Thursday, May 2, 2013

India’s foreign policy is not soft. It’s “soft power”….

In the vicious political environment that exists in India today, every incident – no matter how tragic – is quickly converted to a political issue. Even as Sarabjit Singh died yesterday, the BJP was out calling our foreign policy “soft”. Begs me to ask: What would the BJP have done differently if it was ruling? Attacked Pakistan? Is that going to be the BJP’s foreign policy if it comes to power? Do they even understand what foreign policy means? All of Vajpayee’s extensive foreign trips in the 1970s  have yielded them this understanding???? For this dimwittedness alone, the BJP should never come to power.

The BJP has the habit of raising the pitch sky high. On every issue, but most notably on foreign policy issues, where it appears to prefer a “hardline” approach. If one were to follow its advice, India should attack China and Pakistan both. And while we are at it, let’s also show Sri Lanka and Bangladesh also how tough we can be. And if we haven’t attacked them yet, it shows we (sorry, Congressmen) are cowards. For a street bully (or ruffian) that the BJP wants India to be, attacking is the only way to demonstrate power. Beat up the guy next door, even if it means getting a bloody nose yourself in the process too. That’s a sign of “bravery” and “courage”. But the BJP forgets that even the street dog knows which fight to pick. It never fights a Rottweiler. And if someone calls it a coward for this, so be it. Lest we forget, China is a Rottweiler. Even the US and Japan acknowledge that. Japan and China have been sparring over the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea. Japan is seeking to establish a “hotline” with China to “discuss” things out. It is even seeking help from Mongolia. It has the US backing too. But Japan hasn’t attacked China. Does that make Japan a “coward”????

And yet, the defining characteristic of the BJP is not its hardline on foreign policy. It’s its doublespeak. When the BJP ruled, it did NOTHING to demonstrate its preference for a muscular foreign policy. In fact, quite the opposite. It was Vajpayee who cuddled up to Musharraf, even as he came to India and insulted us. It was under the same BJP regime that Afzal Guru attacked the Indian Parliament, and save for more high pitched statements, the BJP did nothing to show him the gallows. And worse, as evidence of the party’s muscular foreign policy and it’s “bravery”, they released known top-deck Pakistani terrorists in exchange for a hijacked plane. That time, they called it a “sympathetic” move to save the hostages. Today, they would call it “softness” or “cowardice” if the Congress did the same thing. Today, they say India should have a “no negotiations” policy with terrorists, like Israel has. Yet when they come to power, they will forget all about it. The BJP is nothing but double-speak; so its politicization of the Sarabjit death is understandable.

But here’s the other point. We Indians are behaving as if this is the first case of an Indian death on Pakistani soil. Let’s be clear here. Pakistan is a sworn enemy of India. It’s hand in Kashmir is well known. Any peace overtures we make are with the full knowledge that they may not work. And yet, there is no other way to handle a neighbour like Pakistan; one that will surely self-destruct one day. India does what it does because that’s the best – in fact, the only – way to protect itself. Attacking Pakistan is neither feasible, nor smart. It’s plain naivete to think India can attack Pakistan and subdue it. It smacks of ignorance. It may help the BJP politically, but it will hurt India by dragging it into an avoidable conflict. It will cost us billions, and will slow our economic growth down for decades. Worse, it may bring the international focus back on Kashmir, something that India’s “soft” foreign policy has so smartly avoided so far.

At this point I know what the BJP apologists will say. We’re not talking of going to war to Pakistan. But there is a way to teach them a lesson. Oh really? Please enlighten me. You didn’t when you were in power.

The only way for any country to exert power is through soft power. As a country’s economic clout grows, so does it influence in the world. We have got where we have because our economy has become a force to reckon with. The US didn’t welcome us into the nuclear club because they suddenly fell in love with us. They did it for their own self interest. Yet, how did we return the favor. By not giving them any nuclear plants to build (whatever the reason). By not giving them defence contracts so we could prove to ourselves that we are “independent” and not  under the influence of the US. It’s building relationships that matters in foreign policy. India needs to woo the US. That’s the only way it can counter both Pakistan and China. But will we do that? The same BJP will say “we’ve sold our soul to the US”. Why talk only of the US? We have messed up our relationship with Italy and the EU now. Forget getting support from them if we ever get jammed.

And then we have the likes of Mamata Banerjee who also want to have a hand in foreign policy. Had she not torpedoed the Teesta water deal, we would have forged a stronger relationship with Bangladesh. But she had her parochial Bengal politics to think about. Today, as we talk of “exchanging enclaves” with Bangladesh, the BJP finds it unacceptable. You want to know why? Because India will be giving away a little more that it will be getting in return. Such small thinking is making Bangladesh move away from India. Their politicians are saying “It doesn’t help to be a friend with India”. One day, they will welcome China into their country. That day, the BJP (which will forever remain in opposition, if it continues like this) will lecture us about “India doesn’t have clout with Bangladesh”. But hello….how does India get clout over Bangladesh? By attacking it? Or by being like the “generous big brother”, and behaving like one?

It’s the same with Sri Lanka where Jayalalitha decided that she was the savior of all Tamilians, no matter what their nationality. And now that our relations with that country are messed up, why not blame that on the Congress too? Honestly, if the Congress should get tough, it should be with those inside India; not outside.

And is the BJP any different? Just look at the irony. The man who is responsible (directly or indirectly) for the “extra judicial” massacre of thousands in Gujarat makes a statement accusing Pakistan of having carried out extra-judicial killing! If this is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black, what is?

Let’s not beat around the bush. Foreign policy cannot be practiced as it is being right now. We cannot have state governments playing local politics one day, then blaming the Center when relations sour. We cannot have our media playing up jingoism, then demanding why India doesn’t have friends in the neighborhood. Foreign policy should be left to the experts, and kept completely out of the public domain. And most importantly, there is no place for extremism or false bravado in foreign policy. Understanding global relationships as they exist between nations is a complex task. Its not for us naïve locals to think about.

The real truth is that thanks to vicious internal politics, India’s long standing foreign policy is being questioned. A foreign policy built on “soft power” is being called “soft”. A demand for a more muscular policy is being made. At this rate, we may soon have a war on our hands. Maybe with China, who everyone dreads, including the US and Japan. But the BJP’s deep-seated inferiority complex may push India towards a war. But why should the party care? It is only interested in winning power in 2014. After that, it can go back to releasing terrorists and entertaining dictators all over again….

No comments:

Post a Comment