From the time India first attained independence in 1947, its foreign policy during the Cold War period evolved from being pro-Soviet and antithetical to Western interests, to now becoming an important Western strategic partner and providing a counterweight to China. Over the last six-and-half decade India has massively expanded its influence worldwide, primarily through diplomacy and trade, which has seen it emerge as an influential power in global politics. There are many aspects that played important role in determining India’s foreign policy over period of time.
Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy


The guiding principles of India’s Foreign Policy have been founded on Panchsheel, pragmatism and pursuit of national interest. The five principles of peaceful coexistence or Panchsheel was evolved during talks between India and the People’s Republic of China in 1954. The five principles which formed the basis of the non aligned movement were laid down by Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Five Principles are:
• Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
• Mutual non-aggression against anyone
• Mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affair
• Equality and mutual benefit
• Peaceful co-existence
These five principles was believed to serve the need of the newly decolonized state which had more pressing needs to address rather than getting engaged in hostility with the neighbors. The underlying assumption for the five principles was the development of new and more principled approach to the International relations by the newly independent decolonized states.
However, the history of the first major enunciation of the five principles is not wholly encouraging. China has often emphasized its close association with the five principles. It had put them forward as the five principles of peaceful co-existence, at the starting of negotiations that took place in Delhi from December 1953 to April 1954 between the delegation of PRC (People’s Republic of China) government and the delegation of the Indian government on the relations between the two countries with respect to the disputed territories of Aksai Chin and South Tibet. The 29 April 1954 agreement was set to last for eight years. When it lapsed the relations were already soaring, the provision for renewal of the agreement was not taken up and the Sino-Indian war broke out between the two sides.
However, in the 1970s, the five principles again came to be seen as important in the Sino-Indian relations and more generally as norms of relations between states. They came to be widely recognized and accepted during the region.
After 60 years of its origin and working Panchsheel still remains a mere paperwork for China which was a major party to the agreement and more than anxious to sign it. A great tragedy is that the agreement is remembered not for its content, which concerns the trade relations between India and Tibet, but for its preamble which directly caused the destruction of an ancient, spiritual ‘way of life’.
Another misfortune is that the idealistic five principles were never been followed either in letter or in spirit by China, particularly, “non-interference in other’s affairs” and “respect for the neighbour’s territorial integrity”. Chinese intrusion into the Indian Territory after three months of the agreement was a testimony to this. Thus, in a way, the agreement opened the door to the China’s military control of the roof of the world by the People’s Liberation Army. This further translated into building a network of roads and airstrips heading towards the Indian frontiers in NEFA (North East Frontier Agency) and Ladakh. This was aggravated by the refusal of some of Nehru’s advisors to bargain for a proper delimitation of the border between Tibet and India, against the relinquishment of India’s right in Tibet (accrued from the Simla convention).
The policy is remembered more as a basis for NAM (Non Aligned Movement), established in Belgrade, in 1961 and a diplomatic spoof for the country hitherto incapable of sorting out her border tangle. On a more positive note, it can be concluded that the agreement proved to be of lasting significance as it was the first of its kind where India and China agreed for mutual tolerance and peaceful co-existence so much so that the five principles today form the centre-piece of their current CSBMs (Confidence and Security Building Measures).

NAM (Non-Aligned Movement)

On 1 Sep 1961 the heads of 28 nations gathered in Belgrade to launch the Non-Alignment Movement. Fifty years on, NAM has grown to more than 120 nations and represents a majority voice in the United Nations.
Members of NAM initially had disputes on some issues due to gap in the level of technological and economical development. The major difference was between Asian and African countries as the Asian countries rose and African countries went down. Also, the disputes between India and Pakistan questioned the very basic principle of NAM— peaceful coexistence. In the post cold war period NAM was considered as sleeping beauty.
But in today’s world, NAM has got a great task of questioning the monopoly of America in UNO and world. Also, NAM has made significant discussions on several issues of world importance. The extent of its need, importance and fame of this movement can be approximated from the increase in its membership. It’s most important achievement include postponing of wars, reducing their intensity and in some cases disputes were completely solved. NAM can be said to have played a vital role in maintaining world peace in this nuclear age. This brought cold war to ceasefire. It beefed up the role of UNO in which all countries have equal representation. Non aligned countries have been successful in establishing a foundation of economic cooperation amongst underdeveloped countries. South—South dialogue has been summoned from the non aligned countries’ front.
Another noteworthy fact is that it has transformed from a political movement to an economical movement whereby the developing and underdeveloped nations are demanding a New International Economic Order. It’s been increasingly argued that in order to control the situation, to protest against the monopoly of US in a monoaxial world, to induce forceful dialogue between developed and underdeveloped countries, protesting against neo-colonial exploitation, maintaining North-South dialogue, South-South dialogue, combating international terrorism, global economic crisis and bringing about NIEO (New International Economic Order), NAM and G-77 will have to work together

Cold War Era in India

During the cold war India’s policy was that of a neutral observer inclined towards self-interest rather than seeking alignment with any of the major power blocs. This attitude led her to sign two of the most important foreign policy agreements, i.e., Panchsheel and NAM (Non Alignment Movement) during this period.
As was the case with many other countries U.S.-India relations during the cold war were colored by the bipolarity of the international system. Despite India being one of the main founding countries in the Non Alignment Movement it tended to, as did many post-colonial countries, lean towards more populist/socialist policies, creating tension with the United States.
Since the early 1950s, New Delhi and Moscow had built friendly relations on the basis of real politick. India’s nonalignment enabled it to accept Soviet support in areas of strategic congruence, as in disputes with Pakistan and China, without subscribing to Soviet global policies or proposals for Asian collective security. From 1959 India had accepted Soviet offers of military sales. Indian acquisition of Soviet military equipment was important because purchases were made against deferred rupee payments, a major concession to India’s chronic shortage of foreign exchange. Simultaneous provisions were made for licensed manufacture and modification in India, one criterion of self-reliant defense on which India placed increasing emphasis. In addition, Soviet sales were made without any demands for restricted deployment, adjustments in Indian policies toward other countries, adherence to Soviet global policies, or acceptance of Soviet military advisers. In this way, Indian national autonomy was not compromised.
Nehru obtained a Soviet commitment to neutrality on the India-China border dispute and war of 1962. During the India-Pakistan war of 1965, the Soviet Union acted with the United States in the UN Security Council to bring about a cease-fire. India benefited at the time because the Soviet Union came to support the Indian position on Bangladesh and because the treaty acted as a deterrent to China.
The friendship treaty notwithstanding, Indira Gandhi did not alter important principles of Indian foreign policy. She made it clear that the Soviet Union would not receive any special privileges- much less naval base rights in Indian ports, despite the major Soviet contribution to the construction of shipbuilding and ship-repair facilities at Bombay on the west coast and at Vishakhapatnam on the east coast. India’s advocacy of the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace was directed against aggrandizement of the Soviet naval presence as much as that of other extra-regional powers. By repeatedly emphasizing the nonexclusive nature of its friendship with the Soviet Union, India kept open the way for normalizing relations with China and improving ties with the West.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, India was faced with the difficult task of reorienting its external affairs and forging relations with the fifteen Soviet successor states, of which Russia was the most important.

