India and Its Neighbors

Posted: November 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Economics, Foreign Policy, South Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 35 Comments »

I’ve got a piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor on India, China and the battle for South Asia.

China is certainly flexing its muscle. Last month, it sought to restrict exports of rare earth minerals to Japan, made overtures to a secession movement in southern Sudan, and wrestled with the G20 over its currency and trade imbalance.

Nowhere has China been more assertive than in South Asia. In a strategy it calls the “string of pearls,” China is building ports and infrastructure in Bangladesh and Pakistan; digging up minerals in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and refining hydropower in Nepal and Afghanistan.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s trade with India’s neighbors totaled $16 billion in 2008, growing at 14 percent annually. India’s regional trade was barely holding steady at $11 billion.

Yet China’s success in the Subcontinent reflects India’s own foreign policy blunders.

The takeaway: if India doesn’t improve its own regional relationships, it will not only lose South Asia to China, but it will be prevented from exercising power elsewhere. Don’t believe me? Read the whole piece.

35 Comments on “India and Its Neighbors”

  1. 1 Ash Mahajan said at 11:20 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Maha, I came across your incisive op-ed piece “Time to be a better neighbor…” in the Christian Science Monitor.

    Great summary of all of the ills of Indian foreign policy.

    There is no way that India can match China in terms of foreign policy. There’s actually very little that the US can do to match China, in many ways.

    India is always quite disorganized in terms of governance, though it gets better slowly. While India may over estimate it’s strength or ability, it’s private sector outpaces any Chinese enterprise.

    The key to India’s greatness and growth is the disorganized rise of its private sector and it’s citizens’ movements. You cannot run this on a central basis, nor can you buy it.

    However, I have to say this: the tone of your article and criticism made me research your background to find out if you were a Pakistani-American. Pakistan’s establishment has been trying to piss on the parade or lovefest that Obama and India have been having in the last few days. Your op ed piece is just another attempt in that regard. Many of your ideas are correct, but they do not represent the full picture.

    You should not portray yourself as a critical voice with regard to South Asia. You should reveal to the reading audience your own bias or background, unless you are unable to see it.

    India does not blow up Pakistan’s embassy when it gets uneasy about Pakistan’s involvement in a neighboring country. India is not as organized in controlling or manipulating its neighbors as Pakistan and China. India is as corrupt as any other nation state, but perhaps not as methodical in its vicious power grab as China and its junior ally, Pakistan.

    “Ladke Lenge Pakistan” was the cry back in 1947, and those who live by the sword, die by it too.

    Let’s see how your views play out in the long run, a 100 or 500 years from now.

  2. 2 Maha Rafi Atal said at 1:24 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Ash, Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that India’s great strengths are in its civil society. It is something really remarkable, not least because of how much it has accelerated in the last 20 years. That said, I worry that its foreign policy will undercut this advantage. As for my tone, I am not sure why my being critical of Indian foreign policy should lead to the assumption that I am voicing opinions derived from Pakistan. For the record, I am of mixed Pakistani and Indian descent. But I do not write as a Pakistani-American, nor as an Indian-American. I write as an American, plain and simple, with a concern for US interests. Finally, nobody is arguing that India is vicious, or denying any of the misdeeds by other countries to which you allude. Rather, I am arguing that India cannot compare itself to these countries and say ‘we’re better than them. let that be good enough.’ India has to match a much higher standard than that because it aspires to be a global leader on the basis of its principles.

    @Chandra, all interesting points. Let me take them in order. First, I agree that China does not have pleasant relations with all its neighbors, but the thrust of my piece is that because India is attempting to be China’s democratic rival, it must be held to a higher standard. Second, India has good relations w/ ASEAN that is true, but I think its poor relations with SAARC countries outweigh the positives of the ASEAN alliances, because of the security threat they produce. Third, a little less than half is with Pakistan, there are also large chunks with Burma and Sri Lanka, according to the IMF data, which you can download from the Asian Development Bank website if you wish to look at it yourself. Fourth, India provides aid, but not as much as Bangladesh has requested. Moreover, the small amount of aid that was provided in the last year came after repeated offers were rebuffed. I agree that there are problems inside Bangladesh; my point is that India must make the relationship work in spite of that, not to deny that those problems exist. Fifth, re: Nepal, it does not seem to me that picking winners in the domestic politics of other countries is considered good neighborly behavior. Why do you disagree?

