Mani Shankar Aiyar: Continuity and Change in India’s Foreign Policy

‘If we don’t talk to Pakistan we will never be able to find a solution…It would be foolish to have cordial relations with Paraguay and just ignore Pakistan’ said the Rajya Sabha member and former diplomat – watch video.

“There is going to be no peace in India or elsewhere except on the basis of freedom,” remained Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s final denouement in The Discovery of India – his third book; written in captivity in Ahmadnagar Fort prison in 1944. Indira Gandhi explained that along with Discovery, Joe’s other books Glimpses of World History and An Autobiography were her close “companions in life”. Indeed, Nehru’s works and political strategy not only influenced his daughter but also inspired political activists in neighbouring Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. Just the other day, India’s government began to declassify secret files to finally settle questions over Subhas Chandra Bose’s death. Bose, a widely admired Congress party frontrunner, aligned his tactics with the Japanese in the 1940s to create a “national army” to fight colonial rule and expel the British from India.

In Discovery, Panditji noted the “astonishing enthusiasm” evoked by the court martial of members of the Indian National Army (INA). In admiration, he remarked that the trial “aroused the country as nothing else had done, and they became the symbols of India fighting for her freedom.” In Nehru’s eyes, INA activists and members, who were in fact his rivals, had “solved the communal problem amongst themselves” because “Hindu, Moslem, Sikh and Christian were all represented”. They had achieved utopia. Or perhaps even Nirvana.

Notably, after almost seven decades of Partition and Independence, peace and freedom are not coming easily to India or Pakistan. And despite Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi having rubbed shoulders during their surprise December meeting, as demonstrated by the recent attacks on the Pathankot airbase and Bachaa Khan University, the level of mistrust and rivalry between the two rival nations remains nothing short of stratospheric. In this environment of uncertainty, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar (Congress), Member of the Rajya Sabha in India, addressed the members of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) on India’s Foreign Policy: Continuity and Change.

In his talk on 27 January 2016, he of course paid tribute to great Congress leaders such as Gandhiji and Panditji. Reportage from the national press on Mani Shankar Aiyar’s talk is reproduced below after the video.

Sino-Indian example suggested as template for peace, by Qasim A Moini, Published in Dawn, 28 January 2016

Member of the Rajya Sabha and former Indian diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Wednesday that the Sino-Indian relationship can be a template to move Pakistan-India relations forward, while noting that ties between the two Asian giants improved visibly after Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministerial visit to the People’s Republic in 1988.

“Neither side has given an inch but there is peace and tranquility on the border. India-Pakistan relations should be looking at that example.”

“[There should be] a mechanism to keep tension under control, have a negotiating process. It will take a very long time,” he observed, while adding that Pakistan needed to do more to control militancy.

Mr Aiyar was speaking on the topic of ‘India’s Foreign Policy: Continuity and Change’ at the PIIA. The seasoned politician gave a detailed history of India’s foreign policy development, especially its Gandhian and Nehruvian influences.

He considered the period around Lucknow Pact of 1916 as the beginning of India’s freedom movement, as well as the starting point of its foreign policy. Mr Aiyar said that at the time of independence the Pax Britannica was being replaced with an emerging Pax Americana and that “empires were in retreat. In this atmosphere India’s foreign policy was being formulated”.

The speaker said that it was soon after independence, in the milieu of the Cold War, that non-alignment came to the fore, though the term was coined after 1946-47. He said that when the issue of the partition of Palestine arose, India was the only non-Muslim and non-Arab country that opposed it, while it also opposed apartheid in South Africa. Reflecting on Indo-Soviet relations, Mani Shankar Aiyar said that Joseph Stalin was less than enthusiastic about forging ties with India, despite Jawaharlal Nehru’s overtures, as the Soviet leader considered India a “bourgeoisie democracy”.

He added that Stalin snubbed both Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Mr Nehru’s sister, when she was made ambassador to the USSR, as well as Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who would later become president of India. Instead, Stalin supported the Communist Party in India.

Mr Aiyar said that the paths of India’s Muslims and Hindus started diverging in Aug 1947 regarding foreign policy; where India was concerned “we were in no one’s camp”, while he said that in the year of independence, the Quaid-i-Azam stated that Pakistan’s future lay “in association with the West”. The Indian parliamentarian also claimed that the “defence establishment” in London favoured Partition and the creation of Pakistan to pursue its own interests.

Post-independence, he said that the principles of Pancasila became the central tenet of Indian foreign policy, while adding that India has had a major role in peacemaking and peacekeeping since the Suez crisis of 1956. “Nehru wanted to restore Asia’s position in world affairs, now we talk of an Asian century,” he remarked.

Beyond Non-Alignment

Mr Aiyar was of the opinion that Sino-Indian relations soured over Tibet and from the 1960s, India started straying from its non-aligned path, specifically when Mr Nehru appealed to the US for military assistance during the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. He said that after Gen Ayub Khan’s rise to power in Pakistan, there was “huge hostility” towards this country in India and that “Bonapartism spread from Pakistan into India” thereafter.

Following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Mr Aiyar said that India sought “equable relations with the US and Moscow”.

On the current state of India-Pakistan relations, he said he hoped “the initiative will come to fruition” while adding that it was odd that the “whole drama [is centred on] whether or not to talk”.

