“Foreign Policy Should Promote Reconciliation, Not Aggravation” —Mani Shankar Aiyar
Mani Shankar Aiyar claims to represent the core values of Congress party, with his articulate and balanced approach to diplomacy and politics. He has influenced the views on crucial issues across the world. As a Foreign Service official, parliamentarian, minister and an avid intellectual, he has made an impact on India’s foreign policy and grassroots democracy. In an interview to Atul K Thakur, he spoke substantially on our foreign policy towards neighbouring countries. Excerpts:
As a statesmen and senior parliamentarian, how do you see the changing dynamics in Indian foreign policy? Isn’t it economic consideration alone that outgrowing the strategic compulsions?
While it’s true that foreign policy is being driven less by ideological and more by pragmatic consideration than was the case earlier, I don’t believe economic consideration alone are determining the course of foreign policy. The relationships with the USA, which has become the predominant parameter of foreign policy, is of course closer than ever before and does contain strong component of economic, strategic and security consideration, but is not being allowed to compromise with our sovereignty or independent position on several matters of international interest.
Within our reason, there is a determined effort to improve relations with Pakistan. Should a breakthrough be achieved, this will dramatically alter the regional and international context within which our foreign policy operates. Equally, a strong and political relationship with China is a necessary precursor to the Asian resurgence to be witnessed in during this century.
Despite our growing recognition as an economic and strategic power at global arena, our ties with neighbours seems timid or even dwindling. How should Indian authorities approach it?
All foreign policy starts at a country’s doorsteps, not until there is peace and tranquility in a country’s immediate neighbourhood can that country hope to exercise any real influence in the world at large. Our most tangled relationship has of course been with Pakistan and hence the priority that needs to be extended to removing this albatross from our neck.
Strategically, China has remained a big factor for us, and now it’s also leading an economic warfare with us in Nepal and Pakistan, where it has expansionist motives. Should India take an indifferent stand or enter the fray with better competency?
We can either turn Nepal into a South Asian Belgium or convert it into the battlefield between Indian and China, as happened in Europe between Germany and France or we can make Nepal a bridge of friendship between India and China in friendly co-operative relationships. The wiser thing would be the later, but of course it would be more difficult to do so. In a recent visit to Nepal, I took the measure of the extent of distrust there is for us matched by the extent to which China is looked upon benevolently. I am afraid, this gap in perception will only widen if India attempts to impose itself on Nepal to force them to entwine Indian mandate.
If, on the other hand, India were to regard China as a partner rather than a rival in Nepal, then we might be able to bring the Nepali’s perception of India on a par with their indulgent view of China. What India must never forget in the natural and economic advantages, as well as civilisational, cultural and linguistic links which China will never be able to match. Therefore, instead of competing for influence, we should try to work in the interest of Nepal and her people.
I strongly view that foreign policy should be deployed to promote reconciliation, not aggravation. A hostile relationship with Pakistan will render the Chinese presence in these mountain areas a threat to our security, but a warm relationship with Pakistan will render the Chinese presence irrelevant.
What should be the India’s next course of action in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan?
There is much scope for getting our relations with Bangladesh on even keel. The same is the case with Nepal. As for Sri Lanka, much depends on internal settlement of the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils. Sri Lanks is perhaps our only neighbour with whom we appeared to have reached a satisfactory settlement. On Maldive and Bhutan, my view whatever will be the hurdles, ensuring peace, co-operation and good neighborliness in South Asia should be the highest objectives of Indian foreign policy.