    @Vivek, please see my response to Ash.

  3. 3 Chandra said at 12:37 am on November 10th, 2010:


    I read your article in the CSM today and donot agree with the contents. As an Indian, there are a million things to complain about but not any of those mentioned in the article

    a. China is doing a lot of things in South Asia because they donot have a border with many of the countries you mentioned. Incidentally, how many ports are they building, how much mining are they doing in countries in their neighbourhood? Zero I think. They have serious spats with Korea, Japan and now Vietnam. Most of our problems are related to Pakistan and China. China on the other hand as problems with 4 countries atleast. Over and above most ASEAN countries are more comfortable with the US and India rather than China
    b. Bulk of China’s trade with India’s neighbours is with pakistan. Pakistan is China’s nuclear buddy and all sorts of buddy for years, so let us not overplay the trade bit. Yes, our other neighbours buy quite a bit of chinese stuff but that is not because of China’s strategy nor is it something that will forever be a chinese advantage
    c. You have not been reading too much about India and Bangladesh. India does provide aid to Bangladesh (apart from dealing with atleast 10 M illegal immigrants). India relationship is a function of Bangladeshi politics. We are working on it but cannot solve primitive urges in BD politics overnight

    d. Nepal is still a tie but that is not because we are a bad neighbour

    e. We have nothing to fear from any of the confrontations. This is a really a chilish notion

    I agree with you on the substance bit but that is more from an internal pespective. However, wait for 2020, assuming a conservative figure of 5% GDP growth annually (with 10% inflation) we will be ($ 6.5 T) bigger than what China is today, then we will see whether the substance part is taken care or not.

  4. 4 Vivek said at 1:18 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Ash – well said! particularly about Maha’s hidden bias…and China’s & Pakistan’s aggressive approach

    @Maha – As Ash says, you need to reveal the full extent of your background so others can judge your potential bias even if you can’t
    BTW China is not a “good” neighbour by any stretch of imagination, only a powerful/belligerent one that knows how to skin the cat…don’t be fooled, China doesn’t give a damn about anything (morality/ethics/peace/cooperation/etc) when it comes to establishing its power in the region/world

  5. 5 Deek said at 4:00 am on November 10th, 2010:


    Your article is very biased n just by skimming through it one can guess that you have a Pakistani heritage. Nothing wrong in the heritage…but it should not be visible in the “so called” journalistic articles.

    As with other readers, my first instinct was also to look at your background..because I had the same hunch. n I was not surprised that it was Pakistani. person can be wrong…2 can be wrong…but can 90% be wrong? I dunno..maybe…but still…that speaks for itself.

    What I dont get is…why is Pakistan (and Pakistanis) so “fixated” at “negative” India? n even if it is..then please compete in growth, and development. India would love that..because that would be in the mutual benefit.

    About China: I am glad that India and China share the border. Yes..there are issues and tensions..but these things invariably lead to competition. I have a theory…that if China had not opened up markets in 1978 (and grown feverishly after that), India might still be in License raj. Most Indians look at China in a competitive spirit. Companies, Workers, n even Government want to emulate what China has done in the past 10-15 years. n there is nothing wrong with that. China copied the same model from South Korea and Taiwan. I sincerely hope that Pakistan follows the same model and compete with India (or China for that matter). It will be a win-win for all.

    Coming back to the content in your article…seriously…it sucks. Why? because it is biased and therefore will not have any impact. You have a powerful publisher. Make use of that..and change the society..Indian or Pakistani..anyone will do.

  6. 6 Maha Rafi Atal said at 4:11 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Deek, I think the competition with China is a good thing, but it should be a competition based on difference. India has things to offer that China cannot, and instead of emulating China, it should be working to make sure it can offer those things to the world. I think–and the piece argues-that its regional strategy right now is not achieving that. As for my background, you may see my response to other commenters, but I have no idea what you all are talking about. I’m not Pakistani. Or Indian. I’m an American, with MIXED Pakistani and Indian descent.

