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India - Foreign Relations

India is a land of ancient civilization, with cities and villages, cultivated fields, and great works of art dating back 4,000 years. India's high population density and variety of social, economic, and cultural configurations are the products of a long process of regional expansion. In the last decade of the twentieth century, such expansion has led to the rapid erosion of India's forest and wilderness areas in the face of ever-increasing demands for resources and gigantic population pressures--India's population is projected to exceed 1 billion by the twenty-first century.

In the mid-1990s, India remains a strong unified nation, with a long history of constitutional government and democracy, but at any moment there are half a dozen regional political agitations underway and a dozen guerrilla movements in different parts of the country advocating various types of official recognition or outright independence based on ethnic affiliation. The unity of the country as a whole has never been seriously threatened by these movements. Because the benefits of union within India have outweighed the advantages of independence for most people within each state, there have always been moderate elements within the states willing to make deals with the central government, and security forces have proven capable of repressing any armed struggle at the regional level. In addition, state-level opposition, whether in the legislatures or in the streets, has been an effective means of preventing massive interference from New Delhi in the day-to-day lives of citizens, and thus has provided a crucial check that has preserved the democratic system and the constitution.

Challenges to Internal Security

One of the most serious challenges to India's internal security and democratic traditions has come from so-called communal disorders, or riots, based on ethnic cleavages. The most typical form is a religious riot, mostly between Hindus and Muslims, although some of these disturbances also occur between different castes or linguistic groups. Most of these struggles start with neighborhood squabbles of little significance, but rapidly escalate into mob looting and burning, street fighting, and violent intervention by the police or paramilitary forces.

Religious ideology has played only a small part in these events. Instead, the pressures of urban life in overcrowded, poorer neighborhoods, combined with competition for limited economic opportunities, create an environment in which ethnic differences become convenient labels for defining enemies, and criminal behavior becomes commonplace. Whether ignited by a street accident or a major political event, passions in these areas may be directed into mob action. However, after the catastrophe of independence (when hundreds of thousands in North India died during the partition of India and Pakistan and at least 12 million became refugees), and because the pattern of rioting has continued annually in various cities, a culture of distrust has grown up among a sizable minority of Hindus and Muslims. This distrust has manifested itself in the nationwide agitations fomented by elements of the BJP and communal Hindu parties in the early 1990s. It reached a peak in December 1992 with the dramatic destruction of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh), and communal riots and bombings in major cities throughout India in early 1993. In this manner, the frictions of daily life in an overcrowded, poor nation have had a major impact on the national political agenda.

The internal conflict between Hindus and Muslims received some of its stimulus since 1947 from the international conflict between India and Pakistan. One of the great tragedies of the freedom struggle was the relentless polarization of opinion between the Congress, which came to represent mostly Hindus, and the All-India Muslim League (Muslim League--see Glossary), which eventually stood behind a demand for a separate homeland for a Muslim majority. This division, encouraged under British rule by provisions for separate electorates for Muslims, led to the partition of Pakistan from India and the outbreak of hostilities over Kashmir. Warfare between India and Pakistan occurred in 1947, 1965, and 1971; the last conflict led to the independence of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) and a major strategic victory by India.

According to Joseph Nye, "the soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture in places where it is attractive to others; its political value when it lives up to them at home and abroad; and its foreign politics when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority." India had formidable soft power. With Bollywood and Tikka Masala taking the world by storm, India became more than a far-away curiosity. It became doctors, software engineers, cool Netflix show hosts. That, along with yoga and Gandhian non-violent movements, India became potentially the greatest soft power after the US and Japan.

Almost at the same time, India’s ‘sticky power’ grew. Describing sticky power, Walter Mead gives the example of a carnivorous sundew plant: "it attracts its prey with a kind of soft power, a pleasing scent that lures insects toward its sap. But once the victim has touched the sap, it is stuck; it can't get away." That is sticky power or economic power. The Indian economy is considered the third-largest in the world by purchasing power parity. Recently the United Arab Emirates awarded Prime Minister Narendra Modi its highest civilian honour, even as Kashmiris suffered. Unsurprising though, as the UAE's exports to India surged by 37 percent to reach almost $30 billion in the last year alone.

The Cold War

Nehru and the early leadership of independent India had envisioned a nation at peace with the rest of the world, in keeping with Gandhian ideals and socialist goals. Under Nehru's guidance, India distanced itself from Cold War politics and played a major part in the Nonaligned Movement. Until the early 1960s, India spent relatively little on national defense and enjoyed an excellent relationship with the United States, a relationship that peaked in John F. Kennedy's presidency. India's strategic position changed after China defeated the Indian army in the border war of 1962 and war with Pakistan occurred in 1965. During this period, the situation became more precarious because India had opponents on two fronts. In addition, Pakistan began to receive substantial amounts of military assistance from the United States, ostensibly to support anticommunism, but it was no secret that most of the weapons purchased with United States aid were a deterrent projected against India. Under these circumstances, India began to move closer to the Soviet Union, purchasing outright large amounts of military hardware or making agreements to produce it indigenously.

