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The Third Eye: India's foreign policy navigates a new flux in international relations

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The Third Eye: India's foreign policy navigates a new flux in international relations

New Delhi, April 21 (Ajit Weekly News) India’s three-fold strategy of handling international relations by opting for bilateral and even multilateral friendships designed to bring in mutual security and economic benefits without prejudice to world peace, asserting the country’s position as a major power influencing matters of global security and economic betterment and developing India as a self-reliant nation capable of building its own economic strength as well as defence, has worked to the country‚Äôs great advantage so far.

However, the current geopolitical developments highlighting the injection of religion in international politics, the advent of a new Cold War between the US and China-Russia axis, and the sudden preoccupation of the Joe Biden administration in the US with ‘measures to counter Islamophobia’ in the environ resulting from Israel-Hamas conflict, have added to the task of policymakers here in keeping India on top of the issues of foreign relations.

Pushing Indo-US strategic partnership to a new height to lead the democratic world against shared threats of terrorism, ‘radicalisation’ and dictatorship, and in the Indian context, countering the Sino-Pak axis which represented an alliance of a Marxist state with a fundamentalist regime, have been the two major planks of India’s foreign policy.

India believed that both the US and this country were on the same side of the fence on global commons.

On both the Ukraine-Russia military confrontation and the Israel-Hamas conflict, India took an independent stand favouring cessation of hostilities and talks for settlement — in one case on the plea that security concerns of both sides should be understood and in the other, on the acceptance of a two-state solution in Palestine. India’s stand was acknowledged as an unbiased policy by the international community and this enhanced the stature of this country as a world power whose voice mattered on global issues.

The political divide between the US-led West on one side and the China-Russia combine on the other that was still ideological — though economic rivalry also mattered a great deal — is getting impacted now by faith-based conflicts that were playing out across the world — particularly in the Middle East. This was compelling the US to temper its foreign policy with the domestic compulsion of not alienating its Muslim population following the killing of over 30,000 Palestinians by Israel — mostly women and children — in the ongoing conflict.

India, on its part, has to watch out for the consequences of the new-found initiative of the White House to roll out steps against ‘Islamophobia’ and be more assertive about rebutting any attempts by international lobbies to run down this country on matters of internal freedom and treatment of the minorities.

The Islamic radical forces represented by the Taliban-Al Qaeda axis and ISIS attack US interests because of political animosity and go after Shiite Iran, the Alawite regimes of Syria and Iraq and the Iranian proxies like Hezbollah active in the Middle East, on account of religious hatred.

The attack of ISIS on a hugely attended concert on the outskirts of Moscow on March 22 — barely 20 kilometres from the Kremlin — as a result of which 143 persons were killed and more than 300 injured, was attributed by the radical Islamic outfit, to the Russian support for the Syrian President — who belonged to the Alawite sect of Shiism — and also to the “atrocities” of Vladimir Putin’s Russia on Chechenian Muslims who are Sunnis.

ISIS — and also the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine — carry the historical legacy of the anti-West Wahhabi ‘revolt’ of the 19th century and the ‘revivalist’ memory of animosity towards Shiites.

The faith-based motivation of ISIS thus can be said to have led it to target Russia keeping the latter at par with the US-led West — political opposition in this case also accruing directly from religious antagonism.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is a Sunni extremist state but as a close US ally in the Muslim world, was inclined towards accepting the Abrahamic accord of UAE with Israel.

In the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict that broke out with the terror attack of Hamas on Israel on October 7 last year, Saudi Arabia — like India — emphasised the need for a pause in Israel’s military attack on Gaza to minimise civilian casualties there.

Iran and its armed proxy, Hezbollah, have sided with the Sunni Hamas because of their political antipathy towards Israel — the closest friend

of the US in today’s geopolitics — would override everything else.

Israel and Iran happened to be the major contenders for power in the Middle East and the political rivalry between them guided their responses. Iran would also, to a certain degree, share concern on the broader Islamic issue of Israeli encroachment on Al Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem — the third holiest centre for Muslims of the world.

