Here is the full text of the Fourth Ramnath Goenka Memorial Lecture by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar
It is a great privilege to deliver the 4th Ramnath Goenka Lecture. As you all just heard, he had a well-deserved reputation for saying what needed to be said. It is in that spirit that I address you all today.
Albert Einstein is best known for his theory of relativity. Had he opted for a career in political science, he could have actually easily been famous for a theory of insanity. His definition of that state of mind was doing the same thing over and over again – and expecting different results. A corollary of that is to do the same thing in different situations – and then expect the same results. This is important to recognise at a moment in world politics when many of our long-held assumptions no longer hold true. If the world is different, we need to think, talk and engage accordingly. Falling back on the past is unlikely to help with the future.
The world is not just different; the very structure of the international order is undergoing a profound transformation. American nationalism, the rise of China, the saga of Brexit and the rebalancing of the global economy are often cited as the more dramatic examples of change. In fact, the phenomenon is far more pervasive than just these illustrations. We have seen the return of old empires like Russia, Iran or Turkey. The Middle East is in ferment, even by its exceptionally volatile standards. The centrality of ASEAN to Asia is not what it is used to be. Demographic and economic trends in Africa are giving that continent a greater salience. South America is again a battleground for ideas. But we are also talking beyond geographies and orthodox politics. What defines power and determines national standing is also no longer the same. Technology, connectivity and trade are at the heart of new contestations. In a more constrained and interdependent world, competition has to be pursued perforce more intelligently. The global commons is also more in disputation as multilaterism weakens. Even climate change is a factor, contributing to geopolitics amongst others by the opening of an Arctic passage. In short, change is upon us as never before.
If the landscape looks very different today, so do India’s partners. The relevance of the US or China is far more than anytime earlier. The Russian relationship has defied odds by remaining incredibly steady. Japan has become an important factor in our calculations. The rediscovery of Europe is again underway, with France now a critical strategic partner. The Gulf has been bridged in an extraordinarily effective manner. ASEAN has grown closer, and Australia’s relevance is more apparent. Africa is the focus of development assistance and opening of new Embassies. And as you would have noted from the recent UN General Assembly, our outreach extends from South America and the Caribbean to the South Pacific and Baltics. Closer home, there is an unprecedented investment in the neighborhood whose consequences are becoming apparent. Put together, the scale and intensity of our global engagement would be difficult to recognise for someone dealing with it even a few years ago.
The issues and relationships are different, so too is the argumentation. So, the first caution is to avoid obsessing about consistency, because it makes little sense in such changing circumstances. There is certainly a place for constants, but not to the extent of elevating them to immutable concepts. On the contrary, it is only by recognising change that we are in a position to exploit opportunities. The purposeful pursuit of national interest in shifting global dynamics may not be easy; but it must be done. And the real obstacle to the rise of India is not anymore the barriers of the world, but the dogmas of Delhi.
An ability to respond to a variety of situations is part of any nation’s rise. But most agents of change encounter the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of the entrenched, or the passionate argumentation of the polarised. In India, we also meet an obsession with words. Form and process are often deemed more important than outcomes. Fortunately, discontinuous politics is helpful today in challenging past practices and frozen narratives. It does so taking into account the steady elements of any policy; in India’s case, a persistent striving to expand space and options. Not an end in itself, that is meant to ensure greater prosperity at home, peace on the borders, protection of our people and enhancing influence abroad. Obviously, our national strategy to realise even the more constant goals cannot be static in an evolving world. We know that well, having seen the world move from bipolarity to unipolarity and then to multipolarity. But changes in strategy also need to cater for greater capabilities, ambitions and responsibilities. And most of all, for changed circumstances. In approaching such a world in transformation, we must recognise that assumptions need to be regularly revisited and calculations frequently revised. To do that, an accurate reading of recent history is essential. That exercise by itself can encourage appreciating the compulsions of responding to the environment, rather than mechanically applying doctrines and concepts.
