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#DearNextPM: India needs a makeover from dove to hawk on Pakistan and China

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Agency: DNA
  • Kanwal Sibal

Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary of India

Dear prime minister,

It is obvious that India's priority in foreign policy objective should be to create a favourable external environment for national construction.

This implies promoting peace and stability in our immediate neighbourhood and constructively engaging those countries that can contribute to India's well-being and growth.

Our external strength is as good as our internal one. The outlined priority goals can therefore be best achieved by becoming stronger internally, which means improved governance, sound economic policies and augmented defence capabilities.

Pakistan and China form the core of our external problems. Only these two occupy our territory and claim more. Their military forces are positioned on our borders. China's only friend is Pakistan, with their "iron" ties welded together by a shared animus towards India. China has helped Pakistan become nuclear. Even today it is transferring nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan to locally neutralise any advance India makes in developing its China-oriented strategic capabilities. Pakistan has used the weapon of terrorism against us for almost three decades, fuelled by religious extremism. Both China and Pakistan work to undermine our political and security interests in our neighbourhood. We know all this but ignore it in our policy-making towards them.

Unless Pakistan sheds its fixation on Kashmir and abandons the terrorist option against us, we should not agree to any structured dialogue with it. Pakistan uses the dialogue process to table its demands and press for concessions, without budging from its core positions. The logic that we have no choice but to talk to our neighbours and that without a dialogue, issues cannot be resolved captivates us. We want to exhibit our peaceful credentials, appear "statesmanlike", ward off western pressure, with internal electoral gains and achieving a "historic" breakthrough with Pakistan informing our calculations. We condone Pakistan's conduct by treating it seriously as a dialogue partner. This must change. Simultaneously, we must be ready with a befitting response should Pakistan engineer another Mumbai-like terror attack against us. This is crucially important for our future security.

China has created room for itself to provocatively assert its territorial claims on us periodically, question our sovereignty over J&K and counter us in our neighbourhood, while engaging us politically and economically despite the evident contradiction. We should create the same space for ourselves. As a first step, we could restore the practice of the Dalai Lama calling on our newly-elected leaders and reject visas for any Tibetan included in official Chinese delegations to India, besides moving to strengthen visibly our ties with Japan and Vietnam. Prime minister Abe has demonstrated the political will to embrace us strategically. A Japan visit should precede any high -level China visit.

The US has allowed the relationship with India to go off-track through serious mis-steps on the political and economic front, sacrificing its long-term vision of a strategic partnership for transactional short-term expectations and parochial interests of select US corporations. While our relationship with the US remains highly important, the initiative to reverse the negative trends should come from the US, as otherwise we will be taken for granted and the US conduct towards us will remain fickle. The contrast between the US bullying of Russia and sanctioning its top dignitaries over Ukraine and softness towards Pakistan despite its act of sheltering Osama bin Laden and its terrorist activities causing numerous American casualties carries a lesson for us. Dealing pragmatically with an erratic US will be an immediate challenge.

Some difficult choices lie ahead. With fresh thinking, a new government can make them. Some crucial mistakes need reversal on a priority basis.

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