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Millennium Post

Our skewed foreign policy

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a watered down resolution on Sri Lanka, but has India lost more than what it should have gained? Does India still have leverage or have we lost the foreign policy plot to a host of reasons, bogged down by domestic compulsions and lack of strategic vision. Recently the documentary, The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, was aired by a British television channel, which had clearly shown that questionable acts had been committed by the Lankan forces which merited a human rights investigation. Being a war veteran and having done tenure of duty in Sri Lanka, this columnist’s heart goes out to the Tamils, though India has reasons to have leverage in Sri Lanka. Having said that much, one wishes to go back in time when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) was in power and the atrocities were, in fact, being committed. What action was taken then, by them, and the government of India, when the violations like shelling of hospitals, firing on the no fire zones, alleged killing of Tamil Tigers were all done over a period of time? Why did the international community turn a blind eye then? Why was the DMK so busy collecting funds from 2G scam? What did India do then? Thus the question, why is the DMK now playing the Tamil card for petty vote gains? Why is Mamata now stating that Trinamool Congress (TMC) will always back government on foreign policy issue, when she herself torpedoed the Teesta water sharing treaty with Bangladesh? Is foreign policy being held a hostage for regional parties and is the answer a clear yes?

Let’s look at another neighbour, Nepal, which hardly invites any attention. The chief justice of Nepal Khil Raj Regmi has taken oath as the prime minister, so as to conduct elections to the second constituent assembly possibly by June 2013. Here is a country which last had a majority Maoist government and whose track record is one of subverting judiciary and combing powers. The Maoist could not promulgate a constitution and now a caretaker prime minister-cum-chief justice combines both the functions of the state. This strange arrangement has been made so as to conduct free and fair elections, but not a single discussion in the Indian press whether this is possible or not, and what will be the cost of failure on India’s relation with Nepal. It should be remembered that a basic principle of democracy, i.e., separation of legislature, judiciary and executive, is violated as justice and politics are two different affairs in any country. However, there is no debate over this in our country.

The perpetual thorn of ‘death by a thousand cuts’, strategy of Pakistan, and in furtherance of the same, our western neighbour continues to bleed India through terrorist attacks while building alliance with China. India lacks a foreign policy strategy to pick out this thorn since 1988 and its security personal continue to pay a price for a lack of cohesive policy. In fact, the government of India in its wisdom spends 1.79 per cent of GDP on defence, when China is boosting is defence spending, asking its forces to get ready for a short war. Yet, the Indian Army is getting ready to fight on a two and half front hybrid threat on such paltry alms.

On the other side, the new Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping has promulgated a new Panch Sheel document, whose fine-print, when implied and executed, does not address any of India’s concerns. The document talks of strategic communication, have cultural ties, cooperation in infrastructure, tackle global challenges and have concerns for each other. What are left unaddressed are the contentious concerns about the ongoing border dispute which requires settlement. The issues of China building dams, flooding of Chinese goods in Indian markets, having a toe hold in Neelam valley of Pakistan while supplying arms to Pakistan, strategic encirclement of India, building markets and good will in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar etc., have all been set aside. The key issues listed above have been left for another day, when China is stronger and more assertive and India is even weaker. India has just blundered through the Maldives crisis, but has it learnt any lessons?

The AfPak situation and the American draw down are just around the corner. The terrorists have trumped Israel in Lebanon, Russia in Afghanistan, and they have sent the Americans out of Iraq, and now Afghanistan. Thus, the question of throwing Indian troops out of Kashmir, especially with India not giving any thought to a clear-cut policy of overcoming this nuisance, is not far-fetched.

India’s domestic politics have hurt Sri Lanka’s national pride as well, though, it is obvious that there is a Sinhalese chauvinism within the country. What the policymakers effectively forget is what works better in this context: is it to hurt the national pride and estrange a complete nation or to operate seamlessly so that India’s strategic concerns are addressed and the Tamils too get their due? The Americans knew about Pakistan’s involvement with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, yet they continued to give Pakistan the status of friend in the global war on terrorism, because the Americans thought of national interests first.

Recently two heads of estranged nations, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, came to offer prayers in India, which is a religious destination for many in the subcontinent. India has cultural and religious ties with its neighbours, yet loses out to China where religion is the last thing on the agenda. India needs to think of the region in a strategic manner and not do fire fighting as is the norm.

India is also the sporting hub, yet Sri Lankan cricketers cannot play cricket in Chennai and Pakistan sportsmen are banned so often that one does not know if, as an entire society, Indians are becoming increasingly intolerant. India needs to have a grand strategy and its national interests at the core economics must play a role so also must soft power. India has a lot at stake in national interest but the UPA II has a lot at stake in surviving for the Tamil cause hence the repeated policy flaw.

The author is a retired brigadier
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