Twelve days following the Ides of March, few had any inkling that March 27, 2019 would portend a watershed in India’s strategic trajectory. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a ten minute televised address in Hindi, emphatically declaring that India has become “a global space power” after a successful anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test had just propelled the country to the ranks of the US, Russia, and China.
Foreign Policy & Security
In March 2019, India signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Russia to lease another of its Akula-Class attack nuclear submarines (SSN). The nuclear submarine will join the Indian Navy in 2025, after a major refit of the hull in Russia’s Arctic port of Severodvinsk. India had earlier leased an Akula-class SSBN from Moscow in 2012. Rechristened as Chakra in the Indian fleet, it will continue to serve the Indian Navy until the commissioning of the new Akula submarine, most likely by 2025.
Over the past decade, India has marginally increased its regional trade with its neighbors, specifically Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal. Currently, India’s actual trade in South Asia accounts for $19.1 billion, which is just three percent of its total global trade at $637.4 billion and around $43 billion below the potential. It has recently been estimated that by reducing man-made trade barriers, trade within South Asia can grow three times, from $23 billion to $67 billion.
Shortly before the 2014 elections, Narendra Modi—at that time practically a novice in foreign affairs—stated in an interview that “my Hindutva face will be an asset when dealing with foreign affairs with other nations.” This statement might have been indicative of a strict ideological, assertive foreign policy posture that put India first in all her future engagements.
Amongst the many initiatives to end the Afghan conflict, the one led by the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is critical for it has given the Taliban a direct hotline of sorts to America. In fact, the US is doing precisely what it had refused to do in 2002 when the Taliban had assured a “discussion to turn over Osama bin Laden” if America stopped bombing Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan as part of the 13th Annual Summit on October 28-29, 2018 has shed light on the evolving dynamics of the Indo-Japan bilateral relationship against the backdrop of a changing but volatile global order. Both India and Japan are confronting similar challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. Therefore, cooperation between them, and that too on multiple fronts is both obvious and desirable.
“The Afghan Government’s willingness for peace is despite the fact that armed groups have identified themselves and demonstrated to all of us that they are the irreconcilables,” said India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin, at a Security Council meeting in March 2018. Despite its aversion to a similar outreach in 2015, when it viewed Ghani to be tilting towards Islamabad, India called the international community to support the 2018 outreach.
During his June 2018 state visit to India, President Danny Faure of Seychelles was given the red-carpet treatment. He took home major gains in defense for the tiny Indian Ocean nation: a second Dornier aircraft, a $100 million line of credit for maritime security cooperation, and a white shipping information-sharing agreement. However, Seychelles did not reverse its rejection of a military base sought by India despite some careful diplomatic couching about the two countries’ shared interests.
The Wuhan Summit between India and China has to be seen in the backdrop of wider developments in the Indo-Pacific region. It is important that New Delhi and Beijing are able to manage their differences, as both of them need to concentrate on their economic development.
The study of India in the United States was relatively modest prior to India’s independence. In 1939, the great Sanskritist, W. Norman Brown, who established the first academic department of South Asian Studies in the US reflected, “It takes no gift of prophesy to predict that [during the second half of the twentieth century] the world will include a vigorous India, possibly politically free, conceivably a dominant power in the Orient, and certainly intellectually vital and productive.