Foreign policy nightmare

The prime minister has enunciated his foreign policy statement, which was visionary and his enlightened discourse as ascertained from various reports had all macro indicators point towards a robust healthy foreign policy. Succinctly put his policy over ten years lay great stress on robust economic growth and peace. The environment within the nation is such that no one is ready to invest in India. The growth rate has fallen from eight per cent to 4.8 per cent and if business men are not ready to risk their investments the nation can never be strong. The policy does not indicate the foreign policy parameters under weak economic growth, it thus brings out that the devil lies in details and India’s neighbour requires special attention.

For the military man, as the Army is an instrument of foreign policy, there was very little take away. There  has been a great shift in thinking and posterity. The prime minister has given India one of the poorest civilian military leadership over a prolonged period compared to any other prime ministers.  One of the biggest drawbacks of the two power centers has been the budget of the defence forces, which the military has constantly sacrificed. Two power centers may work well for the party and other services but the defence forces being an ‘a political’, organisation have suffered. The defence minister without thinking on the consequences of his actions has blacklisted firms especially when the forces are import dependent. The legacy that will be left will be an Army that lacks credible punch. Modernisation of defence forces has really suffered.

Another legacy of the foreign policy post Operation Parakaram, wherein a full corps from the East could be pulled out for deployment in the Western theatre is the gradual shift from one front war to war on two front threats. Diplomacy has to ensure that India fights and wins a single front war. The historical track record for a defender repeat defender is that on an average barring aside an odd exception no defender has been able to win a war on two fronts. This gradual shift in military thinking of a war on two fronts, that too against two nuclear armed powers, and one rising super power puts the Indian armed forces at a grave disadvantage, especially if the nation spends a mere two per cent of GDP on defence.
There has been a constant problem of big brotherly attitude of India’s neighbour and this foreign policy must address. There is also a visible and palpable shift of the entire neighbour’s attitude that has become very assertive towards India while their internal problems have compounded. The spin out of their internal problems can lead to foreign policy challenges which are very challenging and India has not figured that in, thus constantly laments about various power centers in Pakistan where in the Army controls the foreign policy. The case of SriLanka is even more interesting. There is a hue and cry with domestic compulsions over taking national interests. The point at issue is very simple; the common wealth nations have a precedent of ‘in the chair’, which ipso facto implies, that Sri Lanka heads this for the next two years. Thus the end state of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is that Sri Lanka is in the chair and hopes to attract investments through this meet and find a place in the comity of nations. The Commonwealth has 54 countries. Out of 53 (one suspended), Canada has abstained as if that will sort out the issue.

India must keep the dialogue open and that can only be done by going there and talking. There was more provocation from Pakistan before the meet at the UN. Why is there lack of clarity if the foreign policy vision is so clear? Peace does not come from abstinence.

Bangladesh faces the biggest diplomatic challenge and it goes to polls shortly.  India needs to ensure that the treaty of enclaves, the Land Boundary Agreement Bill, is ratified by the Parliament when it is likely to be presented on the first day of the winter session.

The Teesta river water sharing has remained a non-starter since the prime minister’s visit to Dhaka in September 2011. It is also expected to be given a push as both these affect the outcome for a friendly government in Bangladesh, which is in India’s national interest.

As far as Nepal is concerned the elections are due on 19 November. Prachanda faces a tough task as he failed the drafting of the constitution. The elections are due to elect a second constituent assembly. Anti-India bashing is a favourite sport and China has gained an unenviable position. India is losing its primary pole position. How should India regain is the moot point post elections which sections of CPN (Maoist) known as the Baidya faction along with 33 minor political parties opposing. Recent agreement’s signed with China need a mention. The Border Defence Cooperation article VI, ‘no shadow following or trailing each other’s patrols’, puts the Indian Army at a serious disadvantage. It leaves the Chinese free to intrude without fear of trailing. It gives one the impression that those signing the agreement did not know the difference between a military patrol or else the Indian Army on a border where there is a perception management problem which needed to be addressed first before no trailing would not have signed such a disadvantageous document.

It can thus be seen that India’s neighbour need a lot of attention and the foreign policy needs to address the same, most importantly the defence forces need to come into the policy formation loop.

The author is a retired brigadier
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