New Delhi

Shrewd Diplomacy

By not putting all its eggs in one basket like Pakistan, Indian diplomacy is in a better position to manoeuvre and retain trust of both Moscow and Washington at the same time.

By Dr. Moonis Ahmar | June 2023

Despite being a beneficiary of Moscow’s unabated support to India’s position in Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IOJ&K) and during the 1971 India-Pakistan war in the UN General Assembly and Security Council, New Delhi preferred to pursue cautious diplomacy by remaining neutral during the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. India’s neutrality on various international issues stems from its age-old policy of non-alignment unlike Pakistan which since 1950s was part of the U.S.-led Western alliances of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). In contrast, India pursued a policy of non-alignment.

Neither condemning nor supporting the Russian position over Ukraine reflects the dynamics of Indian diplomacy. It means, both India and Pakistan, despite their existential conflicts are on the same page and tends to pursue a policy of neutrality on Russia-Ukraine war. However, it seems quite unanticipated that India has almost ditched its age-old ally Moscow by not rendering support over Ukraine in the UN Security Council and in General Assembly. India’s neutral stance on Ukraine is also bizarre, despite the fact that on many occasions Kyiv took an unsupportive position to New Delhi over J&K and established strong military ties with Islamabad. Pressure from the West, particularly the United States, may have compelled India not to take pro-Russian policy on Ukraine.

A famous dictum in International Relations that “there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends, only permanent interests” very well applies in case of Indian diplomacy which despite its age-old friendship with the then Soviet Union tilted in favour of the United States after the Soviet Union’s breakup. “India’s neutrality on the Ukraine conflict could hurt it in the long run,” says Sudha Ramachandran, a Bangalore-based analyst who focuses on South Asian politics. According to Ramachandran, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 has put India in a particularly difficult spot. Since the conflict between Moscow and the U.S. over Ukraine began escalating late last year, India has avoided taking sides. But with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, that cautious approach will become increasingly untenable for New Delhi. It could hurt India’s interests in the long-run.”

Explaining that how India’s neutrality on Russia-Ukraine conflict can hurt Indian interests, Sudha argues that, “India’s neutrality in the conflict was made clear again during the UNSC debate on February 22, which followed soon after Putin announced a decree recognizing the independence of separatist regions Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

In his statement, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations T. S. Tirumurti expressed “deep concern” over the “escalation of tension” along the Russia-Ukraine border but did not condemn Russia’s actions. Indeed, the statement referred only to “these developments” and made no mention of Russia’s actions”.

As the world’s fifth largest economy and the prediction that it will be world’s third largest economy by 2028, Indian diplomacy is geared towards avoiding antagonizing major powers, particularly the United States but in that process it cannot neglect Moscow because of historical reasons. It was the then Soviet Union which in the past had vetoed resolutions in the UN Security Council on Indian-occupied Jammu & Kashmir and also actively supported India during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. Knowing that now Russia and China are like allies and both have antagonistic ties with the United States, New Delhi is in a quandary as how to avoid American pressure particularly when it is in QUAD, a loose anti-Chinese alliance comprising Australia, India, Japan and the United States. For that matter Sudha is of the opinion that, “Since 60-70 percent of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin, India is dependent on Russia for equipment and spares, a fact it cannot ignore especially at a time when a military confrontation with China is possible. While this is an important concern for India, New Delhi cannot ignore the fact that Russia’s actions in recent weeks have enormous long-term implications for India’s national security. The crisis in Eastern Europe will benefit China as it is likely to keep the U.S. bogged down in Europe. It will force the U.S. to shift focus from the Indo-Pacific to Europe. A situation that benefits China is not in India’s interest, especially in the context of their increasingly hostile relationship”.

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One thought on “Shrewd Diplomacy

  • June 9, 2023 at 1:54 pm

    Very deep analysis penned down very well. An excellent article with historical facts. Prof. Ahmar’s vision is extraordinary.