--- Manoj Saxena
BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, developed jointly by Russia and India (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru saw science and technology as a vital component to the national interest of developing countries in the post colonial era. Since Nehru had himself witnessed the British use of advanced technology for controlling India he was suspicious of relying overly on the west, and emphasized on building self-reliance. The first Indian cabinet also envisaged scientific cooperation with countries which would not impinge on India's sovereignty — an understandable position considering that India had only recently gained independence from British rule in 1947. In Nehru's view, science was one of the major means with which the post colonial world could reduce its dependency on the more advanced countries of the west thereby ensuring minimum outside interference and maximum strategic autonomy.
However, technological primacy ultimately lay with the west and realism dictated the Indian government to forsake some of its post colonial ideals in order to forge alliances with the western world for progressive cooperation in various fields of science and technology. India's initial allies and enablers in its scientific endeavors included western countries such as the United States of America, Canada, and, indeed, the United Kingdom — its former colonial occupier. During Nehru's time the Indian Parliament also passed the Science Policy Resolution in 1958, which confirmed that the Indian leadership was concerned with urgent procurement of scientific knowledge and was eager to ensure that the country had an adequate number of competent scientists to meet its aim of eventually becoming a self-reliant great power.
Cooperation with the Soviet Union, too, had begun to surface during the 1960s and the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation was signed in 1971. Article I of the treaty emphasized mutual respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs, conditions that India traditionally sought from its bilateral partners and still does. Articles VI-VII of the treaty include scientific and technological cooperation. This treaty is of special significance since technological aid from the UK, US, and Canada had largely subsided after the Indian Smiling Buddha nuclear tests of 1974, and the Soviet Union remained India's most significant scientific partner until it was dissolved in 1991.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War India embarked upon financial reforms under the stewardship of finance minister Manmohan Singh in 1991, and gradually embraced market-oriented economy. An increase in foreign investment from both private sector enterprises and state actors accelerated annual economic growth. The technology sector was among the prime beneficiaries of these reforms and India registered rapid growth in the telecommunications, information technology, and biotechnology sectors. The country was also able to endure a brief period of western sanctions following its Pokhran-II nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, and even registered economic growth in the aftermath of the tests. In 2005, India managed to secure a civil nuclear agreement with the United States, a measure which was seen as having granted a degree of legitimacy to its position as a responsible nuclear power.
In the 21st century, India's scientific cooperation with several members of the international community saw it assume the role of both the benefactor and the beneficiary in different cases. India provided technological aid to Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Palestine. India also accepted advanced technology from countries such as the US and Japan to aid its own infrastructure building and scientific advancement. Between 1999-2015, India's space program had launched satellites for 51 foreign countries, including scientifically advanced countries such as the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Israel. However, India's quest for self reliance in the defense sector was largely unsuccessful as its Light Combat Aircraft program failed to take off and its Dhruv military helicopters repeatedly crashed in Ecuador.
In May 2014, Narendra Modi of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected to the Indian parliament and appointed as India's 15th Prime Minister after a successful performance in the largest democratic elections in the country's history. Even prior to the elections the BJP's manifesto (p. 36) stated that the party intended to use science and technology to 'build a new and resurgent India'. The document further read that the party 'will ensure that science and technology truly uplifts the Indian people and indeed all humanity.' Modi had previously served as a three time Chief Minister of India's Gujarat province and had acquired a reputation as an able technocrat and an efficient administrator. Following his victory in the 2014 Indian general elections his science and technology initiatives did not disappoint.
By January 2016, the Indian Prime Minister had convincingly embarked on a series of initiatives such as Digital India, Make in India, and Startup India. Bilateral agreements for the promotion of science, technology, and infrastructure were inked with not only with India's traditional partners but also with countries such as China — with which India had been pursuing a steadily successful rapprochement since the 1970s. Agreements with China in the field of infrastructure building and for the Indian project of smart cities highlight the fact that the two Asian giants had departed from their previously held position of overt hostility and were eager to pursue normalization despite an outstanding boundary dispute.
