Former diplomat, Mr. M. K. Bhadrakumar recently spoke at a seminar on ‘Peace and Conflict in South Asia’ convened by the University of Kerala. We produce below excerpts of his speech. - Editor
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, it took India by surprise. It was not inevitable. The trauma of disintegration was huge. We entered an era of unquestioned domination by the United States. India’s historical engagement with the Soviet Union was deep. We failed to recognize the tendencies visible in the unipolar world. We were now being asked to harmonize with the hegemonic designs of the US.
It was a time that coincided with the financial crisis that stared into our eyes. Our foreign exchange reserves had touched the nadir and were at an all time low. We needed globalization and the infusion of new technology. A lot of Indian scientists and engineers were migrating to the US due to non-induction of technology and outmoded nature of our economy.
The Indo-US relations have several templates. We did not foresee Russia reemerging on the world scene. By 2005 Russia led by Boris Yeltsin came to be viewed as a major power. By 2009 it fully crystallized into one. A third aspect was that China had risen on the world scene. A contradiction emerged because India was at the crossroads.
The US invaded Afghanistan. I had told that Afghanistan war is not going to be won. It is a tribal war. Several doctrines were being tested out in Afghanistan. Ahmed Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan was killed two days before 9/11. Taliban never enjoyed the majority support. Northern Alliance had realized that the Taliban had a sizeable influence. There were plans to reinstall King Zahir Shah who was living in exile in Italy. Planeloads of money was brought to Kabul to bribe Northern Alliance. Three weeks after 9/11 American war planes landed at Bagram airbase of Afghanistan.
There was a hidden agenda of invading Afghanistan. But the given aim was to root out the Taliban and bust the terror infrastructure.
Now Taliban are being brought back. NATO is not being taken into confidence. The new strategy is to include Islamist forces and induct them into US strategy. Karzai is dragging his feet. He wants control of Bagram back as part of sovereign Afghanistan which US is unwilling to concede.
Pakistan does not trust the credentials of the US strategy and wants it to leave the area altogether. Pakistan is already at an abyss, as the anti-American sentiments are on the boil among its people.
On Afghanistan, India is totally isolated. India welcomed the foreign occupation and Afghans and groups from Afghanistan who are part of peace talks remember it too well. The long-term US presence is recipe for regional instability. But US wants to retain an outpost there together with Bagram in order to keep a watch on four nuclear powers i.e., Pakistan, India, Russia, and China and possibly fifth, Iran in future.
The credibility of the United States is low. In Libya it was a blatant intervention and it and the NATO indulged in random killings. At least 30,000 people were killed. Col. Qadhafi’s killing was sordid. Qadhafi was looking at help from China to counter NATO bombings. In Syria too, the US likes an intervention like Libya. At least three million Iraqis have been killed after the US invaded Iraq and about one million have been dislocated. All kinds of Islamists forces are being wooed by the US to gain a foothold in the post-Arab spring Arab Middle East.
Syria has been a long-standing, secular friend of India for 60 years. We used to get dossiers from Syria as to how to influence the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) from Damascus. But now we are unfortunately trying to harmonize with US policies. We are supporting US policies.
Middle East is of key importance for India. We receive $ 16 billion in remittance from six million Indian expatriate workers in the area. We should support for gradual democratic reform in the area. Syria had initiated a step towards it by going for a referendum. But the West wants a change through military intervention. India has completely failed in influencing the course of events.
We have a border dispute with China. With Pakistan we have a Line of Control. The transgressions that are taking place on two sides need to be understood. China will be present in this area. China has long term interest. Ninety per cent of China’s oil passes through Straits of Malacca which is a narrow strip of water and could suffer discontinuance in the event of a conflict in that area. So Chinese are developing a pipeline up to Burma so that oil could be pumped from there. Similarly they are developing Karakoram Highway which will provide them direct access to Persian Gulf. It is conceivable that China uses Pakistan to undercut India’s influence. But it is also to be understood that China wants India and Pakistan to solve Kashmir issue bilaterally.
Pakistan however remains a worrisome ally for China due to its machinations with Islamic militants in Xinjiang province. India is a honeypot as far as business relations are concerned. India and China mutually trade goods worth $60 billion a year. China’s trade with Pakistan is not even ten per cent of the same. Why should China sacrifice its business interests with India for the sake of Pakistan?
But most think-tanks in Delhi are amenable to US views on India-China relations and source their data from US think-tanks. Militaristation of foreign policy will lead us nowhere. Pakistan is already at its wit’s end. They do not want a war with India any more. Public mood has undergone a sea change there. Good statesmanship demands friendly neighbours.
Mr. Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat was India’s ambassador to Turkey and Uzbekistan in the past. The speech has been compiled by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj who also presented a paper at the seminar held at March 2-3. The report is not a verbatim reproduction of the speech.