Why In­dia must rely on more than just hard power

People's Review - - COMMENTARY -

In­dia seeks to forge ahead with sub-re­gional co­op­er­a­tion and the South Asian As­so­ci­a­tion for Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion (SAARC) mi­nus Pak­istan in view of the in­abil­ity of the “con­sen­sus prin­ci­ple” of the re­gional fo­rum to de­liver on New Delhi's de­sire for re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity. At the 18th SAARC Sum­mit held in Kath­mandu in Novem­ber 2015, New Delhi played a lead­ing role and in­tro­duced con­nec­tiv­ity pro­pos­als on road, rail and power (elec­tric­ity) that were met with re­sis­tance from Pak­istan and failed to take off. How­ever, New Delhi must re­visit its neigh­bor­hood poli­cies, which have be­come overly se­cu­ri­ty­sen­si­tive and in­clined more to­ward hard power. pri­mar­ily to ad­dress per­ceived threats from Bei­jing and Is­lam­abad. In this con­text, his­tory can serve as a use­ful guide as to how In­dia can suc­cess­fully en­gage its South Asian Jawa­har­lal Nehru, In­dia's first prime min­is­ter, had a fresh per­spec­tive on global po­lit­i­cal is­sues, which al­lowed him to ad­dress Cold War-re­lated con­cerns, and he wanted his coun­try to be seen as one of the lead­ers of the Non-Align­ment Move­ment with a view to shap­ing in­ter­na­tional pub­lic opin­ion on nu­mer­ous is­sues rang­ing from de­col­o­niza­tion and un­der­de­vel­op­ment to dis­ar­ma­ment. How­ever, he fol­lowed a tra­di­tional se­cu­ri­ty­cen­tric ap­proach to­ward In­dia's neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, re­tain­ing the pro­tec­torate ar­range­ments of Bri­tish In­dia with Nepal and Bhutan. Sec­ond, by pri­or­i­tiz­ing world pol­i­tics over re­gional is­sues, the Nehru­vian ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy re­duced the scope for stronger re­gional ties. Third, ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with neigh­bors and bor­der wars with Pak­istan and China fol­low­ing In­dia's in­de­pen­dence per­suaded New Delhi to nur­ture a nar­row se­cu­rity-driven view of the re­gion. Nehru's at­tempts at pur­su­ing friendly ties with China failed with the col­lapse of Pan­chasheela agree­ment (1954) and cul­mi­nated in the bor­der war in 1962. From New Delhi's per­spec­tive, Chi­nese as­sis­tance to Pak­istan in build­ing up the lat­ter's mil­i­tary and nu­clear ca­pa­bil­i­ties and the pos­si­ble emer­gence of a Chi­naPak­istan axis in South Asia and the In­dian Ocean forced In­dia to main­tain a nar­row per­spec­tive on se­cu­rity. Such a se­cu­ri­ty­cen­tric ap­proach by In­dia led to dis­com­fort and anx­i­ety among its small South Asian neigh­bors who in turn very of­ten re­sorted to play­ing the Chi­nese card to bal­ance their re­la­tions with New Delhi. In­dia's hard-power fail­ure Not­with­stand­ing the ar­gu­ments of some schol­ars that Nehru was com­pelled to de­cide in fa­vor of pro­ject­ing In­dia's hard power along the bor­der in the shape of a for­ward pol­icy (in­clud­ing mea­sures such as the es­tab­lish­ment of mil­i­tary out­posts and launch­ing ag­gres­sive pa­trols in the dis­puted In­dia-China bor­der ar­eas) to de­ter Bei­jing from adopt­ing an ag­gres­sive pos­ture, the de­ci­sion did not ul­ti­mately work in New Delhi's fa­vor. In­stead, In­dia could have re­sorted to its soft-power ca­pac­i­ties and diplo­matic strength, which could have earned it the sup­port of many dom­i­nant pow­ers and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, to de­ter China from launch­ing a mil­i­tary of­fen­sive. On the other hand, re­sort­ing to a hard power ap­proach would only pro­voke China, re­sult­ing in the bor­der war of 1962. In a sim­i­lar vein, In­dia un­der Ra­jiv Gandhi's lead­er­ship con­ceived the Op­er­a­tion Brasstacks in 1987 in an at­tempt to dis­suade Pak­istan from en­gag­ing in proxy wars and re­sorted to the pro­jec­tion of hard power through a mas­sive mo­bi­liza­tion of the In­dian Army in Ra­jasthan near the Pak­istan bor­der. The op­er­a­tion failed to achieve its de­sired ob­jec­tives and prompted Pak­istan to ac­cel­er­ate its nu­clear weapons pro­gram with Chi­nese as­sis­tance. Of late, In­dia's sense of vic­tory after launch­ing sur­gi­cal strikes across the In­dia-Pak­istan bor­der has not re­duced the in­ci­dents of cross-bor­der fire in vi­o­la­tion of the 2003 cease­fire agree­ment. In­dia's at­tempts at send­ing a strong mes­sage to its op­po­nent by im­pos­ing pro­hib­i­tive costs un­less it changes its be­hav­ior seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Con­se­quently, Is­lam­abad has re­sorted to “tac­ti­cal nu­clear weapons” threats to con­tinue proxy wars un­der­min­ing In­dia's su­pe­rior con­ven­tional mil­i­tary ca­pac­ity. By pri­or­i­tiz­ing world pol­i­tics over re­gional is­sues, the Nehru­vian ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy re­duced the scope for stronger re­gional ties As far as Nepal is con­cerned, re­sort­ing to an eco­nomic block­ade as a pres­sure tac­tic to­ward the end of the 1980s forced Kath­mandu to court Bei­jing, and New Delhi was ac­cused in 2015 of play­ing an un­of­fi­cial and covert role in im­pos­ing an eco­nomic block­ade in fa­vor of the Mad­hesi pop­u­la­tion as way to ex­ert in­flu­ence on con­sti­tu­tional de­vel­op­ments in Kath­mandu. In­dia's role in the Sri Lankan civil war – the In­dian Peace Keep­ing Force (IPKF) was de­ployed in 1987 – did not achieve the de­sired ob­jec­tive of dis­arm­ing the rebels, but rather the ef­fort turned into a vi­cious cy­cle of vi­o­lence that made New Delhi look more like a hege­mon than a re­gional bal­ancer of power. The strat­egy back­fired as it an­tag­o­nized the Tamils of Sri Lanka, who ex­pected ex­plicit In­dian sup­port for their cause, which even­tu­ally led to the Lib­er­a­tion of Tamil Tiger Elam (LTTE) as­sas­si­nat­ing then­prime min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi. The suc­cess of In­dia's co­er­cive strate­gies in Bhutan when prime min­is­ter Jig­meThin­ley made a sus­pi­cious move to court China, al­legedly to fa­cil­i­tate a for­mal diplo­matic pres­ence and a land-swap­ping deal, should not mis­lead New Delhi. In­dia with­drew sub­si­dies on kerosene and cook­ing gas as a mea­sure to in­crease pres­sure on Bhutan to change its stance. This was sub­se­quently re­versed and the suc­ceed­ing prime min­is­ter, Tsh­er­ingTob­gay, main­tained close re­la­tions with In­dia. Later, Bhutan's with­drawal from the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Agree­ment within the BBIN sub-re­gional ini­tia­tive may in­di­cate that In­dia lacks soft power in the coun­try. Re­gional co­op­er­a­tion and in­te­gra­tion Un­til the Gu­jral doc­trine was adopted by then-min­ster of ex­ter­nal af­fairs IK Gu­jral (who later be­came prime min­is­ter) in 1996, New Delhi took a se­cu­rity-cen­tric ap­proach that em­pha­sized poli­cies that would not only keep the in­flu­ence of ex­ter­nal pow­ers in the re­gion at bay but would make In­dia's se­cu­rity as­sis­tance cru­cial for smaller neigh­bors. The doc­trine was con­sid­ered a paradig­matic shift in In­dia's ap­proach be­cause it in­cluded prin­ci­ples such as non-in­ter­fer­ence and non-rec­i­proc­ity. For in­stance, based on the prin­ci­ple of non­in­ter­fer­ence, In­dia re­frained from con­test­ing the Sri Lankan gov­ern­ment's arms pur­chase from Pak­istan and the prin­ci­ple of non-rec­i­proc­ity de­manded uni­lat­eral pos­i­tive ges­tures from In­dia to main­tain neigh­borly re­la­tions, ir­re­spec­tive of the ca­pac­ity of other small states to re­cip­ro­cate. In­dia made at­tempts at con­vert­ing ex­ist­ing treaties with neigh­bours into free-trade agree­ments. Nev­er­the­less, there is a grow­ing per­cep­tion in the neigh­bor­hood that the Gu­jral doc­trine has been more rhetoric than re­al­ity. The is­sue of mi­gra­tion from the smaller South Asian coun­tries into In­dia has not been han­dled by the lat­ter as per the ex­pec­ta­tions of its neigh­bors. In­dia's re­sponse to this through the reg­u­la­tion of trade and the fenc­ing of the bor­der has dis­torted In­dia's image in their per­cep­tion. In­dia also failed to man­age its neigh­bors' threat per­cep­tions, which con­trib­uted to mu­tual distrust. For in­stance, the Nepalese ex­pec­ta­tion that it would as­sist in the repar­ti­tion of Bhutanese refugees was con­tin­u­ally ig­nored by New Delhi. Nepalese distrust can be gauged from the fact that when New Delhi swiftly re­sponded to the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in Nepal fol­low­ing an earth­quake in 2015, its as­sis­tance failed to en­hance In­dia's soft power in the coun­try. It in­stead drew crit­i­cisms from the Nepalese be­cause the In­dian me­dia was al­legedly in­sen­si­tive and bi­ased in its cov­er­age of the dis­as­ter. As In­dia for a long time pre­ferred to deal with its neigh­bors bi­lat­er­ally rather than through mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rums, sub­re­gional co­op­er­a­tion could not suc­ceed, con­tribut­ing to a lack of en­thu­si­asm in New Delhi. At the bi­lat­eral level, In­dia was