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Indias foreign policy

Will India show its true mettle by advising its new strategic partner – the US – against any misadventure in Syria?

One must congratulate the Government of India for taking the bold step of joining the 138 nations voting ‘Yes’ for the resolution to upgrade Palestine to a non-member observer state in the United Nations. What is commendable is that despite India’s recent strategic overtures to the United States and its cooperation with Israel on defence matters, India demonstrated independence and courage in voting for the Palestinians.
In the past, while India made some feeble noises in spurts regarding the Palestinians’ cause and about international morality, India’s policy had seen several flip-flops and had lacked boldness. It was the usual customary dubious statements after every incident involving or affecting the Palestinians; the nature and careful wording of the official statements after the fact reflected its spineless foreign policy. Gladly, this time it was different.

Along with the newly found courage, one hopes that the policy is backed by a firm sense of purpose. This sense of purpose should be revealed in its reaction to America’s actions in Syria, another Arab country. Barack Obama, weighed down by the difficult task of showing results in the domestic economy and particularly in the unemployment rate during his second and last term of presidency, may take cover under results in his foreign policy.

After his tacit approval of the happenings so far in Syria, he may now plan for a stronger action to dislodge President Bashar Assad. As it is, the effects of the uprising against Assad and the suppression of the unrest by the present Syrian government have been devastating for the people of that country. There is a humanitarian crisis, as US’s ally UK’s prime minister David Cameron has said recently. But, it is going to be complicated further by escalating the armed conflict in that country.

 The first step the US and its allies may take is to deploy surface to air missiles in Turkey, thus dragging the latter into almost a war.

Will India show its true mettle by advising its new strategic partner – the US – against any misadventure in Syria? If India believes in the larger issue of peace and justice, it should put it in practice by being able to prevent escalation of the Syrian conflict to Turkey and then its further spread elsewhere.

After the George W Bush era, the Americans have agreed, if not very vocally, that the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ theory was a lie. The threat of biological war by Iraq was also an unfounded fear. Indian foreign policy had been to keep its lips zipped through the entire episode. It was neither for the Arabs nor against them. Not a good policy for a country that depended so much on the Arab world by importing oil and exporting labour force in large numbers.

No significant help

What India got in return was some leniency in the international nuclear power production regime and nuclear reactors that the US and its European allies anyway wanted to sell us during their recessionary times. That a highly risk-prone nuclear power production would not help our energy crunch in any significant way is another matter.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Arab world has seen increasing turmoil and the western world has become bolder in its initiatives in the Arab countries. There is a huge room for doubt regarding the genesis of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was toppled by what seemed like a popular uprising against his rule which lasted over three decades. His replacement, Mohamed Morsi who has enacted draconian laws giving him sweeping powers, does not appear to be any messenger of democracy for the people of that country.

The effect for the Arab region and the countries nearby has been one of some degree of destabilisation. Whatever may have been the demerits of the Hosni Mubarak government, it had an influence in holding the regional countries together. Egypt had a moderating influence in a region that was moving towards increasing fundamentalism. During the entire Tahrir Square movement, India remained a mute spectator, as though a strategy of non-commitment was a prudent policy. It remains unsure even now.

The fall of and killing of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was another sordid saga in which, again, India practiced silence. Gaddafi may have been a dictator, but the situation that has replaced his regime is no better; Libya has not gone any farther after Gaddafi; if any, it has sunk into endless internal squabbles. India did not take any active diplomatic interest to defuse the crisis and better the prospects of the country.

Arabs and now Iran are at the receiving end from the western powers that obviously have an eye on the oil resources in this part of the world. Peace, stability and prosperity of that region are in the best interests of India. If India does not support their cause out of a sense of helplessness, then the same sense of vulnerability will manifest when it has to deal with the border problems with China and Pakistan and several other issues with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

If an era of toughness and principled stand has indeed commenced for India as indicated in the case of the recent UN vote on Palestine, it is a significant event. India needs to be firm and focused as regards its relations with the outside world. It needs to be candid with its strategic allies like the United States.
(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)