The way ahead for India in the 21st century is a foreign policy that helps in the acceleration of its growth, preserve its strategic autonomy and protect its people says Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha).
Tharoor, a former Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, emphasized that India is poised to play a more prominent role globally. He underlined the significance of global promotion of India's national values such as pluralism, democracy, social justice and secularism. Talking about improving India's international relations, particularly with neighbor Pakistan in mind, he stressed that there cannot be a military solution to the India-Pakistan conflict. He also added that the U.S. is crucial to India both as a trading partner and a source of investment.
In an exclusive interview with the International Business Times, Tharoor, a former Under-Secretary General in the United Nations, discussed his new book 'Pax Indica' and his vision of India’s foreign policy.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Tharoor:
The book jacket cover carries an image of the elephant astride the globe. Is it by any chance a representation of India’s position or aspirations in the world today?
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A lot of people have been curious about that picture and the title ‘Pax Indica’. Neither is intended to connote world domination or supremacy in the style of Pax Romana or Pax Britannica, however. For one, as I have said before, we cannot aspire to be a superpower when we are super poor. But at the same time, it is also because the age of superpowers has passed and we live in a world that has multiple emerging powers. So while we do have ambitions and aspirations, they are oriented in the growing reality of a multi-polar world and do not anticipate world domination. And if you ask me why there is that picture of an elephant confidently striding the globe, frankly it was to catch the attention of potential readers. The elephant is a well-understood symbol for India (as the dragon is for China, the bear for Russia, and so on.) The title and cover illustration are meant to make it clear that this is not a footnote-ridden, academic book for scholars. It is intended for the lay reader who takes an interest in international affairs and would like to be informed about how India is poised in the world today.
How far is multi-alignment relevant for India in the current situation?
I think it is immensely relevant. We’re not living in the Cold War era when the only options were to align with either of the two superpowers or to stay non-aligned. The emergence of new regional powers has resulted in a multi-polar world, which in itself logically calls for multi-alignment. From our own point of view also this is particularly desirable. The metaphor I would use is of the World Wide Web, where there are multiple networks, sometimes overlapping and sometimes not, and through each of which we’re going to have to work our way. For instance, we can belong to the global ‘Trade Union’ of developing countries, the G-77, but also belong to the ‘Management’ through the G-20. We are with Russia and China in the trilateral RIC. Add Brazil and South Africa, and you have the BRICS. If you subtract Russia and China, you have IBSA, but if you retain China and exclude Russia alone there is BASIC. We are members of all of these groupings. Multi-alignment is the ability to belong to all these institutional networks at once, pursuing different objectives with different allies and partners, while finding valid purposes in each alignment. And that, I think, is the way ahead for India in the 21st century.
What is your vision of India’s foreign policy?
My vision of India’s foreign policy is the one which protects and promotes the domestic transformation of our country. In other words, foreign policy should be a means to transform the country internally by accelerating growth, preserving strategic autonomy and protecting our people. Security should be paramount, and by security I mean not only freedom from attack and terror, but also food and energy security, employment, education, culture, and a decent and prosperous life for our people. Our foreign policy should be attuned to and supportive of these domestic priorities, while cultivating an environment abroad that is conducive to these interests. We should also be in a position to promote our own national values (of pluralism, democracy, social justice, secularism and more) internationally, and play a responsible role in the stewardship of the global commons. We are now ready to go from being a "rule-taker" in the international system to being a "rule maker" ourselves. Ultimately, my vision of India is as an indispensable nation in tomorrow's world order.
In which direction should the India-Pakistan relationship evolve in order to improve? Do you think India has a rational and beneficial policy on Pakistan?
I think we need to come to terms with the fact that there is no military solution to the India-Pakistan conflict. But while I am no foreign policy hawk, I am not a dove of the candles-at-Wagah variety either, given that our previous overtures for peace were rewarded with experiences like Kargil and the horrors of 26/11. Yet I strongly feel that we should make use of every opportunity to normalize our relations with Pakistan. Hostility, you will find, hurts us more than anyone else. Consider our troubled borders and you will agree that we can’t focus completely on our development because of the ever-present threat from across those borders. The relationship with Pakistan is one we need to manage in our own interest. Investors are not going to come to a war zone, trade will not flourish amid conflict and a constant threat from Pakistan will act as an albatross around our neck as we strive to focus on economic development. We will not be able to attain our fullest potential unless we find peace with Pakistan. This is in our interest more than theirs and it is up to us to pursue every effort we can to reach it.
How critical is India’s foreign policy with the US for it to regain momentum in economic growth?
I argue in the book that having a foreign policy focused on our domestic objectives involves working to build good relations with countries that can help our development -- notably as sources of investment and partners in trade. The U.S. is crucial in both categories. We must use our foreign policy to enhance the United States' conviction that it has a stake in our development and prosperity.
Do you think that the U.S. accepts as legitimate the grievances and concerns of India in its fight against global terrorism?
Definitely. And very often our concerns dovetail with theirs. In fact when we focus strongly on 26/11, we should not forget that six U.S. citizens lost their lives too in that tragedy. That is why it is the U.S., not India, that has proclaimed a bounty on the head of Hafeez Sayeed. Intelligence-sharing and other forms of security co-operation in the fight against terror are far greater than just a few years ago. Of course there is room for improvement, but we have no reason to doubt that our concerns are seen as totally legitimate by Washington.