not only per­ceived as a ‘big brother' but a non-re­li­able eco­nomic part­ner given its fail­ure to com­plete its projects in time. Within this larger con­text, China, with more re­sources and re­solve, was viewed fa­vor­ably by the coun­tries of the re­gion. The South Asian coun­tries were re­cep­tive to Bei­jing's mega-con­nec­tiv­ity projects un­der the rubric of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI). The Kath­mandu sum­mit not only failed to achieve the de­sired re­sults from New Delhi's per­spec­tive, it also con­trib­uted to sim­mer­ing con­cerns when In­dia's neigh­bors ex­pressed their will­ing­ness to el­e­vate China from its “ob­server” sta­tus to full mem­ber­ship of SAARC. In­dia's se­cu­rity-driven re­gional pol­icy led to a stan­dard prac­tice of ex­tend­ing sup­port to a spe­cific po­lit­i­cal fac­tion of the neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. In­dia con­sis­tently sup­ported the Awami League Party of Bangladesh, pa­tron­ized the demo­cratic forces in Nepal and con­sid­ered the Sri Lankan pres­i­dent, Maithri­palaSirisena, pro-In­dia while be­liev­ing the op­po­si­tions in these coun­tries fa­vored ei­ther China or Pak­istan. New Delhi's re­luc­tance to en­gage with neigh­bors ir­re­spec­tive of regimes does not bode well for the In­dian aim of re­gional in­te­gra­tion New Delhi's re­luc­tance to en­gage with neigh­bors ir­re­spec­tive of regimes does not bode well for the In­dian aim of re­gional in­te­gra­tion. It is worth­while to con­sider how the healthy re­la­tion­ship with Nepal emerged as a chal­lenge for In­dia with Maoist par­ties form­ing a gov­ern­ment there. Prime Min­is­ter Naren­draModi's re­luc­tance to visit Mal­dives dur­ing his neigh­bor­hood tour due to de­te­ri­o­rat­ing po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions did not de­ter erst­while Pres­i­dent Ab­dulla Yameen from forg­ing close ties with China. In­dia's fa­vor­able view of the Sirisena gov­ern­ment has not pre­vented Sri Lanka from leas­ing out Ham­ban­tota port to China for 99 years. In place of a col­lec­tive en­deavor in the form of in­puts, feed­back, con­sul­ta­tions and dis­cus­sions be­fore pro­pos­als are ini­ti­ated, South Asia has wit­nessed a spate of re­gional ini­tia­tives in the form of ei­ther In­di­anspon­sored projects or uni­lat­eral ges­tures from New Delhi. The South Asian Univer­sity in Dhaka (New Delhi made the prin­ci­pal con­tri­bu­tion for its es­tab­lish­ment and op­er­a­tion) and South Asia Satel­lite (also known as GSAT-9, an In­dian gift to South Asian coun­tries bar­ring Pak­istan) sym­bol­ized In­dia's uni­lat­eral ges­ture rather than an idea em­a­nat­ing from col­lec­tive dis­cus­sions and en­deav­ors. New Delhi would be able to put aside mis­per­cep­tions about its image, role and the pur­pose of en­hanced hard power by pur­su­ing con­tin­u­ous con­sul­ta­tions, dis­cus­sions and de­lib­er­a­tions per­tain­ing to re­gional or sub-re­gional ini­tia­tives and en­hanc­ing its soft power. New Delhi needs to wield as much hard power as is nec­es­sary for its de­fense and deal­ing with proxy wars. Amass­ing hard power based on height­ened threat per­cep­tions and lack of di­a­logue with neigh­bors, on the other hand, would serve to alien­ate smaller coun­tries. the last two years, she was one of the po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents whom Trump made fun of con­tin­u­ously. The fact that com­pet­ing par­ties are now in con­trol of the two cham­bers of Congress does not nec­es­sar­ily mean ‘grid­lock', that the whole ma­chin­ery of the Amer­i­can sys­tem of gov­ern­ment comes to a stand­still (like a traf­fic jam). It will also not lead to fre­quent gov­ern­ment ‘shut­down' when Congress doesn't agree on fund­ing for gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions. On both ac­counts, the Democrats will try to avoid the slight­est im­pres­sion of ‘ob­struc­tion' which will not stand well with the US elec­torate. In­deed, the Democrats may take the ini­tia­tive so that Congress has an op­por­tu­nity to in­flu­ence the gov­ern­ment's for­eign pol­icy and re­pair the dam­age that Trump has ‘ac­com­plished' till date. The US Con­sti­tu­tion en­trusts Congress with more au­thor­ity over for­eign af­fairs than widely be­lieved. After all, it has the power of the purse, the po­ten­tial to de­clare war, and the au­thor­ity to reg­u­late the armed forces, trade, and im­mi­gra­tion. It may even be the be­gin­ning of the end of “Trump­ism' as we know it.

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