Originally Published 2004-01-12 07:33:02 Published on Jan 12, 2004
India may well be considered a middle power aspiring to be a great power of global importance. India¿s ruling class has successfully shrugged off its initial aversion to perceive power as a category having a place of its own outside the ideological fortress of morality.
Indian diplomacy coming of age?
India may well be considered a middle power aspiring to be a great power of global importance. India's ruling class has successfully shrugged off its initial aversion to perceive power as a category having a place of its own outside the ideological fortress of morality. Today's India tends to adopt a pragmatic foreign policy, cautious economic policy and, above all, an attitude of maturity. While the present regime has certainly contributed to this 'confident posturing' of the country, it has largely been a gradual and logical extension of the policies followed by successive governments.

Is Indian diplomacy more mature and confident today than ever before? If one meaning of diplomatic maturity is getting done what you want to without making a lot of noise - which risks bringing in a lot of attention and attendant criticism - then it is no exaggeration to say that Indian diplomacy has come of age. Consider the following examples.

One, after sustained negotiations over six long years India has succeeded in convincing the Bhutanese government to take offensive action against the anti-Indian rebels operating from the Bhutanese territory. Not that the Bhutanese government was ever unwilling to chase the militants out. They were just not prepared to take the risk. If so why does it now think it has to do something about it? One possible explanation is that Bhutan has today come to realize, and is thus self-assured, that the Indian diplomacy has over the years acquired the inner strength to take stronger decisions and make enduring commitments. Bhutan may also have realized that the Indian policy regarding terrorism has become more focused and well-crafted especially post-9/11 sending signals across the neighbors towards adopting a uniform policy on the issue. Prof. Mahendra Lama argues that the Bhutanese action fits well into the larger framework of anti-terrorist drive in the region and that this is the first action carried out within the operational ambit of the Convention of the Suppression of Terrorism signed by the SAARC countries in 1987 under which member states should extradite or prosecute alleged terrorists.

Two, subsequent to the Bhutanese action against organizations such as the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF) and the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), India has also successfully negotiated with Myanmar on the need to initiate similar operations in that country. India is currently training troops in Myanmar for a joint operation against anti-India rebels. Sending Indian troops to train Myanmar's troops is significant for two reasons. One, it is part of India's recent strengthening of engagement with Myanmar's ruling Junta and, two, it is watched with caution by the Chinese and thus sends a clear message to them on India's rightful influence in the region. This step by the Indian government also shows considerable diplomatic resolve and maturity.

Three, India's increased engagement with China and China's resultant scaling down of its own overtly pro-Pakistani stand in favour of India is indicative of two facts: one, it is necessary to solve those disputes which are geographically close and long-pending in order to emerge as a big power in the region or in the world. Two, getting seriously into sensitive negotiations with a stronger power speaks volumes of strong political will and diplomatic maturity on India's part.

Four, Sri Lanka's current security relationship with India is a classic example of turning a foe into a friend. It may be noted that Sri Lanka which was hostile to India in the late 1980s and early 1990s is today staunch ally of India going to the extent of inviting India to broker peace (read intervene) between the conflicting parties in Sri Lanka. Moreover, it is even more significant to note that the LTTE which is officially banned in India and hated by many strong Indian political parties also wants the country to play a role in the peace process. Sri Lanka has also leased out the Trincomalee port to India to store its strategic oil reserves. This again is an achievement of India's pro-active diplomatic initiatives as the Sri Lankan government made this decision to lease the port to India amidst reports that the Chinese government has also been trying to get hold of the Trincomalee port.

Five, while the present government did commit its own acts of commission and omission such as in Kargil, one should take into consideration the fact that India's diplomatic initiatives are paying off in terms of a ceasefire, and commitment from Pakistan to engage in a composite bilateral dialogue.

Six, the recent Indian commitment at the SAARC summit to contribute $100 million to create a poverty alleviation fund at the SAARC level also comes from the country's desire to send positive signals to the other countries in the region.

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