Distinguished Lectures

India’s Foreign Policy in the neighbourhood, Its Look East Policy and India-China Relations​

  • Amb (Retd) Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

    By: Amb (Retd) Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty
    Venue: Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) Wellington, Tamil Nadu
    Date: June 23, 2014

General Gadeock, faculty members and trainee officers,

It is a great honour and pleasure to be here at the Defence Services Staff College. Thank you for inviting me and giving me this opportunity. Its good to get away from 45 deg to the much cooler 20 deg here. This is my first visit to this Institute. I have addressed the National Defence College in Delhi, when I was High Commissioner to Bangladesh. I recall that MEA used to depute a Foreign Service officer to this Institute for training. It’s a pity that we have discontinued that practice that was forced upon MEA, hamstrung by a shortage of IFS officers.

Like many other professions, diplomats are the butt of many jokes. As young diplomats our mentors in the service told us to keep our ears open and mouths shut. We were reminded that a good diplomat is one who thinks thrice before saying nothing. Standing here I do not have the luxury of keeping my mouth shut.


India’s Foreign policy started attracting renewed global attention since the beginning of the economic reforms in 1991 which led to the gradual globalizing of the Indian economy. With high rates of economic growth during the last two decades, almost 7.5% on the average - last two years down to sub 5% - India’s global trade has expanded manifold and today contributes almost 50% of its GDP, as compared about 3% before. In PPP terms, India is the world’s third largest economy after the USA and China. India’s growing profile on the international stage has naturally led to questions about the role India seeks to play or should play regionally and internationally. Clearly, the world expects India to play a larger role, commensurate with its size and growing power. Consequently, the question has arisen about our own perception and assessment of our international role and the nature of our global engagement. This process has led to a changing consensus and nuancing of our foreign policy thinking and objectives.

I will focus on broadly four areas. First, some thoughts on Indian strategic thought, or the lack of it, the Nehruvian consensus in the post-Independence era, domestic imperatives underpinning foreign policy options and the changing consensus driving these options.

Second, I will discuss India’s neighbourhood, i.e. the member nations of SAARC and India-China relations, the latter may well be the defining one for the rest of this century, impinging on both the international arena and the Asian theatre.

Third, I shall focus on India’s extended neighbourhood to the East. Or India’s "Look East Policy”.

Interspersed with the above, I will share some thoughts about the new government’s recent foreign policy initiatives and the road ahead.


The Dr. George Tanham school of thought believes that India has, historically, lacked strategic thinking. His was a typically Western view that noted that Indians had no historical writings that could be a called a coherent collection of principles from which Indian strategic thinking can be adduced. This was in contrast with the Chinese who had developed and written about strategy from the secular perspective. A parallel can be drawn between Tanham’s and Macaulay’s famous minute on Indian education, wherein he says, inter alia:

"I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed, both here and at home, with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the oriental learning at the valuation of the orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. The intrinsic superiority of the Western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education.”

Macaulay’s was an arrogant utterance of an arch imperialist, viewed through the prism of the White Man’s burden. Tanham’s view, consequently, triggered off a furious debate. It is quite a sweeping judgement to say that India, with its ancient civilization, had not developed any strategic thinking. The strategic content in Indian epics like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas has been examined threadbare. Admittedly, much of ancient Indian discourse was oral and the lack of written coherent work on pure strategy cannot be found in one collection. But strategy is embedded in our epics and ancient writings, though not in a secular sense.

The first substantive written grand strategy in Indian history is Kautilya’s Arthashastra from the 4th century BCE. This period also witnessed the first subcontinental Mauryan Empire. Kautilya, often called the Sun-Tzu of India, composed the Arthashastra, a treatise that goes much beyond strategy. The chapter on foreign policy in this treatise is quite remarkable. Kautilya, a hard-nosed realist, regarded war not an extension of diplomacy (as Clausewitz argued later), but regarded every aspect of diplomacy as "subtle war”. Diplomacy, according to Kautilya, does not seek to avoid war, but to ensure victory in warfare, i.e. if victory is assured then one should go to war, setting aside any agreement or treaty signed previously. Kautilya advised that even during peacetime, a nation should constantly wage "hidden war”, consisting of sowing discord among the enemy’s leadership. My favourite example is Kautilya’s advice that by sending women to foreign capitals so beautiful that the enemies' generals turn against each other or by simply assassinating key figures, preferably with poison. No wonder the famous 19th Century sociologist Max Weber said this of the Arthashastra : "compared to it, Machiavelli’s The Prince is harmless.”

Kautilya’s most significant contribution to foreign policy making is his famous ‘mandala theory’, wherein he postulates that neighbours are most likely to be enemies, while states on the other side of one’s neighbors will be friends. It is fascinating to note that Kautilya’s ideas would appear in the West, centuries later. Should we then remain rooted in the Western origin of international relations theories or question the "Western” origin of today’s existing theories and acknowledge the profound contributions thinkers such as Kautilya have made?

