August 1, 2008

On whether or not India has a coherent foreign policy

The following letter to the editor appeared in the August 2008 issue of Pragati.

SIR—I am glad that Harsh Pant has joined the growing chorus of scholars who have asked for a cohesive national grand strategy free of partisanship. (“Adamant for drift, solid for fluidity”, by Harsh Pant, Pragati, No 16 - July 2008) However, I take issue with his analysis that India “continues to drift without any real sense of direction”, that there is not “one big [foreign policy] debate…to end all minor ones” and that India’s foreign policy elite is “mired in the exigencies of day-to-day pressures emanating from the immediate challenges at hand”.

Dr Pant’s analysis ignores or downplays the realities concerning India’s foreign policy establishment over the past few years, which has seen remarkable ideological continuity over two competing coalition governments. It should not be a surprise that preparations for the 1998 nuclear tests were initiated by Congress-led governments, while the groundwork for the nuclear deal was laid by the BJP. Dr Pant’s article overlooks comparisons with other countries—including the United States—whose foreign policies are considerably more fractured and irresolute. How many other governments have commissioned reports framing policy regarding its dealings with other great powers?

Finally, Dr Pant disregards concrete examples of Indian foreign policy successes over the past decade, including India’s negotiations with various countries following the 1998 tests and after July 2005, as well as India’s remarkable ability to rise “under the radar”. A dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific today, are hedging against China. Other than perhaps Pakistan and China, who is hedging against a rising India?

The real problem is that so much of what is being done in Indian foreign policy remains outside the public domain and veiled in secrecy, due to its crafting by a career bureaucracy and the nature of partisan politics in India. This should all certainly be remedied. But to say that India lacks strategic direction is not in keeping with reality.

Dhruva Jaishankar
Washington, D.C.