Mr Aiyar said that the impact of Mr Nehru on Indian foreign policy and “through him Mahatma Gandhi has not gone away. We still yearn for the India of yore, but accept that the India of the present is more stitched into” the current world order. He quipped that the fact India is “the world’s largest arms importer should please a lot of Western pockets and Russians”. He added that though he “didn’t expect India to return to the Gandhian path” he couldn’t “see how it can leave the Gandhian path” either.

He closed with a comment on how to move the peace process between India and Pakistan forward:

If we don’t talk to Pakistan we will never be able to find a solution.

Pakistan and India urged to begin talking ‘in right earnest’, Published in The News International, 28 January 2016

Mani Shankar says it’s easiest for his country to talk to Pakistan due to cultural and linguistic oneness. The former Indian consul-general in Karachi and currently a member of the Rajya Sabha, stressed the need for both Pakistan and India to put aside their differences and begin talking in right earnest about the solutions to the problems dogging both countries’ relations.

Of all the countries, it was easiest to talk to Pakistan because of the cultural and linguistic oneness, he said while addressing members of the PIIA on Wednesday evening on India’s foreign policy. As could have been expected, the lecture turned into Indo-Pak ties even though he was to talk about the Indian foreign policy in general. Aiyar said:

It would be foolish to have cordial relations with Paraguay and just ignore Pakistan.

Putting aside official business, Indians and Pakistani diplomats were the best of friends and on most informal terms with each other, he added.

He said Indian movies were really popular in Pakistan just as Pakistani TV plays and theatrical groups were so popular in India. He talked of “soft targets” like Bollywood which could go a long way in bringing about a rapprochement between the two countries.

In reply to a question, Aiyar said the four points that had been discussed on Kashmir during Pervez Musharraf’s tenure were:

(1) there would be no independent Jammu and Kashmir;

(2) that the Line of Control (LoC) would be made “relevant” with the inhabitants of both sides free to travel to either side and continue trade between the two part;

(3) that the armies would pull out of both India-held Kashmir and Azad Kashmir;

(4) however, on the fourth point, the Indian side had reservations on account of which talks couldn’t reach fruition.

The Indian side, he said, wanted firm assurances on various issues like Siachen, Sir Creek and terrorism. He acknowledged that no talks with Pakistan had succeeded. At the end of the day, he said, one had to take a moral decision rather than a practical one.

“Let’s have talks at the Wagah-Attari border just the way the South Koreans and their northern counterparts have them at the armistice village of Panmunjom.” The Indian parliamentarian was of the opinion that Pakistan would have lot to do to banish terrorism.

In reply to a questioner’s apprehensions about Indian plans to break up Pakistan, he said he just could not agree. He posed the questioner a counter-question:

What will India gain by taking on 200 million angry Pakistanis? How will that benefit India?

When a questioner asked him if he foresaw a marked improvement in ties between the two countries in his lifetime, he replied half in jest and half very profoundly:

You see I am already 75 years old and so I don’t think I have much time ahead of me to see that stage in our relations.

He quoted the normalisation of ties with China over Arunachal Pradesh and other outstanding issues, and queried as to why such a thing could not take place in case of Pakistan. Talking about the Indian foreign policy in general, he said that contrary to belief, Joseph Stalin was not convinced that India was independent in the real sense of the word.

He said that as such when Vijay Lakshmi Pandit, prime minister Nehru’s sister, was sent as ambassador to Moscow, Stalin just sent a junior minister to receive her. However, when Bulganin and Khrushchev came to power, things changed and they gave all-out preference to India. He said the break for India to matter in world affairs came with India being appointed chairman of the repatriation for North and South Koreas immediately after the Korean War and later when it was appointed chairman of the Laos-Cambodia committee.

He explained Indian foreign policy would have to change over time while still retaining the Gandhian principles of morality, alongside practical realities. Most of his lecture was a lengthy treatise on the history of the British empire and British India, narrating Thomas Babington MacAulay’s concept of domination of India, Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement and the Jallianwala Bagh incident. He also narrated the proposal by Muhammad Ali Jinnah at the Congress session of 1916 which brought about separate electorates. Remaining undeterred by the massive misgivings between the two historic rival states, Aiyar argued that:

I am not sure if Indo-Pak talks would lead to constructive results, but I do believe if we don’t talk, we will never be able to resolve our issues. These talks should be uninterrupted and uninterruptible.

Blog Comment

General Sikandar Hayat (R) said from the floor that the threats hurled at Pakistan by Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar are incompatible with any friendship initiatives. When Aiyar was reminded by him that India had actively participated in breaking up Pakistan in 1971, he retorted amazingly:

you helped us to do it.

The Chairman of the PIIA, Dr Masuma Hasan, said in conclusion that there were many different perceptions of the complicated issues between Pakistan and India and many ways of approaching these issues. Mr Aiyar had stressed upon the friendship which exists between individual Pakistanis and Indians but the narrative of the two states was different. Many people in the audience might not agree with Mr Aiyar’s projection of the moral basis of India’s foreign policy. However, it is necessary to engage in dialogue and work for peace not only between Pakistan and India but also between all the countries of South Asia so they their people can be saved from the ravages of war and displacement.

Posted by Editor.


Filed under BJP, Congress, Discussion, Events, Human Rights, India, Pakistan, Pakistan Horizon, Partition, Peace building, Politics

22 responses to “Mani Shankar Aiyar: Continuity and Change in India’s Foreign Policy

  1. Watch VIDEO via link below – Mani Shankar Aiyar former consul general of India in Karachi talks on Indian Foreign Policy at PIIA.

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