Thursday, 15 May 2014

India: The foreign policy for the next government

Among the many challenges that the new government will face, one will definitely be foreign policy. The world is going through testing times: The United States is due to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, Russia’s economic clout is receding, West Asia is in turmoil, and the world economy is still in the doldrums. India’s new foreign policy will have to factor in all these and much more before the government comes up with a viable blueprint.
But, more than the West, the next government’s policy trajectory towards the neighbourhood is what will be crucial. Under the UPA, India has made the right steps towards increasing trade and interactions with China. However, New Delhi should be more flexible towards Chinese investments and use its capabilities on our terms. Visits of mid-level officials between the two countries should be given a fillip. This will help in understanding the neighbour and is an investment for the future. It is the small steps, like meeting the demand for India’s soft power, which are important in the long run. Pakistan will remain a problem with no light at the end of that tunnel. With Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s army chief, reiterating his PM on Kashmir being a ‘jugular vein’, and various terror groups openly threatening to attack India, New Delhi will have to alert and keep its expectations of peace at a realistic level. The arrest of an alleged ISI agent, by the Tamil Nadu Police on April 29, who has named an official of the Pakistan high commission in Colombo, is yet another clear indication that Islamabad is not letting go of its old ways. On the contrary, it is trying to exploit India’s vast coastline, especially the coastal parts of the South. Coastal security should be boosted and the next government must improve ties with Colombo. India and Sri Lanka need to discuss issues like the arrests of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and the democratic rights of the Lankan Tamils. New Delhi should also remove all fears and misunderstanding about the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project and the Kudankulam Nuclear Power project. The next government should not take for granted its goodwill of the administration in Thimpu and should do more to bring stability in Kathmandu. India should also give a more economic thrust to its ties with Myanmar, Maldives and Vietnam.
For long there has been a perception that India’s foreign policy is risk-averse. If India needs to be taken seriously in the comity of nations, this has to change. The next government must come up with a foreign policy that demonstrates a degree of flexibility where required while safeguarding India’s interests.