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Bringing India's foreign policy home

A deteriorating security situation along India's periphery requires a reevaluation of the country's foreign policy priorities. Despite emerging as a major global economy with a growing middle-class, which has been partially shielded from the global economic meltdown by its less export-dependent economy and robust banking system, India is not immune to instabilities in its own neighborhood.
Threats grow closer to home
The threats along India's periphery have been highlighted by a string of recent developments including the growing Talibanization of Pakistan; growing dissension within the ranks of the Bangladeshi military following last month's mutiny within the paramilitary Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR); spill-over from the ongoing military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in northern Sri Lanka; and Nepal's Maoists being unwilling to rid themselves of their radical and rebellious elements despite leading the interim government.
The wake-up call for India was last November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which directly targeted symbols of India's image as a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural, investor-friendly economy. The fact that this was followed by a string of similar fedayeen-style attacks on government ministries in the Afghan capital of Kabul in February and attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team in the Pakistani city of Lahore in March demonstrate a shift in militant tactics from quick and rudimentary suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices aimed at merely maximizing casualties toward more sophisticated, high-profile, prolonged attacks aimed at maximizing exposure.
Whether India likes it or not, the Kashmir issue has been effectively internationalized as insurgents have shifted their targets from India's periphery to high-profile soft and symbolic targets in the heartland. In the process, Afghanistan has re-emerged as the turf war in the India-Pakistan detente while Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have emerged as the training grounds for insurgent groups.
Beyond the growing Talibanization of Pakistan, other regional developments also present a threat to India's stability. The pre-mediated and brutal nature of the mutiny at the BDR headquarters in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in February suggests that it was driven by more than a dispute over pay and working conditions. Instead, it was reflective of a deeper fissure within the military and the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence between secular and Islamist factions, which could spillover into India's northeast.
To the south, the Sri Lankan military's ongoing offensive in the last remaining Tamil Tiger strongholds in the northern Mullativu district has resulted in the rebels compensating for the weaknesses in their conventional military capabilities with renewed asymmetrical attacks on soft targets throughout the country. For India, the Sri Lankan military offensive has also been accompanied by grievances in India's southern Tamil Nadu state over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.
Finally, the unwillingness of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to make concessions on its radical ideology and disarm or integrate its People's Liberation Army (PLA) with the regular armed forces threatens to revive instabilities in Nepal while serving as inspiration for the Naxalite insurgency, which remains the greatest threat to India's internal security.
Outsourcing its foreign policy
India is famed for its "cart before the horse" approach toward economic development, which has led to such contradictions as a world-class service sector amid a still developing manufacturing sector and dominant agricultural sector, basic infrastructure bottlenecks amid the provision of greater luxury products and services and growing income disparities.
This approach has also spilled over into the arenas of the country's foreign policy and defense doctrine, which has been dominated by improving relations with major powers such as the United States and Europe, economic and political integration in the wider region as part of its "Look East" and "Look West" policies and facing up to the threat of a rising China. Meanwhile, improving relations with states in its neighborhood and quelling instabilities within the country and on its periphery have been neglected.
India can no longer afford to outsource its foreign policy in its neighborhood. While the era of imperial rivalries marked by "spheres of influence" and "buffer states" has long gone India cannot allow itself to be squeezed out of its neighborhood. No where is this more apparent than in the case of Afghanistan where talk of engaging with moderate Taliban is paving the way for renewed Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and a return of the Afghan state as a source of "strategic depth" in Pakistan's rivalry with India.
The United States, which is increasingly preoccupied with addressing its deteriorating economy, is looking for a viable exit strategy from Afghanistan, which entails a temporary surge in its military presence, outsourcing security to tribal militias, engaging “moderate” Taliban, strengthening local and tribal governance structures while marginalizing the central government of President Hamid Karzai and shifting its goals from fostering the development of a democratic, stable state to merely ensuring that Afghanistan does not re-emerge as a hub for planning attacks on the United States.
However, India cannot afford such quick-fix solutions given the direct linkage between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda, anti-India and Kashmir-based insurgent groups and India's home-grown Islamic extremist groups. In this situation India is facing both the light and dark side of globalization with the growth of transnational radical Islamic extremist groups being the other side of the coin to India emerging as a beneficiary of globalization through the business and knowledge process outsourcing sectors.
In search of a true regional solution
A regional solution to the Afghan insurgency is not detrimental to India's interests given the inter-linkages between the instabilities of the region. However, the current framework with Pakistan and Iran at the core of such a process while India remains at the peripheries is not favorable as demonstrated by the renewed discussions of the Pakistan-backed initiative of a rapprochement with the Taliban.
A true regional approach to the Afghan insurgency would need to look beyond the Taliban and al-Qaeda to address the fundamental grievances that fuel regional insecurity, including Pashtun and Baloch nationalism; strengthening the devolution of power to Pakistan's provinces to address the marginalization of the FATA, Balochistan and NWFP within the Pakistani state; the disputed status of the Durand Line dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan; the weaknesses of Pakistani civilian government institutions, which have been exasperated by the country's personality-driven politics and the encroachment of military and intelligence services into the political sphere; the issue of Kashmir; and the legacy of Indian partition in fueling mistrust between India and Pakistan.
A regional solution would also need more engagement with ethnic and tribal groups, whose identities are often stronger than Afghan and Pakistan national identities. Finally, while quelling Afghanistan's insecurities with regard to Pakistan and Pakistan's insecurities over India, a regional approach would also need to address India's insecurities over China, whose "all-weather" support for Pakistan continues to be a thorn in the side of regional integration.


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