Post 1990 Scenario

The post-Cold War era spawned a dichotomy within the international system. The global system had to reckon with unimpeded power and authority centered around one superpower of which there was no comparison in terms of pure military might. Besides this there was also the emergence of multiple economic power centers that were beginning to and still assert themselves internationally with different perceptions and different goals.
Globalization and the rapid emergence of market economies all over the world, from Southeast Asia to Latin America, resulted in the spectacular emergence of regional cooperation and integration. Closely connected with globalization was the widespread emergence of market economies. It was no longer possible for nations or national markets to operate as self-sufficient units.
The four most important variables that guided the framing of India’s foreign policy after the cold war were:
• India’ search for its due place in the international order which is largely dominated by the US;
• An accommodation with the global nuclear order as the international system comes to terms with ‘nuclear’ India;
• India’s balancing act of tackling the challenge of global terrorism without alienating its Islamic minority;
• And India’s search for energy security to ensure its current rate of economic growth.
Although a late-comer to liberalisation there was a growing integration of India’s economy with the rest of the world. Indo-US relations saw a new high with the latter acknowledging India as one of the emerging powers and boldly declaring to forge trade ties and engaging in mutual integration and co-operation owing to the shared interests in the global arena. However Indo-Russia relations were cut adrift after the Soviet disintegration but were later renewed.
India was clearly aware of its responsibilities and of the key role it has to play in the development of regional cooperation as there was good reason to believe that economic and technical co-operation among the SAARC countries will lead to co-operation in other areas as well. Thus, Gujaral doctrine became a prominent phenomenon in India’s foreign policy whereby India adhered to its commitment for regional integration and co-operation in south and south-east Asia.
There was a remarkable re-orientation of India’s policy towards the middle-east as there was increasing pressure on India to adopt a more visible role in Iraq and use its leverage on Iran to curtail the latter’s nuclear programme. While there was a new found convergence in the relations with Saudi-Arabia, Indo-Israeli relations took a difficult turn. Regarding central Asia, India tried its best to play a fairly positive role owing to the former’s increasing importance due to energy concerns. The expanding role of India in the East Asia has been evident in India’s look east policy. India’s relations with China remain volatile and friction-ridden because of past experience, war, territorial disputes, unparallel interests, conflicting world-views and divergent geopolitical interests.
Overall the Look East policy should reinforce and demonstrate India’s commitment to this region which accounts for about one-third of India’s trade and this commitment will not be influenced in any way by the improving relations between India and the US and EU.
The Gujral Doctrine
This doctrine was an expression of the foreign policy initiated by Inder Kumar Gujral, the Foreign Minister in Deve Gowda Government which assumed office in June 1996. The Gujral Doctrine is a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours as spelt out by I.K. Gujral, first as India’s External Affairs Minister and later as the Prime Minister.

These Principles are:

1. With neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity, but gives and accommodates what it can in good faith and trust.
2. No South Asian country should allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country of the region. (Second Principle of Panchsheel- Mutual non-aggression)
3. No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another. (Third Principle of Panchsheel- Mutual noninterference in each other’s internal affairs)
4. All South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. (First Principle of Panchsheel- Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty)
5. They should settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. (Fourth and Fifth Principles of Panchsheel- Equality and mutual benefit & Peaceful co-existence)

Positive Application

1. Sharing of Ganga Water with Bangladesh: It is in pursuance of this policy that late in 1996 India concluded an agreement with Bangladesh on sharing of Ganga Waters. This agreement enabled Bangladesh to draw in lean season slightly more water than even the 1977 Agreement had provided.
2. Freezing of Border Dispute with PRC: The confidence building measures agreed upon by India and China in November 1996 were also a part of efforts made by the two countries to improve bilateral relations, and freeze, for the time being, the border dispute.
3. Increasing People to People Contact with Pakistan: Gujral advocated people to people contacts, particularly between India and Pakistan, to create an atmosphere that would enable the countries concerned to sort out their differences amicably. India unilaterally announced in 1997 several concessions to Pakistan tourists, particularly the elder citizens and cultural groups, in regard to visa fees and police reporting.
4. “Confidence Building Measures” Talks with Pakistan: The Gujral Doctrine assumed significance when at Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan in June 1997, the two countries identified eight areas for negotiation so as to build confidence and seek friendly resolution of all disputes.

Significance of the Doctrine:

1. It, thus, recognises the supreme importance of friendly, cordial relations with neighbours.
2. According to Gujral, these five principles, scrupulously adhered to, would achieve a fundamental recasting of South Asia’s regional relationships, including the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan.
3. Further, the implementation of these principles would generate a climate of close and mutually benign cooperation in the region, where the weight and size of India is regarded positively and as an asset by these countries.
4. The Gujral Doctrine was generally welcomed and appreciated not only within the country, but also by most of the neighbours and major powers.
5. In the context of changed international environment in post-cold war world Gujral Doctrine become a new and important principle of India’s foreign policy.
6. It can be implemented by different regional powers like USA, Russia, People Republic of China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Germany, etc.
7. It had an heuristic impact.

Nuclear Doctrine

Since independence, global nuclear non-proliferation has been a dominant theme of India’s nuclear policy. India conducted first nuclear test in 1974 (Smiling Buddha) and then in 1998 and become a de facto nuclear power country. To alleviate the fear of the neighbour and show itself as a responsible nuclear power, New Delhi came out with its Nuclear Doctrine after Pokharan II. Since independence, global nuclear non-proliferation has been a dominant theme of India’s nuclear policy. India conducted first nuclear test in 1974 (Smiling Buddha) and then in 1998 and become a de facto nuclear power country. To alleviate the fear of the neighbour and show itself as a responsible nuclear power, New Delhi came out with its Nuclear Doctrine after Pokharan II.
India’s nuclear doctrine was perhaps the first of its kind among the known nuclear weapon states. The two pressing theme of India’s Nuclear Doctrine are (i) No first use and (ii) Credible minimum deterrence.
The document lays down that India will not use nuclear weapon unless and until nuked. It also says that India will not use nuclear weapon against any non-nuclear state, unlike any other nuclear power countries.
To ensure nuclear deterrent, India has been engaged in developing credible retaliating power by developing triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missile and sea-based assets. To ensure nuclear deterrent, India has been engaged in developing credible retaliating power by developing triad of aircraft, mobile land-based missile and sea-based assets.
In its Nuclear Doctrine, India has clearly laid down that the final decision to use nuclear weapon will lie with the civilian leader. It also laid down complete chain of command in this regard. In its Nuclear Doctrine, India has clearly laid dawn that the final decision to use nuclear weapon will lie with the civilian leader. It also laid down complete chain of command in this regard.


(i) In the absence of global nuclear disarmament India’s strategic interest require effective, credible nuclear deterrence and adequate retaliatory capability. This is consistent with the UN Charter, which sanctions the right of self defence.
(ii) India aims at convincing any potential aggressor that:
(a) Any threat of use of nuclear weapons against India shall involve measures to counter the threat, and
(b) Any nuclear attack on India and its forces shall result in retaliation with Nuclear Weapon.
(iii) The fundamental purpose of Indian nuclear weapon is to deter the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons by any state or entity against India or Indian forces. Credibility and survivability are central to India’s nuclear deterrent.