Tanham’s contribution is a valuable one for the debate it generated though his central assumption is flawed, i.e. assuming ‘India’ to be a monolithic entity in the context of strategic thought. India’s journey as a modern nation state begins from 15 August 1947, whereas India as a distinct geographic entity, or the "sub-continent”, has been well-known since ancient times. This could be classified as the "Idea of India”. The geographical India, or the ‘Indian sub-continent’ was a fragmented region comprising various kingdoms and a few empires spread over time. Numerous instances can be marshalled for strategic thinking of the the Kalingas, the Mauryas, the Cholas, the Mughals, the Marathas and other major kingdoms or empires. The maritime expeditions of the Kalingas and the Cholas to South East Asia are well documented examples of strategic outreach. Strategic thinking also brought about the confederacy of the southern Rajputs to defeat an Arab invasion at the Battle of Navsari in 738 CE (AD) in today’s Gujarat. Strategic thinking of the Mauryan, Mughal and British Indian empires led them to create a buffer zone in the region where Afghanistan is located.

It is also true that no one thought of building a Great Wall like the Chinese, to keep out invaders, coming into the subcontinent from the trans-Indus mountain passes. Neither did the Southern kingdoms build an adequate navy to confront the Portuguese. The Marathas did not realize the immense significance in 1803 of the Battle of Assaye, near Ajanta which led to the collapse of resistance to British domination of India. Maj Gen Arthur Wellesley’s (later the Duke of Wellington) admitted that this was the most hard-fought battle. The Maratha kings, if they had strategic vision, could have deployed an army with a unified command which their numerical superiority, good organization, arms and training might have thwarted British conquest of India.

Rick Atkinson, the 2010 winner of the Pritzker Prize for Military History and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, described American strategic thought as basically consisting of using brute strength to maximum advantage - Shock and Awe - by "lunging for the jugular and crushing the enemy with the USA’s Gross Domestic Product”. In the post Cold War, even this has not worked.

Tanham’s attempt to distill an Indian strategy and finding no coherent thought is not surprising given his American background. By this standard, India’s apparent strategic culture may seem quite laid-back and remarkably complacent. Western scholars, however, remain deeply influenced by Tanham’s thinking. Let me leave with you an introductory paragraph written by American scholar Dr Timothy Hoyt, Professor of Strategy and Policy at the US War College, to a recent study on India’s Grand Strategy:

"India’s emergence as one of the great economic powers in the international system and its military strength, position it to be a major player in the international system in the twenty-first century. However, its current policies, rooted in a vision of India’s role in the international order that once reflected a consensus of Indian elites, appear to reflect a mismatch between its growing means and its overall role in international affairs. The emergence of "new thinking” and debates are gradually breaking down the consensus of India’s founding generations. Drivers of change are many, but it remains to be seen which tips India from a passive regional power to a more assertive global one.”

This debate will probably continue but let me move on to the issue of a national consensus on India’s foreign policy. Was there such a consensus, to begin with?

The short answer is, yes, when one looks at the period after independence, under India’s first and longest serving Prime Minister from 1947-64, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. There is no disputing the view that Jawaharlal Nehru was the architect of India’s Foreign Policy after Independence and his influence still permeates foreign policy thinking to this day. The personal imprint of Pandit Nehru was so overwhelming that he became the sole arbiter of India’s external relations. In hindsight it may have been better if his views had been contested by other important leaders. It is worth noting that India did not have an independent External Affairs Minister till after Nehru’s death, when Sardar Swaran Singh was appointed in the latter part of 1964.

Pandit Nehru’s views were distilled from Indian history, geography, culture, his historical circumstances and the personality of his leadership. Two important influences were that of Gandhiji and the freedom movement. Thus non-alignment, Panchsheel, anti-colonialism, disarmament, Asian outreach, good relations with neighbours etc. appeared as central tenets in Indian foreign policy. It was, therefore, easy to reject the Cold War rivalries because each side demonized the other. India’s zealous opposition to the arms race and nuclear proliferation were early manifestations of this thinking. Pandit Nehru believed that India would set an example by adopting the right means and the right methods, a throwback to Gandhian values.

That Pandit Nehru’s would keep equi-distant from the USA and the USSR was evident in his declared belief that either side was capable of its own kind of imperialism and therefore, India should take the best out of each and reject the excesses of pure capitalism and communism. His opponents criticized him for being Utopian. Pandit Nehru understood enlightened self-interest as distinguished from idealism. His stamp on Indian foreign policy was clearly articulated also from the domestic situation in India. India was in no position to plunge into global power politics when its urgent task was domestic development and consolidation. Thus Non-proliferation would prevent the spread of destructive weapons and Non-alignment would keep open avenues for economic and military assistance from any source to poverty stricken and defenceless India. Nehruvian consensus drove India to strive to improve relations with difficult neighbours, Pakistan and China.

Thus India rode the global stage as the voice of the developing world and by all accounts punched above its weight. Though decried and sometimes mocked for moral posturing, India did manage to avoid getting sucked into conflicts and concentrated on the task of nation building. No one challenged this consensus and Pandit Nehru drove Indian foreign policy till it crash landed with the war with China in 1962. Thereafter the Nehruvian consensus unravelled and a new consensus started emerging. This process was speeded up by the wars of 1965 and 1971 wars. The demise of the USSR and the end of the Cold War fundamentally changed the global scenario. The 1991 economic reforms and the nuclear tests of 1998 further undermined Nehruvian consensus. Yet the core of the Nehruvian consensus survives in the occasional exhortation for global nuclear disarmament and the continued effort for improving relations with India’s neighbours.

