By Vivek Pattanayak in Bhubaneswar, March 13, 2020: When India attained independence, the world had just come out of devastating world war. Nations looked for lasting peace. Hence came the United Nations and its specialized agencies along with World Bank and IMF.

Nevertheless, the victors were divided on ideological lines. US led the Western group championing capitalism and democracy and Soviet Union spearheaded the socialist movement. The East European countries and China became part of the socialist bloc. Military alliances called NATO, CENTO, SEATO and the Warsaw Pact emanated from this rivalry based on suspicion. Thus, began what was called Cold War.

Nations in Asia and Africa rapidly became free from colonialism. In South Africa the white minority remained in power resorting to a blatant anti-Black discriminatory and hateful policy called apartheid.

India had experienced a traumatic independence after partition of the sub-continent accompanied by deadly violence and history’s largest transfer of population. Based on Islamic religious faith Pakistan was founded, and it became India’s immediate neighbour on the east and the west.

China asserted its new found dignity by occupying Tibet with military might although this peaceful Buddhist territorial entity under a spiritual leader, Dalai Lama had its long established historical autonomy recognized by the British India called half-sovereign State under international law, thus making itself India’s immediate northern neighbour. Between these two giants Nepal under a Hindu King, Bhutan under a Buddhist King, and Sikkim, a protectorate of the British India, were sandwiched. These Himalayan kingdoms had special relationship with the British India.

The newly established India inherited all these historical events and geographic reality.

India’s foreign policy was influenced by these factors. Based on Ahinsa (non-violence) preached by Mahatma Gandhi, India advocated the principle of peaceful co-existence and resolution of bilateral and multilateral disputes through pacific means. It gave primacy to UN and its agencies and international law being urged by Article 51 of the Constitution of India.

It remained outside the power blocs and supported the movement of decolonization and brought Afro-Asian solidarity against erstwhile colonial power. Non-Aligned Movement was the natural outcome.

India’s proximity to Africa became obvious firstly because Gandhi’s resistance to racial discrimination against black and coloured people in South Africa and secondly due to Nehru having pioneered movement against apartheid policy of the white minority regime of Malan and Verwoerd.

India remained in Commonwealth of Nations in view of historical connection between Britain and India and so did the newly independent countries in Africa, Asia and Caribbean regions.

Gandhi’s support of Khilafat movement was the root of India’s proximity to the Islamic world in the 20th century . Even after creation of Islamic Pakistan, the secular India was the second largest Muslim country in the world next only to Indonesia. Later with discovery of more and more of oil fields in the region India in short of oil had depended upon this region for oil supply. As construction boom began in the region India became the provider of skilled and highly skilled manpower.

Further, India supported the cause of Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel and in the conflict between Britain and France on one side Egypt on the other during the Suez crisis India supported Egypt. When Prime Minister of Iran Mosaddeq nationalized British petroleum, India under Nehru was on the side of Iran.

Hostility between India and Pakistan began immediately after the independence on the Kashmir issue. India’s border with China became a hot dispute after it was discovered that China had constructed a road across Aksai Chin, a part of J&K leading to deteriorating relationship with China and finally ending in war in 1962. Pakistan ceded a portion of occupied J&K to China although it had no legal jurisdiction over the territory. Thus, China became friend of Pakistan being enemy of enemy .

In the power equation in the world, Pakistan chose to remain a part of CENTO and SEATO making US its ally who gave military hardware including aircraft and tanks. India’s non-aligned stance, and anti-imperialism position brought her close to the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries. India got support of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist countries politically, economically and militarily. However, during the Sino-Indian war Soviet Union called China, a “brother” and India a “friend” thus making India realize where it stood as a result India leaned to USA for support.

Later with the Sino-Soviet ideological and territorial dispute, the Soviet Union steadfastly supported India particularly during the Bangladesh war of 1971. Before that India and Soviet Union had signed a special treaty of friendship and cooperation due to wisdom and foresight of both Indira Gandhi and Brezhnev. Thus, USA and China were isolated during the Bangladesh war. The communist China then under Mao was a helpless spectator to disintegration of Pakistan, its friend and ally under the might of the Indian assault. USA sent its prestigious Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal during the dying days of undivided Pakistan only to witness from distance the sparkling emergence of a newly independent Bangladesh.

After a humiliating defeat in Vietnam, USA got an opportunity to restore its prestige after it managed to gather the Jihadi Muslims from different regions of the world to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The dreaded terrorist Osama Bin Laden along with his militant fundamentalist Islamic outfit, Al Qaeda was thus created by CIA. Pakistan became once again the theatre of US action. India then under Morarji Desai as PM took a neutral stand in this conflict.

When Soviet Union retreated from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s influence became preponderant. Hardened militants and battle ready were deployed later by Pakistan’s ISI to “inflict on India thousand cuts” in J&K to quote President Zia ul-haq.

The Soviet Union under glasnost and perestroika of Gorbachev tacitly supported the US military intervention in Gulf against Iraq. With the collapse of socialist bloc in 1991, the world political scene drastically changed.

India no longer could depend upon Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union, during the Yeltsin regime then close to the West and particularly to US . The newly formed weak and vulnerable Russia on the ruins of USSR was not the same Soviet Union of the Brezhnev days. The world became unipolar under the US hegemony.

India no longer could afford to take stance against US and its allies and came closer to Israel. There was major shift in outlook of India towards the world then under sagacious Narasimha Rao.

The new coalition government of India under Vajpayee took a bold foreign policy stand to normalise relationship with Pakistan. The famous bus ride to Lahore and announcement of policy of Insaniyat and Kashmiriyat demonstrated his statesmanship.

Nuclear test by India brought great admiration for India in Africa and Islamic Arab world. It brought sanction from US and the West. Pakistan’s nuclear test also alienated that country from its traditional ally US. Foresight of Vajpayee was demonstrated when India announced suspension of further tests without signing non-nuclear proliferation treaty. Clinton’s intervention during the Kargil conflict showed US had softened the position towards India at last.

9/11 was a watershed in the contemporary global diplomacy. India had been tired of fighting cross border terrorism in J&K without any support from the Western bloc. Any punitive action against cross-border terrorists in Kashmir was painted as human rights violation in the West. Even during IC 814 hijacking the West was reluctant to support India.

Soon after 9/11, there was terrorist attack on the Indian parliament which led to risk of another conflict between India and Pakistan. World had got conscious of rising Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. US itself locked up in conflict in Afghanistan took more neutral stance vis-à-vis India and Pakistan.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s master stroke in persuading Bush, the younger, to sign a nuclear deal with India was a high point in the Indian diplomacy.

Even after Bin-laden’ s elimination in Pakistan territory, US retained its overt and covert support for Pakistan as they depended upon it for logistics and supply chain in fighting against Taliban.

Rapid rise of ISIS and unceasing terrorism of Al Sabah and Boko Haram and incessant Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe reflected Islamic terrorism continued to be a global threat. India, Europe, Russia and USA are on the same side.

India’s foreign relations is the outcome of this historical and geographic reality. Will USA, the only superpower of the 21st century, change its outlook towards Pakistan? Will China aspiring to be a superpower disconnect from Pakistan?

Political heft comes from economic strength. Blackswan event like coronavirus will impact the global economy presently in decline. Both China under slow down and India now limping cannot escape this reality. Future relationships will emerge out of this unpleasant trend.

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