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Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

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Mrs. Shiela Gujral

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"Indian Diplomacy - Its Tasks and Challanges

-I.K. GUJRAL
10th November 1999
New Delhi

As I look back at the half century of Independent India's diplomacy, I recall Nehru's enunciation of the philosophy of our foreign policy. He said, "I have always looked to the interests of India, for that is my first duty. I have always interpreted that interest in terms of the larger good of the world community. This is what Mahatma taught us and he taught us always to seek the way of peace and friendship with others, always keeping in mind the freedom and dignity of India." Since then much has flown past the markers of time with breathless speed. His successors in high office have firmly held on to these basic postulates of our diplomacy.

This Century has seen 500 wars, including two world wars in a single generation. Two great social Revolutions, one of them unable to survive the Century. The emergence of the United States as the most dominant world power. It has also been the century of the weapons of mass destruction, of a series of ethnic cleansing topped by the Nazi holocaust in which six million Jews were killed in cold blood, of countless insurgencies and religious fundamentalism out to conquer large political pastures. And this has been also the century of man's conquest of space, his landing on the Moon, the construction of enduring space stations, the discovery of planets other than the Earth in the solar system. The invention of life-saving drugs has blessed humankind with a longevity it could not even hope to enjoy in the 19th century. The twin revolutions of informatics have radically changed the content, style and objectives of diplomacy.

The global village is now part of man's vocabulary all over the world. Speedy air-travel and new tools of data transmissions have lowered the barriers of national borders and prepared the ground for eventual grouping of nations on regional, even inter-regional scales. Indeed, regionalism is the mantra of international politics of the 20th century. It has not succeeded equally all over the world. But at least in Europe, it has laid the foundations of a single political unit of 12 sovereign states expanding to 15. In the Asia-Pacific region, in South East Asia, South Asia, Latin America and Africa as well as in the North America, regional cooperation, even integration, has become the catchword of large swathes of humanity.

Of all the great earthshaking changes that have distinguished this century, the most important from our point of view, and from the point of view of the vast majority of humankind, is the decolonisation revolution. For the first time since recorded history, the planet is virtually free of colonies.

In the mid-century, the entire web of relationships amongst the countries of the world was drawn up on premises, viz., where one stood in the cold war, or in the various multilateral fora. However, the last few years have seen the axioms on which the post World War world rested altered quite radically. The Cold War is over, which in itself is not a bad thing. Unfortunately however, global institutions such as the United Nations and the NAM have also been weakened, particularly in recent years and the dream of having an international system based on the Rule of Law and its due process is in danger of withering away. These shifts have made it imperative for all countries to develop a new and sound basis for recasting their relationships with each other. This is the situation, which has confronted every Government formed in India in the Nineties. In the post-Cold war years, in a world where the old friendships have become meaningless, and where global institutions such as the UN, which represented law and legality in international relations have lost credibility. How do we ensure that India’s vital strategic and economic interests are maintained. How do we ensure that the process of development and the economic and social betterment of our people is not in any way hampered or set back by developments beyond our borders.

In 1990 and again in 1996, as Foreign Minister in the Janata Dal Governments, it was quite clear to me that we would have to address first things first. In other words, the process of recasting India’s relationship with the world naturally began in our own immediate neighbourhood. This is why we reached out to our smaller neighbours, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives and promised them that India would go more than half the way in meeting their concerns. Such an approach I felt was essential if we were to create a new climate of cooperation and goodwill in our neighbourhood, which would ultimately help India greatly, both in political terms, as also economically.

The good neighbourhood policy which I instituted - the ‘Gujral Doctrine’ as it has come to be termed - has paid back rewards which exceeded my most optimistic estimates. In our neighbourhood, as well as in the world in general, this approach showed India as a responsible, reasonable and generous nation which was more than willing to accommodate the legitimate concerns of its smaller and weaker neighbours. This contributed to neutralising Pakistani propaganda about India, and isolating Pakistan diplomatically.

On the economic front, this policy paid rich dividends as well. The South Asian subcontinent has immense resources – be it of men, materials or energy – that have remained wasted because the trust and cooperation required to utilize these resources sensibly has been lacking. The new atmosphere of trust and goodwill that the Gujral doctrine sought to generate attracted many investors, both Asians and the others. We received many new ideas and proposals from the global investing community which was quick to foresee that numerous projects in the field of infrastructure, transportation, energy and communications would become viable and bankable once the barriers to trade and economic cooperation in South Asia began to be lifted.

A climate of peace and cooperation is essential for development in another respect as well. Where trust and goodwill is lacking, in a general climate of antagonism and suspicion, such economic development as does takes place risks being channelised into destructive uses. Such a negative tendency was witnessed, by way of example, in both Japan and Germany when they underwent rapid economic development in the late 19th, and early 20th centuries. Such fast economic growth can be quite destabilizing in that it transforms the class composition of the social elites that govern a country, putting inexperienced if not misguided people into positions of power. This growth also tends to generate a lot of energies, which must find an outlet somewhere. If the general environment in which this socio-economic revolution is proceeding is coloured with hostility, as was the case in both Germany and Japan in the early part of this century, then the normally benign process of development can suddenly turn malignant, fueling a militant nationalism which in the inexorable death dance of jingoism, confrontation and war, ends up in destroying itself, together with millions of innocent lives and the hard labour of many generations. Sometimes I am afraid that such a scenario is being revisited in our part of the world as well.