Let me move on to on India’s relations with her neighbours. There is consensus that the overall objective of India’s foreign policy is to ensure the transformation of India into a secure, stable, developed and prosperous nation. To achieve these goals, a peaceful, politically stable and economically secure periphery is a desired objective, as is a global environment which fosters peaceful cooperation regionally and globally. In pursuit of this key objective, it follows that India should seek to create the required ambience that helps to focus on the essential tasks of growth and development, a common challenge for the entire South Asian Region. India, therefore, supports suitable architectures for stability and resolution of conflicts in this region.

Geographically, India sits in the middle of the SAARC region comprising 80% of land area, population, GDP and other indices. The next largest member is Pakistan, having only 10 to 11 % share of these indices is a distant second. Others are even smaller. India shares land borders or maritime boundaries with all SAARC nations, (including Afghanistan, through Pak occupied Kashmir). Except Pakistan and Afghanistan, no other member country shares borders with one another, except India. India’s military capabilities are greater and both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon powers. This asymmetry and historical burden brings with it sensitivities, fears and complexes, despite Indian reluctance sometimes to leverage its size and strength in our external relations.

An enduring paradox of South Asia is that it is a region with so many cultural and other affinities, yet lacks meaningful integration and connectivity. It is striking how low the figure is for intra-South Asia trade, as compared with its global trade. South Asia languishes at around 6%, whereas for the EU this figure is around 67%, the highest, followed by NAFTA at 62%, ASEAN at 26%, LAC and COMESA at 22%.

But it would be careless to ignore the fast changing socio-economic scenario of South Asian countries and the impact that this is having on the dynamics of conflict and peace-making in South Asia. The benefits or logic of regional cooperation are obvious but it is also a fact that creating the structures for regional cooperation are also exceptionally challenging. India has taken several asymmetric steps in giving market access to its neighbours which helps regional integration in a mutually beneficial manner.

The South Asian Region has emerged as one of the fastest growing sub-regions in the world, with an average rate of growth of around 8%, sustained over the past five years. Intra-regional trade within South Asia has begun to grow and has doubled over the past five years, underlining the fact that there is merit in lowering tariffs, minimizing sensitive lists and tackling non-tariff and para-tariff barriers. Each South Asian country has taken action in these sectors. India has reduced the sensitive list under SAFTA for LDCs. This has led to a surge in Bangladesh's exports to India and significantly addressed the issue of trade imbalance between the two countries. The India-Sri Lanka FTA has also quadrupled trade between the two countries. Pakistan has also decided to grant India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment, gradually moving to a negative list system. This Indo-Pak track remains to be implemented.

On the security front, India is determined to work with its neighbours, as well as major powers in the world, to defeat the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism. Historically, extra regional powers have complicated relations between countries in South Asia. India has given a significant push to foster connectivity and promoted mutual confidence in multiple areas, including trade and investment. Leverage India’s economic growth into win-win arrangements with our neighbours has been a major plank of India’s neighbourhood policy. For example, India’s electricity grid is now connected to the grids of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. It is possible that Pakistan’s grid may also be connected, if the Pakistan government can take the plunge. Prime Minister Narender Modi, during his first official visit abroad to Bhutan, said that a strong India is good for the region.

An ADB study estimates the potential of intra SAARC trade under SAFTA to be over USD $ 85 billion. Several agreements under the SARC umbrella have been signed for economic integration among the member nations. Among them are a $USD 300 million SAARC Development Fund (SDF) to fund regional development projects, a South Asia Regional Standards Organization (SARSO) to harmonize standards and reduce time taken in customs clearance and a South Asian University in Delhi with $ 300 million outlay. Infrastructure connectivity has high priority and the decade 2010-20 has been designated as the "Decade of Intra-Regional Connectivity of SAARC”. Regional institutions like the SAARC Food Bank and SAARC Disaster Management Centre have the potential to help address common regional problems. But beyond all this there is a perception of slow progress and lack of implementation. Pakistan has generally been the most recalcitrant and has delayed most initiatives even after signing on to them.

With that general overview, let me turn to some country-specific remarks.

Bhutan probably defies the basic tenet of Kautilya’s mandala proposition. India’s relations with Bhutan are, by far, the best among all neighbours. I think this partly explains the decision of Prime Minister Modi to choose Bhutan as his first foreign destination. India’s ties continue to remain strong and cooperative, even as Bhutan went through the transition from absolute monarchy to an elected democratic government. Special rights to Bhutanese citizens, at par with our citizens and an open border are enshrined in bilateral treaties (Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 2007). India’s financial grants and aid projects in Bhutan, including important hydropower generation projects, cement plants, connectivity projects and capacity building have transformed the Bhutanese economy. Bhutan today has the highest per capita income in SAARC. By 2018, Bhutan will be producing 10,000 MW of electricity from India-funded hydroelectric projects.

On the security front, Bhutan is an important theatre as it sits above the "Chicken’s Neck”. India also has military mission in Bhutan for providing training and other services and the Bhutanese armed forces maintain close links with the its Indian counterpart. Bhutanese territory has been used in the past by insurgent groups like ULFA. There are possibilities that other insurgent groups in the North-East of India could set up camps and facilities in southern Bhutan.

