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Why India Needs To Unshackle Its Foreign Policy From Other Powers

22/03/2016 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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In today's multipolar and multicultural world, no country has permanent friends, allies or enemies, and each nation's foreign policy is driven by self-interest.

The above supposition is based on three recent developments that may force India to restrategize its foreign policy.

• One, India has been left out from the peace council (formed with representatives of the United States, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan) tasked to engage with the Afghan Taliban, for finding a solution to the imbroglio in Afghanistan.

• Two, the recent attempt by Russia to reach out to Pakistan and form a strategic alliance for gaining a foothold in the region.

• Three, the decision of the US to sell F 16 fighter planes to Pakistan, especially when US -India relations are on the upswing.

In an effort to provide a counterpoint to the growing friendship between the world's two most powerful democracies, Russia thought it expedient to reach out to Pakistan.

Russia, until a few years ago, was India's strongest ally, and a key pillar to its foreign policy. Russia helped India to modernize its defence requirements at a time when the United States was unwilling to do so. Most of the fighter aircraft in the Indian Air Force were brought from Russia. Russia also helped India in modernizing its Navy. Moreover, Russia had always stood by India when it came to the Kashmir issue, and last but not the least, it did not take sides in 1962 China -India conflict, in spite of its close ties with China.

So, what has led Russia to form strategic relations with Pakistan, especially when the country, along with the United States, played a pivotal role in supporting the Taliban's efforts to end the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan?

The relations between India and United States have strengthened over the last few years, with the US agreeing to supply nuclear fuel to India, and also to help modernize its Air Force. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'bromance' with President Obama is well documented. In fact, on Modi's invitation, Obama became the first US President to be the chief guest of India's Republic Day celebrations. These developments were seen by Russia as an attempt by India to slide towards the United States at its expense.

In an effort to provide a counterpoint to the growing friendship between the world's two most powerful democracies, Russia thought it expedient to reach out to Pakistan. This move made both political and economic sense, as the importance of Pakistan in the Central Asian region cannot be ignored. This partnership could have three immediate gains for Russia: one, to keep India's growing influence in the region under check; two, to prevent any attempt by the Taliban to spread their tentacles beyond Afghanistan, especially once the NATO forces completely withdraw from the country; and three, the formation of a Russia-China-Pakistan axis would neutralize the American influence in the region.

India has already shown political maturity by refusing to engage in joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea.

Another significant reason for reaching out to Pakistan is that Russia, which has very good relations with Iran, can play a pivotal role in building the Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline. Russia and China are looking for opportunities to collaborate with Pakistan not only in defence, but also in other areas like developing ports and in the Iran -Pakistan- China gas pipeline.

In a report "Pakistan Is The 'Zipper' Of Pan-Eurasian Integration" published by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Andrew Korybko, a well known political analyst, states, "Pakistan can play a catalytic role in bringing Eurasia together, because of its unique position of gatekeeper in the region." According to the author, "with the unified trilateral assistance from Russia, China, and Iran, Pakistan can become Eurasia's economic 'zipper' and linking these (and perhaps even SAARC's) economies together in an emboldened multiple future."

It is, therefore, not surprising that Russia has recognized the importance of Pakistan as its strategic partner and has agreed to supply attack helicopters to Pakistan. We may soon see the Russia -China-Pakistan axis operating to counter the influence of the United States in Asia.

So, what does the growing Russia-China -Pakistan strategic partnership mean for India?

We have seen that unlike Russia, the United States' foreign policy is driven by its own interests. The recent move to supply F 16 fighter planes to Pakistan is part of its overarching goal to maintain a foothold in the region, but such a partnership will also act as a counterweight to the growing influence of China.

Unlike Russia, the United States has not been a dependable ally.

On the other hand, Russia and China are also concerned that Obama's growing friendship with Modi will provide great leverage to counter China, whose attempt to develop artificial islands in the South China Sea, have not gone well with Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Philippines. India has already shown political maturity by refusing to engage in joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea. India realizes that any such attempt would only antagonize China, with which its relations have considerably improved. India should avoid allying with the United States or any other country, as such moves would not be in its interest. Moreover, we have seen in the past that unlike Russia, the United States has not been a dependable ally. Their attempt to reach out to India is part of their larger strategy to counter China and Russia.

India needs to pursue a balanced approach when it comes to its strategic relations with Russia, the United States and China. It would be in India's interest not to be seen aligning with any particular country, as we are now seeing a shift in the foreign policy of all the nations mentioned above. All these major powers are driven by their own self-interest, and yesterday's enemies are becoming today's friends. India should continue to pursue its own independent foreign policy that is not shackled by alignments with any particular power block.

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