A full fifty years have elapsed since the people of South Asia overthrew British colonialism. Yet, we have made little dent in improving the living conditions of our countrymen. More than half of world's poverty stricken people resides in South Asia. This is a statistic which should make everyone who has had a hand in running the country, be he politician, academic or bureaucrat, hang his head in shame. If we are serious about the economic development of our sub-continent; if we are serious about eradicating poverty and its associated evils; if we do believe, as we must believe, that the legitimacy of governance lies in ameliorating the lives of our poorest people, then there is no choice other than to work to build a neighbourhood policy which will promote the climate of trust and goodwill required for our region to take off. That is why I think the Government, which followed mine, has continued with the same basic thrust that I set out.

The country is presently confronted with a heavy roadblock that the Kargil conflict has placed in its way. The war and upping of the terrorist activities in J&K and else where have very much damaged the Lahore process and given a serious set back to the South Asian Cooperation. It is saddening to notice that the inter se polemics now talk more of armed confrontations and lesser of the vision of the SAARC community that the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Pakistan and myself had promoted last year at Dhaka. As we enter the next century, this is a formidable challenge confronting our diplomacy. But not only for us, it is an important axiom for all neighbours too.

India’s diplomacy has always been a mirror of India’s plight. In the Sixties and earlier parts of the Seventies one of the main tasks before our diplomats was to go around the world seeking assistance for the purchase of foodgrains and other essentials. In the Eighties they had to convince a sceptical world that India was not about to be torn apart on account of various ethnic and religious differences. But now in the latter half of the Nineties, India has come into its own. Our progress in Science and Technology, the steady and sustained performance of the Indian economy as also the achievements of our countrymen, the Non Resident Indians who have settled in various countries abroad have won respect for India, and Indian capabilities. When I met President Clinton in New York in September 1997, he did not talk to me about Kashmir or other such issues but he did observe, " You guys own half of Silicon valley.’’

I am confident of Indian capabilities and that we can not only meet but also benefit from the ongoing challenges of globalisation and international competition. For if Indians can prosper without subsidy or protection when they go to reside elsewhere in the world, then there is no reason why they will not do the same with the rest of the world comes to India.

This is not to say that challenges do not remain. A trend that is quite clearly visible in the modern days is the weakening of bilateralism and the growing role of multilateral diplomacy in the determination of international affairs. Today, most important global issues ranging from International Trade to the Law of the Seas, and from Security and Disarmament to the Environment and measures for the conservation of the flora and fauna and preservation of the species, are all determined in multilateral format. Multilateral diplomacy is a specialized art requiring inputs not only from the area of conventional diplomacy but also from specialist agencies and technical and legal experts as well. Unfortunately, we have not yet adequately adapted ourselves to this changed requirement and we have still to build up the specialisation and inter-disciplinary approach which successful multilateral diplomacy requires. Take the issue of trade as an example. The GATT/WTO agreements are central to India’s economic welfare and India has traditionally played an important role in these negotiations both on its own behalf as also as a spokesman of the developing world. Despite this, our trade diplomacy has not yet developed the needed institutional roots or structures whereby we could build up people with the skills, experience, expertise and the institutional memory required to develop and maintain a position in these negotiations effectively. This, I think, is one of the principal reasons for our diminishing role in the formulation of the WTO agreements. The same holds true to varying degree in other international treaties and organisations as well.

One modern day trend that should worry us considerably is the progressive marginalisation of the United Nations and its agencies. The importance of the UN derives from the fact that it represents an international system built on the foundation of the Rule of Law and due procedure in the conduct of international relations. It is this system which has allowed all nations, whether big or small, strong or weak, to participate in the affairs of the world with an equal voice. If this system lapses it would inevitably lead to the marginalisation of the weaker countries and clashes for power and influence amongst the stronger, more powerful nations. This, in other words, is a perfect recipe for unraveling the relative peace and stability that the world has been fortunate to witness over the fifty odd years since the United Nations was established.

Today, the paramount power of the UN is in danger of being fully usurped by the major industrialised countries. Instead, the annual summit meetings of the G-7 countries and Russia have become the real forum where global issues are discussed and decided upon. I have heard it said amongst diplomatic circles that the industrialised countries prefer to debate and discuss issues in the clubby, informal atmosphere of the G-8 councils rather than in the Security Council where there are the inconveniences of a wider membership and formal rules of procedure. The decisions taken by the G-7 and its instruments such as the NATO are then rubber stamped by the Security Council. The most vivid example of this tendency was provided during the Kosovo conflict when all the effective decision-making relating to the initiation, conduct and conclusion of what was in essence an illegal action against Yugoslavia were made in the G-8 forum to be later rubber stamped as required by the UN. Even the UN Security Council resolution setting out the conditions for the conclusion of the Yugoslavia conflict was drafted mainly in Bonn, where the G-8 was then headquartered and once the G-8 countries had approved the terms of this resolution, its endorsement by the UN Security Council was taken as a foregone conclusion. The whole Yugoslavia story was a pointer to how the rule of law has weakened, how the powerful nations of the world have chosen to take the law in their own hands and how genuinely representative bodies and councils such as the United Nations have been effectively marginalised.

These then are some of the principal challenges before India. We have no reason to be scared of the world. The Bhagvad Gita tells us that the ideal person is one who neither seeks the world nor runs away from it. This should be our approach as well. India today is developing many new strengths –military, scientific, technological and economic- and we have no reason to be afraid or shy of the world in any way. The main challenge before us in fact is to use our strengths responsibly and for the betterment of the world as a whole.

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Bio-Profile :
Mr. Inder Kr. Gujral

Bio-Profile :
Mrs. Shiela Gujral

Excerpts from the book "A Foreign Policy for India"

Selected Speeches

Latest Articles