China has been sniffing around and engaging the Bhutanese of late. China, though an important neighbor, does not have diplomatic relations with Bhutan. The undemarcated border of around 470 kms between the two countries is under discussion. India is naturally deeply interested in this, as any settlement could have a strategic impact on India’s defence in this sector. Bhutan is sensitive to India’s concerns and consults India closely in this matter.

Bangladesh’s emergence as an independent country, through the bloody Liberation War of 1971, left its society deeply divided. This had a lasting impact on its politics with ideological tension between the secular imperative and Islamic leanings. Common ethnic and linguistic affinity with Indian Bengal and strong cultural bonds create a complex mindset. It would be mistake to assume that all Bangladeshis wanted to be independent of Pakistan. Hence political parties, like the BNP and organizations, like the Jamaat-e-Islami, are ideologically influenced and continue to have a nexus with Pakistan. This is not surprising, since Bangladeshis were Pakistanis for almost 25 years. This section tries to play the Pakistan card with India, in the mistaken belief that it will force India to yield concessions. Pakistan exploits this connection for its strategic objectives to destabilize India, using the shared border. Bangladesh’s geo-strategic situation, surrounded as it is by India, except for a small border with Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal shoreline, impels it towards seeking good relations with India. The India-Bangladesh border is the longest (4096 kms) and quite porous. There are difficult issues of border management of which illegal migration, trafficking in women and children, smuggling etc that create irritants. Yet mindset problems prevail which makes Bangladesh suspicious of India. There is a feeling that India behaves like a big brother, does not deliver on its promises and takes advantage of Bangladesh. A sizable fundamentalist Islamic section considers Bengali cultural mores un-Islamic, whereas a large section clings passionately to Bengali cultural traditions. A shared literature and nationals anthems written by Rabindranath Tagore are bonds that both sides cherish and value. There are, therefore schizophrenic elements in the relationship and military intervention in politics has soured ties from time to time.

India-Bangladesh relations have been transformed under the enlightened leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh founding father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She has shown tremendous sagacity in pursuing constructive relations with India, resulting in significant benefits in economic, industrial and security spheres. India has contributed generously in Bangladesh’s economic development. Bangladesh has emerged as India’s largest trading partner in SAARC, after India removed tariffs on Bangladesh’s exports. India is exporting electricity and is assisting in setting up power generation plants and transmission lines. Bangladesh has cooperated in controlling the menace of North-Eastern Indian insurgencies and helped tame insurgent groups which operated out of camps and sanctuaries in Bangladesh. India needs to sign and ratify the Teesta River Water sharing agreement and the boundary settlement agreement. Bangladesh has a genuine grievance about India not delivering on these agreements that became hostage to Indian domestic politics. What is required now is speeding up implementation of connectivity projects (road and rail) and upgrading border infrastructure for trade.

China’s role in Bangladesh has been significant in the infrastructure and defence supplies ssectors. A Chinese company has won the tender for building the Padma bridge which when completed will have a transformational effect on internal connectivity and a huge boost for economic activity. It is not surprising that China’s is a major trading partner of Bangladesh.

The transformation in relations with Bangladesh is a success story of Indian foreign policy over the last 6 years. Kautilya would have been surprised by this development.

Relations with Maldives have been close, friendly and cooperative. India intervened effectively to put down a violent coup attempt in 1988. The forced removal of President Mohamad Nashid led to a tricky political situation. India’s counsel and encouragement helped to convince all stakeholders there to hold elections. Abdulla Yameen, younger brother of the first President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom won the election and this led to political stability. India has assisted the Maldives in healthcare facilities, maritime and air security and human resource capacity building. The cancellation of the Male International Airport operation lease deed was a rude jolt and forced the Indian infrastructure company GMR to leave Maldives. The dispute was a result of local politics and the arbitration award by a Singapore court has gone in favour of GMR.

Maldives occupies a strategic location in the Indian Ocean and is part of the archipelago that includes India’s Lakshadeep Islands and the British occupied island of Diego Garcia, where the USA maintains a huge military base. It sits close to the sea lanes of communications and therefore, of vital interest to India and to India’s Naval outreach.

We have come a long way in our relationship with Myanmar, a neighbor but not a member of SAARC. Prime Minister Nehru enjoyed close personal relations with the Burmese leader U Nu. India had helped draft the Burmese Constitution and took a forgiving attitude when hundreds of thousands of Indians were expelled from Burma and their assets seized without compensation. Burma did very little to control anti-Indian insurgents using Burmese territory. In the India-China war of 1962, Burma remained neutral and gradually moved into China’s orbit and India went into a policy of benign neglect. Later in 1988 relations degenerated into open hostility when India fiercely criticized Burma’s military rulers for their bloody suppression of pro-democracy supporters. This was a rather uncharacteristic Indian response and helped pushed an isolated Myanmar into the arms of China, a country with which Myanmar has had a historically complicated and hostile relationship.

India’s policy started changing from the early nineties, when concern heightened about the all pervasive Chinese influence in Myanmar. In 1992-93 India, under Prime Minister Narasimha Rao leadership, started engaging with the military regime, amidst much domestic and international opposition. The Chinese bear hug had begun to worry the Generals too and they saw merit in balancing China. India’s changed policy and positive approach to the military rulers paid dividends and several high level exchange of visits sealed this new relationship. Indian companies got involved in the oil, gas and defence sectors, several infrastructural projects, capacity building and the shared border was opened up for trade.