  7. 7 Deek said at 4:20 am on November 10th, 2010:

    OK…lets discuss India’s foreign policy in a nutshell.

    As of now, country’s foreign policy is primarily driven by following factors:

    1. Security

    2. Economics.


    1. China is the major security issues. Country’s closeness with the US, its nuclear status, missile development, purchasing of arms…all is targeted towards potential conflict with China.

    2. Pakistan is a potential concern because of Kashmir and because of its Militant activities in India. India’s association in Afghanistan is directly keeping Pakistan in mind. A significant amount of resources go into managing Pakistan because of Pakistan’s nexus of its military, ISI, and militants.

    3. Indian Ocean: China is strategically moving into Indian ocean because it wants to protect the Oil supply. India considers it as its own sphere of influence. It is building Naval forces to tackle that.

    4. South China Sea: India is conducting joint Naval exercise with ASEAN to put foot there. Also, it is building a base near Meghalay (with Burma) so that there is easy access into South China Sea. India’s Navy already patrol in South East Asia so that it can have quick access to South China Sea in need.


    1. Look East Policy: Primarily targeted at economics but is also targeted at containing China in case of potential conflict.

    2. US: Economics + China

    3. China: Economics + Resolve border dispute

    4. Internal Security: There is a big gap between haves and have-nots. This causes strife within the country. Govt’s focus on inclusive growth is targeted at that. It believes that with strong economy, all internal conflicts including Kashmir, Maoists will be resolved.


    Its a grand game being played in Asia right now. I hope that there is no conflict but the potential is always there. Right now…the main focus of the Govt (and people) is to achieve consistent 10%+ growth. A lot of external as well as internal security issues will be resolved if the country is able to sustain that.

  8. 8 Maha Rafi Atal said at 4:29 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Deek, that’s an excellent summary of what India is doing. My contention is that this policy is insufficient, because of tensions in smaller countries on India’s immediate borders. For example, if India has to spend a lot of money securing itself against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and Kashmiri militants and all, it is eventually going to cut into India’s ability to be effective in its South China Sea and Indian Ocean presence. It could get boxed in to South Asia so long as South Asian states remain unstable, so it must find ways to encourage stability in these South Asian member states without incurring the hostility of their people. Is that hard? Yes. Is it maybe unfair? Yes. Do I still think India should do it? Absolutely.

    As for ASEAN, I understand that India has now chosen to look East. I am saying that I think this is not enough and that choosing to give up on SAARC was wrong.

    And I have not lost track–I was reporting in India earlier this year.

  9. 9 Deek said at 4:28 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @ Maha

    If you are American then you have lost track of South Asia (India in particular). In the last 10 years..the game has changed. It used to be India vs Pakistan…or Saarc diplomacy. But that is a thing of past. New global order has allowed/enabled India to look beyond South Asia (esp to its East). SAARC was such a big thing 15 years ago…you remember that..right? I wish it was as dynamic as ASEAN. And India would be making a huge mistake if it avoided that. But frankly…smaller countries have not joined together (like ASEAN) to build a forceful economy.

    Now a days Indian policies are driven by economics..esp when the country has realized that to achieve “most of the things” it has to be economically strong..rather than to live on aid. I wish and hope that other countries in the neighborhood did the same. Sri Lanka is doing that…and I see a lot of 2 way trade potential there. I wish Pakistan was doing that…it would be a boon for the region.

  10. 10 Deek said at 4:40 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @ Maha your argument:

    “India has things to offer that China cannot, and instead of emulating China, it should be working to make sure it can offer those things to the world. I think–and the piece argues-that its regional strategy right now is not achieving that.”

    Here is the thing: Its a good thing that India does not expect (or want) to teach anything to China. Lets face is working hard because China is ahead of India. The day India realizes (in any sphere) that it is ahead of others and should teach them…it will go back to sleep. So, I am happy that its not thinking that way.

