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M.L. Sondhi

Twenty years after the accomplishment of the mission of Indian forces in Bangladesh, some observations about Indian foreign policy can be made.  The first is that Indian policy makers failed to capitalise on the collapse of Pakistani colonial rule in East Bengal.  India could have emerged as a challenger to hegemonial motivations in order to build a new peace order in Asia.  Bangladesh should have been followed up with an Indian challenge to Chinese power-political interests in Tibet.  The future of Asian security should have been seen as a systemic process to remove hegemonial pressures in order to create peaceful international conditions in Asia.  Bangladesh and Tibet would have served as the two foundation stones of a democratic and resurgent order and made a dent in the ideological structures of both Islamic and Communist fundamentalisms.

A second observation is that Indian policy after the liberation of Bangladesh should have taken into account the factor of “revanchism” in Pakistani policy and that it was essential for New Delhi to pre-empt Islamabad’s efforts to aggravate Islamic fundamentalist trends in one or other part of India.  In the post-Bangladesh period all the cards were in India’s favour.  If we had held a war-crimes trial of Pakistani soldiers and officers in our custody, we would have helped to shape the Islamic religious and social outlook in the Subcontinent in a humane direction.  Pakistan which now encourages talk of jihad in Kashmir and promotes destabilisation of Indian territorial integrity with the rallying cry of conquest for Islam would have been accused at the bar of world public opinion of the grossest and harshest violation of human rights of Bengali Muslims.  Mrs. Gandhi’s growing preoccupation with political-power addiction in her own backyard resulting ultimately in the nefarious Emergency made her sacrifice the potential for bringing Pakistan’s illegal actions under judicial scrutiny in accordance with international law.

A third observation is that immediately after Bangladesh’s establishment when New Delhi was perceived as the liberator of Bengali Muslims from the clutches of Pakistani monsters, Mrs. Gandhi missed an opportunity to revoke Article 370.  The whole logic of India’s action in East Pakistan against the Yahya regime could have been easily extended in the interests of Indian unity by utilising significant social and psychological elements in the Kashmir valley to help workers, farmers, shepards, businessmen, lawyers, government servants and academics to a growing involvement in an All-India outlook.  The contrast between Indian democracy and Pakistani totalitarianism was glaringly evident when the Pakistani forces were routed.  In the period that followed the Congress Party and Government tried petty-minded policies and experiments of divide-and-rule in the name of “national integration”.  All these resulted in dismal failure giving rise to contempt and hostility throughout the country.  

A fourth point is that after Bangladesh India became “soft on the Soviet Union” and the K.G.B. was allowed the run of the place and the ill-fated rupee-rouble trade started making India’s economy non-competitive and isolated from the dynamism of the world economy.  While Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hongkong raced ahead towards economic viability India which in 1947 had a head start began to lag behind and has now ended up by being only a little less bankrupt than the Soviet mentor’s economic system.  The economic crisis of the 1990s illustrates the high price India has paid for emulating the Soviet model.  The main point is that an economically resurgent India would be a natural magnet for all political and economic communities in Asia and there would be hardly any incentive for separatism.  We have only to blame ourselves for giving primacy to Soviet ideology over Indian nationalism.  We and our Soviet “comrades” are both facing the same disease: economic collapse and separatism.

A final point can be made about the counter-productiveness of Indian policy in the Middle East (West Asia) which was shown in our inability to win any diplomatic or material support from any of the countries which have been the objective of Indian appeasement.  The only country which supported our action in East Pakistan, although covertly, was Israel.  The costs of our anti-Jewish policy and our endorsement of the various varieties of Arab and Islamic terrorism should also not be underestimated.  There has been a persistent influence of this factor in our national style and has made our policy to check terrorism non-functional.  We cannot say that we have not had early warning, but our policy makers ignored requests by our intelligence agencies to upgrade our relations with Israel so that both countries could effectively check the different manifestations of Islamic Jehad.  Last year a book was published by the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad which helps us understand how Pakistan can act with impunity against Indian interests.  We owe it to Brigadier Gulzar Ahmed, the author of Kashmir Problem: Challenge and Response that Pakistani incitement to the chain of violence in Kashmir has been spelt out clearly.  The Brigadier’s prescriptions are itemised as follows:

1.                   The whole population of Kashmir should participate in Jehad

2.                   Even old people and particularly women folk must be mobilised

3.                   Hand grenades and explosives should be provided which can be operated taking advantage of the mountainous terrain

4.                   Islamic literature should be disseminated extensively

5.                   Objective, political and tactical reasons for anti-Indian activities should all be expressed as obligations of the Islamic faith

The principal thrust of Indian foreign policy if it had been guided by national interest after Bangladesh liberation should have been to maintain a balance of power between Israel and the Arabs.  This would have involved a close study of the Islamic Jihad movement in West Asia and a close analysis of both the tension and cooperation between nationalists and fundamentalists in Islamic countries.  In order to defend the pluralistic nature of Indian society we should have perceived that our own security would be involved in the triumphalism of the Khomeinist Iranian model.  We went out of our way to support the racist and anti-Jewish allusions of resolutions at the UN like the one against Zionism.  It is well to remind ourselves our misguided actions have hurt our credibility in the past and we will not be able to end the unending cycle of violence, terrorism and immobility in Kashmir unless we stop the erosion of India’s diplomatic position in the Middle East.  We have lost the initiative by adopting a viscerally anti-Israel policy and the clumsy manner in which we deal with the terrorist challenge.