Transformational developments are taking place in Myanmar after 50 years of military rule and isolation. Myanmar has begun a slow march towards democracy and opening up its economy. Though China’s involvement in Myanmar’s economy is way ahead of India’s, a process of engagement with Myanmar has gathered momentum. Geo-politics has turned around Western countries who earlier shunned Myanmar. This has injected a great deal of self-confidence in Myanmar’s leadership and helped in tempering China’s overweening influence, though pragmatism has also marked Myanmar’s public utterances about China that extol a special relationship. The role of the USA, India and Japan will be crucial in the future direction of Myanmar. India’s relations with Myanmar are on the right track and we need to speed up implementation of projects, involve the Indian private sector in border development and improve delivery.

Myanmar’s strategic significance for India lies in its geography and the 1643 km border, shared with four of India’s six north-eastern states. Myanmar can play a crucial role in the development of India’s north eastern region. Economic cooperation and trade with Myanmar can be the lifeline for India’s north eastern region, ensuring their security and stability. Border trade, relatively low as compared to trade across Myanmar’s other borders, can give a huge boost to the quality of life in this region and put pressure on long festering insurgencies. Myanmar is India’s land bridge to ASEAN and connectivity will provide benefits of trade, commerce, movement of people and access to Myanmar’s rich natural resources, particularly much-needed energy, required for India’s economic growth. Maritime cooperation with Myanmar will help in maintaining security in the Bay of Bengal and India’s island territories.

Nepal, like Bhutan, has a special treaty relationship with India. The two countries share open border and Nepali citizens are treated at par with Indian citizens. Nepalese citizens serve in the Indian Army. This unique relationship is buttressed by bonds of history, culture, religion and migrant populations in each other’s country. Nepal is currently in the throes of a difficult constitutional transition from a monarchy to a republic. India has supported this process and has provided direct assistance of essential commodities and is also helping develop connectivity and capacities for education and training. The transition political set up has settled down to tackle internal issues, the most important being drafting a new constitution. Nepalese politics has its quota of India-baiting but this has abated to some extent, as Nepalese political leaders realize that they need to set their house in order. Nepal sits astride many rivers that have potential to produce over 40,000 MWs of electricity. If this potential can be tapped, then it will change the economic future of Nepal. Some progress in this direction is being made but Nepal’s domestic political squabbles and instability has impeded progress.

Nepal’s northern border with China and growing Chinese influence is a matter that India has been monitoring. China is investing heavily in soft power projection like development of Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, as an international tourist destination and has opened up several Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese. Chinese inroads into Nepal, after the Maoist insurgency phase and integrations of the Maoists in the political mainstream, have to be monitored carefully by India.

Sri Lanka also displays a small country mindset which leads to grandstanding that creates irritants, though relations remain friendly and stable. Here one cannot ignore the role of Tamil Nadu politicians, in throwing up roadblocks. Stoking up Tamil emotions may have been good politics from a parochial point of view but this strategy may no longer work now, when a government with a solid majority is in power in Delhi. Sri Lankan triumphalism after the defeat of LTTE and elimination of Prabhakaran in 2009, has led to broken promises, as the Sri Lankan government has been dodging implementing further steps to address the just grievances of the Tamil minority. A sustainable solution will remain elusive if Sri Lanka continues to avoid biting the bullet. India abstained on a Human Rights Council resolution for setting up a body to investigate human rights abuses by Sri Lanka security forces. This has given us a chance to bring our ties on a more pragmatic, firmer footing and make necessary course corrections.

In Sri Lanka, India’s humanitarian assistance for relief and rehabilitation include relief pack for a whole family, infrastructure, ports, transport, renovation of schools etc. Sri Lanka is an extremely important neighbour both for our security, as well as for our trade and economic interests. China and Pakistan have actively worked against India’s interests in Sri Lanka and domestic Tamil Nadu politics has reduced our wiggle room. Pakistan is trying to use Sri Lanka to mount terrorist operations in South India The Bilateral Free Trade Agreement has given the required boost in trade with Sri Lanka. A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement is now overdue but remains stalled because of strained ties. The Tamil Nadu fishermen issue is a recurring irritant in the relationship and is flogged repeatedly by Tamil Nadu politicians for domestic audiences.

Afghanistan’s turbulent history has not changed much to this day. It is currently having its presidential election. Remarkably, Afghans have braved Taliban threats and bombings to turn out in large numbers to express their commitment to democratic government. A well-trained, motivated and committed professional army is standing its ground against Taliban attacks. India’s relations with Afghanistan have been traditionally friendly, except during the Taliban period. Afghanistan can provide a gateway for India into Central Asia for trade, pipelines and infrastructure. Much work has been done on the TAPI pipeline that can connect the gas-rich sources of Turkmenistan to energy deficient countries in South Asia. All countries are on board in this project.

