India’s Foreign Policy Ambitions and Capabilities: Options for Pakistan

Image source: Indian Strategic Studies

By Muhammad Adil Sivia*

Effective foreign policy making and implementation require clear vision about self and pragmatic understanding of the prevailing international environment. For newly independent countries the role of leadership, especially founding fathers, becomes naturally very important for defining the core objectives of the foreign policy of the country. Defining the institutional structure and structuralization of long-term core foreign policy objectives requires leadership having the ability to make sense of outside world through the prism of pragmatism.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the founding father of India and first Prime Minister of the country, viewed India as a great power in its own right. Compensating the hard power deficiency that India had, Nehru took a normative stance for projecting India as a major power. He viewed India as leader of South Asia. The policy of supporting the freedom movements in Third World especially Africa was designed for promoting the soft power of India. What India lacked in hard power, Nehru tried to make it through foreign policy maneuvers aimed at enhancing India’s soft power.

The policy of non-alignment reflected the perception of India’s leadership as major power having an acute deficiency of hard power. During Indo-China border dispute, the great power claims by Indian leadership were put to the test in ruthless international politics structured on realism. Swift, conclusive and humiliating defeat at the hands of China brought fundamental reassessment of means that India utilized for securing its foreign policy objectives.

For interaction with countries outside the South Asian region, India adopted a benign foreign policy. Within South Asia, India even under Nehru followed an assertive foreign policy under the assumption that India was the leader of South Asia. Its aggressive foreign policy made Pakistan insecure and forced Pakistan to look for options to balance conventional superiority of Indian military by joining the US-led military alliances.

Ironically, instead of addressing the threats hurling mindset of Indian leadership that forced Pakistan to join Western camp during Cold War, Pakistan was blamed for involving outside powers in South Asia. Indian foreign policy makers and analysts fail to appreciate the fact that insulation of the region from outside powers desired by India for dominating small states in South Asia was detrimental to national security interests of Pakistan. Indian expansionist foreign policy stance and threats to the territorial integrity of Pakistan meant that for rightful national security interest Pakistan was bound to look for military assistance from either of the leading the Cold War powers. The policy of strategic autonomy that India followed was designed as a facade with the real purpose of establishing Indian dominance over South Asia while sending a message to great powers that South Asia belonged to India.

Development of military capabilities by India for plugging the gaps in its claim to great power status became a priority after a defeat at the hands of China. Under Indira Gandhi, practically India distanced itself from nonalignment movement (NAM), only paying lip service to the true cause of nonalignment and became closely associated with the Soviet Union for the military buildup. Lack of strong knowledge and skill base for manufacturing advance military hardware made India dependent on imported weapons from countries around the world. Economic reforms in India during the last decade of the 20th century have propelled India among top 10 economies of the world. Capital deficiency problem that India faced at the time of independence is now addressed to a greater extent, and at the same time, it has become an attractive destination for foreign direct investment. The power of the purse and the size of the market has made India sought after country by major powers of the world.  Gains made through rapid economic development are utilized by India for a military buildup to back a bid for major power status. India views its economic rise benign in nature, producing public goods for other South Asian countries except for Pakistan. Within South Asia, through economic power, military threats, and coercion, India has been making efforts for securing support to be recognized as the legitimate leader of the region.

The US for its national interest is promoting and encouraging India to play a broader role in South Asia and Indian Ocean Region (IOR), without considering the destabilization effect of such moves on regional politics. By signing multiple military agreements with the US, India has sacrificed the policy of strategic autonomy for long term strategic alignment with the US for a greater role in world politics. For narrow economic interests, nuclear deals that the US, Russia, Japan, Australia have signed with India, are adversely affecting the strategic stability of South Asia. Denial of permanent membership of United Nations Security Council at the hands of the US after World War II has been Indian grievance. Though India claims to have a nuclear program for countering security threat from China, judging by fast growing Indian missile and nuclear program real purpose of such program is none other but adding credentials to its major power claim.

Without resolving outstanding territorial disputes with Pakistan, the Indian claim to be the leader of South Asia will essentially be challenged. India is trying to manufacture legitimacy through coercion and military threats. After becoming an overt nuclear power in response to the second nuclear test by India, Pakistan achieved a balance of terror by offsetting Indian conventional military superiority. After losing the conventional military advantage for coercing Pakistan, India has shifted to nonconventional tactics for destabilizing Pakistan from within by promoting and financing terrorist groups in Pakistan. India is destabilizing Balochistan through sending Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) agents who perform espionage and sabotage activities. Such activities are directly affecting the counter-terrorism operations that Pakistan has launched against Taliban.

Pakistan should continue to oppose India’s bid for permanent membership of United Nations Security Council till India resolves the Kashmir dispute as per the wishes people of Kashmir. It is a new low for countries that have shown willingness to extend diplomatic support for Indian membership of UNSC, keeping in mind that India continues to disregard UN resolutions on Kashmir. India continues to be among the biggest arms importers in the world that mean even today India lacks indigenous base for developing and sustaining hard power capabilities. For Pakistan maintaining necessary conventional and nuclear military capability is essential for countering conventional military threats from India. Further deepening and broadening of strategic relations with China are required for offsetting the pressure of extra-regional powers on Pakistan. Establishing relations with Russia on strong footing is essential for diversifying foreign policy options. Estranging the US will be counterproductive for Pakistan’s objective of bringing peace to Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to play balancing act while devising long-term accumulative foreign policy centered on the promotion of its national interest. Learning from our adversary India, revival, and expansion of economy of Pakistan is the first step for enhancing foreign policy options of Pakistan.

*The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.


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