Energy Diplomacy

According to India’s Planning Commission, the country faces formidable hurdles in meeting its current and future energy needs, if it wants to maintain its economic growth.
One of the most important priority of the Indian government is the eradication of poverty. To get there, however, India will need to grow at a rate of 8 percent per year for the full quarter-century. There is a fear that this noble goal is going to generate huge energy shortages, as India has been less suceessful in securing energy supplies from its neighbours or from Central Asia than China has been. Over the next 25 years, the Indian government’s priority is the eradication of poverty. To get there, however, India will need to keep growing by 8 percent a year for the full quarter-century. There is a fear that this noble goal is going to generate huge energy shortages, as India has been less suceessful in securing energy supplies from its neighbours or from Central Asia than China has been.
The troubles of the energy sector in India are compounded by state control over the import, production and distribution of oil and gas products, which are coordinated by 4 different ministries. More than half of India’s electricity is generated by burning poor-quality domestic coal, which is expected to run out in about 40 years.
Furthermore, a third of India’s oil is imported from countries the US is at odds with, such as Sudan, Syria or Iran, whilst the gas is imported mainly from Iran, Bangladesh or Burma. India’s dependence on imported oil, which currently stands at 60 percent, is expected to grow to 90 percent by 2030. That lifts energy diplomacy to the top of India’s agenda, when it comes to dealing with countries from Central Asia, Middle East, Africa or Latin America.Furthermore, a third of India’s oil is imported from countries the US is at odds with, such as Sudan, Syria or Iran, whilst the gas is imported mainly from Iran, Bangladesh or Burma. India’s dependence on imported oil, which currently stands at 60 percent, is expected to grow to 90 percent by 2030. That lifts energy diplomacy to the top of India’s agenda, when it comes to dealing with countries from Central Asia, Middle East, Africa or Latin America.
India is trying to build gas pipelines that are needed by its electricity generation sector in order to diversify away from coal. Its two projects are the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline, also dubbed “the peace pipeline”, and the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline.
Due to practical difficulties (as pipe was supposed to pass through restive Baluchistan province of Pakistan) and US opposition to the project determined India to recently abandon IPI, of which only the Iran-Pakistan stretch, or about 1,100 km, is going ahead with construction. The failure of the IPI project has recently determined India to enter fresh negotiations with the Teheran regime for the construction of an undersea gas pipeline. This would have the advantage of bypassing Pakistan and doing away with transit fees.
India’s ever-growing appetite for energy is quietly reshaping the way it operates in the world, changing relations with its neighbors, extending its reach to oil states as far flung as Sudan and Venezuela, and overcoming Washington’s resistance to its nuclear ambitions. Hovering over India’s energy quest is its biggest competitor: China, which is also scouring the globe to line up new energy sources. The combined appetite of the two Asian giants is raising oil prices and putting greater demands on world oil supplies.
“Mutual dependencies” is the buzzword of the day, signaling the way oil and gas links among South Asian countries stand to rewrite the enmities of the past. The foreign policy of India will have a lot to do with energy. That vision is not without its challenges.
On the one hand, India seeks to cast itself as the model of democratic pluralism, as in its bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. On the other, its hunt for fuel is pushing it to reach out to authoritarian governments like those of Sudan and Myanmar, which the United States has sought to isolate. In both of those countries, China’s weight is also keenly felt. But India is quickly making inroads. It has persuaded a wary Bangladesh to agree, at least in principle, to a pipeline that would ship gas from Myanmar to India. Indian government has also sought to lure foreign investors to explore for reserves in the Bay of Bengal, off India’s eastern coast.
India’s basic approach to energy diplomacy, both oil and gas, has been to develop as many potential supply arrangements with as many potential suppliers as it possibly can, and to try to neutralise its potential competitors, principally China, with cooperation agreements.
To attain some amount of energy security, India has engaged itself in almost all regions in the world that are rich in oil and gas reserves, namely the Gulf, Central Asia, South America, Africa and even a few of the neighbours like Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The rising energy security needs set the pace for India to leave no stone unturned to pursue a hard diplomacy for a very warm relationship with Central Asian states. As the Middle East appears to be in a state of permanent turmoil, attention of the world has certainly shifted towards Central Asia.

Global Issues

Some important global issues which have engaged the attention of foreign policy makers of India in the past twenty years:


India’s disarmament policy is directed at achieving a world free from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; it advocates a universal, non-discriminatory disarmament in a time-bound, phased and verifiable manner; this approach is reflected in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan which India submitted at the UNGA in 1998.
While continuing to work for global disarmament, India has kept its nuclear options open. India has declined to put its signatures on the NPT as it considers the Treaty discriminatory and an instrument which has divided the world into two parts: the P-5s (USA, Russia, China, France UK) codified as legitimate nuclear powers, and the rest of the world which has been denied the right to develop and possess nuclear weapons. India’s refusal to subscribe to the NPT resulted in decades of isolation in the international non-proliferation community.
India’s impeccable record as a responsible nuclear power has, however, reversed the process and India now enjoys the confidence of major international players. In this context, the issues which had arisen out of India’s rejection of the NPT and development of its own nuclear weapons capabilities in defiance of international opinion, have more or less been relegated to background/resolved. Sanctions have been eased/lifted. The unflinching support from the USA and allies paved the way for the waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 which in turn has made it possible for India to conclude civil nuclear cooperation agreements with global nuclear powers.
On its part, India has demonstrated its unequivocal commitment to non-proliferation through a series of steps and policy shifts. It has placed selected civil nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards, signed an Additional Protocol with IAEA, brought export control laws in lines with those of the NSG and has taken many other steps which bring most Indian policies in line with the NPT spirit without formal signing. India today is a d’facto Nuclear Power; true this is not yet formally acknowledged by the international community. There is a widespread recognition, however, of India’ impeccable record in the field of non-proliferation, in recognition of which the international community is now ready to engage India in nuclear trade. No other non-NPT signatory country has been given this privilege. And this can be considered as an outstanding achievement in the foreign policy pursuits during the past two decades.
The core element in India’s nuclear doctrine (revealed through a Government Press Release of 4th January 2003) is in building and maintaining a ‘credible minimum deterrent’. It also envisages inter-alia: (i) “No First Use,” i.e., nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces; (ii) Non-use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. However, in the event of a major attack against India, or Indian forces anywhere, by biological or chemical weapons, India will retain the option of retaliating with nuclear weapons.

2. Climate Change

India considers climate change as a global problem demanding global efforts and global solutions. India ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1993) and Kyoto Protocol (2002). India’s well articulated position is that the current state of climate change and global warming is attributable to the excess emissions of harmful gases by the developed countries during the period of industrialisation; this is often referred to as the concept of ‘historical responsibility’. India further insists that the developing countries cannot be expected to forego its developmental efforts. India subscribes to the principle of equity and ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. India would like the developed world to assist the developing countries through financial assistance and transfer of technology to meet the challenges of climate change. India does not want to be seen as an obstacle but as a part of the solution. India has thus volunteered to cut its gas emissions though it has no such obligations under the international treaties.

