Madame Minister, Now Complete What Vajpayee Began
Writes an open letter to the new External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj: concentrate on maximising Indian power
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