    Also, in measurable terms…people compare numbers. Democracy..etc etc..are good..but at the end of the day..its the numbers ($$, GDP, Growth) that counts.

    This leads me to state one very interesting thing:

    Maybe the reason Pakistan or Mullas in Pakistan are not developing is because they think that they can “teach” a lot of things to the world. When normal people in any country (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, US..anywhere) start thinking that they have something to learn from others….they see benefit in that..and then they grow. Simply put…chinese people do not want democracy right now. They just dont want. All they want is growth…they want to emulate US. Once they achieve that…democracy will follow suite. It happend in Taiwan, singapore, South korea. It will come to China also. Same way…Indians want to grow like China…and once the GDP is large enough…internal strife, local partners etc will all become ok.

  11. 11 Maha Rafi Atal said at 4:43 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Deek I understand the argument you are making, but I just disagree with it. I think the danger of doing what you are describing (grow first, liberalize later) is so great for India, because if the illiberalism on its borders, that it may have to do what no other country has done: liberalize upfront.

  12. 12 Deek said at 4:53 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @ Maha

    I had no intention to offend you. I was merely making a statement.

    I grew up in India and I 80s there used to be big communal tensions in cities. I have not heard it for the past 15 years. Even Babri Mosque issue…seriously…now a days people dont care if there is a temple or mosque there. Its true for both Hindus and Muslims. and I am not saying that about educated ones…I am saying it for the non-educated ones too. Its all economics. Everyone wants to make money.

    Coming back to SAARC:

    If we look at the history of “development” in Asia…you will notice that it started with Japan…followed by South korea…Hong Kong..Taiwan..singapore…ASEAN..n then China…n then India. One interesting thing is that the “development” has flown “westward” with time. What that means is that the countries emulated to what growth happened in their immediate east..and changed their policies. Hopefully…with India developing…it will have impact on its neighbors also.

    Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal have ~6% growth rate. Bhutan has ~10%+ growth rate. Even Pakistan is trying to grow (although still affected by other factors). Remember…till 10 years ago…India was also growing at 5-6%. If India picks up steam…then it will have impact on its neighborhood. Ofcourse trade will grow..and that will increase the growth of neighboring countries. Its a cascading effect. Hopefully we will see it in the next 5 years…esp now that India is building infrastructure (investing $1 trillion by 2017). We will see a lot of good things in future.

  13. 13 Maha Rafi Atal said at 4:59 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @Deek, thanks for clarifying.

    I agree with you that India has changed and is now totally driven by the desire for economic growth. And I agree with you that in these past cases you cite, growth had a cascading regional effect. But because of the unique political circumstances of South Asia, I am not sure that this pattern can be repeated in the SAARC countries, and so I am arguing that India needs to do something different from what other countries have done in the past.

  14. 14 Deek said at 5:06 am on November 10th, 2010:

    @ Maha

    South Asian by one vis-a-vis India

    1. Pakistan: country has a lot of potential if it is able to overcome internal Mullas. Recent reports have shown that economic drivers in the country are rooting for growth…but Mullas, ISI, and military are holding them back. With time I hope that growth will win. If Mullas win, then its a big concern for everyone in the world..n esp for India.

    2. Sri Lanka: Internal strife is finished. They have nothing but good times ahead. India and Sri Lanks have FTA since last year.

    3. Nepal: This is where India messed up with their govt. But people-to-people connection between India and Nepal is so strong that the govt mistakes will not have huge impact in the next few years. hopefully by that time relations will become ok.

    4. Bhutan: Good relations.

    5. Bangladesh: Relations are on upswing since the country has strated cracking down on terrorists who were operating from their soil. Not many outstanding issues. Migration will stop once economies become big. n lets face it…no one can stop illegal immigration. US cant stop it…what makes anyone think that India can stop that.

    6. Others: Good relations.

  15. 15 Maha Rafi Atal said at 5:17 am on November 10th, 2010:

    1. Pakistan: I don’t think the issue is just growth. That is the point I am making–that there are issues that have to be resolved that growth alone will not fix. In any case, I am not sure if the fundamentalist forces in Pakistan will be overcome unless there is a formal Indo-Pak peace.

