07 July, 2020
10 Min Read
India’s foreign relations and the course of history
By, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, a former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was Special Envoy for West Asia in the Manmohan Singh government
* The Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public and undisguised reference to China’s expansionism in his address to Indian troops last week, on July 3 in Ladakh was so obvious that the Chinese lost no time in rejecting the allegation.
Down memory lane
* The Prime Minister’s talk of Chinese expansionism reminded me of what Mrs. Indira Gandhi told me more than once during the time I served in her Prime Minister’s Office. She said: “I can think of a time down the road in future when we might have normal, peaceful relations with Pakistan, but never with China because China basically is an expansionist power.”
* She distrusted China as she did other countries including the Soviet Union. She surely did not trust Pakistan.
* Perhaps her basic approach in foreign policy was that in international relations, there is no such thing as trust. U.S. President Ronald Reagan talked of ‘Trust, but verify”; Mrs. Gandhi’s approach seemed to be: “Verify and still not trust”.
Nehru, China and Kashmir
* Jawaharlal Nehru, on the other hand, had convinced himself that China will not attack India. His Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, likely played a big part in inclining Nehru towards this conviction.
* Whatever his reasons, there is no doubt that his China policy was hugely faulty.
* But Nehru did not commit any Himalayan blunder in Kashmir. When a ceasefire was called for in January 1949, it was not because he was pacifist by nature or that he trusted the United Nations or any other country to label Pakistan as aggressor and persuade it to vacate the aggression.
* The reality on the ground was that the Indian Army was in no position to run over the whole of Jammu and Kashmir at that time.
* In his response to a letter Albert Einstein wrote to him a few weeks before Independence, Nehru described foreign policy as essentially “selfish”.
* He was also clear in his mind that India’s interest lay with the West. India needed technology and other assistance which he was convinced could be obtained only from America.
* The Soviets, he believed, were of no use in this matter.
* It was only after the Americans concluded the military agreement with Pakistan and started giving it massive quantities of arms that Nehru began looking to the Soviet Union.
* Mrs. Gandhi has been similarly accused of being naive and too trusting when she allowed Pakistan’s 90,000 prisoners of war (POWs) to return to their country without getting anything in return.
* Again, at Simla, nobody could state with conviction if she really believed that Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would live up to his commitment, oral as it was, to transform the ceasefire line into an international border.
* It is nobody’s idea that India should give up its claims to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir or Aksai Chin; the question is only about reiterating the claims publicly and in a charged atmosphere. As they say, all foreign policy is essentially domestic policy and this is true of all governments everywhere and at all times.
* The foreign policy is decided by the government of the day based on the national interest. One government might conclude that the civil nuclear deal with the United States served India’s national interest; some other government ruled by some other party or even the same party but at another time and in different circumstances may think otherwise.
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