The Indian PM has also shown a keen interest in frequently meeting CEOs from leading science and technology enterprises from around the world — adding a touch of personal diplomacy to his attempts for securing multinational investment in India. In the Modi administration, social media also plays a part as an effective tool which connects the Indian government to both its people and with leaders abroad — a feature hitherto missing from Indian diplomacy. Indian ministers such as the External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj or Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu have been known to respond quickly to civilian calls for assistance made via Twitter. In a first for India's international diplomacy, Modi announced his surprise stopover to Lahore, Pakistan on Christmas day last year via Twitter.
This is not to say that the situation on the ground in the country itself has changed dramatically since the Modi administration has come into power. The reforms initiated by the Modi administration will take time to manifest into tangible achievements and some of the reforms will be difficult to implement given the unpredictable nature of India's chaotic democracy. Also, a federal structure which grants substantial power to the state governments may limit some of the impact of these reforms. Furthermore, several of India's opposition politicians still favor traditional socialist style policies and are wary of abandoning their long-cherished ideals.
Although India has been able to develop substantial scientific, technological, and industrial capabilities its overall national development and economic standard remains sub-par due to slow implementation of reforms, often enforced by a corrupt and inept bureaucracy. However, the country has managed to reach its current levels of progress without any significant losses to its strategic autonomy — a cherished principle of Indian diplomacy. Neighboring Pakistan has — in contrast — made considerable concessions to western powers and China in order to advance its own national progress, losing a large portion of its state sovereignty and strategic autonomy as an outcome.
In many ways science and technology in Indian diplomacy makes for a vexing study in paradoxes. Modern India sent its Mangalyaan mission to Mars in the very first attempt but its Dhruv helicopters repeatedly crashed in Ecuador, embarrassing the country. The country's Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has been credited with building a sound road infrastructure in Afghanistan yet the quality of Indian roads largely remains sub-par. India has a large workforce well-versed in modern science and technology but the county's best scientific minds often migrate outside its borders in absence of suitable opportunities in their home country. India's role on the world stage, too, is of a country which itself seeks modern technology from friendly advanced countries but also aids its lesser-developed allies in their pursuit for scientific advancement.
As India emerges on the world stage as an economic power more collaboration and more partnerships with countries and private enterprises can be expected. Foreign manufacturers from the defense sector have already shown an increasing interest in undertaking joint ventures with Indian companies to manufacture defense equipment in India. Ultimately, only time will tell how well the country manages to engage with the world in the field of high science and technology while clinging on to its long cherished ideals of maximum strategic autonomy and non alignment.
---- Manoj Saxena
INS Kora (right) escorts PLAN Weifang in the Bay of Bengal as a measure of courtesy during the visit of Chinese Rear Admiral Han Xiaohu to the Indian Eastern Naval Command in May 2014 (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
On January 1, 2016 Chinese and Indian troops celebrated the new year with a ceremonial gathering of security personnel from the two countries in Chushul sector, Ladakh. After the usual pledges to maintain friendly ties and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LoC) the ceremony in Chinese-administered territory saw a rather spirited cultural program with soldiers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) performing Bollywood song and dance for their Indian counterparts.
The Indian side also hosted soldiers and officers from the Chinese army on the first of January in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh in another ceremony, where an Indian army band performed western style music for the PLA. Given the bonhomie, the casual observer would perhaps be surprised to know that both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh are a part of an ongoing territorial dispute between the two Asian giants and the Indian side is planning to enhance its presence in the area.
New year on India's eastern border with Pakistan was rather different. India's massive Pathankot airbase was attacked by gunmen on January 2. The attacks claimed the lives of 7 Indian security personnel and 6 terrorists. The United Jihad Council—an umbrella organization of militant groups with headquarters in Pakistan administered Kashmir—claimed responsibility although early Indian investigation pointed towards Jaish-e-Muhammad, another Pakistani militant outfit.
Further east, the Indian consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan came under heavy fire on January 3 as gunmen laid siege to the diplomatic mission. Afghan Special Forces brought an end to the siege after a 25 hour encounter. A car transporting explosives near the Indian consulate in Herat was intercepted by Afghan security forces on January 8. Although the explosives in Herat may not have been intentioned for bombing the Indian consulate Pakistani security agencies have long been suspected of having a troubling record of attacking Indian diplomatic missions on Afghan soil.
