India’s Foreign Policy Written Thrice
The end of the stand-off and eye-ball-to-eye ball confrontation between Chinese troops who intruded 19 km inside Indian territory in the strategically sensitive Depsang Bulge in Eastern Ladhak and the Indian troops was a foreign policy success, the first since long. It has been claimed that through “quiet diplomacy” China was persuaded to pull out and go back to pre-April 15 positions.
A most welcome development! For ultimately what recourse India had? Except to negotiate through flag meetings and diplomatic efforts! This bore fruits on May 5 at the Fourth Flag meeting when accord was reached. Under the agreement known to us so far the 21-day border stand- off ended on May 5 with both armies agreeing to pull out simultaneously!
But what could be the terms which India has agreed to make the Chinese go back to pre-April 15 position. The Chinese have been repeatedly asking the Indian Army to stop the infrastructure, build up and construction of bunkers in the Fukche and Chumar regions of Ladhak. It is not known how much India has conceded. Once one knows only then can one give full marks to Manmohan Singh-Menon combine who control the formulation and direction of foreign policy. But not until full details emerge!
Apart from this lone star of success, the UPA 2 government has had a string of unmitigated disasters damaging relations with neighbours and pulling down India’s standing at the international forums. The fact is that the politics of silence practised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh combined with his indecisiveness has over the time created uncertainty in every sphere of governance and policy decision. The foreign policy has been most affected and in the last three years no initiative has been successful.
Relations with the neighbourhood have never been this bad, Sri Lanka has become almost a foe, after the Manmohan Singh government sacrificed a healthy relationship because of partisan Tamil Nadu politics voting against Colombo at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bangladesh is uncertain about India’s attitude. Manmohan Singh was hailed for his Bangladesh initiative when during the state visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina he announced a billion dollar aid. But then he failed to overcome the opposition by Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of Bengal, and the Teesta Agreement could not be signed. In Maldives India’s failure to get any commitment by its government for the former President has made New Delhi a butt of jokes. Nepal just tolerates India and Pakistan openly defies and sniggers at us.
The recent handling of Sarabjit Singh case bares the futility of the appeasement policy pursued by Dr Singh. Sarabjit in Lahore prison for 22 years died (read murdered) following a frenzied attack by two inmates. Since his detention in 1990 until 2005, that is for 15 years, no one from the Indian High Commission in Islamabad bothered about an Indian living in solitary cell and death row nor Indian governments thought of asking the High Commission of pressurising the Pakistan government which kept denying his existence, to come out with the truth.
Natwar Singh, former Foreign Minister, also said that for many years Pakistan refused to acknowledge that Sarabjit Singh was in prison. Islamabad persisted that no one by that name was in its custody. India should have tried harder to make Pakistan admit that he was in custody there. “In 2005, when I met Zia-ul-Haq he told me that Sarabjit was not in their custody. But I persisted, so later on Pakistan accepted that he was in Lahore prison.” After that consular services were provided.
When Sarabjit was attacked and following which he went into deep coma, instead of asking Pakistan to let India take him back to his home, the Indian High Commissioner asked for permission to fly him to a third country. Why? Are we afraid of Pakistan or appeasement policy does not permit any confrontation? In contrast after a Pak inmate in Jammu prison was injured in an attack by other inmates, Pakistan bluntly asked that it should like to take him back to Pakistan.
In Pakistan, despite our persistent demand Hafiz Sayeed roams around free spewing hatred against India. Yet Dr Singh has persisted with efforts to strike an accord of peace. As a former Foreign Secretary quipped, a pipe dream, more like running after a mirage.
There have been a string of outrageous disasters in the foreign affairs. The shame at Sharmal-e-Sheikh still lingers. The fiasco there damaged India irreversibly. How could Dr Singh sign a communiqué in which India admitted to be responsible for inciting terrorism in Pakistan?
The joint India and Pakistan communiqué at Sharm-el-Sheikh was a complete disaster where India’s interests were sacrificed for whatever reasons or pressures. After the 26/11 attack in which Americans, British and nationals of many other countries were killed, India was in a position to take the position that no talks until terrorism stops. But for inexplicable reasons Pakistan’s request to delink dialogue from terror was agreed by Dr Singh. India lost a great advantage.
Then the mention of Baluchistan was a Waterloo for India and a jackpot for Pakistan. It was agreed that most countries suffered from terrorism and that obliquely meant India foments trouble in Pakistan, how can then India complain that Pakistan is responsible for trouble in its territory? Indirectly we also agreed that India fomented trouble in Baluchistan. This was utterly shameful.
Dr Singh then tried to justify what happened in Sharmal- el-Sheikh during a debate in Parliament. Sources said it was based on duplicitous distortion of facts. Whatever might be the truth the whole visit revealed that Dr Singh would bend backwards to please Pakistan, either because he has soft corner for it or did it under the US pressure.
Natwar Singh wondered why foreign policy has failed and said, “Menon is a very competent and experienced diplomat. He has the right pedigree for being a clever diplomat with clear vision. He would normally be competent in formulating policies.” Sources say that reference to Baluchistan in the joint communiqué was not known to Menon. Then whose fault is for India’s present low stature internationally?
This was evident in South Africa. Dr Singh went to participate in BRICS Summit. He was given a resort to stay 40 km away from the Summit venue. The result he would get late for most events. Then he returned to India without meeting the host countries’ President. Dr Singh acquired the dubious distinction of the only Indian Prime Minister who returned home without the conventional meeting.
One hopes that the success with the Chinese would be the opening for more the success of more foreign policy initiatives. Otherwise it would be tragic for a country like India with such a huge force of aspirational, competitive and hard working youth. It has to make efforts to stamp its presence in international arena.
Meanwhile, we recall with nostalgia the days when India’s prestige was high, its authority respected and its voice listened to. Those were the days when not only our Prime Ministers but we Indians too were warmly welcomed. In mid-90s a British immigration minister told me at a party in London, “Never change your Indian passport. It would in time to come carry same weight as a British or American passport.” Would he say this now? ■
By Vijay Dutt