Now, evidence strongly supports the view that India has advanced its interests effectively when it made hard-headed assessments of contemporary geopolitics. And even more so when it did not hesitate to break with its past. The 1971 Bangladesh war, the 1992 economic and political repositioning, the 1998 nuclear tests or the 2005 India-US nuclear deal are instructive examples. Indeed, it is only through a series of disruptions that India was able to bring about decisive shifts in its favour. In contrast, the pursuit of an apparently consistent course despite changing circumstances often led us to lose the plot. This was the case with engaging China in the 1950s as part of a larger post-colonial front, even as political differences sharpened over a boundary dispute and a Tibet complication. The experience with Pakistan was similar, despite that country moving to greater reliance on terrorism. To some extent, this is a debate about realism and hard security. What it really suggests is a need for an unsentimental audit of Indian foreign policy.
India’s record includes dark moments like the 1962 defeat against China. Or tense ones like the 1965 war with Pakistan where the outcome hung in balance till the very end. And the more triumphal ones such as the 1971 victory which created Bangladesh. There are enough dichotomies in our past to generate a spirited debate on successes and failures. A misreading of geopolitics and economics upto 1991 stands out in contrast to the reformist policies thereafter. Two decades of nuclear indecision ended dramatically with the tests of 1998. The lack of response to 26/11 is so different from the Uri and Balakot operations. Whether it is events or trends, they all bear scrutiny for the lessons they hold. If we look back at this journey of independent India, the growth in its capabilities and influence should not conceal the missed chances and shortcomings. The roads not taken may often be an exercise in imagination. But equally, they are a sign of honest introspection. A power that is serious about self-improvement should not, I am convinced, shrink from such an undertaking.
How has Indian foreign policy evolved since Independence? Understanding that is done best by dividing into six broad phases, each a response to a different strategic environment. The first phase from 1946-62 could be characterised as an era of optimistic non-alignment. Its setting was very much of a bipolar world, with camps led by the United States and the USSR. India’s objectives were to resist the constraining of its choices and dilution of its sovereignty as it rebuilt its economy and consolidated its integrity. Its parallel goal, as the first of the decolonised nations, was to lead Asia and Africa in a quest for a more equitable world order. This was the heyday of Bandung and Belgrade, the peak of Third World solidarity. It also saw energetic Indian diplomacy from Korea and Vietnam to the Suez and Hungary. For a few years, our position on the world stage seemed assured. The 1962 conflict with China not only brought this period to an end, but in a manner that significantly damaged India’s standing.
The second phase from 1962-71 is a decade of realism and recovery. India made pragmatic choices on security and political challenges despite a paucity of resources. It looked beyond non-alignment in the interest of national security, concluding a now largely forgotten defence agreement with the US in 1964. External pressures on Kashmir mounted in this period of vulnerability. The global context remained bipolar, but it now saw the emergence of limited cooperation between the US and USSR. South Asia happened to be a particular area of convergence and Indian diplomacy had to face the superpowers together, as it did in Tashkent in 1965. It was also a period when domestic challenges were particularly acute, ranging from political turbulence to economic distress. But for our purposes, what is important is that even though the stress levels were higher, we came through an anxious period without too much damage.
The third phase, from 1971 to 1991, was one of greater Indian regional assertion. It started with the decisive dismantlement of an India-Pakistan equivalence through creation of Bangladesh, but ended with the IPKF misadventure in Sri Lanka. The larger environment by now was dramatically different, with the Sino-US rapprochement of 1971 upending the strategic landscape. The Indo-Soviet Treaty and the adoption of more pro-Soviet positions on international issues were India’s response to this challenge. It was a particularly complex phase as the US-China-Pakistan axis which came into being at this time seriously threatened India’s prospects. While they had many long-term consequences, the shift in India’s posture came more from other factors. The collapse of USSR, its close ally, and the not unconnected economic crisis in 1991 compelled us to look again at the first principles of both domestic and foreign policy.
