Madame Min­is­ter, Now Com­plete What Va­j­payee Be­gan

Writes an open let­ter to the new Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj: con­cen­trate on max­imis­ing In­dian power

The Economic Times - - World View -

need to re­as­sure them all about In­dia’s good in­ten­tions and its de­sire for con­struc­tive en­gage­ment.

Ditto for Pak­istan and China — but don’t be starry-eyed here. Threats from both will per­sist.

The Pak­istan Army is still deeply sus­pi­cious of In­dia and will con­tinue sup­port­ing ter­ror­ist groups, while build­ing up its nu­clear forces. No prizes for guess­ing against whom. Yet you must work with Nawaz Sharif: he val­ues a pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ship with In­dia and needs it for his suc­cess at home — which is in your in­ter­est.

China will be even trick­ier. De­spite grow­ing eco­nomic links, Chi­nese con­ven­tional and nu­clear threats to In­dia, and per­haps even ter­ri­to­rial prob­lems, will in­crease, be­com­ing worse over time. Deal­ing with these chal­lenges, just like Pak­istan, will re­quire per­sis­tent en­gage­ment and strong de­ter­rence. And Afghanistan af­ter 2014 re­mains an open ques­tion: In­dia has al­ready made ster­ling con­tri­bu­tions to Afghan re­con­struc­tion — now is not the time to let up. Get the neigh­bour­hood right, and In­dia is freed to play on the world stage. Get it wrong, and you lose the power you could have de­ployed else­where. Re­mem­ber that when­ever you are ad­vised to do some­thing “tough”. In­dia, surely, mustn’t be­come a door­mat, but think about how the coun­try comes out at the end of the se­ries, not sim­ply the first in­nings. PM Modi has set a wel­come prece­dent by invit­ing SAARC lead­ers for his swear­ing-in. Build on that: bears are best at­tracted by honey, not vine­gar.

Third, for­get slo­gans like “non­align­ment” and “strate­gic au­ton­omy,” con­cen­trate in­stead on max­imis­ing In­dian power. Re­mem­ber that only the pow­er­ful are truly au­ton­o­mous: what­ever the com­men­tariat may say, a coun­try does not en­joy au­ton­omy be­cause it screams the phrase.

If In­dia there­fore is to be­come pow­er­ful, it must re­think how it ap­proaches its for­eign part­ners. A con­fi­dent In­dia will not be afraid to col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers be­cause it fears for its in­de­pen­dence; rather, deep en­gage­ments, es­pe­cially with those who can aid its rise in power, are es­sen­tial to ex­pand­ing its au­ton­omy.

Don’t for­get that In­dia’s big­gest strate­gic chal­lenge — out­side its neigh­bour­hood — lies in pre­serv­ing a favourable Asian bal­ance of power. In this con­nec­tion, think about strong ties with Ja­pan, Is­rael, South­east Asia and es­pe­cially the United States. Even Rus­sia and China, but with dif­fer­ent caveats in each case. Most Asian pow­ers (and yes, that in­cludes Amer­ica!) await an ac­tive In­dia: you have a pol­icy called “Look East”; now make it hap­pen. Deepen re­la­tions with those who wish you no harm, who don’t threaten your ter­ri­tory and who will be sources of tech­nol­ogy, cap­i­tal and po­lit­i­cal sup­port. Don’t look over your shoul­ders as you do so. You don’t have to apol­o­gise ei­ther at home or abroad for pur­su­ing your na­tional in­ter­ests. Nor should you fear that closer ties with Wash­ing­ton will con­strain your choices. What con­strain In­dia’s choices are its po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­dence and its ma­te­rial weak­nesses. If its crit­i­cal part­ner­ships help to mit­i­gate the lat­ter, the for­mer will cor­rect it­self. PM Va­j­payee un­der­stood this all too well. Now’s the time to com­plete what he be­gan. I wish you well as you start out in of­fice. Ash­ley J Tel­lis The writer is se­nior as­so­ciate at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for

In­ter­na­tional Peace

ANIR­BAN BORA

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