    2 and 4. I did not mention either Sri Lanka or Bhutan in my piece for this reason that relations are now good. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, India’s ambivalent role in the past internal strife remains controversial and is something India should always be mindful of.

    3. Nepal–in India, people speak of Nepal very well. But on the Nepalese side, the reporting I did suggests that the people-to-people relations are not so positive.

    5. I agree you can’t stop illegal immigration, and so you have to use economic growth to prevent people from feeling such an urge to migrate. But the tension in the India-Bangladesh relationship is that for some time, India was reluctant to help Bangladesh develop.

    6. You left out Burma, where India has a relationship to the government but where that government is hated by its people.

  16. 16 Che said at 5:55 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @maha… sorry, you just graduated in ’08. your writing reveals that you barely know anything about south asian politics or about the kashmir issue or about the state of india’s growth. As someone posted up above, if anything, your article made me question whether you were a pakistani-american raining on india’s parade.

    and as for research, did you just “interview” “various” friends and relatives in india to arrive at your view on militancy.

    Also, you failed to mention anything “wrong” about China’s oppressive foreign and domestic policy (Xinjiang, Tibet), nor pakistan’s imploding state (there are more bombings and militancy attacks in pakistan than there are in India).

    And you miss one point: It’s China’s insecurity that leads it to support the pakistani regime and try to destabilize a democratic, free country like India’s. You were not even born, but if you research the 1962 war that India and China fought, you can point to how China will backstab, oppress and rape any country that it stands to gain from. All these loans China is making to these other countries… its not out of goodwill… Its called resources (oil, gold, metals)… anything to fuel the chinese juggernaut.

    No wonder yahoo is going down the drain if it publishes baseless “blogs” such as these. I would suggest you go back to graduate school and spend some more time doing research on the issues before publishing such nonsense.

  17. 17 Che said at 6:24 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @maha… actually, I can’t resist… in the interests of time and space, i’ll just focus on your last paragraph, and the 3 recommendations:

    1) “Accepts international mediation in Kashmir” — ok. So let me get this straight. You want India to have foreign diplomats dictate what it should do with its sovereign territory of Kashmir? Did you check the same with the Pakistani and Chinese governments? Do the Chinese want foreign mediators in its part of Kashmir?

    — seriously… c’mon… no seriously… get with the program.

    I’m sure now you’ll say that the Chinese should accept internaitonal mediators in Tibet… or Xinjiang… or Yunnan… or Taiwan! Good neighbor China is!

    2) “Becomes a neutral partner for peace in Burma and Nepal”… Burma is an ally of India and China’s, and for the record, it may actually be a bigger ally of China. Its in China’s interest to have an oppressive military junta in place. I guess that jives with your recommendation of being a “good neighbor”. (Hmm, wonder what you think of the China – North Korea relationship… and China is such good neighbors with Japan!)

    3) “if it opens its markets to greater regional trade” — are you actually basing your statement on some facts, or writing blindly?

    You are American correct? So basically you’ll also understand the principle of balanced trade… and that is, if a country is suffering huge trade deficits with China,consideration must be given to whether that trade is one-sided or not.

    btw, China is funding this huge trade via currency manipulation, and massive trade loans… so don’t be misled. A $500m bridge in pakistan is funded by a $500m loan … guess what happens if pakistan doesn’t pay back that loan? you got…

    And i’ll say this for the record… Pakistan is China’s biggest vassal, not neighbor, vassal. Just like Sudan, just like North Korea. In India, we prefer not to have our neighbors as vassals. We actually prefer to spread democracy and freedom.

  18. 18 Maha Rafi Atal said at 6:34 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @Che, the purpose of the piece is to talk about India and things I feel it should be doing. China’s relations to its neighbors would be the basis for a separate article, and perhaps an interesting one, but that is not the piece I have written.

  19. 19 Che said at 7:11 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @maha… your title implies China will be “a better neighbor” if India isn’t… so you should be qualifying what you mean by “better” then too. Pointing out some of india’s foreign policy flaws may be ok, but you’re only telling one side of the story then. China’s relations with its neighbors is absolutely relevant in the context of this conversation.

