Imran has publicly stated his admiration for India’s strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy. It is rare that an enemy country pays such compliments having strategic and security overtones. For once Imran’s assessment is right. India, despite enormous western pressures has been steadfast in its neutrality in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
The West, led by the US, is desperately exerting to break India’s neutrality in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Nevertheless, India appears determined in exercising strategic autonomy. While the West covertly desires the economic and political decimation of Russia, India wishes that that the country emerges geopolitically stronger.
This is for two reasons: First, an alternate to the West must exist; second, Russia has vast potential to countervail China in the Eurasian region. For India, what US is to Indo-Pacific, Russia is to Eurasia. Hence the pressing geopolitical imperative for India is to maintain strategic balance between the US and Russia.
Of course, the other most critical Indian imperative is defence procurement from Russia which accounts between 60 and 70 percent, and forms the basis of the country’s external security framework. This large reliance on Russia notwithstanding, India has struck a balance in defence procurement. France has supplied sophisticated aircraft like Rafale, HAMMER missiles for indigenous aircraft Tejas and as per unauthenticated reports even nuclear submarines are on offer. German HDW diesel electric submarines are part of the Indian weapon inventory. Reportedly, India has been exploring the possibility of building nuclear submarines with German help.
We have in the recent times purchased most modern transport aircraft and armed helicopters from the US as well. The acquisition of C-17 Globemaster aircraft has substantially enhanced our strategic airlift capability. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the polarization of the world during the Cold War continues to impact majorly on India’s defence procurement. Even Pakistan has begun to realise this reality.
The Cold War dynamics has begun to weigh heavily on Pakistan. In a recent interaction with diplomats and media the Army Chief, Gen Bajwa recounted with nostalgia about US-Pakistan strategic partnership in the past. He maintained that US-Pakistan defence cooperation retains its depth, and mentioned the huge Air exercise between the two countries recently. He obliquely opined that defence procurement from China was a compulsion because of lack of alternatives, since the US has created several hurdles in this regard. He cited the case of procurement of formidable T-129 helicopter gunship from Turkey, which could not materialise because the US withheld the supply of engines.
Similarly, he said, that Pakistan’s submarine programme languished because Germany refused to supply the engines. According to Gen Bajwa, France was reluctant to supply defence equipment, because of the Indian pressure, as India happens to be of one the largest purchaser of French armament.Under these circumstances, the General regretted, that there were only two alternatives i.e. Russia and China.
He further added that it was the responsibility of the West as well to help Pakistan maintain balance with regard to defence procurement and strategic posturing. He reminded the US of its erstwhile strategic partnership with Pakistan i.e. SEATO, CENTO, Baghdad Pact, and Pakistan’s support during Vietnam War. And finally he invoked that it was only because of the help from Pakistan in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces that the US could dismantle the Soviet Union. He went to the extent of saying that Pakistan Army is considered good because it was built and trained by the US.
He was rather defensive in his justification of China’s influence and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Chinese investment, he said was critical, because there were massive electricity shortages and no other country was ready to invest in a terror ridden environment. He advised that China’s influence in Pakistan can only be neutralized by matching investment by the US and its allies in the West. He welcomed the grant of exploration rights to Canadian firm Barrick Gold in Baluchistan.
Some key deductions from this interaction are:
- In a given geopolitical environment it is the Army which decides the international course.
- Foreign policy is subordinate to anti-India military imperatives.
- Pakistan army is not comfortable with the over dependence on China for its defence needs and is desperate to rekindle western sources.
- The military prefers US over Russia for strategic partnership, while Imran was working on the opposite.
- The Americans still have enormous leverage over Pak military and Imran has probably been shown the door because of anti American, pro-Taliban and pro-Russia stance.
- The Biden administration is likely to be soft on all misdemeanors and misadventures by Pakistan.
- Given their pro-American and pro-Saudi proclivities, the Sharifs, Nawaz or Shahbaz or Mariam have bright possibilities to make a comeback with the help of the military.
- Most importantly Pakistan is seeking strategic balance between China and US.
On the other hand India has deep strategic interests and wide geopolitical convergence with Russia. It is rather a formidable challenge for India to balance between Russia and the West in ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Infact there are worthy calculations that the Russia-Ukraine conflict will have hugely beneficial geopolitical impact on India, not only in terms of defence imperatives but also in terms of energy needs. This conflict may just integrate India, Russia and China in several mutually advantageous ways. As a consequence the BRICS may become stronger.
This conflict has pushed India into a pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific. It is for this reason that there has been a flurry of high level diplomatic visits from US, Japan, Australia, Israel and even China. During this conflict India must be applauded for conducting its foreign policy with aplomb, her world power status can no longer be called as ‘pretentious’ by its detractors.
India indeed is a world power.