I will pelt the stones tonight
but not on you
but on Ghosts
who frighten me
in the dead of night
who wants to
take me away
into the valley of death
And bury me alive
Ayaz Rasool Nazki ( collection of poems)
When Winston Churchill reportedly learned about the partition of India, he told Lord Wavell in 1945 to 'keep a bit of India'. Recently in an article, ideologue Seshadari Chari opined that New Delhi must tell the White House to keep a 'bit of Afghanistan'. Mr. Seshadari says that there is a player-in-waiting. The USA has one exit door and China many entry points. He foresees a nexus between China, Pakistan and Taliban. The theory of 'keeping a part' advocated by Mr Chari, to my understanding, is dangerous for the region and more so for India. if only we carefully draw right lessons from Afghan history. It is also not based on any cool and balanced assessment. The right thing to do is to keep the whole in picture while working for sustainable peace in the region. Frankly the right noise was made by Indian Foreign Minister Mr. Jaishankar while speaking at recent 'Heart of Asia' conference at Dushanbe when he called for 'double peace in Afghanistan' .The peace within Afghanistan and peace in the larger region.
Deficit in Indian Policy
The foremost challenge for Indian foreign policy in the immediate and extended neighborhood is how its conduct helps in building a safe neighborhood that can help in strengthening the economic prowess of the country. The warm neighborly relations will enhance its comprehensive national power including the soft power which is the power of attraction. The security and strategic environment in South and Central Asia warrants a course correction for achieving foreign policy objectives. The central Asian experts at Kashmir University are more than convinced on such matters. India as a major power has to emerge from its own region and rest of world can take it seriously only after country's status and position grows in the estimation of its immediate and extended neighbors. The once thought 'air corridor' to Central Asia is not a pragmatic vision. The old adage that a road is made by walking contains lot of diplomatic wisdom. There is need for state to examine the challenges to its neighborhood policy. The unfolding security situation in Afghanistan should make South Block mandarins cool headed.
Soft Power in Foreign policy
India has multiple foreign policy challenges in its immediate and extended neighborhood. These challenges can be met only if power of attraction (soft power) is used as an instrument of foreign policy. True, states do use hard power in achieving certain objectives but in contemporary global system there are limits to use of 'hard power'. The clout of China as a major power is attributed more to the use of its economic prowess rather than sole dependence on hard power. In 1950 Jawaharlal Nehru told his fellow parliamentarians that India "stood not only for progressive democracy in our own country but also in other countries....it has consistently been part of our policy in distant quarters of the world." Former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh exhorted "liberal democracy is the natural order of political organization in today's, world. All alternate systems authoritarian and majoritarian in varying degrees are an aberration.". The image of India as a democratic exemplar is declining and success of Indian model of nation-building around democracy and equality too is dented and all this has influenced the course of events in the immediate neighborhood. The truth is that immediate over the years got distanced the extended neighborhood of central Asia consequently remained neglected. Many strategic and security experts believe that this policy construct is not affordable at a time when tectonic changes are taking place in strategic environment surrounding the Indian state. Indian state's search for strategic space in Central Asia is hugely constrained by its myopic behavior in the immediate neighborhood of South Asia. Geography and cultural factors are potential irritants for any future expansion of Indian interests in Central Asia. India and Central Asia are separated by conflict zones and more particularly by Pakistan. India cannot rival China or Russia in Central Asia. The more pragmatic way for Indian state is to look for internal cohesion and primacy to immediate neighborhood. This is the sure road to reach to extended neighbourhood..
During his recent visit to Washington president Ashraf Ghani was told that " hereon, he and the Afghans were on their own". The US intelligence as cited by wall street journal suggests that Taliban can win control of Kabul within six to twelve months of US pull-out. The good news on the other side is that Prime Minister Mr. Modi wished well to Imran Khan and people of Pakistan on March 23, the national day of Pakistan. The message was ideologically significant. Within Pakistan the need for internal consolidation is felt as never before. Pakistan needs to grow at six or seven percent of GDP to absorb the youth bulge. This happened only for two years (2003-5). According to Henley passport Index Pakistan passport is the fourth weakest in the world after Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Earlier speaking at Pak-Hungry Dialogue on March, 25, 2021 foreign minister of Pakistan said: "Pak is undergoing transformation and shifted its priorities from geopolitics to geo-economics".
Likewise, the independent experts on Afghanistan are of the opinion that people in Afghanistan neither like to be ruled by Taliban nor by the Ashraf Ghani government. Sighting from Indian side the two India-centric frameworks-SAARC and Non-Aligned Movement have been sidelined by the state itself. Further, it is not China's rise but the breakdown of the institution of state in Afghanistan that poses more pressing problems for Asia. China can also be expected to resort to other pressure tactics against India .Backing Pakistan in needling India is certain to be one. Additionally, China can be expected to intensify its moves to displace India as a major partner in relations with many of India's neighbors.
Many intelligence assessments suggest (particularly US) India and Pakistan may stumble into a large scale war causing tremendous damage to the region. True, events have proved that CBMs between India and Pakistan are reversible. But even after war there is search for peace. In fact, there is no way to peace and peace is the way. The stability in the region is contingent upon better understanding between India and Pakistan so that shuttle diplomats (if not the common people) can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul to fulfill long unrealized dreams. About recent peace process (ceasefire) between India and Pakistan the former NSA Shiveshankar Menon said: "Pakistan was on a fishing expedition to see and weigh how much pressure India has inhaled on Kashmir". There is no clue whether the expedition is over or going on. One is reminded of contemporary relevance of emperor Marcus Aurelius who represented zenith of Roman imperial power and usually colored his letters to his governors with two words: "Make Haste Slowly".
Prof Wani teaches Political Science at Kashmir University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.