G Parthasarathy

A year of foreign policy disasters

G. Parthasarathy | Updated on March 12, 2018

The Government’s handling of GMR’s expulsion from Maldives was amajor diplomatic failure of 2012.

The Government has been flat-footed in responding to China’s assertiveness and addressing national security concerns.



While the world celebrated the advent of the New Year and firecrackers lit the skies, people across India heaved a sigh of relief that the year 2012 had finally ended. The last year was marked by a declining economic growth rate, continuing high inflation, anger at growing corruption and a gang rape in Delhi that shamed the country for being insensitive to the safety and security of women.

More importantly, what irked people most was the belief that they were being ruled by a Government and political class insensitive to their aspirations and concerns on corruption, inflation and the growing crimes against women. The credibility of the political class is not enhanced by the fact that 162 Members of Parliament face criminal charges, including two charged with sexual assault and abuse. While public anger at the decline in the standards of governance grew, India saw a decline in its international standing, as a fast growing, “emerging” economy. There was international attention on corruption scandals like “Coalgate”.

INDIA’S FALLING IMAGE

But, India had to face the ignominy, for the first time in its history, of a virtual censure by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who condemned violence against women and called for “steps and reforms to deter such crimes and bring perpetrators to justice”.

The New York Times described India as a country “which basks in its growing success as a business and technological Mecca, but tolerates shocking abuses of women”.

But, the most telling comment came from Pakistan’s “Braveheart,” the 15 year old Malala Yousufzai. Alluding to the suffering of the victim, Malala remarked: “The rapists dumped her on the road. The Government dumped her in Singapore. What’s the difference”?

The year 2012 also saw the lustre of being an “emerging economic powerhouse” that India had assiduously built up over the last decade, fade. In June last year, Moody’s scaled down its forecast of India’s economic growth to 5.5 per cent as against 6.5 per cent in the last fiscal year.

Even the most optimistic today will acknowledge that growth this year is going to be well below the last year. More importantly, those who look at the economic scene in India are convinced that with elections due in 2014, the Government will return to its propensity for fiscal profligacy, with schemes like food security, and that it will not be able to reach its target of reducing the fiscal deficit.

On December 11, international ratings agency Standard and Poor’s warned that India still faced a one in three chance of a downgrade of its sovereign rating to “junk” grade in the next 24 months, citing its high fiscal deficit and debt burden. The fiscal profligacy is telling adversely on national security. It has been reported that essential capital acquisitions of fighter aircraft, mountain artillery, night fighting capability, anti-tank missiles and even in the raising a Strike Corps for deployment on the eastern borders are being postponed.

CHINA-MALDIVES NEXUS?

Clearly, in the run-up to the next elections, populism will prevail over national security — a development which would be gleefully noted in Beijing and Rawalpindi. Added to this, one cannot but be shocked at the ineptitude with the GMR episode in Maldives has been dealt with.

Things have certainly changed from 1988, when the Maldives requested India for assistance in the face of a takeover by Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries and India responded with a clinical military intervention within twelve hours. Were our spooks and diplomats sleeping over what was going on internally in Maldives, or the growing Maldives-Beijing nexus?

The implications of the growing Maldives-China relationship should have been evident when China set up a resident diplomatic mission in March 2012. Maldivian President Mohamed Waheed thereafter met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Urumqi on September 2.

Just prior to the meeting, Waheed proclaimed that “unlike other influential countries,” China did not interfere in the internal affairs of small countries. Agreements involving $500 million of Chinese assistance to Maldives were inked at Urumqi. Just prior to the Maldivian decision to terminate the GMR contract, Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guangli visited the Maldives. This was followed by a visit to Beijing by Mohammed Nazim the Maldives Minister for Defence, National Security and Transport. Nazim was the Minister who dealt with the GMR airport modernisation and maintenance contract.

India’s National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon was in Beijing around the same time as the Maldives Defence Minister. Before the visit of the NSA, reports were leaked to the media that he would meet the incoming President Xi Jinping. This soon changed and “informed sources” were telling the press that he would meet Premier Designate Li Keqiang. What ultimately transpired was a meeting with his “lame duck” counterpart Dai Bingguo. The Chinese message was loud and clear. While the Defence Minister of Maldives would be received by a high ranking member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the Indian NSA had to be content with meeting his outgoing counterpart.

Chinese assistance is, meanwhile, enabling Pakistan to develop more lethal plutonium- based nuclear weapons. Has any high ranking Indian dignitary, on an official visit to Beijing recently told the Chinese bluntly what we feel about such nuclear proliferation? Will Indian VIPs proclaim “peace in our lifetime”, despite Beijing’s territorial “assertiveness”?

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

Published on January 16, 2013

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