3. Terrorism

India has been a victim of terrorism for decades; this issue has therefore engaged the attention of India’s foreign policy makers for past several decades. India has adopted a policy of zero tolerance to the scourge of terrorism and condemns it as well as religious extremism and fundamentalism in any form or manifestation. It underlines the challenge posed by terrorism to international security during bilateral meets and at regional and international fora. In 1996, India introduced at UN the Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and is now advocating its early adoption. The progress unfortunately has been slow; meanwhile, India has accelerated its bilateral interaction and has signed extradition treaties with over 30 countries.

4. Global Governance

In India’s assessment the contemporary structures of global governance including UN and international financial institutions such as World Bank, IMF, etc., have proved inadequate in dealing with the political and economic crisis of present days and therefore the international community deserves new structures of global governance to confront cross-cutting and trans-national challenges. India seeks UN reform, including reform of UN Security Council. In recognition of India’s growing stature, several countries have explicitly endorsed India’s bid for a Permanent Seat in expanded Security Council; India’s election to Non-Permanent Seat of UNSC with overwhelming support speaks for itself. Objectively and realistically speaking it would be a long and difficult path to tread before the campaign for substantial reforms in the present structures of global governance could be attained.

5. Indians Abroad

There are more than 20mn Indians or persons of Indian origin living abroad all over the world. It has been the endeavour of successive Government to formulate such policies as would help derive economic and, where feasible, political benefits from their presence abroad. The welfare of overseas Indian community is now a very important element in India’s foreign policy approach. India’s oversees Missions and Posts have been adequately equipped to handle difficult situations impinging upon the safety and security of oversees Indians; the Government of India has never been shy of intervening at the highest levels whenever the situation has so demanded.
The main objective of the foreign policy of a given country is to secure its national interests. India is no different in this regard. There is, however, a qualitative difference. It is noteworthy, that the foundations of India’s foreign policy are laid on certain core principles. These include for instance the five principles of peaceful co-existence (Panchsheel), independence of decision making, resolution of conflicts and disputes through dialogue and peaceful means, preference for constructive engagement over isolation of individual countries, support for multilateral approaches to global issues. India has followed these principles diligently and has scrupulously eschewed the philosophy of ‘ Sam Daam, Dand, Bhed’ in pursuing its foreign policy objectives. In the past two decades, these core principles have provided a great deal of continuity. While adhering to these core principles, India has continuously adapted to the changing external circumstances and shifting domestic needs. Economic dimensions are now an important element in India’s foreign policy. Currently as much as 50% of GDP is linked to foreign trade as compared to 20% in 1990s. Foreign investments, modern and advanced technology, critical raw materials, energy resources are required as important inputs for India’s economic development. An important objective of India’s foreign policy is thus to act as an enabler, and also to create an external environment which would be conducive for inclusive development within the country so that the benefits of growth can percolate to the poorest of the poor segments of the society.
India’s international image and its stature as an important international player is indisputable. At the same time India is perceived by some as a soft power which prefers to punch below its weight. But India’s approach can be seen as non-intrusive, non-prescriptive, non-interfering but firm and adamant when it comes to safeguarding its national interests. Occasional failures are bound to occur but by and large the track record of India’s foreign policy mandarins can be rated as above board.
India’s international image and its stature as an important international player is indisputable. At the same time India is perceived by some as a soft power which prefers to punch below its weight. But India’s approach can be seen as non-intrusive, non-prescriptive, non-interfering but firm and adamant when it comes to safeguarding its national interests. Occasional failures are bound to occur but by and large the track record of India’s foreign policy mandarins can be rated as above board.

Look East Policy

The Look East policy has emerged as a major thrust area of India’s foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. It was launched in 1991 by the then Narasimha Rao government to renew political contacts, increase economic integration and forge security cooperation with several countries of Southeast Asia as a means to strengthen political understanding. India’s Look East policy is aimed at greater economic alignment and an enhanced political role in the dynamic Asia–Pacific region in general and Southeast Asia in particular. The Look East policy is pursued to make India an inalienable part of Asia–Pacific’s strategic discourse. Hence, the Look East policy marks the beginning of a vibrant relationship on the economic, political and strategic fronts. The economic potential of this policy is also emphasised to link to the economic interests of the North-eastern region as a whole.
The beginning of the early 1990s was marked by a transformation in the international political economy, contributed by the end of the Cold War and the resulting spread of globalisation. Globalisation of world economies intensified international competition and has given rise to a new wave of regionalism. During this time India, like many developing countries, faced many challenges—both internally and globally. Internally, the country was unsettled by social unrest, serious political instability and poor economic performance. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, New Delhi lost a major economic partner and its closet strategic ally. India cannot look towards West Asia and Africa for intensive economic cooperation, as the countries of this region look up mainly to the West. During this period, India has got attracted to the high-performing economies of East Asia. Forced by the economic crisis and the dire need of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) for rapid economic development, India had enunciated the Look East policy in 1991 and was determined to work with the spirit of regional economic cooperation with her Eastern neighbours.
The first phase of India’s Look East policy was ASEAN-centred, and focused primarily on trade and investment linkages. The second phase, which began in 2003, is more comprehensive in its coverage, extending from Australia to East Asia, with ASEAN as its core. The new phase marks a shift in focus from trade to wider economic and security cooperation, political partnerships, physical connectivity through road and rail links. In India’s effort to look East, the Northeastern region has become a significant region due to its geographical proximity to Southeast Asia and China. India’s search for new economic relationship with Southeast Asia is now driven by the domestic imperative of developing the Northeast by increasing its connectivity to the outside world. Instead of consciously trying to isolate the Northeast from external influences, as it had done in the past, New Delhi has now recognised the importance of opening it up for commercial linkages with Southeast Asia.
Over the time, policy-makers, bureaucrats and intellectuals have attributed the numerous armed separatist struggles and political instability in the Northeastern states to the region’s underdevelopment and weak economic integration with mainland India. As part of the efforts to integrate the region with the rest of India, developmental funds were poured in and emphasis was laid on infrastructural development. However, the region still has the problem of underdevelopment and faces the problem of a growing and expanding security apparatus. Moreover, there is a relocation of factories and industries towards northern and western India, and hence the cost of transportation of goods to Northeast India has increased.Therefore, the existing policy of development of the Northeastern region needs to be reoriented if its stated objectives have to be fulfilled in due course.
Look East policy, which identifies Northeast India as the gateway to the East, is a major initiative that promise a new way of development through political integration of this region with the rest of India and economic integration with the rest of Asia, particularly with East and Southeast Asia. Taking into account its geographical proximity, its historical and cultural linkage with Southeast Asia and China and the primary objective of the Look East policy, it is being widely stated that the Look East policy would result in the rapid development of the region as it promises increased trade contacts between the Northeastern region and Myanmar, China and Bangladesh. The policy also has the potential of solving the problem of insurgency, migration and drug trafficking in the region through regional cooperation.
On the other side, there is pessimism that the policy of integrating Northeast India with its Eastern neighbours would lead to dumping of cheap foreign goods, and the region’s own industries being adversely affected by it. The region is also being perceived as just a transit region without bringing economic development to the region, as it has no adequate industrial infrastructure to produce goods which can be exported to these countries. There is also a concern that such integration will develop further the feeling of alienation of the people and the region itself would drift away from the mainstream Indian politics.


