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Foreign policy priorities for the new government

June 15, 2009 15:21 IST

With the return of a stable government at the Centre, what should India's policy priorities be?

Our relations with Pakistan should have the topmost priority because of their impact on our internal security situation. How to convince Pakistan that it will never be able to change the status quo in Jammu and Kashmir by using terrorism against us? Is it possible to have a mix of incentives and disincentives in our relations with Pakistan? Incentives if it acts against anti-India terrorists and disincentives if it does not do so? Our present policy towards Pakistan has neither incentives nor disincentives. These are the questions that should engage our policy-makers.

Our relations with China should have the second priority. A military confrontation with China would be unwise. China has prepared itself quietly without publicity for over four decades for such a confrontation by developing the infrastructure and its military capability in Tibet. Only during the last two years have we woken up to the need for strengthening our infrastructure and military capability in Arunachal Pradesh.

We need at least another six to eight years for strengthening our position. While preparing ourselves quietly without publicity, we should strengthen our economic relations with China hoping that the economic linkages and the Chinese interest in sustaining those linkages would moderate its present rigid stand on Arunachal Pradesh. How to get around China's present policy of denying India its deserved pre-eminent position as an Asian power on par with China? Unless we catch up with China economically, we will not be able to do this. Political power flows out of economic power. In the 1950s, when Jawaharlal Nehru was the prime minister, political power also grew out of moral power. Moral power no longer counts. Now power grows out of one's money-purse. China realised this three decades ago. Its foreign exchange reserves and its investments in US Treasury Bonds speak for it as eloquently as its armed forces. We were late in realising the importance of economic power and continue to be tardy in pursuing it. In my assessment, we are at least a decade behind China in our economic power.

Our relations with the US should have the third priority. The Barack Obama Administration has been a disappointment. As pointed out by Robert Blackwill, the former US Ambassador to India, it has been looking at India through Pakistani eyes. At the same time, I would add as my personal view that it has been consciously avoiding looking at Pakistan through Indian eyes. It has been interested only in providing more and more incentives to Pakistan with no disincentives. Its only interest in India is in having political influence to be able to prevent us from retaliating against Pakistan for its acts of terrorism in Indian territory. This policy will act as a speed-breaker in taking any new initiatives for further strengthening Indo-US relations. Despite this, we should be open to all new ideas coming from the US provided those ideas are not detrimental to our national interests.

Our relations with Russia should have the fourth priority. Its predecessor (the USSR) had stood by India in thick and thin, in the best of times and in the worst of times. Russia might be able to moderate Chinese policies towards India. It is still a dependable supplier of arms and ammunition and nuclear power stations, though it is becoming increasingly money-minded.

Our relations with Bangladesh and Nepal are important because they too have an impact on our internal security. Now that V Prabhakaran and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are gone, we should get rid of our inhibitions in playing a more active role in Sri Lanka as we were doing before the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.We have excellent relations with Bhutan and the Maldives. These need to be nursed and sustained with great sensitivity.

Our persisting internal security problems in different parts of the country are acting as a drag on our emergence as a major economic power. The terrorist strike in Mumbai last November was a clear indication that the terrorists are targeting our economic nerve-centres and trying to shake the confidence of foreign businessmen about security of life and property in India.

The Naxalites or Maoists are increasing their activities in mineral-rich areas of central India. Assam and other areas of the north-east are not able to make their full contribution to the emergence of India as a major power due to our inability to deal with the insurgency in places like Assam and Manipur. Unless we succeed in removing pockets of continuing alienation in J&K, we will continue to give opportunities and pretexts to outside powers to meddle in our internal affairs.

Internal security management has not received the attention it deserves. The quality of the management depends on the quality of the political leadership and of our professional competence. Our professional competence has many weak points -- intelligence collection and assessment, follow-up on the intelligence collected, rapid intervention capability, preventive physical security and retaliatory self-defence capability. After five years of confused lethargy exhibited by  his predecessor, P Chidambaram, the new home minister who took over after the Mumbai attack, is showing signs of greater activism and vigour, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

The preparation of a long-term perspective plan for the modernisation of our armed forces and for the development of military-related technologies and production capabilities and its vigorous implementation need attention. The US offer to sell some of its weapons and technologies to India should be examined on merits and accepted if in our interest, but the easier availability of US equipment and technologies should not slow down our development of our own capabilities.

The pathetic state of Pakistan should serve as a warning of the dangers of over-dependence on the US. It cannot survive without US support and at the same time, its dependence on US support is aggravating its internal security problems due to the mounting anti-US anger. The responsibility for the failure of democracy to take roots in Pakistan has to be shared equally by its army and the US.

B Raman