Relations between the United States and India reached a low point in 1971 during the Bangladesh war of independence, when a United States naval force entered the Bay of Bengal to show support for Pakistan although doing nothing to forestall its defeat. This display of force, which could not be opposed by India or the Soviet Union, served only to strain the relationship between India and the United States and heightened Cold War tensions in South Asia. During the 1970s, as the United States and China improved relations and China became closer in turn to Pakistan, India's strategic position became more entwined with Cold War issues, and the Soviet connection became even more important. These international postures contrasted dramatically with the increasing importance to India of American scientific and economic links, which were strengthened by the increasing emigration of Indian citizens to North America. The overall result, however, was India's weaker international situation in the view of some Americans.

During the 1980s, then, India was still officially a nonaligned nation but in fact found itself deeply embedded in Cold War strategy. India's reaction to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was a disquieting feature of Indian foreign policy, in that India decried the Soviet military presence but did nothing against it. Continued United States support for Pakistan, plus the buildup of United States strike forces on the small island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, heightened tensions. It was no coincidence, therefore, that the 1980s witnessed a major expansion of Indian naval forces, with the addition of two aircraft carriers, a submarine fleet, and major surface ships, including transport craft. But although the Indian buildup made the United States unhappy, India's technological capacities remained inferior to those of the United States Navy, and the Indian navy was never a large threat to United States interests. Instead, the growth of the Indian navy had major implications for the regional balance of power within South Asia. The Indian navy could potentially create a second front against Pakistan should major hostilities recur.

India's military buildup allowed it to intervene in low-intensity conflicts throughout South Asia. From 1987 to 1990, the Indian Peace Keeping Force of more than 60,000 personnel was active in Sri Lanka and became embroiled in a fruitless war against Tamil separatist guerrillas. And, in 1988 Indian forces briefly intervened in Maldives to prevent a coup. Regular border problems with Bangladesh after 1971, the Indian annexation of Sikkim in 1975, and the 1989 closure of the border with Nepal over economic disagreements all added up to the picture of a big country bullying its smaller neighbors, a vision Indian leaders took great pains to dispel. Thus, even though the country officially remained at peace during the 1980s, India's growing military power and the intersecting problems of regional dominance and Cold War ambivalence drove an ambitious foreign policy.

Post-Cold War Era

The Indian strategic position changed dramatically in the early 1990s. The end of the Cold War, and then the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself, deprived India of a great ally but also put a stop to many of the worldwide tensions that had relentlessly pulled India into global alignments. When the United States cut off military aid to Pakistan in 1990, it defused one of the most intractable barriers to good relations with India. Then, in 1992, the Persian Gulf War against Iraq brought India grudgingly into an alignment with both Pakistan and the United States, a connection strengthened in 1994 when troops from all three nations cooperated in Somalia under the aegis of the United Nations.

The possession of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India immersed them in a familiar scenario of mutually assured destruction and made it more problematic for India, despite its military superiority, to overrun Pakistan. Thus, in the mid-1990s, despite continuing hostility over Kashmir, which intensified as the internal situation there disintegrated in the 1990s, the long-term possibilities for official peace between the two countries remained good. Threats from other South Asian nations were negligible. Issues with China were unresolved but not very significant. No other country in the world presented a strategic threat. As budgetary problems beset the government in the mid-1990s, therefore, the Indian military began cutbacks. The military also expanded contacts with a variety of other nations, including Russia and the United States. India hence has entered a period of relative security and multilateral contacts quite different from its twenty-five-year Cold War immersion.

India is a complex geographic, historical, religious, social, economic, and political entity. India is one of the oldest human civilizations and yet displays no cultural features common to all its members. It is one of the richest nations in history, but most of its people are among the poorest in the world. Its ideology rests on some of the most sublime concepts of humanism and nonviolence, but deep-seated discrimination and violent responses are daily news. It has one of the world's most stable political structures, but that structure is constantly in crisis. The nation is seeking a type of great power status, but no one is sure what that involves. India, in the end, defies easy analysis.

The Iran and India relationship is centuries old. There is a great deal of commonality in their language, culture and traditions. Contemporary relation is characterised by interactions in the fields of commerce, energy and education. Traditional close relations have also been further strengthened by regular cultural exchanges, commercial interactions as well as bilateral meetings and high profile visits between both countries. There are a number of Indian students in Iran. India also provides scholarships to Iranian students and presently about 8000 Iranian students are studying in India. India is also one of the favourite destinations for Iranian tourists; around 40,000 visitors come to India every year.

India is among the countries that have expressed interest in investing in Iran since Tehran struck a deal with world powers in 2015 to limit its nuclear work in return for relief from economic sanctions.

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Page last modified: 09-09-2019 19:04:02 ZULU