Under the BJP government in Delhi, India’s Look East policy has morphed into a proactive Act East policy, which envisages accelerated across-the-board engagement between the two growth poles of a vibrant Asia. India’s growing relations with the 10-nation ASEAN grouping are at the heart of this Asian relationship. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his maiden trip to Myanmar on November, 2014, to attend his first India-ASEAN summit and the 18-nation East Asia Summit, unveiled India’s new “Act East Policy”, and convinced his Southeast Asian counterparts that his government is serious about boosting ties with the region.
Commerce, Culture and Connectivity (Three Cs) are the three pillars of India’s robust engagement with ASEAN. In the economic arena, the India-ASEAN relations are poised to scale new frontiers.The two sides have signed an India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in services and investments recently. It includes specific recommendations to advance ASEAN-India economic relations over the next few years, including establishing a special purpose vehicle for project financing, building information highways, and inviting ASEAN countries to participate in India’s ongoing economic transformation.
For the Northeast to serve as a bridgehead to the country’s eastern neighbourhood, there has to be a comprehensive connectivity strategy for the region. Such a strategy would have three interlinked components. The first would be to improve connectivity between the Northeast and the rest of India; the second would be to enhance connectivity within the Northeast and the third would be to improve existing and establish new cross-border transport and communication links with neighbouring countries. These three components need to be pursued in tandem if the full benefits of Act East policy are to be realised.
In the first category, the existing highway and rail-link needs to be upgraded significantly to enable much higher load-carrying capacity and speedier transit. We need to construct modern expressways and a high-speed rail freight and passenger corridor to more closely integrate the Northeast with the rest of India. This will also enable Northeast produce to find ready markets in the country itself and to compete for exports.
Intra-regional connectivity within the Northeast is sparse, poor in quality and over stretched.The existing branch rail lines and roads from the rail heads to various state capitals are unable to cope with the increase in both freight and passenger traffic. Currently, travel among state capitals of the Northeast is difficult and time consuming. There has to be a master plan for linking all the Northeastern states together with a network of road, rail and air links. One should also fully utilise the potential of inland water transport using the rivers which crisscross the region. Bangladesh is also increasingly open to reviving the old river navigation routes, which were the main transport links in undivided eastern India. Without these Act East policy would not bring economic benefits to the region as it would only bring heavy influx of imports from neighbouring countries without much encouragement to local resource based production and access to the larger Indian and export markets.
Cross-border connectivity has been on the government’s agenda for several years, but has made only slow progress. There is an ambitious Trilateral Highway Project to link India, Myanmar and Thailand, with possible extensions to Laos and Vietnam. The multi-nodal transport corridor linking the Myanmar port of Sittwe with India’s Mizoram, using both river and road transport is under implementation. There are a number of road, river and rail projects in the pipeline with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. In addition to physical infrastructure, it is also important that we adopt the most modern processes to facilitate the smooth crossing of state and national borders by both goods and people. Only then would transaction costs be reduced significantly and raise the competitiveness of our products.
It is important for India to invest in infrastructural development projects in the Northeast region and beyond its borders. At a strategic level, the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor (BCIM) is bound to bring India and Bangladesh closer and will enhance bilateral relations relating to trade and movement of goods. BCIM economic corridor is also very important as it places the North-East as a crucial link to achieve regional economic cooperation via land of the North-Eastern region. Complementing this, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) can also act as a good framework for regional integration. BIMSTEC can open up ample trade and economic opportunities between India’s neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh and also with the countries of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations like Myanmar and Thailand. Were these intended projects to actually materialise, then a densely interconnected and economically vibrant sub-regional economic zone would emerge, with the Northeast as its hub.


The 2015-2016 Indian budget included a proposal to set up manufacturing hubs in CLMV countries. The CLMV includes four Southeast Asian nations – Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, which are seeing the highest FDI growth in the region, especially in manufacturing. As India seeks to deepen economic partnerships with Southeast Asia under an “Act East” policy it has prioritized CLMV economies. There is a history of industrial cooperation between India and the CLMV countries. Major Indian investment in Vietnam includes large projects such as oil exploration, power generation, and chemical manufacturing. The bigger idea behind investing in CMLV is not only to tap these markets but also larger markets like the US with which the group has entered into trade pacts such as the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).


India’s ability to pursue a more ambitious role in the Asia-Pacific will also face domestic constraints. A prolonged period of lower growth, if happens, may reduce India’s capacity to commit resources to the region, it will also diminish its credibility in the eyes of regional partners. India is still in the early stages of developing its ability to project and sustain its naval presence beyond the Indian Ocean, and continued increases in the naval budget and improvements to India’s defence infrastructure will be necessary to achieve this. As a geographic outsider to the Asia-Pacific, India will continue to rely on its partners, particularly in Southeast Asia, to project power east of Malacca, located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, further reinforcing the need for it to prove itself a credible partner in the first place.
India under Modi is likely to pursue a more ambitious role in East and Southeast Asia centred on practical partnerships with Japan, Vietnam, and Australia, and multilateral engagement with ASEAN. India’s partners in the region can expect greater Indian involvement in multilateral maritime security initiatives, particularly in the areas of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, transnational crime, and joint bilateral naval exercises. However, India will be unlikely to engage in any security initiatives that could be perceived as threatening or containing China. In the near term, it would not be realistic to expect India to take an active position on East Asia’s maritime territorial disputes, beyond its declared support for principles such as freedom of navigation.
In the past, India has neglected to articulate a clear vision for its strategic ambitions in East and Southeast Asia. Historically it has suffered from strategic timidity and poor defence planning that has impeded its ability to integrate itself into the Asia-Pacific. To establish the seriousness of India’s commitment to the region, the Modi Government must demonstrate that Act East is more than just a rebranding of an existing policy. Perseverance is a must here and is likely to pay off because of two positive factors. First, the likely emergence of India as the fastest growing major economy. Secondly, India already has some reliable partners, such as Singapore and Vietnam, among ASEAN countries. And there is a palpable unease about China’s claim on what it calls the South China Sea. In order to preclude further inertia, India will need to move quickly to outline a clear agenda for deepening economic, institutional, and defence links with the region that go beyond what has been pledged by previous governments. If the Modi Government is able to achieve this, then India has the potential to assume a role as a consequential strategic player across the wider Indo-Pacific.


India, while emerging as a major economic player in the world, also possesses an ambitious maritime development plan. Its strategic interest in the Indian Ocean primarily derives from its historical sense of considering the Indian Ocean as India’s Ocean. The Indian maritime doctrine provides a guiding principle for increasing the capabilities, peace operations and rescue missions of the Indian Navy and a means for giving India a leadership role in the Indian Ocean region. Maritime strategy is a subset of a grand strategy; it is a long-term plan of action designed to attain a special maritime goal and a connection between military power and politico-economic intentions at sea. India’s presence in the Indian Ocean is changing with new Government at the centre. New polices under Modi asserts and expands India’s influence in the Indian Ocean littoral.


