In its 75th year of independence India has grown rapidly in stature in the international community. India’s foreign policy was limited to its neighborhood and the mantra of non-alignment was a bi-partisan Indian approach to the complex geopolitical global dynamic. From a country which has avoided in taking an active side in the cold war, to the point of co-founding the Non-Aligned Summit (NAM), in the past year, Modi’s India has become a pivot and center of the shift in the global geopolitical dynamic.
The rise of India as a potential super-power has been coupled with India’s unique position as the only secular democracy in South Asia which is able to not only relate to developing countries but is able to embrace the point of view of developed allies. After a disastrous second wave of the pandemic, not only has India been able to recover its position, it has gone back to its position of the “pharmacy of the world”.
The recent G20 head of states meeting in Rome and COP 26 in Glasgow have all but announced the start of an India centric world and a need for a new enlarged “Indo-Mediterranean”. Not only has India’s position in the quest for the security of a free and open Indo-pacific been cemented by the Quad, but the recent formation of a new Quad of natural allies US, India, Israel and the UAE started a new series of mini-geopolitical alliances which together aim to counter the China-Pakistan-Iran-Turkey and Qatar alliance. The two important threats in the new era of post pandemic geopolitics, Islamic extremism and Chinese aggression are both issues India finds as the first frontier. While the United States has all but accepted the start of the end of pax-Americana, India has been forced to try and replace the US as the flag bearer for democracy and freedom, while sharing a 3400 km border with China.
The Afghanistan conundrum and the Pakistan problem
Afghanistan has been named the “graveyard of empires”. From the British to the Russians to now the Americans, no global power has been able to completely capture and control the country. After a 20-year occupation, the US under its new president Joseph Biden Jr. conducted a hasty withdrawal, with little consultation all but handing over the country to the Taliban, a Sunni wahabi extremist group financed and supported by Pakistan’s Intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its all powerful army. The US withdrawal and the capitulation of Kabul to wanted terrorists has imperiled the security of South Asia and the world in general.
An unstable Afghanistan with potentially tacit Chinese support under the influence of Pakistan and terrorists who are sworn enemies of India and Israel, create a problem of strategic depth for India. Apart from strategic depth, Pakistan had already started moving terrorist training camps of groups like Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) to Afghanistan such that it could claim that it did not support terror. China has been hesitant on the amount of support it should provide the new Taliban led emirate. The Taliban’s and Pakistan’s desperation to be accepted by the Chinese regime, which would open up financing for the exploitation of over a trillion dollars of rare earth and minerals in Afghanistan have created an explosive dynamic and as the takeover of Kabul moves into a status-quo during winter, not only does Afghanistan risk a protracted humanitarian crisis but also destabilization with the risk of the various factions of the Taliban, especially the Loy Kandahar and the Haqqani led Loya Pakhtiya, turning against each other.
The US has distanced itself from the Afghan question and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s efforts at bringing the Afghan situation for discussion at the G20 with India’s support did not produce any concrete results. India has several reasons why it needs to continue pushing the Afghanistan dossier. The main reason is security and the need to defend its external borders from terror. A second reason is to control the drug trade, which has increased exponentially with the arrival of the Taliban in power.
In the new geopolitical global setup, India finds itself the singular leader of democracy in the strategic shift that has occurred with the rise of China as the counter power to the USA and Russia’s steady decline in the global geopolitical game. To these concerns the cards have fallen automatically. The theater of global interest has shifted from Europe to the Indo-Pacific, where at land and sea India finds itself physically, economically, and politically surrounded.
The resurgence of the Quad (Quadrilateral security dialogue) with the US, India, Australia and Japan renewing their alliance to create a sort of NATO for the Indo-Pacific or the emergence of the new Quad of US, India, Israel and the UAE have started a new paradigm in geopolitical alliances, which see the US and India as the primary players, but bring into the fold relatively smaller but key players like the UAE and Israel to counter the key issues of a post pandemic world of China and Islamic terror.
The sun rises in the East
It was just a matter of time that the focus of global geopolitics moved to the Indo-Pacific and Asia where one-third of humanity lives. The pandemic has brought about a new set of global changes, which politicians are unable to counter. While some such as Islamic radicalism, Chinese aggression, Iran and North Korea may seem to have political solutions, others such as future pandemics and global warming do not. The world order since the second world war has been quite defined and these new challenges are forcing Modi’s India to start taking the lead on the international stage, being a key important player in all issues, from Islamic terror to technology.
At the recent G20 in Rome and later at the COP 26 in Glasgow, India spoke for the developing world and took the leadership on climate matters. Without committed financing and access to affordable technology, it was a pipedream expecting India to commit to a carbon free date. Not only did India work with arch-rival china on the language of the COP 26 declaration, it did so in a responsible manner and only when the G20 Presidency was unable to guarantee funds that were needed for a quicker carbon transition. On a per capita basis, India remains one of the least polluters in the top group of countries, so penalizing it for optics would have however forced several smaller developing countries to accept terms that were neither equal nor just and eventually not sustainable.
At the G20 in Rome, Modi’s leadership on the COVID vaccine programs, supply chain resilience and technology protection did not go unnoticed. Not only was Modi successful in reversing the destructive trend of the second wave of the pandemic, he was successful in providing a billion doses of vaccines to his own countrymen and restart exports to poor countries before the G20 meeting in Rome. By committing a production of 5 billion doses and continuing to provide other vaccines for illnesses such as polio and tuberculosis as well as innovating new vaccines for malaria, India now has firmly established itself as the pharmacy of the world.
New challenges and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”
Modi’s trip to Rome, brought out Modi the statesman and the strategist. Out of all the meetings he held, probably the most important were the informal ones hosted by the pope. His Holiness met only three leaders, all three with a strategic position against Xi’s China, with whom the Vatican’s own relationship is very delicate and tenuous.
Accepting Modi’s invitation to India, which he called “the most precious gift of them all”, the Pope has started on a path which aligns Catholics and Christians worldwide with India at a perilous time in global politics. Without saying much, Francis’s reception of Biden, Modi and Jae-In will go down in history as one of the most important political messages the Vatican has delivered in the recent past.
Apart from his coup with the Vatican, Modi’s reconciliatory approach with Italy’s Leonardo-taking the defense contractor from the banned list in India as well as his pushing for the rights of small farmers and women at the G20, have firmly put India on the map as the protector of the underdog.
Back at home, Modi has repealed the three laws which some agricultural communities have been protesting against since an year. While these reforms were essential and required, the surprising move of the repeal, has left his detractors confused. This new chapter of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is but one family), seems to be Modi’s new mantra in internal policies as well as international policies. His ability to forgive and forget and start new chapters brings to fore a new leader, with a new India behind him.
India’s position for now is accidental in the global order, but the elephant treads slowly and surely leaving a big foot-print. History will mark this period as the resurgence of pax-Indiana, which will hopefully usher in a new era of inclusive governance, democracy, and stability globally.
This article is by guest writer Vas Shenoy. He has worked closely and continues to advise various governments Europe, Middle East and Africa. The views expressed in this article are the authors' own. Gomantak Times neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.