’s internal strength – political, social and economic. While regal indifference marks the approach to all divisive issues internally, the economic dispensation chosen by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government instead of consolidating India’s internal strength, weakens it by compromising our economic sovereignty.
No one in his right senses can oppose any set of policies that strengthen India’s economic integration with the rest of the world. But, the moot question is, at what terms should such integration should take place? Unless the present servility of accepting all IMF terms is reversed no effective initiatives can be taken to counter US pressures. Notwithstanding this, it is still possible for India to concretely initiate the process of strengthening South-South cooperation. Further, urgent steps must be taken to strengthen ties with the rising economic giant of China. These two measures are imperative if India has to maintain its position and status as an independent country in the world comity of nations. No amount of patriotic pontification can serve the purpose. Dynamic inititives responding to the changed circumstances without abandoning India’s rightful place in the world comity of nations is the only way.