Indian Foreign Policy & Citizens

May 7th, 2008

Round Table Discussion on “Indian Foreign Policy & Citizen” by Mr. Shashank – Former Foreign Secretary, GOI; Lt. Gen. Satish Nambiar(PVSM) (AVSM) (VrC) (Retd.), Director – The United Services Institution of India; Mr. Charan Wadhva- Professor Emeritus, Centre for Policy Research and Dr. Prabir De, Fellow – Research & Information System for Developing Countries (RIS); in Espire, A 41, MCIE, Mathura Road, New Delhi – 44.


Orientation of Foreign Policy
  • If we look historically, the key players in foreign policies are no longer the chancelleries or foreign offices in their secluded magnificence, but the citizens, the global corporations, various people’s movements and so on. The whole scenario has changed. Developing countries including India tend to look backwards for some reason. This may be because of our cultural traditions and family ties. But in a globalised world, we have to fix our gaze on the present.
  • Foreign policy is about connectivity. It is about connecting us to our neighbors, distant friends and to events and developments that will or are likely to affect us while it has the horizontal or the geographical dimension, but the citizen aspect cannot be lost sight of, which is, connecting the people of different countries to each other. it is important for the youth to understand what the role and dimensions of foreign policy are, what it can achieve and how it is important to all of us.
  • Interestingly, in the last few years perhaps anniversaries have something to do with it, it has been 60 years since India became independent there has been a bit of a quiet revolution, some of it noticed, some unnoticed, of bringing “people” back into foreign policy.
  • India is stronger, more confident, more ambitious and increasingly globalised. It may be a target of outside pressures, but is no longer a mere pawn or at the mercy of other powers. It is a significant player on the global stage. Therein lie the challenges for India’s foreign policy.
Look East Policy
  • The Look East aspect is an important dimension of our foreign policy but we have to match our concept with action, failing which we may only add to the volume of rhetoric and books. We need to focus on people to people connectivity between the people of our North East and our East Asian neighbors. We should shed all our inhibitions, especially as China has been very active in this regard. We do need to address our security concerns but we should move forward in every way possible to maximize our gains through this Look East policy.
  • The Look East policy has two dimensions to it. One is physical connectivity, which brings tangible benefits to us and other neighbors like trade, education and opportunities. The other aspect is bringing countries of the Far East like Japan or South Korea into the ambit of this Look East policy.
  • Within this framework there has been realization from both sides that trade, technology transfer, investments, services including tourism and also monetary co-operation. There is realization from the ASEAN countries themselves that the time has come to recognize the power of India, much before we ourselves realized this. The most important factor is this realization on ASEAN’s part.
  • Together this reveals a picture of dynamism and the people of the region want to participate in the economic activity and prosperity. They need the support of the market forces and this is where the meaningful policies come into the play. As a trillion dollar economy, India cannot be ignored but the resurgence of the entire region means that we need to pay more attention to the interaction between the countries of the region, and engage more, especially as the 21st century is supposed to be Asia’s century.
  • The potential area we should not lose sight of is Buddhist tourism. This is so dear to Southeast Asian neighbors. The potential that exists here is enormous. Funding is also not a problem as the central government is quite willing to provide the resources for Buddhist tourism.
  • The other area is of knowledge-based economies in which India has acquired an edge. We need collaborative business-to-business deals and joint ventures in any manner acceptable to our Southeast Asian neighbours in IT, nanotechnology, biotechnology, agriculture, food processing, higher education, joint R & D hubs etc.
Security Perspectives
  • Notwithstanding the challenges India faces internally, we need to be clear that within the international setting at the commencement of the 21st Century, given our size, geo-strategic location straddling the Indian Ocean, the population of over a billion people, our undeniable democratic credentials, the significant capability in information technology, space research, a large reservoir of scientific talent, management expertise and so on, proven military capability, and the large market for consumer goods and services, the country has a role to play both regionally and globally.
  • There is a view that India is experiencing a couple of silent revolutions. New elites are emerging from the most laudable phenomenon of democratic politics over the years and the more recent one of economic growth. They have new aspirations and energies; not in itself a bad thing. However, there is also the simultaneous phenomenon of the hitherto depressed classes seeking their rightful ‘place in the sun’. Provided both these phenomena are managed effectively without social upheaval and violence, India’s movement forward on the world stage would be unstoppable. Our security policy needs to be based on three elements: facilitation of continued economic growth; maintaining adequate defence capability making optimum use of available resources and technology; and, development of strategic and technological partnerships.