  20. 20 Maha Rafi Atal said at 7:32 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @Che, the title I grant is a bit unclear. what I meant is that if India does not improve its relations with ITS neighbors, then China will secure their alliances in such a definitive way that India may not recover them. I did not mean to imply that China’s approach was to be held up as a standard.

  21. 21 Deek said at 8:00 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    @ Maha

    If you can not provide reasons for your hypothesis, then do not write.

    Yesterday I asked questions..and you gave very lame answers. And this deleted my questions..and your lame answers too.

    Pathetic. shame on you.

  22. 22 Ashwin said at 6:28 pm on November 11th, 2010:


    Having gone over your article. I am here (…i.e., made an effort!!) and the first thing i want to say is that, I cannot but stop to wonder if you are of Pakistani/Bangladeshi origin. To me, It is interesting to see how prejudices we grow up with manifest themselves as cynicism. Sorry, but it is quite evident in your writing.

    In short, your opinion on C.S.M presented a one dimensional view with the sole objective being criticism of India in the wake of the press it has received. I am sure you have an audience for that!

    Good Luck!

  23. 23 gentleman18 said at 6:40 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Let China be a good country first and then a good neighbor – India is a good country – now you will quote – Maoist and terrorism issue in India – and how is India good with them, terrorists have no objective and no goals – they have to explode and they will, they explode in the nicest of countries – so who should India emulate here? Any examples? Maoist in India – had there been such thing in China – Army would have been called and they crushed – India refrains from using excessive power on them and deals with it as a social problem – now you understand what a good country is!! Can China be a good country or just pose as a good neighbor, Poor Article!!

    Comparing India to China – a free country to an oppressor country!! I can do in my country all that I wish – rather even where the government should be stricter – but its not – It allows lot of liberty.

  24. 24 Maha Rafi Atal said at 7:53 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    @Ashwin, see my response to Ash above. @Gentleman, see my response to Che.

  25. 25 Fritz said at 7:54 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Read your fantastic article in CSMonitor; excellent job explaining the situation. I’m an American living in Nepal. I have nothing more to offer, but just wanted to say ‘thanks.’ Namaste.

  26. 26 Maha Rafi Atal said at 8:11 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Thanks for the kind words, Fritz.

  27. 27 Dev said at 8:17 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Dear Ms. Atal,

    Thank you for your piece. May I suggest that while it is an accurate description of things earlier this decade, it does not reflect contemporary strategic reality.

    1. You say India should be held to a higher standard than China because it is democratic. Why is that a strategic issue (as opposed to legitimacy)? China’s ascendancy (and Europe’s in the last 300 years) is proof that strategic power is indifferent to legitimacy concerns: power is its own legitimator. So I’m not sure there is moral inequivalence to be drawn (at least when speaking of international strategic issues).

    2. Are you comparing India as a regional power and China as a global power? Why else would the emphasis be on India’s role in South Asia (its area of influence) while China’s as being outside of China’s traditional neighbourhood?

    3. The issues between India and South Asia that you describe are maybe giving too much value to what are, ultimately, non-strategic issues? The main forum for South Asian regional debate is the SAARC (and there are numerous caucuses in other international fora). The progress in SAARC has been not much — but there has been progress in key areas. Notably, the framework of SAARC is failing because one country has consistently vetoed progress on many treaties/frameworks. That country is not India.

    4. Disappointment with SAARC has led to what is known in Indian policy circles as a “Look East” policy, embodied in the framework of BIMSTEC. This forms a different neighbourhood than South Asia. So perhaps South Asia is yesterday’s issue and not tomorrow’s?

    5. China’s push to extend its sphere of influence into South Asia has been very recent. This has coincided with its increasing projection of power in the broader Asia-Pacific region: see the flurry of activity in the South China sea and other disputed territories. Indeed, it has elevated East Asian concerns to a “core interest” (being Taiwan and Tibet). This has worried many. A good most recent summary is the Strategy Paper issued on Southeast Asia by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute — it gives you the whole image.

