Pragmatism is Watchword of India's Foreign Policy: Enemy’s Friend is My Enemy
There is a pragmatism bordering on the Machiavellian that permeates the ‘enlightened self-interest’ that is guiding Indian foreign policy, by which, if an enemy’s enemy is a friend, then an enemy’s friend is an enemy. On the margins of the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar held a series of meetings expressly to send that message to some countries who have been what an Indian diplomat called “overzealous.”
Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan is among those who has recently scaled up the rhetoric, urging a resolution of Kashmir and even offering to “mediate” between India and Pakistan on the issue. During his address to the UNGA, Erdogan said the stability and prosperity of South Asia were inseparable from the Kashmir issue, and, “it is imperative to solve the problem through dialogue and on the basis of justice and equity, but not through collision.” While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan welcomed Erdogan’s support, New Delhi has not taken kindly to this advice from a leader it has always perceived as pro-Pakistan. Erdogan has just announced that his country has started construction of a warship for the Pakistan Navy and intends to step up defence cooperation with Islamabad.
Shortly after Erdogan’s address, Modi held meetings with President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking of the close cooperation and ties between India and their respective countries. Turkey, which under Erdogan aims to be a leading advocate for global Islam, has unresolved issues and strained relations with all three of these neighbouring countries.
With Anastasiades, who is seeking talks to reunify Cyprus and do away with the divide between the Greek-influenced and Turk-controlled areas of the island nation, Modi “reiterated India’s consistent support for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus,” which is a key investor in this country. India’s open support for Cyprus’ sovereignty is significant because the Mediterranean island was split after a Turkish invasion in 1974, with Ankara occupying the northern part (around 24% of the island’s territory including part of capital Nicosia) and proclaiming it as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Turkey does not recognise Cyprus and no country but Turkey recognises TRNC, where Erdogan maintains an occupation force of 30,000 soldiers. Greece has a more influential presence in the rest of Cyprus, below the ‘Green Line.’ The UN has not managed to resolve the Cyprus divide in four and a half decades.
Armenia’s relations with Turkey are also strained. Yerevan blames Turkey for the “genocide” of Armenians within the Ottoman Empire from 1915 as a result of its exile policies. Modi’s meetings with these neighbours of Turkey were clearly intended to send a message that Delhi’s relations with Ankara would be transactional, more in the nature of a quid pro quo, as long as it openly tilted in favour of Islamabad.
India had performed a similar reprisal act when, in 2017, the presidents of Cyprus and Turkey arrived in India within a day of each other at the beginning of May.
Shortly before those visits, India sent the then Vice-President Hamid Ansari to Armenia, where he paid homage at that country’s genocide memorial, dedicated to 1.5 million Armenians massacred a century ago by the Ottoman Turks. Just prior to Erdogan’s visit on May 1, 2017, he had offered to mediate on the Kashmir issue, as a result of which the visit yielded far less than expected.
Both Turkey and Cyprus are members of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of which India would like to become a member. While Cyprus supports India on its NSG candidacy, Turkey has backed a “process-based” approach and, like China, wants both Pakistan and India to be considered together.
Jaishankar’s presence and participation in the foreign ministerial-level meeting of the Quad (quadrilateral of Japan, USA, Australia and India), also on the sidelines of the UNGA, was also intended to send a message, this time to China, that India did not take kindly to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statements on Kashmir and would be willing to scale up its engagement for a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the four nations.
Balancing its alignments with leading countries and regional blocs while bolstering India’s own security, whether in the spheres of the economy, energy, environment or actual physical security, particularly against terrorism, has now come to be called the ‘Modi Doctrine’ of foreign policy. It is much more pragmatic and transactional than the idealistic moorings of doctrines like non-alignment, which too has now been modified to “issues based non-alignment” to meet the challenges of a transitional global order.