The third annual U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in June left many convinced that the two nations’ “strategic partnership” is expanding. And not without reason as unprecedented counter-terrorism coordination, extensive joint military exercises on land, sea, and air, and candid discussions on sensitive topics like Iran and Myanmar point to a deepening relationship. But amidst a flurry of high-level visits surrounding the Dialogue, U.S.
Foreign Policy & Security
The latest round of talks between India and Pakistan on the Siachen glacier ended on June 12th without a breakthrough. It’s been twenty-eight years since India launched Operation Meghdoot to pre-emptively occupy the dominating Saltoro ridge on the glacier. It’s been twenty-seven years since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan agreed to begin talks at the level of defence secretaries on the Siachen dispute. Thirteen rounds of talks have taken place over these years and both sides have expended considerable amounts of lives and treasure.
Do recent events and the logic of the past indicate that we are at the beginning of a shift in policy by India’s neighbors from attempting to “balance” India to “bandwagoning” with India over the long run? Why do India’s neighbors, particularly Pakistan, but also to a lesser extent Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, not bandwagon with the region’s largest and fastest-growing economy for their own interests?
In response to security concerns in the neighborhood and as it emerges as a regional superpower, India has embarked on a grand scheme of defense modernization. A recent study published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) places India as the largest importer of arms between 2006 and 2010 and estimates the modernization of the industry at $80 billion.
Despite the popular rhetoric of “rising India,” a common argument amongst scholars is that India lacks a grand strategy. Elites are said to rely on “ad hocism,” India’s preferred guiding star, on matters related to foreign policy. The absence of strategic thought is not only a given, but re-enforced by the lack of a visible foreign policy template that is seriously discussed, argued, and made available for public consumption.
Barack Hussein Obama is about to become the sixth American president to visit India and the third in a row. He is going in the first half of his first term; only Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon did so before him. Presidential visits are carefully planned and scripted, but events invariably have a way of intruding onto the agenda and the stage. This Presidential visit takes place against the backdrop of America’s longest war ever in Afghanistan and a natural disaster in neighboring Pakistan where Obama has invested a huge effort in trying to stabilize a deeply wounded state.
In light of India’s 64th Independence Day, I am compelled to think about the idea of the country to which I am committed: a sovereign, secular, democratic republic, where what would separate independent India from the colonized nation would be the ethos of democratic constitutionalism; governance that would be according to procedure established by law, overseen by the people’s representatives in Parliament, adjudicated by an independent judiciary, and implemented by an accountable Executive.
Indian policy towards Afghanistan is struggling to respond to the rapidly evolving strategic environment in the region. Amidst the approaching endgame in Afghanistan, India is finding itself increasingly vulnerable, and more damagingly, unable to preserve its vital interests in Af-Pak. Despite its best attempts to keep a low profile in Afghanistan, India and its nationals are increasingly becoming the target of the Taliban.
The creation of the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) and the appointment of Mr. Nandan Nilekani (former CEO of Infosys) as its Chairperson, have generated a great deal of excitement around the Unique Identity Numbers (UIN) project. The Authority’s commitment to produce the first batch of UINs within a period of two years has prompted a celebratory round of applause in the media. It would certainly be a significant technological and logistical feat to meet this self imposed target.
“India’s problem is that we have never imposed a price on any nation for action taken against us,” former Deputy National Security Adviser Satish Chandra said back in September. “We keep silent and accept whatever comes our way.” Chandra is echoing a feeling that is widespread among the Indian elite and even general public.