  • To deter and dissuade potential adversaries from undertaking any adventures against the country, to be able to deal with internal and external security threats should they emerge, to provide a degree of reassurance to our friends and neighbours who look to us for assistance, and to meet international responsibilities that require the deployment and use of military forces, India needs to maintain effective conventional defence forces and a credible deterrent strategic capability. It would be useful for us to try and work out such strategic security partnerships with regional organisations like ASEAN, SCO, AU, GCC, etc.
  • It is obvious that we cannot ignore any of the countries in our neighbourhood, when we look east at ASEAN, across the ten countries of South East Asia and beyond, we cannot ignore China and Japan. Writing a book on India’s foreign policy, a leading Indian diplomat said that you couldn’t ignore the essence of India.
  • Unless and until there is a sea change in our relationship with Pakistan which one hopes will happen the only sliver of connectivity that we have with the outside world is through the East, through the chicken’s neck corridor and Myanmar and so forth. In the last couple of years, the Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh have been very aggressively put forward, to the extent of making noises on our Prime Minister’s visit to the state. Having friendly relations with China, we must be clear that we have to treat them both as a competitor and as a co-operative partner.
Security Perspectives
  • The Establishment whether it is the Ministry of External Affairs, Defence or the Prime Minister’s Office or Home, all have to work in a much more integrated way. They and the media have to be on the same side, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned. We have to connect with journalists in this whole process of transforming borders into crossings, connect with journalists in Bangladesh, or Southeast Asia and other countries in the region.
  • Let’s start looking East, at Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and so on. We talk about our Navy going to Myanmar with relief supplies for the flood victims, but we haven’t used our media like we did during the Tsunami. India projected itself during the Tsunami when it helped the citizens of Sri Lanka, Thailand.
  • There is a significant advantage that we presently have over China. It is unbelievable and it is so only because India is now perceived as a partner, a partner that countries of East Asia have chosen, not one who is imposed on them. This is because of our soft power advantages, because of our historical legacy and because of the fear of China. India is beginning to count in Indonesia, in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia in more ways than one and this is the opportunity that we have to start activating the Look East policy, not by just looking but actually seeing the East with our own eyes.
  • There is a great strength that we have, the fact that we are a multi-religious and plural country and this is very much part of the democratic strength and that soft power that we talk about. It is time we consider introducing another package of Islamic tourism along with the Buddhist tourism we have had for some time.
Improving Connectivity
  • The international road network between Indian and her eastern neighbours including the hardware plus software should be improved, which in turn, will reduce the international transportation costs. Technical know-how should be offered by India and investment made in improving the border infrastructure inside Bangladesh.
  • It is impossible to ignore aviation in today’s rapidly globalising world, more so in a dynamic region like South East Asia. Eastern South Asia is becoming more services-driven. The bilateral flow of services is more balanced and higher than bilateral trade like in health, education, tourism, etc. Services trade including FDI are likely to escalate. Private airlines have been touching only bigger cities (Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka and Chittagong), but clearly, this needs to change.
  • Waterways are the cheapest mode of moving passengers and goods in the remotest parts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Indian exports to Bangladesh too, are mostly through inland water transport: coal, rice, white cement, tires, steel coil and project goods. the need for developing IWT facility between the two countries, which will ensure longer IWT protocol, allow private operators and improving the infrastructure (e.g. night navigation) is evident.
  • It is essential to liberalise maritime services. By converting the landlocked North Eastern region to a land-linked one through Chittagong, communication could be eased to a great extent.
  • If Indian railways could help develop the rail infrastructure of Bangladesh then it will generate a huge goodwill among the two nations. It will generate tremendous respect for India in Bangladesh. These are the soft part which we talked of. Thus our foreign policy needs to proactive rather then active.
  • We have also got to engender ways to mutually promote bilateral FDI; open up bilateral services trade in education, health, tourism and energy cooperation. Setting up SEZs / FTZs at the border areas is something countries of the region should look at without too much delay. The industrial zone in Lao PDR Vietnam border (at Lao Bao in Vietnam) and the Gaeseong industrial complex in North Korea are examples. We must encourage bilateral FDI by signing BIPA and DTAA and check migration through employment at the border regions. The modernization of land customs stations is another imperative, as is the simplification of customs procedures. It is not possible to conduct the business of foreign relations without involving the State governments. Otherwise, there will be a complete bottleneck in the work of the Ministry of External Affairs.


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