The Bangladesh victory was our finest hour because we checked the deteriorating status quo by a bold initiative.  Since then the prospect for Indian foreign policy has been bleak because we have been trying to gain short run bargaining leverage as a Big Brother in South Asia without having the vision to implement a wider range of choices.

We have now reached a major turning point in 1991.  In this writer’s view, Indian policy on Afghanistan, Tibet, Mongolia, Cambodia and Kashmir is both flawed and unrealistic.  We should exploit the new opportunities provided by the large scale consequence of the collapse of Communism:

Our policy in Afghanistan can no longer rest on the discredited regime in Kabul.  We must indicate our readiness to offer cooperation to the genuine representatives of the Afghan people.  We must make a fundamental reassessment o the Pashtun identity and adopt a flexible response to the popular Pashtunistan demand.

Chinese imperialism in Tibet cannot be maintained in the context of a new world order.  In the multipolar international system of the 1990s, the world community can secure the withdrawal of Chinese military power from Tibet and restore the independent status which existed in Lhasa before the PLA moved in.  It is strange to find South Block concerned with reassuring Beijing that India does not support the Dalai Lama’s struggle for Tibetan Freedom in exchange for China’s assurance that Kashmir is an integral part of India.  Given the different assumptions about the Chinese and Indian roles in Tibet and Kashmir respectively, the question has to be asked whether South Block has any understanding whatsoever in the systemic context of the requirements of political stability in South Asia and the predictability of change in the imperial domain of Chinese Communism.  If the Brezhnev doctrine failed it is unlikely that the new peace order in Asia will be determined by socialist internationalism of Teng or Li Peng. The political logic is just the opposite.  An independent Tibet will eliminate antagonistic power interests between India and Pakistan which were aggravated by the Karakoram Highway and the Chinese intrusion into South Asia.  It is very probable that after the collapse of the Chinese imperium in Tibet, Beijing will discover an new interpretation of her geopolitical interests in South Asia.  As a result India will find it easier to create more benign institutionalised behaviour patterns with Pakistan.  The future of Kashmir as an integral part of India should be seen as a systemic process by which India achieves results at the smallest possible cost.  Our focus should not be on gaining legitimacy of our position in Kashmir through the support of a regime which committed mass murder in Tiananmen Square and which has committee genocide in Tibet.  We can gain international support and legitimacy in Kashmir by explaining our democratic imperatives as a bastion against Islamic and communist fundamentalism. We should  join wholeheartedly in the world wide effort to end terrorism and we should create agreements with other democracies which are stable and beneficial.  We can envisage agreement on a package which can create the newest of opportunities for Kashmiris (both Muslim and Pandits), Ladakhis and the people of Jammu.  While we have to be willing to explore pragmatic responses we must leave the democratic world in no doubt that we will not give in to violence and terrorism.

The current social and diplomatic realities of Mongolia should be understood if new ideas are to be given a trial by India.  The changes that swept over Eastern Europe and Russia have had remarkable consequences in this Central Asian country which can have great geopolitical consequences for the future.  There is resurgence in Buddhist values and a popular demand for India to play a meaningful cultural and economic role in Mongolia.  The emergence of serious internal challenges to Chinese stability will emerge in time as the demonstration effect of Soviet instability becomes operative.  India should have well defined concepts for dealing with the emerging situation in Central Asia.  Although it may be a speculative scenario, yet it would be instructive to examine a new Asian political order in which Mongolia and Tibet play the same role as Sweden, Switzerland and Austria play in stabilising the political order in Europe.

India has lacked an operation rationale for its policy of supporting Soviet backed forces in Indo-China.  This writer had urged the Government of India at the time of the Non-aligned Conference in New Delhi to welcome Prince Nordom Sihanouk to India and a letter to the Non-aligned countries and to India’s Prime Minister was sent by Prince Sihanouk through the writer.  India unfortunately was so caught up in the Soviet game that it refused to play its proper role for conflict resolution in the country where the famous Angkor Wat is located and which has the closest symbiosis of Hinduism and Buddhism.  The return of Prince Sihanouk now provides an opportunity that should not be missed.  There is an intricate web of national and international relations.  The unifying powers of Indian culture have been constantly underrated by Indian policy makers.  In the name of Third Worldism New Delhi has wittingly or unwittingly supported Islamic fundamentalism, Communist genocide and Secular totalitarianism.  We find ourselves completely stymied on all fronts.  The example of the Soviet vote at the United Nations speaks for itself.  Our determination to express the vitality of Hindu-Buddhistic weltanschaaung will help us to stand the challenge in not only Cambodia, Fiji or Mongolia, it will help in advancing the peace process in Kashmir and be a starting point for establishing a consensus on internal issues.  India is a state but it is above all a civilisation and it is only by recognising this at a policy level that we can evolve into an open and pluralistic society which can revitalise itself when the collapse of the Soviet Union and the political morass of Communist China, and the confusion and division in the Islamic world are posing threats to human welfare and dignity.

The changes in the world situation and in domestic perspectives require a new strategic and political agenda.  India should cope with the realignment of power and ideology with courage and conviction.  Our policy thinking should however not be based on ungrounded illusions. As this article has tried to show there is no interconnectedness between Kashmir and Tibet.  The prevalent political realities can be favourable to us if wisely exploited.  We can protect democratic values in both Kashmir and Tibet and we can ensure that the new international milieu works to our benefit both at home and abroad.
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