India’s foreign policy has not grown out of its static position

As the war to unseat Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi nears its sixth month, a plethora of diplomatic chess moves are being played by great powers to negotiate an end to the stalemated conflict. Prominent among these is China, which recently hosted the head of the anti-Gaddafi Libyan Transitional Council – Mustafa Abdel Jalil – in Beijing.

Apart from western capitals, which are controversially arming the Libyan guerrillas and aiding their war effort through aerial strikes, the only notable port of stop for Jalil in his international sojourns has been China. It speaks volumes of the traction that Beijing has acquired over a major global hotspot that has the bearings of an intractable problem.

China has positioned itself through deft diplomacy as a credible mediator and go-between through simultaneous interlocution with Gaddafi’s representatives as well as with his archenemies. Senior Chinese government officials are frequently seen in the eastern Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, advocating “political solutions” to minimise the suffering of Libyan people.

The “in-depth views” that Chinese diplomats convey on their visits to Benghazi comprise a wide range of scenarios that do not exclude an end to hostilities with Gaddafi remaining in Libya or controlling parts of it while ceding authority to the rebel leadership in some regions.

As one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council which abstained from voting on Resolution 1973 that authorised “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, China has managed to keep the door open with the Gaddafi camp. State-owned Chinese oil and gas companies had investments in Libya and their interests are obviously reflected in Beijing’s attempt to assume the role of intermediary in the current conflict. On a strategic level, China is pushing for greater political gravitas as a solver of crises in Africa and Latin America, thereby burnishing its international image as an astute great power.

Interestingly, two other states which abstained on UN Resolution 1973- Russia and Germany- have also thrown their hats into the ring and are shuttling back and forth between Tripoli and Benghazi with creative proposals. The Russian gambits have thus far not convinced Gaddafi, who insists on an “African solution”, but Moscow cannot be blamed for not trying behind the scenes with all its social capital. Germany has recognised the Benghazi-based rebel Council and has proposed a “roadmap for peace-building” in Libya, a venture floated in conjunction with Italy and Turkey.

The one big actor which is missing in action in the Libyan drama is India, which has yet again proved that the word ‘proactive’ does not exist in its diplomatic dictionary. According to inside sources privy to the Indian government, Nato has sounded out New Delhi to offer a ceasefire based on existing lines of control between the pro-Gaddafi and anti-Gaddafi forces, which could be converted in the long run into a partition of the country into east and west. India did not latch on to this opening and has instead burrowed its head, ostrich-like, without any sign of inventiveness or initiative.

Indian companies did not have huge stakes in Libya prior to the war and the effects of the crisis have been felt only indirectly in India via the skyrocketing prices of fuel. But India’s political stature on the world stage was certainly on the line in this conflict as New Delhi boasts of its growing clout as a major power. Sadly, the lethargic and reactive nature of Indian diplomacy has shown its hand by doing what it is infamous for- sitting on its haunches and letting China grab the limelight in Libya.

Led by a foreign minister who excelled in domestic politics but has no noteworthy area knowledge or vision in international issues, India’s elephantine response thus far has been to organise a routine evacuation of its citizens from ground zero in North Africa. Dozens of banana republics did the same, but nobody in power in New Delhi could conceive a chance of stamping Indian peacemaking capabilities in the global arena by appearing to be engaged in ending the Libyan war. Public debate on the diplomatic possibilities inherent in the Libya crisis is sorely lacking.

The folly of remaining stuck as an Asian power has not yet dawned in Indian policymaking circles, which abound with “strategic experts” on the US, China and Pakistan but hardly any novel thinkers who specialise in African or Latin American politics. Intellectual deficiencies marring globalisation of India’s diplomacy are compounded by the absence of academic institutions that train the next generation of Indians to believe that their country must strive for greater visibility and acceptability as a desirable power for pacifying ongoing wars and disturbances.

A tendency towards conformity and justification of the existing lethargy in Indian foreign policy prevails among the country’s established think-tanks, which have failed to provide alternative viewpoints on where New Delhi has missed the bus and how to make amends for it. A combination of ignorance about contemporary diplomatic trends and fear of antagonising powers-that-be has held back critical stocktaking of the limited horizons that constrain Indian diplomacy.

India’s economic growth is driven by domestic consumption, but a parallel trend is evolving wherein our outward foreign direct investment (FDI) is outpacing inward FDI by miles. The fate of the world has always impacted upon India, but the emerging accumulation of overseas interests requires India to impact the world and shape the international order. The truly global spirit of India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, is almost pleading for a return to the realisation that New Delhi has a special mission to fulfil in the trouble-torn world.

(Sreeram Chaulia, Vice Dean, Jindal School of International Affairs)




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