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India emerging as regional power and global model, writes Kanwal Sibal

An old, influential civilisation, India’s soft power will grow as its economy strengthens and its model of governance is seen as increasingly successful.

htls Updated: Nov 20, 2017 08:01 IST
Indo-Pacific issues,India-US ties,ASEAN
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with US President Donald Trump during a bilateral meeting on the sideline of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila on November 13. The transformation of the ties between two countries will facilitate India’s rise. (AFP File Photo)

India is steadily rising on the international stage. From the day the country became independent, it has faced many external challenges, but our physical size, civilisational resilience and ability to unite in a crisis have enabled us to overcome them. As we grow stronger, our capacity to meet our challenges is increasing, and therefore we will continue to rise at a pace that is compatible with our democratic, pluralist and federal form of governance built on the country’s huge diversity.

Our most difficult external challenges have come from Pakistan and China. Both claim our territory, both are nuclear weapon states and both collaborate with each other to contain India. Pakistan has tried to delay India’s rise as much as possible through armed conflict, terrorism and nuclear blackmail. It has obstructed greater integration under SAARC to weaken India’s regional clout. It contests India’s leadership in the sub-continent to thwart our aspirations for a larger international role.

China continues to make egregious claims on our territory. It has transferred military and missile technologies to Pakistan to contain us strategically. Pakistan has become the lynchpin of China Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor traversing illegally occupied J&K by Pakistan. China keeps India under pressure by not resolving the border issue and staging periodic incidents to keep our security horizons narrowly focused geo-politically. On terrorism, it is shielding Pakistan.

We also suffered at the hands of the US, which, in pursuit of its non-proliferation objectives, put India under severe strategic constraints and obstructed its rise by imposing sanctions in the areas of nuclear technology and missiles.

All these challenges may have slowed down India’s rise, but did not deflect it from safeguarding the autonomy of its policies. India defiantly went nuclear in 1998 and eventually secured a nuclear agreement with the US as a non-NPT country as well as an NSG exemption to permit international cooperation in our civilian nuclear sector. India has successfully eliminated the non-proliferation barriers in ties with critical partners. The transformation of India-US ties, including convergence on Indo-Pacific issues will facilitate India’s rise. Replacing the concept of Asia-Pacific, which excluded India, by that of the Indo-Pacific, recognises India as vital to Asia’s security.

Our growing strategic partnership with Japan, now extending to joint efforts to promote connectivity in Asia and Africa as a counter to China’s BRI, boosts our regional role. India’s relations with ASEAN have expanded as part of our Act East policy which seeks to build strong contemporary relationships on the foundations of historical civilisational contacts. India’s ties with Africa are gaining strength with 40 heads of State attending the 2015 India-Africa Forum summit in New Delhi.

India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council is now supported as a legitimate aspiration by all existing permanent members, barring China, and testifies to the rise of India’s international stature. Countries, even in the Gulf, are increasingly responsive to India’s concerns about Pakistan-based terrorism, with India’s relations with the Arab world improving in recent years. Simultaneously, India has successfully expanded its relations with Israel. At Doklam, India has self-confidently stood up to China’s border encroachments, changing perceptions about India as a security provider.

As a rising independent power, India is engaging all countries so that its rise is not seen as divisive. It has nurtured strategic partnership with Russia and is part of Russia-India-China dialogue, BRICS as well as the SCO. It is a founding member of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Fund. India is engaging Iran for bilateral economic and strategic reasons and to maintain a balance between its Sunni and Shia partners.

As an old civilisation that has exerted religious, cultural and philosophical influence internationally, India’s soft power will grow as it becomes economically stronger and prosperous and its model of governance is seen as increasingly successful. The declaration by the UN of an International Yoga Day attests to the well-springs of this power. On climate change, from being seen as a spoiler in international negotiations, India has acquired a position of constructive leadership, especially with the International Solar Alliance propounded by Narendra Modi.

India’s rise is an accepted fact internationally. For some years now, in any discussion on multi-polarity, India is viewed as one of the future poles.

(The author is former foreign secretary)

First Published: Nov 20, 2017 08:00 IST