2004 will see the world coming to terms with living is an insecure world. Already many people empathise with Indians who have lived for quite some time under cross border terrorism. For example people complain less about the arduous process of checking in on Indian domestic flights, with those innumerable rubber stamps on the luggage tags. Some foreign businessmen on my flight once told me that they were happy to subject themselves to these irritants as they ensured their own security. Life and business will go on as usual in spite of higher threat perceptions.
It will be another bad year for terrorists of almost all denominations, especially so if General Musharraf decides to fully renounce the Dark Side. He’s going to be army chief until the end of the year and President until 2007. He has the opportunity to launch a resolute cleaning of the jehadi stable, but whether he can do so and live to tell the tale remains suspect. Whether he does this or not will be the most important, and least likely, security issue for India this year.
The United States is going to need help in Iraq. India must not only send troops to cement a solidarity with the United States, but also send enough troops to make a difference for the Iraqi people. India needs to project its profile in its region of strategic interest which includes the Persian Gulf.
The ASEAN countries are trying to cope with their share of the battle against terrorism. India would do well to enhance intelligence cooperation with the ASEAN countries; and scale up naval patrolling of shipping lanes in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean both to combat piracy and intercept illicit weapons trade. Myanmar is a black sheep, and India must ensure it does not legitimise or strengthen their atrocious rule.
Within SAARC, India must make an effort to reach out and be magnanimous to those countries which respond to India’s concerns. The carrots offered by the Gujral doctrine must be made available to Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. At the same time, India should not be afraid to take punitive measures against those that dont. Unfortunately, India will be seen as a regional bully by these countries regardless of the carrot or the stick; its good to be loved, but necessary to remain secure.
Elections are on their way; both in India and the United States. The foreign policies of BJP and Congress are not likely to be much different, although Congress suffers from the legacy of the Natwar Singhs and other relics non-alignment. However, if the Third Front comes to power in a hung parliament, then we may have to settle for a third class foreign policy. Whatever the outcome, India must work to institutionalise its alliance with the United States, regardless of whether it is Bush or one of his Democratic challengers who comes to occupy the Oval Office.
More opportunities will arise for consolidating the rapprochement with China, but there will be irritants. Its still not clear how China has reacted to ULFA and others who have asked for its protection. It takes a highly nuanced game to play with China, but that does not mean India should stop pressing Beijing on matters of interest. Beijing will remain Pakistan’s benefactor for time to come, but sees better relations with India for their own sake. Trade will play a major role in bringing India and China closer, it must be given the importance it deserves.
BTW: 2004 is the Year of the Monkey according to the Chinese Zodiac
Counterpoint: Conrad Barwa’s response to this post at Living In India
Colin Powell’s op-ed in the New York Times titled “What we will do in 2004” says:
The war on terrorism remains our first priority, but success in that war depends on constructive ties among the world’s major powers. These we pursue without respite; America’s relations with Russia, China and India all improved in 2003. Ties with allies old and new have been strengthened as well, despite the growing pains of adjustment to a new era.
And India must continue to develop good relations with Israel [See JK’s post at Varnam] but not necessarily endorse the Sharon government’s policies. It is possible for democracies to build institutional relations with each other regardless of what electoral politics throws up.