The dissolution of the USSR and the emergence of a “unipolar” world characterised the fourth phase. It encouraged a radical rethink in India on a broad range of issues. And it shifted focus to safeguarding strategic autonomy. If India opened up economically more to the world, its reflection was also evident in new diplomatic priorities and approaches. The Look East policy summarised the changed Indian approach to world affairs, which also saw adjustments in its position on Israel. This is a period where India reached out to engage the US more intensively, yet did so while protecting its equities in critical areas. This quest for strategic autonomy was particularly focused on securing its nuclear weapon option, but also visible in trade negotiations. By the turn of the century, enough had happened for India to now shift gear again and move to a higher level. After 1998, it was now a declared nuclear weapon power, had fended off Pakistan’s military adventurism again in Kargil in 1999, generated enough economic growth to be of global interest, and managed well a United States that was focusing more on developments in Asia and the consequences of Islamic fundamentalism.
This more competitive environment opened up new windows of opportunity for India, especially as the United States found it difficult to maintain the same degree of unipolarity. As a consequence, India discovered the benefits of working with different powers on different issues. This fifth phase is one where India gradually acquired the attributes of a balancing power. It is reflected in the India-US nuclear deal as well as a better understanding with the West at large. At the same time, India could also make common cause with China on climate change and trade, and consolidate further ties with Russia while helping to fashion BRICS into a major forum. This was, in some senses, a period of opportunity where India moved the global needle by taking new positions.
A number of developments came together to change calculations by 2014, initiating the sixth phase. To begin with, China gathered more momentum and the terms of engagement it offered to the world progressively hardened. Balancing works best during a period of transition and was, therefore, inevitably mitigated as new realities took root. At the other extreme, the American trumpet sounded increasingly uncertain. US resource limitation was aggravated by risk aversion in the aftermath of the Iraq war. Declaring an Afghan withdrawal and displaying growing tepidity in the Asia-Pacific sent messages well beyond the immediate issues. For its part, Europe too turned increasingly inwards, not appreciating that political agnosticism would have its own cost. Japan’s efforts to acquire a greater say continued to unfold only gradually. The full impact of the 2008 financial crisis and global economic rebalancing made itself felt in a variety of ways. As the world saw a wider dispersal of power and more localised equations, it was evident that multi-polarity was now seriously upon us. Clearly, this called for a very different approach than practicing politics with a more limited set of dominant players.
Faced with all these developments and assessing the state of global regimes and coalitions, India chose to turn to more energetic diplomacy. It did so recognising that we were now entering a world of convergences and issue-based arrangements. This awareness was accompanied by a growing sense of its own capabilities. What it has brought out is not just the limitations of others, but the expectations that the world has of India. That we have emerged among the major economies of the world is one factor, though admittedly the most important. The relevance of our talent to global technology is another, one likely to grow in time. Our ability to shoulder greater responsibilities at a time when the world is more reticent is also evident. Equally significant is a willingness to shape key global negotiations, such as in Paris on climate change. The investment of greater resources in development partnerships with countries of the South was also noteworthy. And not least, the manner in which we have approached our own region and the extended neighbourhood has resonated beyond.
India’s diplomatic agenda has broadened considerably, as indeed have its partners in those endeavours. We share with the international community the objective that a multi-polar world should have a multi-polar Asia at its core. And to ensure that, India needs to follow an approach of working with multiple partners on different agendas. Obviously, they would each have their importance and priority. But Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas is today as relevant in foreign policy. It is the nations who have an optimal mix of capabilities, relationships and positioning who can aspire to occupy the multiple poles of the emerging international order. And it is the confidence of being able to forge ahead in this looser architecture that can inspire us to emerge as a leading power in the future.
