Assessing India’s “soft” power: Viable in relations with Af-Pak?

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While experts have conferred India with an “emerging nation” title, the nation too, in an effort to maintain regional and national politico-economic stability, took some major “progressive” steps. Over the years, India has employed essential measures in its foreign policy particularly the “soft” power approach in order to strengthen its geo-strategic position in South Asia, India too has reinforced its security establishment with stringent laws and “alert” political leadership. This has further boosted India’s dominance in South Asia, not only on the seas but also at the diplomatic corridors. The contribution of India’s “soft” power approach with a blend of strong leadership has not only been successful in maintaining its “dominance” in South Asia, but also strengthened its diplomatic engagements with South Asia and beyond.

The concept of “soft power”, defined by philosopher and thinker Joseph Nye Jr. depends largely on the nation’s ability to put forward its foreign policy “aggressively” but also “attractive” enough for the neighbouring nations to accept them eliminating the “hostility” and “coercion” among the neighbours. On a global front, right after the end of the post-Cold war, there was a large vacuum within the ranks of then power nations, which paved a way even for regional countries to contest for a “seat at the table”. In the light of this contest, the global order saw tremendous military “entanglements” along with practical demonstrations of “hard” power. In the light of a “globalized” world with seemingly complex “global order”, massive transitions of former dictatorship to democracy, aggressive interference of violent non-state actors, the game of “diplomacy” has now largely evolved and the earlier “display” of military power by nations has been replaced by “soft” power diplomacy, a new game at the old arena of international relations.

India’s reinforced foreign policy is not only limited to “extending India’s image in the global order”, under a new political leadership, New Delhi is increasingly enhancing the role of “soft” power in its diplomacy particularly in refurbishing India’s image for its neighbours. This makes the concept of “soft” power in India’s diplomacy particularly important in its relations with the West -Pakistan and Afghanistan. India’s previous rigorous entanglements with Pakistan share lesser “value” during the discussion of “soft” power approaches New Delhi employs against Islamabad, the main attention through this paper will be on two key elements.

Firstly, the events occurred during post-election and rise of a new political leadership, the oath taking ceremony of Prime Minister Modi and an aggressive foreign policy dedicated towards India’s neighbours.

Secondly, the militant attack at Uri in the September of 2016 which forced New Delhi to pursue a policy of “aggression”, limiting the “neighbourhood first” policy to all border sharing countries minus Pakistan, ultimately burning the same “bridges of friendship” which Prime Minister Modi tried to retain with Pakistan. Overall approach would be to understand and assess India’s strategic perspective within the background of New Delhi’s “soft” power approach towards Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Even maintaining extensive external relations, India’s foreign policy gives a priority to India’s “external security”, particularly after back-to-back incidents of “foreign trained” elements crossing the borders into India. This has largely been the foundation of India’s external relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Islamabad’s “frequent” denial of militant groups operating within its territory, followed by its rigorous efforts in fuelling anti-India sentiments in its masses and dedicating its attention on rhetoric sentiments of “Kashmir hum leke rahenge” followed by territorial aggression in Kashmir through financing “local radical elements” in an effort to destabilize the region amid frequent and repetitive cease fire violations at the LOC, have majorly effected India’s relations with Pakistan. Influenced by radical Islamic fundamentalism, many violent non-state actors have been receiving massive “support” from Islamabad. Militants groups such as Sunni militia’s, or pro-Pashtun terror group such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, play an active role in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The militant attack at Uri raised some important questions regarding India’s national security. Leaving behind a “tendency” of “passive resistance”, Prime Minister Modi assertion on India’s capability to protect its borders and “hunt militant launching pads” which later resulted in a successful surgical strike, shocked not only India’s immediate neighbours but also power nations. New Delhi did not limit the “aggression” within the military elements, but also targeted Pakistan’s “basic security”, playing what experts termed as “hydro-diplomacy” and targeted Pakistan’s “everyday life”.

Prime Minister Modi, on numerous occasions, stretched on New Delhi’s extensive cooperation in regional socio-economic groups. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), largely an “ineffective” group, has been inefficient and ineffective due to differences between nations. This too Prime Minister bridged, when, on the onset of Modi’s oath taking ceremony, he invited all the leaders of SAARC in an effort to reinforce India’s bond with its neighbours and regional members of the group using “economic cooperation and political support” as starters.

Afghanistan’s strategic position followed by a long-standing relationship with India makes it a viable partner and a “trusted ally”. Geography places Afghanistan between South Asia and the oil rich countries of the West and Central Asia, making it the corridors for extending economic opportunities. In the light of Afghanistan’s strategic importance, India began its pursuit for Afghanistan’s membership at SAARC as early as 2007. While noting India’s “value for partnership” within this context, it can be stated that economic and security is a priority for New Delhi which plays a principle role in designing India’s strategic security policy, it’s ability to actively support agendas of its neighbours reflects New Delhi’s foreign policy “honouring” the peaceful co-existence and regional cooperation.

It is important to note that, India’s foreign relations with Pakistan is largely focussed on Kashmir issue, “water-diplomacy” can also be linked to India’s strategic security policy particularly towards Pakistan. Similarly, Indo-Afghan relationship largely exists on joint task force against terrorism and stresses majorly on maintaining peace and order in the region, which is largely effected by insurgency and havoc wretched by Taliban. Moreover, it is important for policy makers to understand the link between national security, nation’s interests with key factors of “soft” power such as socio-political, cultural and economics.

The bigger question is “In the light of India’s foreign relations with the West, did New Delhi’s soft power approach in India’s foreign policy successfully achieve its strategic interests?”

(This is the first article in the two part series)

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Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He had previously served with the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly as well as the Economic and Social Council. His previous assignments were in Rwanda and Congo.