India | World | 18th August 2021 | Virtual Wire
Source: Columbia Business School
India being a large, newly independent, impoverished, and highly diverse country, active engagement with other countries for its survival, security, and development became a necessity for India at its independence.
Independence and Partition left behind a messy territorial legacy in the Indian subcontinent. India’s borders were initially poorly demarcated and it has had to compete with two nuclear-armed neighbours for territory. India itself was poorly integrated and the resulting sources of domestic insecurity benefited from support from neighbouring countries. India during this phase went to war with the neighbouring countries of Pakistan (1947) and China (1962).
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948 was fought between India and Pakistan over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. This brought the Kashmir issue into the international relations domain. The disputed Himalayan border was the main cause of the Sino-Indian War in 1962. In its initial years, India opted for flexible and friendly relations with both the U.S. and the Soviet Union and their respective allies.
In fact, India initially received the bulk of development and military assistance from the West; it was only from the mid-1950s onwards that the Soviet Union extended support. India played an activist role in the decolonising world, extending diplomatic and in some cases security assistance to independence movements in Asia and Africa. India also sent military missions to Korea and the Congo as part of peacekeeping efforts.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 began following Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule. India retaliated by launching a full-scale military attack on Pakistan.
Diplomatic intervention by the Soviet Union and the United States, and the subsequent issuance of the Tashkent Declaration resulted in ending the war.
India’s intervention in the Bangladesh war became imminent given India’s stakes in the issue. India provided substantial diplomatic, economic and military support to Bangladeshi nationalists. The resulting 1971 Indo-Pak war saw India emerging as the victor and the formation of independent Bangladesh. India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since 1984 over control of the Siachen Glacier.
The conflict was started in 1984 by India’s successful capture of the Siachen Glacier as part of Operation Meghdoot and subsequently continued with Operation Rajiv. China tested its nuclear weapons in 1964. This prompted India to initiate its own nuclear weapons programme to achieve nuclear parity with China. The Pokhran nuclear test of 1974 made India a nuclear power.
Indian forces were successful in pushing back against China in Sikkim in 1967. Subsequent to anti-monarchy protests, India took control of Sikkim as its associate state first and subsequently into the union as the 22nd state of India via a constitutional amendment in 1975. Following the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of 1987, India intervened in the Sri Lankan Civil War through the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in a peacekeeping role.
India’s intervention in the 1988 attempted coup in the Maldives became necessary to protect its own interests in India’s backyard of the Indian Ocean region. India intervened with “Operation Cactus”. India’s domestic security challenges in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast assumed an external angle via the active support to insurgent outfits by the neighbouring countries of Pakistan, China and Bangladesh.
The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 marked a significant deviation from India’s previous position of non-alignment during the Cold War. This was necessitated given the increasing Pakistani ties with China and the United States at that time.
India found itself at odds with the U.S. over issues such as intervention in Bangladesh, nuclear non-proliferation and trade. India was threatened by military action by the U.S. over the Bangladesh liberation movement and severe sanctions were levied on India over its Pokhran Nuclear tests.
Foreign technical and financial assistance was instrumental to the important economic strides made in India during this period, including the Green Revolution. The balance of payments crisis in the post-Cold War era resulted in India adopting a range of reforms to liberalise the economy.
The Indian economy had remained relatively closed at a time when other Asian economies had begun to liberalise. In this direction, India adopted the Look East Policy and deepened its relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. India has tried to normalise its relations with China with the signing of a border peace and tranquillity agreement with China in 1993 agreeing to maintain the status quo on their mutual border pending an eventual boundary settlement.
This was followed by another important set of agreements with China in 2003. A more assertive China has begun to test India on the border and undermine Indian interests in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. The recent India-China relationship has been marred by border skirmishes. The stand-offs at Doklam and Ladakh between 2017 and 2021 being the most recent. In a bid to counter Chinese aggressiveness, India has employed an economic approach in addition to military standing.
India has boycotted China’s Belt and Road Initiative, raised barriers to Chinese investment and banned some Chinese technology. India’s repeated efforts to normalize its ties with Pakistan have failed given Pakistan’s continued non-conventional warfare approach to India via its support to terrorist organisations working against India.
The Kargil war, the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 to Kandahar (Afghanistan), the 2001 attack on India’s Parliament and the more recent terrorist attacks at Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama have only strained the Indo-Pak relations.
In the post-cold war phase, India made attempts to make initial military contracts with the U.S., even as it has sought to maintain normal relations with Russia too. After 2004, the then government worked extensively to resolve the outstanding question of India’s nuclear status. By eliminating barriers to ‘dual use’ technologies and equipment, as well as a host of associated export controls, India had the opportunity to establish robust defence relations with the U.S. and its allies. A number of defence and security agreements have been signed between the two countries of late which have only deepened the strategic relationship between the oldest democracy and the biggest democracy in the world.
In a bid to counter the increasingly assertive China, India has sought to deepen relations with other balancing powers in the Indo-Pacific. Security relations and understandings with the U.S. and its allies (Japan, France, Australia) have accelerated after 2014. Despite a strategic alignment with U.S. and Europe, India’s relations with the U.S. and Europe have grown more contentious over trade issues. In the post-global financial crisis phase, India has sought to partner with China and other rising powers on institutional reform, financial lending, climate change, and sovereignty.
This is indicative of India’s emphasis on national interest as a core guiding factor for its foreign policy. Ever since independence, India’s fate has been closely tied to the rest of the world. The constantly evolving international environment presented India not just with opportunities but numerous challenges. Despite the different approaches to international engagement over the period since independence, India’s objectives in its foreign policy approach have been broadly consistent: development, regional security, a balance of power, and the shaping of international consensus to be more amenable to Indian interests.
The ravages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the growing international competition with China and the turmoil in Afghanistan pose serious challenges to India. Apart from domestic measures to counter these challenges, India’s global interactions will play a significant role in helping India counter these challenges. India should use its growing network of international strategic and economic partners to counter these challenges. Hence India’s future, too like its past, will remain intertwined with global affairs.