By Abhinav Pandya
India’s recent vote in the support of UN resolution on Jerusalem puts across myriad disturbing questions about the reasons, motivations and the objectives of India’s foreign policy. Even a cursory glance at the facts of the matter raises serious questions about the rationale of the above-mentioned vote. The OIC (Organization of Islamic Countries) preferred not to give even an iota of respect to India’s Muslims by not accepting India even as an observer despite having the world’s second-largest Muslim population. Further, the OIC has never supported India on Kashmir issue in multilateral platforms. As recently as on November 9th, OIC organized a conference in Jeddah discussing India’s “atrocities” in Kashmir.
Agreed that India has stronger commercial ties with Arabs as India’s trade with Arabs countries was 18.5% of its total trade and with Israel was less than 1% of its total trade in 2016-17, but then it’s a two-way traffic. If India gets the largest chunk of oil from Arab states then even they would not want to lose such a huge market. If the remittances are crucial for India then the migrant Indian labor is equally important, or even more for the Arab world.
India fears to lose Iran as a friend if she openly aligns with Israel on Palestine issue. But, Iran has never openly supported India on Kashmir issue. In fact, Iran Times reported that Khamanehi mentioned Kashmir along with Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq as places where Muslims were oppressed by occupiers. However, India does not need to worry too much about the Mollah regime of Iran which is already facing suffocating diplomatic isolation and impending US airstrikes internationally and a hostile and disgruntled population almost on the verge of revolution at home. Iran has stakes in Chahbahaar and rationally speaking, Iran has all the reasons to keep India in good faith. And, even the economic logic dictates that Iran needs India as Iran in the grim days of isolation cannot afford to lose a large buyer of its oil.
If Pakistan has no qualms in aligning with the US and Saudi Arabia has no hesitations aligning with Israel against Iran, then there hardly appears any reason why India is scared of appearing as a flag-bearer of Israel in Afghanistan. And, India has done immense reconstruction work in Afghanistan and never sent its military, so Afghanistan is expected to understand India’s concerns and security needs as a true friend. And, if Afghanistan cannot appreciate India’s friendship with Israel, then there is no reason for India also to be a sole contractor of utopian generosity. And, anyways if India is under a huge delusion of having secured strong strategic space in Afghanistan as it isn’t just possible without fielding one’s armed forces in a country like Afghanistan where even Americans are clueless after 15 years of wandering towards the mirage of sustainable victory.
Further, in defense, several researchers and diplomats argue that if Saudis, NATO allies like UK and France can vote in the favor of Palestine without getting their alliance with the US adversely impacted why can’t India do the same thing? Superficially the argument makes some logical sense but comparing India with Saudis, UK, and France, is like comparing apples and oranges in diplomacy. The geopolitical dynamics of Middle East are different from that of South Asia. Saudis have always supported Palestine in multilateral fora as a moral obligation because it projects itself as a leader of the Islamic world. But in spite of such a fundamental obligation rooted in its existential identity, Saudis are now courting Israel and their bonhomie with the US is an open secret, as a response to rapidly expanding Iran’s Shia crescent across the Middle East. And, for UK, France and other NATO allies, any stand, even if it is purely based on moral compunctions is not detrimental to their national interests as they are not seeking Arab votes or a Palestinian vote for any national issue like Kashmir. Hence, the contours of Indo-US relations cannot be decided by drawing lame comparisons with Saudis, UK, and France.
On the other hand, Israel has emerged as India’s great friend and a partner in defense, intelligence, counter-terrorism, technology, and business. On critical occasions, Israel has come to India’s rescue. During Kargil war, Israel supplied much needed laser-guided bombs which were crucial in winning back Himalayan heights in an extraordinarily tough terrain where infantry-based operations had already cost hundreds of soldiers in the lack of accurate air-strikes capability. And, the US has also distanced itself from Pakistan after the Kargil war. US has supported India’s membership bid for NSG and after Trump’s election, the US has openly threatened Pakistan of stopping the development aid and dismantling the terror infrastructure with military options if Pakistan fails to take effective action against extremists.
Today , the world talks of a robust Indo-US partnership and the emergence of India as a world power and a counter-weight against China in Asia, and when India comes forth with such irrational and timid responses like the recent vote on Jerusalem, surprising the geopolitical community by such policy blunders, several questions arise as to what goes inside the minds of India’s diplomatic community. Counter-radicalization expert Tufail Ahmad has said that it seems as if India has aligned with its worst enemies i.e. China and Pakistan in international bodies. He further writes in Print, “India cannot stand by its dependable allies in critical times……… It was not expected of Modi government to vote against the US and Israel, especially since the prime minister paid a historic visit to Israel last July, forging a strong and durable India-Israel strategic relationship”.
It is perfectly understandable if Middle Eastern countries vote in the favor of the resolution but what is India trying to achieve by thoughtlessly going against two of its strong and reliable strategic partners? Are there any long-term objectives and strategic vision behind India’s foreign policy or it’s just a random and ad-hoc series of reactions coming out of nowhere and leading to nowhere? Certainly, it does not like a world power like diplomatic posture.
Abhinav Pandya is a Policy Analyst specializing in counter-terrorism, India’s foreign policy and Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitics. He’s graduated with a degree in Public Affairs from Cornell University. While a student, he had founded International Affairs Forum at Cornell University and also served as International Student Representative. He has more than seven years of experience in public policy, counter-terrorism, electoral politics, and development sector in India and US. Pandya has also worked as a member of United Nation’s national level specialist team to review the flagship employment guarantee scheme of India.