The article explains the risks of going beyond persuasion and exercising caution for India while attempting to bring Russia and Ukraine to the negotiating table to broker peace.
GS Paper – 2: Bilateral Groupings & Agreements, Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests
India, like any other country, has the right to pursue policies based on pragmatic realism and its core national interests. Consider the statement in light of the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict. (250 words)
- Media report: A recent report in the New York Times focused on India’s possible role in pressuring Russia and Ukraine for peace during the visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Moscow (November 7-8).
- It was also reported that India is attempting to refashion India’s non-alignment tradition into a more commanding strategy of “all alignment.”
- The daily also stated that if the peacekeeping efforts are successful, India will gain a more prominent place in the global order, bringing it closer to the long-desired prize of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
- India’s perception: It prompted comments in the Indian media about how Indian diplomacy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has skillfully placed India in a position to promote peace between the warring parties.
- Few supporters of the ruling system argued that an Indian role as a mediator in the Ukraine war would be a great vindication of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal position as a world leader and his government’s successful handling of India’s external interests.
India is the focus of the G20 presidency
- Advancing India’s Global Status: The Indian Prime Minister’s emphasis on India assuming the G20 presidency on December 1, 2022, draws public attention to his efforts to improve India’s reputation.
- Demonstration: For example, in a speech marking the release of the Indian presidency’s logo, theme, and website, he emphasised that this summit is not merely a diplomatic gathering.
- India sees this as a new responsibility as well as the world’s faith in itself.
- New challenges: The new question is whether India will regard the G20 presidency as a “new” responsibility to contribute to the resolution of the Ukraine conflict, especially since the West may actively encourage her to do so.
Risks of taking on responsibility
- Changing the status quo: While the idea of acting as an intermediary in the Ukraine conflict is appealing, it is fraught with danger. It would be a departure from India’s cautious, and largely successful, approach to the Ukraine war so far.
India’s position on the Ukraine conflict
- Expressed displeasure: India has expressed its displeasure with Russia’s actions, even if it has refrained from voting against them in United Nations forums, including the Security Council.
- Limited outcry: The most India has gone to is the Indian Prime Minister openly telling Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand (September 2022) that the current age is not one of war.
- Peaceful resolution: India has advocated for a return to diplomacy and dialogue, as well as intervened in specific cases involving Russia.
- For example, to keep the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (in Ukraine) safe, or to allow the export of Ukrainian foodgrains.
- Minimal outcomes: However, none of the preceding steps are attempts to mediate or bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Taking lessons from the previous regime
- Practicing restraint: India can look to its past in order to avoid being tempted to accept Western encouragement to pursue mediation.
- For example, it can consider the lessons learned by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in intervening with the Soviet leadership in the 1980s to end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the request of the US.
- Dispelling Western hypocrisy: The story of India’s diplomatic defeat and American duplicity is highlighted in the book “The Great Game in Afghanistan: Rajiv Gandhi, General Zia, and The Unending War, India-US Diplomacy on Afghanistan.”
- The story: India wanted the Soviets to leave Afghanistan from the start and communicated its concerns to the Soviets privately.
- During Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, Indian policymakers believed that establishing a broad-based neutral government in Kabul would best serve Indian interests, and the US gave New Delhi the impression that it wanted the same.
- However, doing so on one’s own is one thing; doing so on behalf of another country is quite another.
- Implicit barter and deception: Another implicit component of the deal for Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan was that the US would halt Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.
- However, it became clear that the United States was committed to it and did not want India to play an active diplomatic role in resolving the Afghan crisis.
- All it wanted was for India to exert pressure on the Soviets to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.
- India’s response: When the United States’ positions became clear to Rajiv Gandhi, India-US relations, which had been warming, suffered.
- Current relevance: The current era, with its compulsions for India, is a far cry from the 1980s. However, the fundamental principles that govern the game of nations remain constant.
- As in the 1980s, the US and the West in general want India to use her clout with Mr. Putin to end the war and negotiate with Ukraine, despite the fact that India’s interests in Ukraine are practically non-existent.
- Malicious intentions: Regardless of what they say to India about its growing role in the world and rising global prestige, all they really want is India’s intervention with Mr. Putin to change course.
Dangers of going beyond this level of persuasion
- Honorable role: It is certainly appropriate for India to highlight the significant and growing global difficulties caused by Russian action.
- During his recent Russia visit, India’s external affairs minister, Mr. Jaishankar, stated that the global economy is simply too interdependent for a significant conflict anywhere not to have far-reaching consequences elsewhere.
- For example, the world is seeing growing concerns about energy and food security as a result of the conflict, on top of the severe stresses caused by two years of COVID. The Global South, in particular, is feeling the pinch.”
- Correct course for India: India should continue to emphasise that the only way out is through dialogue and diplomacy. Going beyond such appeals, on the other hand, would be counterproductive.
- This is due not only to the possibility that mediation efforts will fail, but also to the fact that they will reveal the true extent of India’s global influence and the limitations of personal chemistry between leaders in influencing events.