Foreign armed forces belonging to the USA and NATO are preparing for withdrawal and handing over security responsibility all over Afghanistan to the National Security Forces. There are fears that Afghanistan may slip back into Taliban control with the help of Pakistan, waiting in the wings to re-establish its hegemony over Afghanistan. Will Pakistan succeed is now the main question. It is my contention that Pakistan may find it difficult to impose a Taliban government in Kabul but will try to ensure that their Taliban protégés find some place in the power structure in Kabul. If this gambit does not succeed then the Pashtun dominated area could be the arena where the Taliban will be assisted to gain control, though I sometimes wonder whether Pakistan, given its present circumstances, will want the backward-looking Taliban to rule Afghanistan again.

India’s interest lies in the security, stability and economic development of Afghanistan. It is the country beyond India’s hostile neighbor. India’s commitment to Afghanistan has been reflected in the Strategic Partnership that was signed last year. In Afghanistan, India’s assistance towards developmental projects is about USD 2 billion. The Afghan Parliament complex, the strategic Zaranj-Delaram Road, Pul-e-Khumri power station and transmission line to Kabul, the Salma dam and several hospitals, roads and schools have been built with Indian assistance. India has also pitched in with capacity building and training of the Afghan Armed forces. India has also engaged with the Istanbul Process and with regional powers like China, Russia and the Central Asian countries to help Afghanistan. India’s abiding interest is to helping build Afghan institutions and capacities in order to deal with threats of terrorism, religious extremism and other centrifugal tendencies. Pakistan has always been suspicious of India’s role in Afghanistan and has organized terrorist attacks by its proxies on our Embassy and Consulates. India’s positive role in Afghanistan has the support of the Afghan people who have consistently put India at the top of the list of countries they like most and put Pakistan as the least liked country.

Given the history of Pakistan’s birth as a nation, the untimely death of its founder, the bloodshed accompanying partition, the Kashmir issue and a host of other grievances, it was inevitable that Pakistan will develop obsessive compulsive hostility in its policy towards India. Pakistan’s founding myth as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent, already on a shaky ground because many Muslims opted to stay back in India, was shattered irrevocably in 1971, with the emergence of Bangladesh. This was historically inevitable. The entry of "Partition” in the political vocabulary of the sub-continent begins with the partition of Bengal in 1905 by the British Viceroy Lord Curzon. The Bengalis rose up against this decision and the fierce agitation prompted the British to reverse the decision. The British, however, took two strategic decisions as a follow up;, one the shifting of the capital to New Delhi and the founding of the Muslim League. The League’s founding session was held in Dhaka in 1906, with the Nawab of Dhaka as its first President. The Bengali Muslims, thereafter, spearheaded the demand for better opportunities and rights for the Muslims and along with similar movements in UP (Aligarh) merged into the Pakistan movement. The insidious British hand behind the divide and rule policy was put to work that would ultimately lead to Partition.

Pakistan has built up a national narrative of grievances and territorial claims against India, portraying India as an implacable foe and an existential threat, bent upon reversing partition. Its search for a national identity has led it towards cultivating an ideology that can differentiate it from India and even the shared subcontinental civilization heritage. This is somewhat akin to the usage of the term "Asr-il-Jahiliyya” or the age of ignorance, an Arabic phrase that describes the era before the coming of Islam. Attempts to build a national narrative and a separate identity, based on the "Ideology of Pakistan”, have led to amusing and quite incredible results. History was re-written and cultural traditions, going back thousands of years, classified as Islamic or un-Islamic. History books began with the coming of Muslims into Pakistan, as if that was the beginning of history. Vilification of the Hindu and distorted history have been force fed to generations of young Pakistanis who have been indoctrinated in this culture of hate. This extremist religious and exclusivist ideology has spawned terror groups that are destroying the social fabric of Pakistan. Pakistani governments and the all powerful Army, regarded as a state within a state, are equally complicit in supporting extremist groups that mainly use terror tactics in the proxy war against India apart from other asymmetric tools of destabilization. The rebellion in Baluchistan continues and the tribal region in the north-west is up in arms. Pakistan today seems to be at war with itself, bombing its own people in the tribal areas. It is not surprising that Pakistan finds itself today in a situation where economic growth has shrunk and the Pakistani people go without electricity for more than 12-18 hours a day. Even Pakistan’s external patrons like the USA, China and Saudi Arabia cannot bail out Pakistan from the hole it has dug for itself.

Pakistan stands at an important crossroad in its history. There are signs of an emerging consensus within its political class that using terrorism as a tool of state policy has come back to haunt Pakistan and hard decisions have to taken to roll back the terror apparatus. No one else can make this policy choice for Pakistan, not even its all-weather friend, China. India has to wait and see whether Pakistan genuinely abandons its reliance on terrorism and engages with India with the normal and acceptable tools of diplomacy. I believe that India should not shy away from engaging Pakistan but make it crystal clear that terrorism and normalization cannot go hand in hand. For normal relations, the shadow of terrorism must be rolled back and India has to see visible results of this roll back. A democratically elected civilian government is in place in Islamabad and it is in India’s interest that it remains stable and establishes civilian control over the Pakistani state. It’s a long haul but that is the way to go. This process will be helped by opening up trade, cross border investments and people-to-people contacts. Trade is useful in establishing normal relations and helps in mitigating real and perceived grievances. It also helps economic growth, creating jobs and promoting services. The challenge of dealing with Pakistan will test India’s patience and diplomacy in the years to come.