    6. India is not limiting its power dynamic with China to South Asia or its immediate neighbourhood. Both countries are competing (and, to a lesser degree, cooperating) in securing trade and energy deals all over the world. There have been some elements of notable cooperation where both countries are strengthened, but by and large its been a race with the winner takes all.

    7. Since 2005, India has attempted to show a projection of power beyond its neighbourhood — beginning with the joint military exercises with Mongolia and the United States in areas just north of China (this is the first time India conducted joint exercises in foreign countries). This has been institutionalized. Further, India has deepened security and economic linkages with much of East Asia, where China is having significant problems. India also has made gains in Central Asia.

    Your article focuses on South Asia but ignores the larger strategic landscape thereby perhaps concentrating on yesterday’s information but being unable to shine light on future contours.

    Penultimately, your idea of international mediation on Kashmir fundamentally misunderstands the position. India’s complaint is that it is the “victim” of a “crime” of aggression by Pakistan. There is no question of a “dispute” which assumes both sides have equally valid claims. Pakistan believes it is a “dispute”. Hence we have the mismatch in the UN agenda where India’s complaint is under Chapter VI while Pakistan’s is under Chapter VII. It is for this reason — characterization of the problem as a crime or a dispute — that makes it impossible for a third-party to intervene. The logic is simple. The third-party mediator would have to choose between approaching the issue as a crime or a dispute, thereby already making a choice such that the aggrieved party will immediately (and with some legitimate basis) denounce the mediator as non-neutral. A pre-requisite to international intervention is definitional clarity — and in Kashmir, everything is disputed (for instance, is it an unfinished business of partition as Pakistan claims; or is it a fresh sovereign dispute after both states came into being, as India claims). This definitional clarity can either come from bilateral agreement, security council resolution, or the international court. All are unrealistic at this point.

    Paradoxically, it may be that India needs to get on the Security Council in order to resolve the Kashmir issue; 60 years of stasis proves this. The hope for Pakistan would be that the other Security Council members would serve to temper India’s position (and of course, enlightened Indian self-interest who would (a) need a stable Pakistan — nobody is calling for a reversal of partition; and (b) for this, would need to maintain a healthy striking distance from Pakistan’s capital and military installations — giving Pakistan the comfort of strategic depth).

    Finally, since you tend to rely on IMF statistics, please note that India does not report its foreign investment data as per IMF guidelines. IMF would like to include reinvested earnings into foreign investment data; India does not report that (hence, India under-reports). Second, the statistics do not capture informal and undocumented trade, which is significant.

    Please take these as constructive. I think it is brilliant that younger authors are addressing what is a lamentable lack of thinking in Indian circles about global policy or grand strategy. In fact, one may even make the claim that today India does even not have a foreign policy/grand strategy (or at least one that has been articulated and serves as a guiding principle.)

    Best wishes.

  28. 28 Maha Rafi Atal said at 8:38 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Dev, an excellent post.

    First, on legitimacy vs. power–the central thesis of my piece is that India can’t win the power game in traditional ways because of China’s headstart and China’s forceful tactics, and that therefore for India, unlike any other nation I can think of, legitimacy may be a necessary stepping stone to power. Second, on South Asia and how strategically important it is: I understand well that Indian foreign policy discourse has shifted eastwards out of frustration with the poor progress w/in SAARC, and has made inroads further afield on the global stage. I am questioning whether that is a sustainable path. In short, if the security issues in South Asia escalate, will they interfere with India’s ability to continue projecting power in other regions? Thirdly, on Kashmir, I think it’s possible for a mediator to strike some definitional middle ground, though it is not my place to proscribe what that should be. I am simply suggesting that without a mediator, progress is unlikely. Fourthly, on the statistics, I did my best to check the IMF data against a number of other databases and the government’s own figures but it’s true that statistics can be difficult things to compare internationally. Finally, I agree that Indian grand strategy has not received the kind of consideration inside the Indian press/academe that it deserves and I can only hope to be one voice in what should be a vigorous and open conversation.

    Thanks again for your detailed critique.