Each of the six phases have had their highs and lows. Infact the ending of one could be the beginning of another. The 1971 Bangladesh war or the 1998 nuclear tests stand out in the positive category. But the negative ones perhaps were more directly responsible for substantial changes of course. The 1962 reverse vis-à-vis China was one example. The combination of events as diverse as the Gulf War, the break-up of USSR, economic stagnation and domestic turbulence coming together in 1991 was another. Therefore, while not being dogmatic about the past, it is just as important not to be dismissive about it . This is crucial to appreciate because there are both strains of continuity and change in our policy. Conceptually, each period could be visualised as the overlay on the previous one, rather than either a negation or just an extrapolation. Thus, the independent mindset that drove non-alignment and then protected our strategic equities can today be better expressed in multiple partnerships.
So what does the past teach us? Seven decades of foreign policy certainly offer a lot of lessons, especially if we contemplate a challenging road ahead. They span a broad spectrum, both in time and in outcomes. A dispassionate assessment of our performance would note that while we ourselves have done well in many respects, many competitors have done much better. Overcoming many challenges, India consolidated its national unity and integrity. That was not a given, noting that some other diverse societies like USSR and Yugoslavia did not make it in the same period. A modern economy with industrial capacities was developed over time, even as our reliance on nature was mitigated in agriculture. Defence preparedness was improved and one of the key accomplishments of diplomacy was to enable access to multiple sources of equipment and technology. However, the fact remains that even after seven decades of independence, many of our borders remain unsettled. In the economic sphere, we may look good when benchmarked against our own past. It seems a little different when compared to China or South East Asia. So what really matters is to develop a sharp awareness about our own performance. And the lessons of that exercise can be captured in five baskets of issues.
The first relates to the need for greater realism in policy. International relations are very much a test of will. Swami Vivekananda perceptively described the world as a gymnasium where nations come to make themselves strong. Particularly in the phase of optimistic non-alignment, perhaps even later, our focus on diplomatic visibility sometimes led to overlooking the harsher realities of hard security. The early misreading of Pakistan’s intentions can perhaps be explained away by lack of experience. But the reluctance to attach overriding priority to securing borders even a decade later is much more difficult to justify. It was not just that the challenges of 1962 were unanticipated. It was more that a diplomacy focused on world politics did not give it the primacy it deserved. Somewhere, there was an implicit but deeply entrenched belief that India’s high standing in world affairs was protection enough against global turbulence and competitive politics. It was, therefore, at some cost that we discovered that outcomes can be decided as much on the field as at conferences. This is a relevant takeaway even now, despite having entered a more constrained world. Interestingly, it is not that India always shrank from the applications of force when required. Hyderabad in 1948 and Goa in 1961 are illustrative examples, as indeed is Kashmir when attacked by Pakistan. But having so strongly built up an image of a reluctant power, we also ended up influenced by our own narrative.
Due to that, we rarely prepared for security situations with the sense of mission that many of our competitors displayed. Discomfort with hard power was reflected in lack of adequate consultation with the military, most notably during the 1962 conflict. The creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff half-a-century later shows a very different mindset. Judgments of the past that overlooked security implications are also worth studying. An overemphasis on diplomacy also led to a lack of understanding of the behaviour of other polities. The Cold War was seen more as an argumentation, when the reality was a ruthless exercise of power. There was also little awareness in the 1950s that we were dealing with a battle-hardened neighbor to the North. Or indeed of the strategic significance of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. This approach to world affairs continued even thereafter. Thus, in 1972 at Shimla, India chose to bet on an optimistic outlook on Pakistan. At the end of the day, it resulted in both a revanchist Pakistan and a continuing problem in Jammu & Kashmir. That it has taken us so long to link talks with Pakistan to cessation of terrorism speaks for itself. Without overstating the argument, a case can certainly be made for a more grounded Indian approach to international relations.
