Debating India


Cautious steps

Tuesday 7 June 2005, by CHERIAN *John

The UPA government has earned praise for its efforts to strengthen the ties with China and repair the relations with Pakistan, but primacy continues to be given to relations with the U.S.

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Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao inspecting the guard of honour in New Delhi on April 11.

THE United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government opted for a cautious foreign policy during its first year in power. The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the UPA pledges to pursue an independent foreign policy, and there is a commitment to promote multipolarity in world politics and oppose all attempts at unilateralism. In practice, there is not much to differentiate between the UPA’s foreign policy and that of its immediate predecessor, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Primacy is being given to relations with Washington.

However, there is general praise for the Congress-led government’s efforts to strengthen further the ties with China and improve relations with Pakistan. India and China have now upgraded their relations to the status of "strategic and cooperative partnership". The joint statement released after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to India laid down the parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of the border issue.

The Pentagon, in a recent report, said that Chinese defence spending had reached alarming proportions. The United States is looking for allies in the region to gang up against China. In this context, the Bush administration is trying for closer relations with New Delhi through the Next Steps in the Strategic Partnership (NSSP) programme. Though U.S. sanctions are still in force on the transfer of nuclear technology to India, Washington has thrown tantalising hints about its willingness to sell India nuclear reactors in the not-too-distant future to generate electricity.

The U.S. is also trying to push its defence wares into the lucrative Indian market. India’s national carrier Air-India’s decision to place an order exclusively with the Boeing company, which is part and parcel of America’s military-industrial complex, has gone down well in the corridors of power in Washington. A marketing and media blitz is currently under way in an effort to convince New Delhi to opt for American F-16 and F-18 aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Relations with Israel also continue to be warm, with the Defence Ministry going for more military purchases from the Israeli armaments industry. Criticism of the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine remains muted. Though the Left parties demanded a review of the bilateral ties with Israel, owing to that country’s intransigent policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians, the Congress-led government is keen to consolidate the relationship. The late J.N. Dixit, as National Security Adviser, was of the view that the NDA government only continued the policies of the Narasimha Rao government to normalise ties with Israel.

The successful start of a regular bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir has been hailed widely as one of the biggest confidence-building measures in the India-Pakistan peace process. There are signs that New Delhi and Islamabad are serious about solving some of the other outstanding disputes, such as those about Siachen and Sir Creek. The decision of the majority of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders of Kashmir to travel to Muzaffarabad at the invitation of the Pakistani government bodes well for the peace process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told the visiting Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf, that he was serious about finding a solution to the Kashmir issue provided there was no redrawing of the 1947 borders. Both New Delhi and Islamabad are, for the time being, trying the "soft-border" approach to defuse tensions and keep the peace process going.

Another major priority area for Indian diplomacy under the UPA government has been the mobilisation of international support for India’s bid for a permanent seat in a restructured United Nations Security Council. India is viewed as a front-runner if and when the Security Council gets expanded. However, India’s claim to an exalted status in the U.N. has not gone down well with many counties, especially the small ones. Diplomats from many developing countries are of the view that the focus should be on democratising the U.N.

Expanding the Security Council to include a few more countries, such as India, Japan, Germany and Brazil, which perceive themselves as regional superpowers, is not enough, is the feeling among many diplomats of developing countries. According to them, the proposed reforms should reflect the spirit of the U.N. Charter, which states that the organisation "is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members".

It is also evident that the existing permanent members are in no mood to share the veto power with the new entrants. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during his recent visit to New Delhi that it would be difficult for the new members in an expanded Security Council to have the veto power. Not long ago, J.N. Dixit had attracted a lot of criticism when he told a few mediapersons that India was willing to accept a permanent seat in the Security Council without the veto power. Now, with countries like Japan saying that they are willing to give up the veto power for a Security Council seat, India may have no option but to accept what is on offer, given the high diplomatic stakes involved.

THE UPA government has attracted a lot of flak for its handling of relations with Nepal and to a lesser extent Bangladesh. In the South Asian region, New Delhi has been held responsible for the postponement of the summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was scheduled for the beginning of the year. The reasons given were the constitutional coup by the King of Nepal and the deteriorating security environment in Bangladesh. The real reason, though, may have been the Indian Prime Minister’s reluctance to share the stage with King Gyanendra just days after he declared emergency rule and banned political activity in his country.

