Clarity of thought of those who steered our foreign policy and national strategy is basic to our success.
A right strategic interpretation of the times we live in must guide our foreign policy and define our approach to individual countries around. The post-Cold War world called for a review by India of how it was placed in the global balance of power, what the new line up of its friends and adversaries was and where its long range interests laid. The challenge of riding the transformative change that the dismemberment of USSR and the demise of international communism had brought about was particularly crucial for India as somewhere it suggested shedding of the old baggage of the days of “non alignment”, laying a new base of foreign policy in mutuality of security and economic interests, and building the pathway to reaching its rightful place in the new world that was open to multipolarity. It is a matter of satisfaction that in the Narendra Modi regime this policy framework has been concretised—the gains accruing from this are visible in the Indo-US relations that are now clearly free of the American tradition of hyphenating India with Pakistan, continuity of our special friendship with Russia, and a steady rise of India’s voice in the international community.
A clarity of thought and expression on the part of those who steered our foreign policy and national strategy is basic to our success in advancing our interests in the amorphous and unsafe world of today. Diplomacy is no longer the glamorous world of socialisation, hospitality and exchange of smiles—it requires establishing a common grid of understanding, convincingly arguing for joining hands for a cause and enlightening others on a threat they might have missed on. I believe that the present times are suited to India for playing the role of a mentor for countries big and small that are still stuck in their past, are unable to take a worldview of things and are vulnerable to exploitation by stronger players. India has a natural gift of injecting wisdom in international relations since it is too large and strong to be militarily threatened by any country, has the historical profile of a non-aggressive nation and is endowed with a rare tradition of public morality and global empathy.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is rolling out this new line of diplomacy in dealing with major powers of our times, particularly the United States, whose leadership has—after a period of consistently supporting India’s stand against the Pakistan-sponsored cross border terrorism—shown an uneven set of responses on the issue of Kashmir following the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A by Indian Parliament. On his recent visit to Washington, Jaishankar has tried to seek restoration of “convergence” between India and US on Pakistan and not just “congruence” that signified being on the same side but not necessarily in total agreement. Diplomacy is the language of the indirect, but intellectualisation of a dialogue on a serious matter like the threat to India’s national security from Islamic terror may work only up to a point in dealing with American policymakers who are currently preoccupied with whatever they think they can get out of Pakistan on the Afghan front.
Jaishankar gets full credit for expressing himself like a statesman and leaving the US in no doubt about what India expected from the former in regard to our Pakistan policy. He did well to remind US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that in the developing scenario in the post-Cold War world—marked by the advent of a multi-polar order—US and India could work together for the right “balance of power”. The Indo-Pacific region, India’s equation with Russia, Iran’s position in the Muslim world, relevance of “geo-political pluralism” for Afghanistan as President Barack Obama once put it, and the responsive attitude of India to matters of international trade—all bring out the balancing role of India that the Trump presidency could not ignore.
Humouring Pakistan’s rulers to seek some sort of a face-saving pact with the Taliban in Afghanistan is what some in the US administration might be trying to do, but Jaishankar and others steering India’s strategic agenda should be able to show the light to them.
The dark side of Islamic extremism and radicalism as a rising anti-US force must be put before the Americans and also presented to the leaders of the democratic world. India has the historical experience of the Wahhabi offensive of the 19th century on the Indian subcontinent that had called for a return to the fundamentals of the days of the pious caliphs. This inspires the Islamic radicals of the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine and the ISIS even today. The “war on terror” has to be pushed to its logical end—an important step is to get the OIC chaired by Saudi Arabia to explicitly declare that jihad was not applicable to the resolution of political conflicts in these times.
India and the democratic West have to develop a long term strategy of dealing with the faith-based terrorism, which was being fostered within the Muslim world. The US is sticking to its old logic of bailing out Pakistan on terror by projecting Islamic militants as “non state actors” and by merely appealing to Pakistan to keep a lid on them. The reality, as pointed out by India repeatedly, is that the Pakistan army-ISI combine was totally complicit with these terrorists and was using them as instruments of policy against both India in Kashmir and the US in Afghanistan. Apart from the arrangements that exist for exchange of intelligence, credible think tanks in both India and US must study and track the contours of the new global terror originating from notions of faith. The problem has to be tackled on multiple fronts—nothing less than a total convergence against this threat would serve the common interest of the two biggest democracies.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director Intelligence Bureau.