The economic counterpart of these concerns constitute a second basket. If one considers all the major growth stories since 1945, a common feature was the extraordinary focus that they put on leveraging the global environment. China did that with great effect, initially with the USSR and then with the US and the West. The Asian ‘tiger economies’ practiced it as well, using Japan, the US and now China successively to build themselves. That is how India too approached its various relationships over the last seven decades, but not always with the same single-mindedness. Nevertheless, much of India’s industrialisation and capacities in other domains were direct achievements of collaborations enabled by diplomacy. Steel, nuclear industry, higher education and computing are some examples. This held true even more for the post-1991 reform period and the shift eastwards of India’s economic centre of gravity. The interconnection between diplomacy, strategy and economic capabilities is, however, not self-evident. As in security, it is important to distinguish between cause and effect. The economy drives diplomacy; not the other way around. Few would argue that the reforms of the 1990s and greater openness have served us well. But as we then extrapolated it onto free trade agreements with South-East and East Asia, the proposition has become more challengeable. Blame it on structural rigidities, limited competitiveness, inadequate exploitation of opportunities or just plain unfair practices: the growing deficit numbers are a stark reality. More importantly, their negative impact on industry at home is impossible to deny. And China, of course, poses a special trade challenge even without an FTA.
In this background, the recent debate about the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) offers lessons in foreign policy as much as in the trade domain. On the one hand, we should not go back to the old dogmas of economic autarky and import substitution. But at the same time, embracing the new dogma of globalisation without a cost-benefit analysis is equally dangerous. What we saw in Bangkok recently was a clear-eyed calculation of the gains and costs of entering a new arrangement. We negotiated till the very end, as indeed we should. Then, knowing what was on offer, we took a call. And that call was that no agreement at this time was better than a bad agreement. It is also important to recognise what the RCEP is not. It is not about stepping back from the Act East policy, which in any case is deeply rooted in distant and contemporary history. Our cooperation spans so many domains that this one decision does not really undermine the basics. Even in trade, India already has FTAs with 12 out of the 15 RCEP partners. Nor is there really a connection with our Indo-Pacific approach, as that goes well beyond the RCEP membership. There can be a legitimate debate on the merits of joining RCEP or any other FTA for that matter. Just don’t confuse it for grand strategy.
Any quest to maximise options and expand space naturally requires engaging multiple players. Conceptually, this third basket is a given in Indian foreign policy since there is a basic consensus about nurturing our independence. While it has served us very well in the first decade of a bipolar world, we also discovered the associated danger of being left short on all accounts. As India saw in 1962, the best of both worlds is easier imagined than realised. In the periods thereafter, the distance from one pole was also not automatically compensated by the other. Sometimes, global circumstances required us – as in 1971 – to lean on one side, just as China itself did in 1950 and 1971. As a general rule, extracting more from the international system depends on the bigger picture and a zero-sum game cannot be an assumption. Indeed, a particularly disturbing scenario that nations like India and China faced in the 1960s was the prospect of the superpowers finding common ground. That is why the talk of a G2 even decades later created such deep unease again in so many quarters. Hedging is a delicate exercise, whether it is the non-alignment and strategic autonomy of earlier periods, or multiple engagements of the future. But there is no getting away from it in a multi-polar world. This is a game best played on the front-foot, appreciating that progress on any one front strengthens one’s hand on all others. In that sense, it is having many balls up in the air at the same time and displaying the confidence and dexterity to drop none. To the uninitiated or the anachronistic, the pursuit of apparently contradictory approaches and objectives may seem baffling. How do you reconcile a Howdy Modi, a Mamallapuram and a Vladivostok? Or the RIC (Russia-India-China) with JAI (Japan-America-India)? Or the Quad with the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization)? An Iran with the Saudis or Israel with Palestine? The answer is in a willingness to look beyond dogma and enter the real world of convergences. Think of it, not just as arithmetic but as calculus. This new game is a challenge for practitioners and analysts alike, but one that must be mastered to forge ahead.