However, the Government of India did an aboutturn within two months. At the 50th anniversary celebrations of the 1955 Bandung Asia-Africa Conference in May, Manmohan Singh, along with External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh had a meeting with King Gyanendra. Soon after the meeting, India announced the lifting of the arms embargo it had imposed on the kingdom after the declaration of the state of emergency. Nepal continues to groan under the draconian measures. Officials in the External Affairs Ministry justified the decision on the grounds that countries like China and Pakistan would bail out the King militarily. According to reports, the Defence Ministry pressed the panic button though there was no indication of any other country stepping in to fulfil India’s traditional role as the major arms supplier to Nepal. Beijing has since the mid-1980s acknowledged New Delhi’s special status in the kingdom. It is also inconceivable that Islamabad would have endangered the ongoing peace process by choosing to sell arms to the Royal Nepal Army.

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Philippe Lopez
Nepal’s King Gyanendra at a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Asia Africa Summit in Jakarta on April 23.

New Delhi’s announcement about resuming the supply of arms to the kingdom was just the signal the U.S. and the United Kingdom needed to resume their supply of arms to Nepal. Many politicians in Nepal continue to languish in jails and the media remain shackled, but New Delhi let the monarch off the hook by its inept diplomatic and political moves.

The recent surfacing of Baburam Bhattarai, the erstwhile number two in the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), in New Delhi, under the protective umbrella of the Intelligence Bureau (I.B.), has generated a great deal of controversy. The Bhattarai episode has allowed the Nepalese government to tell its people and the world that India is backing a section of the Maoists. However, it is now apparent that Bhattarai has fallen out with the party’s supremo, Prachanda.

From available indications, Prachanda continues to call the shots in the Maoist movement. "We strongly criticised the decision of the Indian government to resume military supplies. The Left parties are of the view that India has granted legitimacy to the King. After the decision was announced, the King has not shown any road map for the restoration of democracy in Nepal," CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat told Frontline. The CPI(M) and the other Left parties otherwise seem to be generally satisfied with the UPA government’s conduct of foreign policy. Karat praised the government’s efforts to foster closer ties with China and Russia. The Left parties were also appreciative of the Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference. The leaders of many African and Asian countries attended the conference. The Left parties are also of the view that Manmohan Singh’s visit to Moscow in May on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Second World War helped consolidate the close relationship between New Delhi and Moscow.

Karat, however, warned that the U.S. government was trying to draw India into its web of alliances through the NSSP. The CPI(M)’s communique on the occasion of the first anniversary of the UPA government reiterated the party’s opposition to India joining the Missile Defence System planned by the Bush administration. Karat said the government should be careful while discussing with the U.S. issues relating to nuclear power and missile defence.

In a joint statement issued by the U.S. and India on May 19, during the visit of Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to Washington, the two sides announced their desire "to promote democratic values and human rights globally through the United Nations, the Community of Democracies and other international forums". "Human rights" and "Democracy" are the two code words being used to the maximum by the U.S. in its drive for global domination. Senior Bush administration officials told the media in March that they consider South Asia "vital to the future of the United States".

The UPA government has been making a concerted effort to strengthen relations with Latin American countries. Many of them are now under progressive governments. There is also an anti-globalisation wave sweeping the region. The visit of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in February showed that New Delhi was not averse to strengthening ties with countries that are willing to challenge the hegemonic policies of the U.S. Venezuela recently signed big oil and gas deals with China and Iran. Venezuela wants to diversify its oil exports. At present the bulk of Venezuela’s oil goes to the U.S. market. Brazil is another leading Latin American country with which India has good relations. Brazil, too, is under a progressive government.

The UPA government’s oil diplomacy has come in for praise. Despite the openly stated objections from the U.S. government, India seems determined to push ahead with the plan for a gas pipeline from Iran. New Delhi and Beijing have stated that they will no longer compete aggressively, as in the past, while bidding for oil- and gas-related contracts. China and India are slated to emerge as the biggest importers of hydrocarbons in the next 25 years, given the rate at which their economies are growing. India’s oil diplomacy has played a key role in helping it gain influence in the developing world.

See online : Frontline


Volume 22 - Issue 12, Jun 04 - 17, 2005

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