China is our largest and most important neighbor, sharing a border of about 4000 kms of borders, much of it disputed. China’s phenomenal economic growth is undoubtedly one of the most important developments of our time. Territorial claims and counter claims and the war of 1962 have always cast a shadow over India-China relations. India-China relations may well be the most watched relationship that will shape the Asian century and indeed global geo-politics.

China’s rise and muscle flexing is causing anxiety in its neighbourhood, from Japan to ASEAN to Central Asian Republics. India’s relations with China span over millennia plus. The unresolved border dispute, presence of the Dalai Lama in India, unrest in Tibet and Xinxiang, its ties with Pakistan and historical memories are all complicating factors. China’s economic growth has catapulted it to the second largest economy in the world. This has provided the means for rapid military modernization of China. River water sharing issues, Chinese unpredictable and periodic intrusions across the disputed border, forays into the Indian Ocean region, stapled visas for Jammu & Kashmir residents and denial of visa to residents of Arunachal residents and unpredictability of Chinese moves have created mistrust and problems in the relationship.

Economic, commercial and investment ties have, nevertheless, expanded. Hence cooperation and competition coexist. Bilateral trade will soon cross USD $ 100 billion, making China India’s largest trading partner. This engagement across diversifies sectors is poised to expand, if China invests in infrastructure development in India. Maintaining peace and tranquility along the border, therefore, is in mutual interest. Largely, this has happened and no major violent incident has occurred. In the last decade, India and China have signed the maximum number of bilateral agreements and high level visits have peaked. There are now 36 bilateral mechanisms and 2014 has been designated as the Year of Friendly Exchanges. India-China cooperation on global issues like Climate Change, global governance, international trade issues etc has been a positive feature

As China increases its comprehensive national power, it has projected its influence into India’s neighbourhood. China has provided crucial strategic nuclear and missile technologies to Pakistan. China has ignored international norms in these transfers of technology. China’s intentions are clear. Pakistan provides a proxy for its policy of boxing in India and tying it down within its region. China’s economic engagement with India’s other neighbours and arms transfers to these countries are also designed to counter India’s influence.

While China’s rise as an economic and military power is inevitable, China is not invulnerable. It has continuing ethnic internal problems in Tibet and Xinjiang, pervasive corruption, a rapidly aging work force, a financial system saddled with bad loans, growing social inequality of destabilizing proportions, strong dissent expressed through internet, social media and civil society. Environmental degradation of monumental proportions has accompanied frenetic economic growth. There are many factors that indicate growing difficulties in sustaining the stunning growth rates of the past four decades.

Let me now share some thoughts on India’s "Look East Policy”, LEP for short. The renewed vision to seek closer relations with the ASEAN countries, first articulated by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 1994, was, quintessentially, India’s response to a Unipolar world, marked by the end of the Cold War and the demise of the USSR. The impetus for reworking India’s foreign policy emerged from the economic reforms and opening up of the Indian economy. The expanding potential for India's trade and investment with the dynamic ASEAN region, as well as the pessimistic outlook for regional integration of South Asia through SAARC, were added incentives for this move which later came to be called the LEP. In a sense it was harking back to India’s historical links with South East Asia via maritime routes.

India’s Look East began, most likely, in ancient Kalinga, before the Christian era. Odisha’s folklore has plenty of references to merchants sailing to this region, the most famous of which is the annual festival of Bali jatra or Voyage to Bali, the Indonesian island that is still predominantly Hindu in the largest Muslim country in the world. The powerful Chola Empire in the 11th and 12th centuries, with a strong maritime tradition, inherited and carried forward the maritime legacy of the Kalingas. Almost the whole of East and South-East Asia had embraced Sanatan Dharma and Buddhism. Indelible remains of Indian links remain to this day via Sanskrit, Pali, Ramayana and Mahabharata. Angkor Wat in the Cambodian town of Siem Riep, Borobudur and Prambanen in Jog Jakarta, Indonesia, the temples of the Champa Kingdom in Vietnam are world heritage sites, inspired by the philosophy, art, architecture and sculpture that flourished in India since the pre-Christian era. Even in Catholic Philippines, they have a version of the Ramayana that is performed as a ballet. The King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej or in Sanskrit "Bhoomi Bal Atulya Tej” is also known as King Rama IX. Bangkok’s international airport is called Suvarnabhumi airport. Tha national airline of Indonesia is called Garuda. These are a few examples of the ancient links. The establishment of the Muslim Sultanates in Delhi did not cut off Indian influence which continued in South East Asia. Muslim merchants, Islamic scholars and Sufi mystics, travelling from India, continued the maritime trade and helped spread Islam in the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra, Java and Borneo.

So what happened to this extensive engagement that lasted over centuries? Western colonial rule in Asia ensured the decay in India’s intimate links with East and South-East Asia, as Europeans colonialists took over India’s maritime trade by force. The advent of indentured Indian labour to Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia, working on rubber and sugar plantations of the British and the Dutch colonizers, began with British colonial rule in India. Their impact on the societies in which they were supplanted was largely negative, since they came to seen as instruments of the colonial masters. With no land connectivity to fall back on and the maritime route usurped by the Europeans, India under British rule turned Westwards.