Risk-taking is an inherent aspect of diplomacy and most policy judgments revolve around its mechanics. It is also a natural accompaniment to hedging. When we look at this fourth basket, it is evident that a low-risk foreign policy is only likely to produce limited rewards. On occasions when India departed from this mode, some risks paid off while others did not. We laid out our broad approach as early as 1946 and developed that framework as time went on. Although India came under pressure in 1962 and 1971, it limited the compromises that it had to make and sought to revert to the earlier posture as and when it could. Over the course of its rise, it introduced new concepts and terms to deal with emerging issues, without necessarily abandoning the earlier ones. The cumulative impression was thus of a steady and middle of the road approach that gathered greater substance as India’s influence grew. But having noted that, the truth is that ascending up the global ladder did require taking big calls, whether conventional or nuclear, political or economic. Not all risks are necessarily dramatic; many just require the confident calculations and determined follow up of day-to-day management but their aggregate impact can result in a quantum jump in global positioning. To a certain degree, we see that happening today.
The fifth basket is in a return to the diplomatic primer: reading the global tea leaves right. The foreign policy of all nations is set against the backdrop of global contradictions. They reflect an assessment of opportunities and compulsions, and of risks and rewards. Even if we are to get our immediate situation right, a misreading of the larger landscape can prove costly. In our own case, going to the United Nations on Jammu & Kashmir clearly misread the intent of the Anglo-American alliance then and of the seriousness of the Cold War. Years later, our early awareness about growing Sino-Soviet differences did not mature on our expected timelines. In the 1960s, 1980s and again after 2001, we grossly underestimated the relevance of Pakistan to American and Chinese global strategy. This is not to suggest that India has not had its successes. Indo-Soviet and later Indo-Russian relations are a direct product of our global strategising. After 1991, so too has been the adjustment in our policy towards the United States. Both the Indo-Soviet Treaty and the India-US Nuclear Deal were outcomes of a larger reading of world. That is the case with correctives introduced in respect of the US in 1973 and China in 1976 to overcome the polarisation that had been created by the 1971 situation. Identifying the opportunities thrown up by the structure of world politics can also help mitigate risks. We saw that, for example, in respect to France after the 1998 nuclear tests. Today, an appreciation of world politics must include a proper understanding of Sino-US contradictions, of growing multi-polarity, of weaker multilateralism, of larger economic and political rebalancing, of greater space for regional powers, and of the world of convergences. Each of them is a factor in driving the policy initiatives of the present era. Whether it is our outreach to the Gulf, the advocacy of Indo-Pacific or more vigorous engagement of Europe, they represent a facet of a larger repositioning.
So what are the prospects of the sixth phase that is now underway? A changing world is clearly a more actionable one for those who do not wish to get left behind. As Rabindranath Tagore declared, you cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. For a beginning, it requires a thinking that keeps up with times. A clearer definition of interests is the next step and its determined pursuit of that the one thereafter. We see that today, for example, in a better appreciation of our maritime geography and the SAGAR doctrine. When confronted by security challenges, this India has also responded with a new grit. Its enthusiasm for shaping global conversations on climate change, terrorism, connectivity and maritime security is already having an impact. The humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations undertaken in Yemen, Nepal, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Fiji and Mozambique are statements of capability as much as of responsibility. Its election winning record in international organisations is another important statement. Expanded offers of development assistance have been accompanied by an improved record of project execution. The neighbourhood and Africa will surely testify to this change. India’s branding has become much stronger, including the International Day of Yoga, the International Solar Alliance or most recently, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
While the previous phases of foreign policy each have a neat description, how do we categorise the current one. Part of the challenge is that we are still in the early phase of a major transition. The contours of even the near future are not yet clear. One solution is to anchor it on Indian aspirations and speak of our goal of emerging as a leading power. The problem is that others tend to take it as a statement of arrival rather than a goal on the horizon. Taking off from non-alignment, we could perhaps speak today of multi-alignment. It appears more energetic, more participative as compared to an earlier posture of abstention or non-involvement it certainly sounds very much more vigorous. The difficulty is that it also appears opportunistic, whereas India is really seeking strategic convergence rather than tactical convenience. Putting India First may be another way of capturing a strong and pragmatic policy outlook. But this suffers from a comparison with other nations, some of whom have chosen to be more self-centered. In India’s case, nationalism has in fact led to greater internationalism. Advancing prosperity and influence may be a fair description but it is not exactly a catch word. Perhaps we need to accept that a single phrase may elude us for some time in the midst of global uncertainty.