India’s new maritime imperatives will not translate into a vigorous national strategy easily. India’s approach in the past was weighed down by a lack of coherence, political ambivalence, and above all, persistence of a ‘continentalist mind set’ in Delhi’s security establishment. Continentalism, marked by an obsession with land frontiers and a sea blindness, has deep roots in India’s political history. A number of factors like partition, territory conflicts with China and Pakistan, its inward economic orientation in the 1950s have made independent India even more vulnerable to the affliction. Despite a massive coastline and geographic primacy in the Indian Ocean, India had little time for its vast maritime frontiers. India’s economic footprint spread all across the Indian Ocean under the British Raj steadily diminished due to the policies of self-reliance and import substitution in the first decades after Independence.
On the trade and investment front, India chose high-minded rhetoric at the United Nations on building a new international economic order rather than strengthen economic ties with the ocean neighbours. In the realm of security, India’s focus was on turning the Indian Ocean into a ‘zone of peace’. As Great Britain chose to withdraw from the east of Suez in the late 1960s after two centuries of dominating the Indian Ocean, India believed the UN would help replace British primacy with a system of collective security. While many littoral countries sought a major Indian security role, India was reluctant to exert itself.
India’s approach began to change in the 1990s. As India embarked on globalisation and trade, economic connectivity with the Indian Ocean littoral began to come back on its agenda. India also inched away from the military isolationism of the non-aligned era. After decades of hectoring the great powers to get out of the Indian Ocean, Delhi began to engage all of them, including the United States. At the multilateral level, it started to de-emphasise the UN and focused on regional institutions. Over the last few years, India has sought to revive the Indian Ocean Rim Association, set up in the late 1990s to promote regional cooperation. India has expanded bilateral and multilateral naval exercises with many of its neighbours in the Indian Ocean. It launched the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which brings together the chiefs of the navies every two years to discuss naval cooperation. India has also set up a joint mechanism with Sri Lanka and the Maldives for shared maritime domain awareness. The Indian navy has also focused on maritime capacity building, especially in the island states that occupy critical locations in the Indian Ocean.


To realise India’s full strategic potential in the Indian Ocean, India will need to focus on three things. One is to boost India’s own civilian maritime infrastructure, which has become terribly creaky and utterly inadequate for a country so dependent on the seas for its economic life.
Second, India needs to ramp up its capabilities to take up major maritime projects in other countries. China is far ahead simply because of our inactivity and Beijing’s projects in the neighbourhood have given India a wake-up call, but Delhi does not have the capacity or a policy framework to bid for and execute major infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean littoral.
Third, India needs to lend some vigour to its defence diplomacy in the region. Although Delhi talks on being a “net security provider”, the ministry of defence is long way from developing the capabilities, systems and attitudes to make India a productive security partner for the countries of the region.
Finally India needs a big idea to frame the government’s plans for a more purposeful maritime engagement in the Indian Ocean. One is the idea of “Project Mausam” to promote India’s soft power in the littoral. Other, the idea of a “spice route” to capture India’s interest in restoring its historic linkages in the littoral. Delhi has initiated ‘Sagar Mala Project’ to promote India’s connectivity in the Indian Ocean, in both economic and security domains. This concept was first unveiled by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003, with the objective of rapid modernisation and expansion of India’s maritime sector like developing major and non-major ports and infrastructure to transport goods to and from ports quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.
On his March 2015 trip to Seychelles and Mauritius, Narendra Modi outlined a bold new political approach that India had taken towards the Indian Ocean where he laid out five-fold framework for India’s maritime engagement with the Indian Ocean littoral.
The first principle is that India will do whatever necessary to secure its mainland and island territories and defend its maritime interests. The 2008 Mumbai attack has made India acutely conscious of the potential terrorist attacks coming via the sea. At the same Delhi has been deeply aware of the growing strategic significance of the Indian Ocean in global politics. While the primary focus is on India’s own interests, it will work to ensure a safe, secure and stable Indian Ocean Region which is important for the prosperity of the region.
The second dimension focuses on deepening security cooperation with regional partners. India has long had close security partnerships with both Seychelles and Mauritius and the new radar initiative is part of an ambitious project to build a maritime domain awareness network across the Indian Ocean. It calls for the establishment of eight surveillance radars in Mauritius, eight in Seychelles, six in Sri Lanka, and ten in Maldives. These are likely to strengthen the defence capabilities of the two republics and give India a valuable foothold at critical locations in South Western Indian Ocean.
The third framework relates to building multilateral cooperative maritime security in the Indian Ocean. India will help strengthen regional mechanisms in combatting terrorism and piracy and responding to natural disasters. India hope that Mauritius, Seychelles and other countries will join the trilateral security initiative it already has with Maldives and Sri Lanka. This sets the stage for very productive multilateral maritime security cooperation in the littoral with India at the core. India’s access to strategic facilities in Seychelles and Mauritius marks a major departure from its traditional opposition to foreign military bases but calling these arrangements “bases” might be premature, they point to future possibilities for an expanded Indian strategic footprint in the littoral.
The fourth element of this maritime policy is sustainable economic development. In Seychelles, Modi announced a joint working group to expand cooperation on the “blue economy” that will increase littoral states’ understanding of ecology, resources, and allow them to harness the ocean in a sustainable manner.
Finally, India has discarded India’s longstanding reluctance to cooperate with other major powers in the Indian Ocean. India still insists that Indian Ocean states hold the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in those waters but is not hostile to the role that the United States plays in the region through dialogue, exercises, economic partnerships, and capacity building efforts. There is a decisive break from the ambivalence of the earlier governments which was evinced during the recent visit of U.S. President Barack Obama where both countries announced the renewal of their defence framework agreement and signed a broad framework for expanding cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific.


The Project Mausam is considered the Modi government’s most significant foreign policy initiative designed to counter China. It is inspired by India’s historical role as the focal point for trade in the Indian Ocean. In pre-modern times, sailors used seasonal monsoons to swiftly journey across the Indian Ocean. This trip usually involved starting from one of the edges of the ocean, around today’s Indonesia or east Africa, sailing to India and waiting for another monsoon to sail to the other edge of the Indian Ocean. As monsoon winds blew in different directions at different times of the year the crews would frequently winter for months in India waiting for another season of monsoons. This allowed for significant cultural exchanges as diverse people from different places would often spend months at a time living in foreign countries. More importantly shared knowledge systems and ideas spread along these routes and impacted both coastal centres, and also large parts of the environs.
Project Mausam would allow India to re-establish its ties with its ancient trade partners and re-establish an “Indian Ocean world” along the littoral of the Indian Ocean. This world would stretch from east Africa, along the Arabian Peninsula, past southern Iran to the major countries of South Asia and thence to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Re-connecting and re-establishing communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns and understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu .The central themes that hold Project ‘Mausam’ together are those of cultural routes and maritime landscapes that not only linked different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral, but also connected the coastal centres to their hinterlands.
It is clear that India’s government intends to expand its maritime presence, culturally, strategically and psychologically (in order to remind the region why the ocean is called the Indian Ocean). Despite the lack of details, Project Mausam seems like a positive step in that direction and one that will generally be well-received. It is to be hoped, however, that the project is meaningful and does not lack teeth, like many other Indian initiatives of the past.