Today, a major share of global maritime trade goes through the straits of Malacca. Rampant piracy has been controlled and the India Navy has played an important role in this arena. India’s strategic interest in the Indian Ocean is to keep trade and commerce open, safe and inclusive.

The conflict brewing in the South China Sea is worrying for all countries, with China laying claim to disputed islands and virtually the whole of South China Sea as its territorial waters will pose a challenge to the LEP. India is encouraging all claimants to the disputed islands to maintain peace and find a solution within the UN’s Law of the Seas and ASEAN’s Code of Conduct. The need to balance China's rapid rise, by inviting and facilitating a stronger engagement of India and others with the region, was a strong motivation for ASEAN’s reciprocating positively to India’s LEP.

The core of India-South East/East Asia relationship is the India-ASEAN equation. Trade and investment, two important pillars of the LEP, have registered steady growth. India’s trade with ASEAN has gone up from $2.9 billion in 1993 to about $70 billion in 2013, after India signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods in 2010. The aim is to propel this figure to USD 100 billion. Eventually a full-fledged Free Trade Area (FTA) is established, it will be one of the world’s largest markets of 1.8 billion consumers with a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion.

Beyond ASEAN, the East Asia Summit (EAS) has emerged as the larger institution, with ASEAN as its driver and hub. It includes not only ASEAN member-states but also China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, Russia and the USA. Besides, India is a member of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and is also interested in joining Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Physical connectivity remains a very important aspect of the LEP. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral highway is a 1360 km long highway that would establish seamless territorial connectivity. India is a party to the ambitious Trans-Asian railway project. Myanmar is not yet linked by railway to India or Thailand. The security dimension has had a dampening effect on infrastructure projects in the North East and they are facing delays due to political, security and financial problems. The other major infrastructure project is the industrial corridor linking the Myanmar’s port of Dawei with Thailand. India must take a deeper interest in this project that has attracted Japanese and ROK companies.

The LEP has domestic implications on the development of India’s North East Region and the Indian economy in general. Though the immediate focus was on South East Asia, specifically the ASEAN, over time, the scope of LEP has come to encompass a much wider and inter-linked region. Some of the platforms India has chosen to use in pursuance of its Look East Policy, such as BIMSTEC (that brings together select South East and South Asian countries) and Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC), linking India with a number of ASEAN countries, would point to that intended broader geographical space.

India-China relations, Japan’s future trajectory and the American pivot to Asia will define the future security architecture in Asia. Hence this relationship will be the most important for India in the coming decades In the near future China may not be very assertive in its relations with India. Prime Minister’s Modi’s spectacular victory in the Indian election has sent a message across the world that a government with an absolute majority in India, led by a decisive leader, will be able to push through reforms and rejuvenate the economy. India, like other countries, will have to hedge and build a web of relationships, particularly with the USA, Japan, ASEAN and Australia. This will ensure that China also hedges. The stronger this web, the more restrained and amenable will be China. There should, however, be no expectation that the border dispute and other irritants will be solved immediately, as the Chinese Foreign Minister said during his visit to India recently to make contact with the new government. Prime Minister Modi has visited China four times, as the CM of Gujarat and Chinese investments have flowed into Gujarat. China’s keenness to engage India is evident and it could be a result of its disputes with Japan, Vietnam and other littoral states in the South China Sea. China would not like all these countries coalescing in an anti-China front.

Asia’s security architecture is in flux. India and Japan are on the verge of reaching agreement on a civil nuclear agreement. The ROK has also acquired a crucial profile in our LEP. From the geo-strategic point of view, Vietnam is another pivot in India’s LEP on the security track. While economic engagement with China may expand, China’s assertive role on territorial issues will collide with India’s interest and be a roadblock to the LEP. The instability in Thailand, an important economic partner, is another roadblock that India will have to navigate while pursuing the LEP. Indonesia and Australia must also be brought into the core domain of India’s LEP policy because of the growing dimension of security. On the non-security side India must give a determined push for infrastructure, connectivity and agreements in services with the ASEAN. The LEP has been suffering from lack of attention in a sustained manner and requires remedial measures to be taken quickly.

I believe the new Indian government, backed by a majority in the Lok Sabha, will be in a position to take bold initiatives in the domain of foreign policy. An early signal of this is the invitation to SAARC leaders to attend the swearing in ceremony. It was an adroit move with a strong potential to pay future dividends in India’s neighbourhood policy. It is also, perhaps, the first step to catapulting Prime Minister Modi, from a charismatic provincial leader to a global statesman. Prime Minister Modi will look towards Asia first, having visited several Asian countries as Chief Minister of Gujarat. This will give greater heft to India’s Look East Policy (LEP). As a growing power India will have to look around and invest in acquiring and nurturing critical technologies, open up various sectors in the Indian economy, including the defence production sector to foreign investment, ramp up skilling and poverty alleviation programmes, expand, integrate and secure India’s cyberspace and give a boost to the manufacturing sector, among other things. I believe India’s journey to becoming major power has begun. This historic transformation will be completed in this century marking our much awaited tryst with destiny.

Thank you for patience and attention.


Disclaimer :-The opinions/views expressed in the Lectures are author's own and do not represent the views of the Ministy of External Affairs.