Now as we stand poised to move to the next level, did we lose valuable time in doing so? Such queries are often a product of hindsight and may lack context. But nevertheless, these are issues that could be pondered about, especially if speak of outcomes of judgment rather than of circumstances. Our ties with China are a natural beginning for such a discussion. Should India, for example, have brought the boundary issue to head in 1950 itself? Could the border conflict of 1962 have been avoided by a compromise in 1960 when Zhou Enlai came to India? With the United States, did our cultural antipathy in the initial years aggravate the sense of distance? On economic issues, perhaps there is probably more consensus that India should have followed the example of ASEAN and China and opened up a decade than it did. On the strategic side, the delay in its self-declaration as a nuclear weapon power from 1974 to 1998 may well have been the worst of all worlds. Were we prisoners to paper, a trait that came close to wrecking the 2005 nuclear deal as well? Our past handling of Pakistan, a society which we are supposed to know well, also raises many questions. These are not exactly hypothetical situations and are cited to underline the contention that emergence as a leading power requires great pragmatism. That can be further strengthened by more sophisticated narratives that can help reconcile divergences. After all, our emphasis on sovereignty has not prevented us from responding to human rights situations in our neighbourhood. Nor indeed have the steps that India has taken to ensure its integrity and promote regional security – whether in Hyderabad, Goa, or abroad in Sri Lanka or Maldives – made us less multilateral.
Now this talk is about dogma and entrenched views are naturally strongest on the more perennial challenges. In the case of India, it will come as no surprise to any of you that this relates to Pakistan. Changes in thinking will trigger a debate and that has been the case for the past few years. That fact is that we had allowed the narrative to focus mainly on a dialogue, when the real issue was stopping cross-border terrorism. Dogma treats every new approach as an unjustified deviation. In the last five years, however, a different normal has developed and global conversations on cross-border terrorism have become more serious. Just look at the FATF as proof of that assertion. As we move decisively to combat separatism in Jammu & Kashmir, there is some talk today of its internationalisation and hyphenation of our ties with Pakistan. This is thinking from the past, reflecting neither the strength of India, the mood of the nation nor the determination of the Government. Uninformed comments abroad on our internal affairs is hardly internationalisation. And the reputational and real differences between India and Pakistan puts paid to any hyphenation effort. In reality, these fears are but a thinly disguised advocacy of inaction. Their intent, conscious or otherwise, is to legitimise a status quo that has now been overtaken by history.
The balance sheet for India’s foreign policy after seven decades presents a mixed picture. National development is at the heart of any assessment, and it is difficult to quarrel with the view that there has been significant progress, but not enough. The comparison with what China achieved in the same period is sobering. Reading the global tea leaves right and then leveraging the international situation could have gone better. Indeed the mantra of unchanging foreign policy axioms has discouraged an honest review of our performance and the introduction of timely correctives. Diligence and debate have not been as rigorous as they should for an aspiring player. When combined with the hesitations of history, it had led to unexplored avenues and unrealised outcomes. But we are now at the cusp of change. With more confidence, the pursuit of seemingly divergent goals and the straddling of contradictions are being attempted. Taking risks is inherent to the realisation of ambitions. A nation that has the aspiration to become a leading power someday cannot continue with unsettled borders, an unintegrated region and under-exploited opportunities. Above all, it cannot be dogmatic in approaching a visibly changing global order. Napoleon once said that history is a version of past events that people have decided to agree upon. The world that awaits us not only calls for fresh thinking, but eventually, a new consensus at home as well. Putting dogmas behind us is a starting point for that journey.
Thank you very much.
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