The geographical conception of West Asia has significantly expanded since the collapse of the Soviet Union and is now called the “Greater Middle East”. It includes the far corners of northern Africa and the now independent republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Much like South East Asia, this region shares a long historical association with India. It is the source for India’s ever-expanding needs of energy. It is also a huge market for Indian goods, services, and skilled manpower. And, it is the arena for the unfolding confrontation between the impulse for political modernisation and religious extremism. This tension has naturally overflowed into the subcontinent destabilising India’s own security environment.
While India’s engagement with the Greater Middle East has increased in the 1990s, there is as yet no coherent strategy. India has attempted, in a piecemeal manner, to improve relations with the Central Asian states, sought to promote its energy security partnerships in the Gulf and beyond, and reach out to markets there. It has sought to develop a special relationship with Iran and intensify its role in Afghanistan. All these efforts have not added up to much. Nor has India been able to reclaim its pre-independence primacy in the region. The inability of India to make a strategic breakthrough in the Greater Middle East lies in the unending political rivalry and military tension with Pakistan. The Partition in 1947 removed India’s physical access to the region. Pakistan, of course, is more than a geographic barrier between India and the Greater Middle East. It has effectively neutralised many of India’s initiatives through its own special links to the Greater Middle East.
India’s ‘Look West Policy’ was unveiled in the India-UAE Joint statement when Modi visited United Arab Emirates in August, 2015. The Look East Policy succeeded because South-East Asia began to “look West” to India, seeking a balancer to China. Modi’s “Look West” Policy has the potential to succeed because West Asia is “looking East” worried about the emerging strategic instability in its own neighbourhood and the structural shift in the global energy market. The foundation for Modi’s successful outreach to West Asia was in fact laid by his predecessor when India invited the King of Saudi Arabia to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade, in 2006. This was followed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Riyadh and the India-Saudi defence cooperation agreement signed in 2014. This had set the stage for wider engagement at a strategic level with the other states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Mr. Modi’s visit to the UAE was preceded by significant visits to other GCC states by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. She made Bahrain her first stop in the region and was welcomed by Bahrain’s India-friendly leadership.Over the last year, the government has put forward a nuanced view of the region openly declaring friendship with Israel, seeking better relations with Iran and, at the same time, cementing a thriving relationship with the GCC states. The Joint Statement between the United Arab Emirates and India is an important articulation of a significant shift in the Arab world’s view of India. The statement is truly comprehensive and wide-ranging. It talks of historic ties of “commerce, culture and kinship”, drawing attention to the unique history of Arab interaction with Indian communities of the west coast, from Gujarat to Kerala.
Diaspora & remittances: The West Asian region is home to millions of non-resident Indians who are an important source to India in financial remittances. The introduction of the Nitaqat laws in many Gulf countries has resulted in several thousands of these workers having to return to India. While it is unfair to view the returnees as a liability, one cannot ignore the economic and social impact of this mass re-migration. India is not prepared to assimilate all these people into its own economy just yet. Already, unemployment rates are high and job creation will take a while, and until then, there will be some strain on the economy.


India, being a growing economy, is perpetually energy-hungry. West Asian nations are among the primary suppliers of oil and gas that keep the Indian economy running. Stable and more improved relations between India and the region are key to securing and expanding on these sources.

Maritime security:

Be it trade or energy supply routes, or even national security, the significance of an effective maritime security infrastructure in the Indian Ocean – the maritime link connecting India with several of its key West Asian partners – is pivotal to ensuring safety, stability, and disaster-management for the region. Already, there is a constant threat of piracy in the western Indian Ocean. A concentrated policy will be needed to identify specific issues and areas of cooperation between India and West Asia, in order to ensure smooth and secure movement.
Furthermore, in recent times, there have been many debates on the concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ to boost connectivity between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The two regions already have robust connectivity, but more can be done. However, if this concept of the Indo-Pacific has to become a reality, there is a need for enhanced cooperation in various areas among the key players in each region, before connecting the regions. Eventually, the Look West Policy and the Look East Policy can lay the foundations for the realisation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’.
National and regional security: Any form of tumult in the West Asian region invariably has an impact on India and South Asia as a whole. For strategic reasons, India seeks peace and political stability and security in the West Asian region. So far, India has been pragmatic in its policies towards the West Asian region excellent examples of which are balancing its relationships with Palestine and Israel; and Saudi Arabia and Iran, among others.
However, there is more that needs to be done, and for that, there needs to be better, more polished and astute understanding of the region in our country – especially in the light of the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan; the thawing in the US-Iran bilateral; the ongoing civil war in Syria and its implications; implementation of the Nitaqat policies in the Gulf countries; and the rising fundamentalism, especially in the franchisee-ing nature of terror networks, among others.


What is significant about the new strategic partnership is the fact that it is defined not just by India’s “Look West” policy, based on its energy and financial needs, but that it is equally defined by the GCC’s “Look East” policy, soliciting greater Indian engagement with West Asia. Several factors have contributed to this fundamental shift in West Asian strategic thinking.
First, the structural change in the global energy market with West Asian oil and gas increasingly heading to South and East Asian markets rather than to the Trans-Atlantic markets. Second, partly as a consequence of this change in flows and partly owing to the fiscal stress faced by the trans-Atlantic economies, West Asia is looking to India and other Asian powers to step in and offer security guarantees to the region. Many GCC states have welcomed defence cooperation agreements with India. Third, in the wake of the Arab Spring and the mess in Egypt and Iraq, the Gulf States find India and China to be more reliable interlocutors than many western states. Fourth, under pressure from radical and extremist political forces within West Asia, most states in the region have come to value the Indian principle of seeking and securing regional stability as an over-riding principle of regional security.
This strategic engagement is the product of a mutual “look-at-each-other” policy. If China’s rise offered the backdrop for South-East Asia’s “look at India” policy, the West’s failures and weaknesses, and a weakening of the strategic trust between the West and West Asia may have contributed to the GCC’s “look at India” policy. Modi’s visit to Central Asian countries also adds to the success of the Look West policy.


India has now started think ways to exploit the energy rich region of Central Asia which would give boost to its foreign policy on energy. Irrespective of the difficulties like the presence of great powers in the region, limited trade and limited size of markets, Central Asia has gained valuable place in the foreign policy of India for more than a decade. The ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ is a concrete testimony of this growing interest, which is based on proactive political economic and people to people connectivity with the region both individually and collectively. CCAP obviously add to its energy policy to tap the natural resources in the region.
The ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy (CCAP) was first unveiled by UPA government as a Track II initiative in June 2012 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to fast-track India’s relations with the Central Asian Republics (CAR) – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It aimed at increasing India’s engagement with the region both bilaterally and multilaterally, which has been limited in the last two decades.
This also offers chances for Central Asian countries to meet their desire to diversify hydropower and energy export routes, corresponding with India’s quest for diversifying energy imports. CCAP highlights the broader aspects of India-Central Asia cooperation on several subjects such as exchanges of high level visits to strengthen political relations both bilaterally and multilaterally, to gain strategic and security cooperation via military training, joint research, counterterrorism coordination and close consultation on Afghanistan.The policy is also looking at the region as a long term partner in energy and natural resources. Apart from this, setting up of civil hospitals and clinics in the medical field to ensure modern health care system in CARs, contributing to higher education system like setting up a Central Asian University in Bishkek to impart world class education in areas like IT, Management, Philosophy and languages, to work on Central Asian e-networking with its hub in India, to encourage construction sector, promote land connectivity through reactivating INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor) route are some of its soft power initiatives in the region.
In addition, through this policy India wants to expand viable banking infrastructure and policy environment which is absent in the region, a major impediment to trade and investment. Finally, to improve air connectivity to promote tourism and to enhance people to people connectivity through mutual exchanges of youth delegations, students, scholars, academics and future leaders of India to sustain our deep engagement are also India’s policy concerns. Such a comprehensive approach would be beneficial for India to strengthen its engagement in the energy sector of the region.
Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s visit to the 5 states had a three-fold focus: energy, exports, and as a counterpoint to China’s inroads in the region.
India is trying to develop connectivity with Central Asia which is a favourable energy option for India. Chabahar port of Iran in the Gulf of Oman and Bandar Abbas port near the Strait of Hormuz are likely to become as potential route for transporting into Afghanistan and through its territory to Central Asia which is part of INSTC route The policy outlines the role of India to promote INSTC trade route as it is involved in ongoing discussion with Iran to complete under-construction portion of this route which will result in shorter transit time for trade with