As regards China, the Chinese move of making it up with the Taliban that had reestablished its Emirate at Kabul in 2021 — again with the help of Pakistan — in return for the facility granted to China for extending its B&RI to Afghanistan, invited the ire of ISIS which attacked Chinese diplomats in Kabul in December 2022. Of course, ISIS attacks on the Shias in Pakistan and the Hazaras in Afghanistan also continued.

ISIS now leading the Islamic radical forces would not take kindly to Pakistan’s effort to draw close to the US.

An interesting fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict is that the huge military assault of Israel in Gaza in retaliation to the October 7 attack of Hamas, had produced a wide-scale pro-Muslim demonstration in the US and elsewhere.

Hamas had justified its attack on Israel on the grounds that Israel had imposed its authority on Al Aqsa mosque in April 2023 and had continued with the creation of settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

From India’s point of view, as already mentioned, a concern is that the pro-Palestine opinion could encourage anti-India lobbies to raise the issue of protection of Muslim minority in India. Any demonstrations in India in this regard would impact the internal security situation here.

India is rightly pursuing a foreign policy that best suits a multi-polar world order and allows for a non-aligned approach that serves the best national interests in the spheres of both security and economic development. Notwithstanding the concerns of the Biden administration over the fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Indo-US friendship has to be pushed deeper for the most important reason that China in strategic alliance with Pakistan, posed a major threat to India’s national security.

While India was strengthening its role in Quad led by the US because there was convergence on threat perception relating to China between the US and India, this country would be justifiably concerned over any attempt by the Biden administration to keep Pakistan on the side of the US at the cost of India’s national interests.

There are fresh indications that the US and Saudi Arabia — two countries that mattered to Pakistan the most — wanted India to pick up the thread of talks with Pakistan.

India has once again made the point that it would be willing to attack terrorists behind cross-border, on the soil of Pakistan itself, which was a way of reminding Pakistan that it would have to draw down on terrorism before India could respond to the suggestion of Indo-Pak talks.

India can of course handle the narratives of ‘majoritarianism’, ‘illiberalism’, and ‘safeguarding of minorities’ on its own since secularism was built into this country’s electoral democracy by way of the universal adult franchise.

India is welcoming defence imports from the US, Russia, and France in line with its own sovereign requirements and this should work well since India’s handling of international relations rested on the country’s assertion as a major power of the world on issues of global peace and economic advancement.

A priority for India’s security is to have the capabilities of dealing with both China and Pakistan on the borders, on the sea and in the air. At the same time, India has to continue raising its voice against global threats of terrorism, radicalisation and drug trade from all multinational platforms.

In a nutshell, India’s handling of international relations has to reckon with a shifting geopolitics where potential friends and adversaries have to be taken stock of, from time to time.

Intelligence agencies have to be specially geared to tracking the operational plans of the two adversaries in our neighbourhood — China and Pakistan — of causing internal destabilisation here.

National security is incomplete without economic security which raises among other things, the question of safeguarding India’s strategic establishments against infiltration and sabotage. The vigilance and security set-up of each of these entities should be strengthened under the guidance of the Intelligence Bureau.

India is already working on protecting the country’s lifelines against cyber attacks and is on the front line of pressing Artificial Intelligence into use for the cause of national security.

Intelligence liaison with established and tested friends must be an important component of our foreign policy.

In informal Indo-US interactions, India should continue to ‘educate’ the Americans on the threat of ‘radicalisation’ translating into faith-based terrorism that would pose a danger to the entire democratic world. Keeping up relations with friendly neighbours has acquired a newfound importance in view of the Chinese determined effort to extend the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) to these countries.

Our approach to international relations reflects the political will of India as a major world power, to assert its sovereignty and independence in formulating foreign policy while demonstrating a commitment to global peace and human welfare.

India being sensitive to communal conflicts can counsel the democratic countries on how to quell ‘radicalisation’ that justified recourse to violence in the name of religion and gave a fillip to proxy wars and cross-border terrorism.

The danger of faith-based conflicts may get deeper as Iran had already carried out a military offensive against Israel and Yemen’s Houthi movement with its Shiite origins, was coming out in support of Iran.

The recent attacks of ISIS from Moscow to Syria further point to the induction of religion into international politics in no uncertain terms.

The democratic world order led by the US and India must wake up to this new danger and work together to defuse it.

(The writer is former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

–Ajit Weekly News

dcpathak/sha


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