The Opposition and others have rightly slammed the Narendra Modi government for the “ham-handed” manner in which it sought entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Despite enjoying the support of the majority of the 48-member NSG, and a very good international reputation, India again got beaten by China. Three lessons need to be learnt from the Seoul fiasco.
First, diplomacy is not event management. In fact, excessive emphasis on jamborees and the proclivity to dub minor achievements as ‘historic’ feats make insubstantial setbacks look like diplomatic disasters. After all, not being an NSG member is not a big handicap for India; its purpose of nuclear commerce does not suffer because of it not being a part of the group. The grant of an exemption by this export-control group was already successfully negotiated by the Congress-led government in 2008.
As an NSG member, India could only have blocked Pakistan’s entry into the group. But Pakistan’s entry is anyway very difficult, given its worldwide reputation of being the engine and exporter of jihad. However, the desire to sell the entry into the club as Modiji’s grand victory goaded the government to work hard for it. Such are the perils of Global Statesman Syndrome.
It was because of this syndrome that the Chinese had some fun at our expense. They reportedly assured us—secretly—that they won’t create much trouble for us in Seoul. This was the reason that a day before the Chinese torpedoed our entry into the NSG, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said in her annual press conference in Delhi, “China is not blocking India’s entry into the NSG. It is only talking about criteria and procedures. I am hopeful that we would be able to convince China to support our entry.”
Evidently, her and India’s optimism was predicated upon false postulates. The falseness of the Modi government’s postulates is certainly different from that of the Jawaharlal Nehru regime’s premises—and the consequences, too, are of hugely different proportions—but the fact remains that Beijing was able to fool both dispensations. This is despite the fact that the two dispensations, apart from being more than half-a-century apart, are like chalk and cheese. Are we eternally condemned to be duped and thrashed by the Chinese? The honest answer is ‘yes’—well, unless we change the way we look at the world and the manner in which we conduct ourselves in the international arena.
This brings us to the second lesson: what matters in geopolitics is the power, the willingness, and the capability of a nation to do something that can impact world politics, economy, and peace. In the case of Pakistan and China, that something is usually mischief. Our western neighbor is a terrorist state; its politics, government, military, civil society, and culture promote jihad; its incorrigibility is evident to everybody except the most gullible peaceniks and the stupidest liberals. Pakistan is a problem the world is worried about. China is a bigger problem because it is the world’s second largest economy, a menacing military power and a bully in the region, and the chief patron of the most vicious rogues states, be it Pakistan or North Korea. Besides, it has the veto power at the UN—a gift from Nehru.
In contrast, India has always been decent and civilized in international relations. It was India that helped the creation of Bangladesh, thus putting a stop to the genocide that the Pakistan Army was carrying on in that hapless nation. We won the war, took 90,000 prisoners of war or PoWs, and released them without any reciprocity; thanks to the Leftwing gang that surrounded Indira Gandhi at that time, we even did not get all our PoWs out from the Pakistani jails. The point, however, is that India can be accused of folly but not depravity. Further, nobody has ever accused the Indian Army of being depredatory or an occupation force; within weeks of the liberation, each of our soldiers quit the Bangladesh.
Yet, we hardly have any say in international relations—even at places where we ought to be heard in crucial matters. The affairs of Afghanistan are the biggest testimony to India’s insignificance in geopolitics, Modi’s delusions notwithstanding. No other country has done so much for the reconstruction and development of the land-locked state; but when it comes to deciding its future course, India is conspicuous by its absence. Even Pakistan, which is the bane of Afghanistan, is there but not India.
The reason is simple: China and Pakistan sit at the high table to decide Afghanistan’s fate because they can occasion a lot of trouble, while India only builds bridges and roads in the war-torn nation. We need not imitate China and Pakistan; we should not indulge in nefarious activities; but we must assert ourselves.
Therefore, the third lesson to be learnt is that we have to build capabilities, military and otherwise, that can hurt China and Pakistan. The Chabahar initiative is a good move. Another step could be a substantial presence of Indian military in Afghanistan to bolster their fight against the Taliban and other Islamist forces. Besides, India can cooperate more actively with east and south-east Asian nations like Japan and Indonesia to counter Chinese assertiveness in the region. Such measures will also bring us closer to the US which, in turn, can rein in Islamabad and curtail Beijing’s expansionism.
Modi should focus on building capabilities rather than organizing mega-shows. This will also help him achieve one of his goals—becoming a world leader.