India’s foreign policy shift

By Ratish Mehta

Looking back into the last decade, India’s foreign policy approach, has seen a significant shift in terms of its outlook. Towards the end of the last decade, India had successfully managed to achieve what many had doubted; The Civil Nuclear Deal with the U.S. This Nuclear deal sowed the roots for a lasting relationship with the U.S which many would not have thought to be possible during the Cold War. The achievement of such a deal was also a testimony to the fact that not all hostilities between nations last forever. It is the strategic interests, and the timely capitalization upon such interests of nations that accelerates these relationships.

The threat to Indian sovereignty due to a two-fronted war at the behest of China and Pakistan has been the core of Indian Foreign policy for far to long. Many have argued this to be an unwarranted threat, but that is by far a risk India is unwilling to take. The decision to half-heartedly support the Afghan govt in the peak of the war with Taliban is another example of how India’s decisions are based on the Pakistani support to the latter. Though it is also important to mention that Taliban’s constant threat to liberate Kashmir has also played a significant part in India’s decision to support a democratically elected govt.

The rise of China in Asia and the brotherly relations between China and Pakistan also puts India in a tricky position. The Belt and Road initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which India reiterates infringes upon Indian territory, has pushed India to call upon its long-term ally- Iran. The Indian response to the highly hyped Gwadar port built by the Chinese in Pakistan (under CPEC), was to build the multi-dimensional Chabbar Port in Iran, which would give India the access to Afghanistan bypassing a hostile Pakistan. This however seems too much for the present Govt in New Delhi. The increasing of friendlier relations with the U.S has restrained India from tapping into its relations with Iran- who invariably shares a hostile relation with the U.S, especially after President Trump’s election to the White House.

President Trump’s Maximum Pressure doctrine inflicted upon Iran, forced India to cut-off its imports of Iranian oil and look elsewhere to cover up the loss of oil supply. This however did not sit well with India’s long-term ally. Warning shots were fired, during the nationwide protest against the Citizen Amendment Act and the Delhi riots in India, by the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei when his tweet criticized the persisting situation. This was a signal of discontentment in Iran which was seen as highly unusual in New Delhi given the decades old friendly relations between the two allies. The relations were further aggravated recently when Iran decided to go ahead and offer the rail contract in the Chabbar project to China citing funding delay from New Delhi.

Another factor that might have irked the Iranian could be the strengthening of the Indian-Israeli relations. India and Israel over the years have been working towards accelerating the bilateral relations as both see themselves threatened by a hostile neighbourhood and find common ground in their core strategic interests. The recent peace deal signed between UAE and Israel is seen in India as a positive step as India is to mutually benefit from the mutual recognition of both countries.

The rise of an alternative Muslim geo-strategic group which includes Turkey at the forefront with Pakistan, Malaysia and a fickle Iran, poses a risk to the current Muslim alliance led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. India’s stand on this front is clear; it will not tolerate any discussion of its internal dimensions and those who wish to comment will find themselves at odds with India. The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) has so far been reluctant to comment on the Kashmir issue even after repeated attempts by Pakistan to do so. This has led to resistance by Pakistan who now finds a mutual ally in Turkey, who wishes to emerge as the leader of the Muslim global community soon.

Gone are the days of non-alignment when India refused to take sides in an emerging bipolar order. The global dynamics have changed since then, and the futile strategy of the past don’t seem to work in the 21st century. India is at the forefront of an expansionist China, a notorious Pakistan and an unstable Afghanistan. The world is moving steadily towards two opposing poles, even if not any sooner, these small alliances with common strategic goals, will pave the turbulent path ahead for India’s global view.

The classic case of balancing the rise of a rival through balancing of power, invariably led to the two world wars. Even if this generation does not find itself in a threatened global environment as that of the World Wars, we are still not far away from a divided international community who will find themselves at odds when it comes to conflicting geopolitical interests. India must choose the path ahead with utmost caution, as its decision will affect the polarized atmosphere the world finds itself in today, only if it so wishes to stake a legitimate claim at the helm of the global order somewhere in the near future.

Ratish Mehta is a graduate in Political Science Honours from Delhi University and is currently associated with The Pranab Mukherjee Foundation as a Research Associate. 
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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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