  29. 29 Mangesh said at 10:12 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    Ms. Atal, your article simply gives a laundry list of Chinese activities and grouses over Indian foreign policy, and only a vague jumble of words of what maybe India should be doing… of course you don’t have a clue of the specific action points that can possibly address the complex issues with our neighbors..India is still a developing nation that has to first put its own house in order, so I don’t know whatever do you mean by “project power further afield”. Should we blindly follow what the Chinese are doing…I hope you aware that Obama is currently travelling to Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea, all of whom have gotten plenty anxious over perceived Chinese aggressiveness in claiming the whole of the South China Sea. Also will you write another article proposing international mediation in Tibet, just like you do for Kashmir…and just out of curiosity, have you ever lived in South Asia for any extended period of time?

  30. 30 Maha Rafi Atal said at 10:17 pm on November 11th, 2010:

    @Mangesh, I referred to actions India is already taking to project power further afield. For more detail, you may see my exchange with Dev below. Re: ‘following China’ you may look to my exchange with Che. My byline on this article should clarify that I have reported from South Asia, including from India.

  31. 31 Che said at 9:04 pm on November 12th, 2010:

    @Maha … you wrote to Dev: “I am questioning whether that is a sustainable path. In short, if the security issues in South Asia escalate, will they interfere with India’s ability to continue projecting power in other regions?”

    a) Troubles in Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Yunnan and HK have not prevent China from “projecting power”. It is one thing to project power… it is another to be able to flex it well. I’m not quite sure why its necessary for either India or China to successfully address security issues, in order to “project power”.

    You also wrote: “Thirdly, on Kashmir, I think it’s possible for a mediator to strike some definitional middle ground”

    Please clarify the connection to resolving the Kashmir issue (even China can’t resolve its own issues with Tibet) and the ability to exert regional or global power?

    My one big issue with your article is your linkage between the kashmir issue and the ability to counter china’s recent “aid” and “influence” in the region. It makes me again suspicious of what your true intentions are. As Dev put it, there is no issue if India sees the kashmir issue as a dispute, and pakistan sees it as a crime or occupation… it still does not legitimize in any way pakistani and chinese sponsored terrorism on indian soil, and does not legitimize muslim jihadists and their agenda. So what does resolving kashmir have to do with exerting economic or political influence in the region or on a more global scale?

    As Dev put it… power is its own legitimator… and I would go one step further. You can have power to strike fear, but can you hold the peace? China today makes a lot of noise. Push comes to shove, the “string of pearls” tactic will only backfire on them. Obama’s recent trips highlights hte US’s own string of pearls: India, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, and other allies like Singapore, Malaysia….

    If anything, India shares strong relations with all these countries, especially on an economic and cultural basis. Power can come through force… it can also come through taking the higher ground, like our great leader the Mahatma did.

  32. 32 Maha Rafi Atal said at 9:20 pm on November 12th, 2010:

    @Che, I’m arguing that the standard for India is different from the standard for China, so that Kashmir is a bigger issue for India than Tibet will be for China.

    I’m not justifying the actions of other countries (Pakistan, China, whomever) by critiquing India, because I’m not judging India IN COMPARISON TO other countries. I’m judging India against a standard that I believe applies specifically and uniquely to India. I don’t know how to make that any clearer.

  33. 33 Ashwin said at 10:27 pm on November 12th, 2010:


    In light of your response to my previous post this is what I have to say about your article. You seem to “state issues” and provide substantiation about why you think they are issues. To me, it is a compilation of historical information stringed into the context of your article heading. To me, what is clearly lacking (and this is just what I think), is your insight on the subject. Hence, I did find your article rather cynical primarily because it had little to offer a reader but point out some holes in what you consider to be (lack of?) India’s grand scheme in South Asia.

    I do not consider clarifications offered on this forum as substantiation to what is already on print.

  34. 34 john said at 1:16 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    I was reading your biased article about India in CS monitor. at first, i didn’t realize why you are so much biased. Now it is clear that you are a Pakistani-American, so I understand. 😀

    good day.

  35. 35 Maha Rafi Atal said at 10:51 pm on March 16th, 2011:

    @John, Actually, that’s incorrect. See the rest of the exchange.

Leave a Reply