Sino-Indian Rapprochement and Indo-Pak hostility
The Sino-Indian meetings to mark the new year with peace and bonhomie are not an outcome of recent efforts. They are a part of a series of wider Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between China and India, which have a long and distinguished history of their own. The origins of these CBMs date back to the 1970s when proposals for rapprochement from the then Indian External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee were favorably received by Premier Deng Xiaoping of China. Prior to these CBMs the two countries had fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962 in which the Chinese side withdrew from Indian territory only after the threat of a US intervention.
However, since 1989 there have been virtually no gunfights or outbreaks of armed violence between the two Asian giants along the disputed border. The Sino-Indian annual trade volume was expected to cross 70 billion USD per annum last year. The border itself has remained calm for much of the past quarter of a century even though the two countries have an ongoing territorial dispute, which both have pledged to solve through negotiations and not force.
It should be noted that the relations between China and India are far from perfect. The territorial dispute is still alive and neither side has forsaken its claim over the other's territory. The Chinese side has repeatedly sought to empower Pakistan and the Indians have been 'acting East' to lend their tacit support to Vietnam and Japan. However, it should also be noted that by doing so the two countries are hardly violating international law in their attempts to contain the other through alliance building and diplomacy.
Indo-Pakistani violence, too, has a long and distinguished history. The Pakistani idea of sending mujahideen for jihad has its origins in the First Kashmir War of 1947-48. However, it was the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989 which meaningfully fueled Pakistan's proxy war in Kashmir. The Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif attacks will be viewed by hawks in New Delhi as a continuation of Pakistan's policy to 'bleed India through a thousand cuts'. Peace efforts from Simla Agreement (1972) onwards have largely failed as Pakistan has repeatedly reneged on its commitment to resolve issues solely through peaceful bilateral dialogue.
Since 1989, over 75, 000 Indians have lost their lives due to the violence in Kashmir. Most of these unfortunate casualties have been Kashmiri civilians—who are supposedly held high regard by the Pakistani establishment. Trade between the two countries is anemic and people-to-people contact minimal, especially given the stringent Indian visa restrictions following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The Indo-Pak border itself remains restive.
Any bilateral attempt to pursue rapprochement and, indeed, normalization is invariably followed by provocative attacks on Indian soil. The recent Pathankot and Mazar-i-Sharif attacks came shortly after the Indian PM Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on Christmas Day, 2015. A more notable example of peace being disrupted by Pakistan's military establishment is that of the Kargil invasion in 1999 following Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's signing of the Lahore Declaration. Pakistan is entitled to disagree with India on Kashmir and, indeed, dispute its claim over the territory. However, the manner in which the Pakistani establishment has pursued its ambitions in Kashmir has often shown little regard for international norms and law.
Progress through Peace; Instability through Violence
Sino-Indian rapprochement and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LaC) have yielded peace dividends for both China and India. Bilateral trade is on the upswing and cultural contacts have generally been on the ascendancy. Peace along the Sino-Indian border also allows China to focus on South China sea and Taiwan whilst allowing India to take care of its own insurgency issues. The two sides have cooperated in international forums such as BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Overall, hostility has declined due to an increase in cooperation.
Violence, however, remains a part of daily life along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. This pursuit of asymmetric warfare has tarnished Pakistan's image on the world stage. Since 2006, Pakistan has itself had to pay a heavy price in terms of civilian casualties as the very groups that it created to wage jihad on India turned their guns on its own civilians. Pakistan's disregard for international law has also seen it being transformed into a pariah state in terms of international flights, sports, and investment.
Ultimately, both China and Pakistan have outstanding border disputes with India and both contest India's claims over lands that they perceive as their own. However, the contrast in the manner in which the two sides have pursued their differences with India could not be starker. China prefers to speak through its diplomats and sees no reason to not engage in trade. Pakistan's territorial claims often surface in videos and media floated by terrorist organizations while its generals indulge in bravado ill-suited for such a fragile state.
Needless to say, China with its policy of restraint even in face of clear disagreement has become a great power while Pakistan with its costly pursuit of asymmetrical warfare has often been cited as a classic example of a failing state. However, despite all this it may yet be too early to assume that all is lost in the Indo-Pakistan equation. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has shown a willingness to seek out and punish those involved in the Pathankot attacks if their complicity is proven. This step, if followed to its logical conclusion, may yet pave a path to rapprochement between the two estranged neighbors.