In 2024, India will seek stability in ties The Statesman 02 Jan 2024
Throughout 2023 India maintained an independent streak in its pursuit of carving global space for itself as a middle power. The successful conduct of the G20 summit with almost all heads of state present in Delhi was its diplomatic highlight. The induction of the African Union into the organization, making it G21, resulted in India gaining respect of nations of the Global South as also becoming its voice. India remains a member of all major global bodies, no matter which block dominates them, US or China.
Simultaneously, there were few lows in the year. Indo-China ties have remained frozen for the past four years. Galwan and Chinese intrusions in Ladakh have soured relations, though trade remains robust. Chinese President, Xi Jinping was conspicuous by his absence at the G20 summit. The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) summit was held in the virtual mode, which precluded an embarrassing interaction between PM Modi and Xi. There was no communication of note between the two leaders even at the BRICS summit.
Canada blamed India of being involved in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a declared terrorist, on Canadian soil, marring the relationship and stopping further discussions on a free trade agreement. Since then, the ties have remained frozen as Justin Trudeau, the Canadian PM, continues to raise the subject without sharing any proof on his accusations, while providing pro-Khalistan elements freedom to act against Indian interests.
Indo-US ties too witnessed a hiccup as Washington accused Delhi of being behind a plot to assassinate the head of SFJ (Sikhs for Justice), Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US-Canadian citizen. Washington claimed that an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, currently under detention in Prague, Czech Republic, was involved in the plot along with an Indian government representative. India has instituted a high-level committee to investigate these accusations. The US provided evidence to back their claims.
While some believed that this incident has impacted Indo-US ties, others, including PM Modi and US government officials, went to great lengths to prove otherwise. PM Modi stated in an interview to the Financial Times, ‘Security and counter-terrorism co-operation has been a key component of our partnership. I don’t think it is appropriate to link a few incidents with diplomatic relations between the two countries.’ US officials regularly mention ongoing Indian investigations as a reminder and means of application of pressure.
A recent US press release stated, ‘The relationship between the US and India is one of the most strategic and consequential of the 21st century. The US supports India’s emergence as a leading global power and a vital partner in promoting a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.’ India has also disagreed with US perspectives on Bangladesh and Myanmar. For India, these nations are its neighbours, with whom positive ties are paramount.
Like all nations, India and the US have adopted strategies based on their national interests. The US, as a policy, has preferred its allies toe its line. However, India adopting an approach contrary to the US in relation to the Ukraine war did place strains on the relationship, however these were subsequently ironed out.
The US continues to exploit Pakistan as a lever against India. There were no inputs of Washington cautioning Pakistan on anti-India terrorist groups operating on its soil, despite a collection of terrorist activities in J and K, during the recently concluded visit of General Asim Munir to Washington. Both nations have protected members of the Khalistan movement as also provided them space. India is aware that Pannun is a CIA agent and protected by the state.
While the US would continue to offer the best in technology and weapons to India, it would always attempt to keep Delhi from swaying far from its outlook. Maintaining pressure on nations, including allies, to follow the US approach, is a global reality and India would need to consider this in its own counter-strategy. It may not be willing to challenge the US in a similar manner but should refrain from bowing down to pressure, which the US would seek to apply. For this India needs to enhance its global outreach and acceptance.
As the world moves into 2024, India will desire to maintain its diplomatic acceptance by the global community. Neutrality in the Russo-Ukraine crisis, standing against terrorism as also unwarranted deaths of civilians in the Gaza conflict has projected India’s balanced approach to the world. India displayed its intent by providing humanitarian assistance to both, Ukraine and Gaza. As Jaishankar stated, ‘India is entitled to make its own choices which will be a balance of its values and interests.’
While India’s global positioning would depend on the level of victory of the BJP in forthcoming elections in India, Indo-Russian ties are one which have displayed that diplomatic relations can progress despite differences in perceptions. It is possibly to project to the US that India has options with nations being equally cooperative without placing unwritten demands of adhering to their viewpoints that Jaishankar made a five-day visit to Moscow at the end of the year.
The agreements reached during the visit are an indicator that India will not adhere to US imposed sanctions on Russia. Jaishankar’s meeting with President Putin displayed the importance Moscow attaches to its relations with New Delhi. The invitation for PM Modi to visit the country in the near future is indicative of Putin believing he would return to power in May 2024.
Another display of India’s growing relations is the presence of President Macron of France in the forthcoming Republic Day, post the non-acceptance of invitation by President Biden and cancellation of the QUAD summit in India. India-France relations have been on an upswing over the years. They are bound to enhance in 2024. Apart from China, there is hardly a major power which does not back India’s rightful place as a permanent member in the UNSC.
As 2024 commences, India would look to enhance its global space, increase its economic power, assist weaker nations while continuing to contribute to the cause of humanity. Simultaneously, India must note that few allies, despite their promises and proximity, would attempt to impose their views, to counter which requisite strategies need to be adopted.