An example of India’s lack of decisiveness and nimbleness can be seen in the way the government reacted after the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008. India’s relationship with Pakistan is primarily based on the Kashmir dispute. India continues to voice strong opinion against Pakistan’s persistence with cross border terrorism. Lack of decisiveness and soft handling of Pakistan’s strategies define Indian foreign policy towards Pakistan. Following the May 2008 elections, the new Indian government had a large mandate and international support. They could have pursued an aggressive policy, not necessarily a military one, against Pakistan and pushed forward their agenda. The mood of the nation and markets supported such an initiative. It is also widely believed that current GDP growth rate would have been close to 9% if national security was not an issue. However, ambivalence on the government’s part to not risk further damaging the economy and a lack of clear vision and leadership let slip the opportunity to define security in the region. Such an attitude could embolden other South Asian nations to adopt similar approaches to India, damaging any hopes of gaining strategic superiority over the region. In addition India’s approach to building stronger relations with nations like Nepal after its transition to democracy and Sri Lanka after the end of its 25 year war with the LTTE leaves a lot to be desired.
Compared with China’s foreign policy, whether it’s building up the economies or militaries of these nations, India falls far behind in terms of concerted effort. The newly opened deepwater port at Gwadar, Pakistan, represents China’s first strategic foothold in the Arabian Sea. Along with Beijing’s onshore and offshore strategic assets in Myanmar, Gwadar signifies an enlarging Chinese footprint on either side of India. Add to the scene China’s agreement to build a port at Hambantota in Sri Lanka, its aid to the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong and its interest in a strategic anchor in the Maldives. Beijing has also been developing a strategic corridor from western China to Gwadar, at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world’s oil passes; and the Irrawaddy Corridor from Yunnan to the Bay of Bengal involving road, river and rail links through Myanmar. It has also developed rail and road networks on its side of the disputed border with the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, all that lies on the Indian side is a dirt track. What this underscores is an emerging Chinese challenge to India’s traditional dominance in the Indian Ocean region.
In order to counter this threat from the Chinese ‘pearl necklace’ strategy of encircling its territory, India needs to radically alter its foreign policy outlook and settle on a more proactive, almost mercantilist view. Initiatives have been made to increase bilateral trade with certain African nations and with other Asian countries. Indian banks have extended Lines of Credit to several banks in Africa covering trade in petroleum products, machinery, textiles etc. Indian expertise in medicine and education is also being transferred to Africa further strengthening ties. India's strategy and strengths in Africa are quite different from China's. China concentrates on resource-based investment, while India has focused on capacity-building. India is hoping to capitalize on people power and on the goodwill it shares with Africa dating back to several centuries. China’s involvement in Africa towers over India’s with investments of more than $50 billion (2007) in infrastructure, energy and military sectors. India became a regional member of the African Development Bank in 1982 - two years before China. But China holds more shares in the bank and has greater voting power. India helped several African countries establish their military academies but China wields more military influence on the continent. China's economic and energetic diplomacy in Africa stands in sharp contrast to India's. China has more diplomatic missions in Africa than even the United States, while the trips by an Indian Prime Minister to Africa are few and far between. Much of this can be attributed to the power of the single party regime in China and to the internal bickering of the numerous political parties in India leading to compromises on foreign policy issues.
Sustaining impressive economic growth and competing with China to be the next global power requires strengthening external and internal security, securing energy resources and significantly speeding up social development. Talks with oil rich African nations and recent agreements with the US on nuclear energy are positive moves made by the government. Foreign policy cannot be delinked with internal policies. Poverty and social development issues in India occupy significant space on the desks of Indian leaders and foreign policy needs to be seen as a tool that hastens social development. India also needs to take advantage of its democratic history and diversity of its people while reaching out to its neighbors. Significant investments in their economies creating an India friendly nation would not only feed the Indian economy with resources but would also enable the neighboring country to benefit from India’s growth, similar to the positive role played by the US in the Americas region. India also needs to proactively utilize regional organizations such as SAARC to push forward its ideas and gain greater influence over the region. At the WTO, India successfully lobbied for farmers from developing nations, raising its profile among the other developing nations. Presence in the G20 and at the World Economic Forum has provided higher platforms for India’s business and political leaders to push its case forward.
The Indian leadership and its foreign policy need to be more proactive. India needs to stop sitting on the fence and start engaging in concerted efforts to achieve its goals of being a global power in the coming years, especially since the shadow of the Red Dragon looms large over India’s aspirations.
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