Central Asia

Exchanges of high level visits by leaderships from both sides as described in the policy can help in strengthening the cooperation in multiple areas. In addition, joint research programs and exchanges of ideas of scholars on energy, trade and geopolitical issues probably contribute to the research on India-Central Asia’s joint ventures in the energy sectors which would provide them a space for decision making regarding energy and security strategy.
This policy further emphasizes on people to people connectivity and humanitarian concerns such as opening hospitals and education systems through which they can know about each other needs and win the governments favour. Thus, it is expected that India would increase its cooperation in the region both bilaterally and multilaterally through these soft power initiatives which would prove to be effective tools of its engagement in the region’s energy sector.
No doubt, realization of this policy can spur the development of Indian engagement in the region. Indian government and business has already started to make contacts with their Central Asian counterparts for enhancing mutual cooperation through this policy framework. Its main focus on cooperation on developing transportation infrastructure linking India-Central Asia region to facilitate the increase of trade turnover and import of strategic natural resources still remains a needed component which is essential for the growth of Indian economy. It is thus expected that this policy would help to revitalize South and Central Asia trade links which can further give boost to energy imports of India from the region. Finally, it looks impossible to bring energy directly from Central Asia on the face of the current geopolitical realities in South Asia, but CCAP is going to be an effective tool for India in order to make strong footholds in the region, and slowly push its energy agenda effectively.


In fact, importance of Central Asia is a challenge in itself and there are several draw backs in speeding up the relationships and governmental interactions of India with the region under the present circumstances. In the present settings of South and Central Asia it seems to be very difficult to bring energy directly and easily from the region. Here are some of vibrant challenges to India and to establish connectivity with Central Asia to satisfy its energy needs in particular.
First, lack of direct route connectivity. India has been lacking direct land route links since its partition. This forms the fundamental challenge in establishing easy and sustainable connection. This poses a great difficulty for India’s trade with Central Asia as it has to seek other options to connect with Central Asia. Land route connection plays a key role in developing trade and transport of energy materials.
Second, India’s relations with neighbouring countries and weak border. This is the main geopolitical challenge and associated problem with the above stated point. India has hostile neighbours like Pakistan and China. China’s encirclement of India via Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan poses problems for its security. These types of relationships with neighbouring countries and weak borders made India an isolated land which has to struggle for making presence across the region.
Third, Islamic extremism. This issue has been focal point of India’s concern on its national security. The terrorist activities such as Taliban insurgency on domestic soil of Afghanistan and Pakistan has been threatening.Due to the proximity of CARs to the Afghan border, Central Asian countries are also experiencing terrorist activities and drug trafficking which has become a big security concern for India too. Since there is always threat of disruption to India’s energy initiatives across the region it has become vital for India to ensure strategic and border security along with energy security.
Finally, geopolitical competition between great powers in the energy sector. There is an intense competition in the region between great powers of the world such as the US, Russia and emerging power China, which are economically as well as politically involved in the region, in the energy sector. China is one of the major energy competitors for India in the Central Asian energy story. Russia wanted to maintain it soviet legacy over the region. Both China and Russia are members of SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and aiming at reducing the US influence in the region. On the other hand, the US is trying to exploit energy resources of the region and make this a strategic base to control Islamic terrorism. Hence India has to push its interests through the interplay of these powers and across their individual interests. Moreover, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey are trying to pursue their interests in the region and Pakistan continues not only to block India geographically but also politically.


Central Asian countries have shown their keen interest in allowing India to play a bigger role in the region. Russia has been a dominant force in the region and China has also made inroads into the region in recent years. But the five capitals want to diversify their foreign relations and believe that India’s presence will help them achieve their aim. And Mr Modi seems to have leveraged Central Asia’s quest for diversification to India’s advantage.
Stability in Central Asian region is important as it have a significant impact on the internal security of Russia, India and other neighbouring states. There is a need to bring together the two regions South and Central Asia in the cooperative environments which will be great contribution to regional stability and lasting peace building programmes and will help the removing of drug smuggling and attacking terrorist groups in the region. For this India needs to boost sub-region groups between South and Central Asia as it has did in Southeast Asia context on the lines of following Look East policy.Tajikistan, Turkestan and Uzbekistan share borders with Afghanistan and fear that any instability in the neighbourhood will affect them. India can bolster her Afghan policy through CAR’s. Central Asian countries are also “nervous” about the growing influence of Islamic State militant group in the region. The PM has convinced the leaders of the five nations that India stands united in their fight against the jihadist group.
India needs to change its approach to Central Asia and show greater pro-activity. We must shed piecemeal approach to Central Asia in favour of a holistic and long term approach. We must think big. This will require dealing with Central Asia not only at the bilateral level but also at a collective level. India could consider setting up an India-Central Asia Forum (on the lines of India-Africa Forum) to deal with the region in a holistic fashion, to engage with them periodically with regularity and to identify projects which are of common interests. Monitoring an implementation mechanism should also be set up. It would be desirable to set up a Central Asia fund (say $ 2 billion) to seed the various projects.
The economic development of Central Asia, especially in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, has sparked a construction boom and development of sectors like IT, pharmaceuticals and tourism. India has expertise in these sectors and deeper cooperation will give a fresh impetus to trade relations with these countries. India’s trade ties with Central Asia have been performing well below their true potential. Poor connectivity has also contributed to the below-par trade between India and Central Asia.
India has to work out a multipronged strategy to address the energy issue and overcome the crisis it is currently undergoing. Having realized the practical difficulties in transporting energy from Central Asia under the present geopolitical realities, India should adopt pragmatic strategies and should continue its political dialogues with CARs and other transit countries.Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan recently inaugurated a railway line connecting the two countries with Iran. India has invested in Iran’s Chabahar port and that will allow Indian products to reach Iran and then to Central Asia through the rail link.
A strategy of cooperation rather competition/clash would best suit its interests. India needs to pursue its ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’ energetically, irrespective of its unimpressive gains so far, to achieve plausible breakthroughs in regional, economic, trade and energy cooperation with new states. The policy can play a role of anchor in increasing India’s hard and large period planned attention in view of its further relations with Central Asia.

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