There were other high points too in the early nineties. Indian diplomacy worked overtime in select Western capitals to neutralize vigorous ISI-sponsored campaigns involving millions of dollars and dubious connections to sabotage India’s fight against Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism and separatism in Punjab and J and K. Pakistani efforts to move a Resolution in the UN Human Rights Commission on J&K in 1994 were blocked due to hectic Indian diplomatic efforts.
Pakistan and terrorism
Since then, India’s diplomacy has adopted a far more aggressive stand in exposing Pakistan as a sponsor and epicenter of international terrorism. In furtherance of this effort, India worked with its friends in the UN to get Pakistani terrorists listed and sanctioned in the UN Security Council. Indian diplomatic efforts were further intensified with success in the last few years to shut the tap of financing of terrorists within Pakistan under the framework of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). Today the message to Pakistan is clearcut and crisp. Terrorism will not be tolerated anymore and normal relations can only be restored once Pakistan undertakes a fundamental, genuine and transparent review of its strategy towards India.
Becoming a nuclear weapon power
The late nineties and early 2000s witnessed other major developments. India conducted its nuclear weapons tests in 1998 and became a nuclear weapon power. A major diplomatic effort was launched across the world to explain India’s security challenges. A special channel of communication was opened with the US which led to key strategic understandings between India and the US, leading to a breakthrough in the relationship. As this process was unfolding, the Pakistani Army launched its attack in Kargil in 1999. It was India’s diplomatic efforts involving the US that forced Pakistan to halt, vacate and retreat from Kargil. Pakistan suffered a major loss of face and humiliation, thanks to India’s robust diplomacy.
Transformation of the Indo-US relationship
The signing of the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement, India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the lifting of sanctions on technology transfer to India all happened in 2008. Put together these were breakthroughs with major ramifications. The Agreement on cooperation on civil nuclear energy was arrived at with bipartisan support in the US, thanks to Indian diplomatic efforts. It legitimized India’s nuclear weapon program and transformed India’s relations with the US.
This trend of improved Indo-US relations has today reached new heights in the last few years. The period of hesitancy has given way to active and round partnerships consisting of people-to-people exchanges, economic and trade links, cooperation in new and emerging technologies, and defense and security cooperation led at the leaders' level.
Diplomacy during crises
Apart from building partnerships, defending and promoting national security, and making India’s voice heard in the international arena, India has a record of leveraging its diplomatic heft in times of crisis. Some instances stand out. These include the management of the inflow of ten million refugees from East Pakistan, the evacuation of Indians during the Gulf War in 1990, the 2004 tsunami in which India was quick to establish the first ever QUAD to assist in regional relief efforts, the evacuation of thousands of Indian and other nationals during the Yemen war in 2015 under Operation Raahat, and the assistance provided to neighbours like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Nepal during natural calamities. In the last few years, India has shown much greater readiness, intention, and capability to be the first responder of scale in times of crisis.
Covid diplomacy and focus on the diaspora
The diplomatic effort launched by India to help global efforts in combatting the Covid pandemic in 2020-2021, however, was unprecedented in terms of its scale and reach. It established India’s role as the pharmacy of the world. Similarly, humanitarian operations such as Vande Bharat which brought back millions of Indians during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 were the largest such exercise conducted. Operation Ganga was launched to bring back stranded Indian students from the war zone in Ukraine in 2022. The last few years have seen a much bigger deployment of Indian diplomatic efforts in the service of Indians overseas. Today, the interests of the almost 31 million-strong Indian diaspora are a top priority for the government.
Neighbourhood First policy
The enunciation of the “Neighbourhood First Policy” in 2014 based on enlightened national interest has resulted in a new approach to this critical area of foreign policy. This was symbolized by the bold decision to amend the Constitution of India that paved the way for the signing of the historic and long-pending Land Boundary Agreement and exchange of enclaves with Bangladesh in 2015. New connectivities have been established with Bangladesh through the river and sea routes that will help the North Eastern region of India.
India’s assistance to Nepal during the devastating earthquake in 2015 was on an unprecedented scale. Close security cooperation with Myanmar helped to protect India’s security interests in the North-East. The decision to invite Japan to the development of the North East has been a game changer. The launch of the bullet train project with Japanese assistance will usher in a new era of technology in the transportation sector.
Bridging the continental and maritime gap
Another highlight of recent Indian diplomacy has been the pursuit of our interests simultaneously in the continental and maritime spheres. While India expanded its footprint in the Eurasian region by becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Council in 2016 and strengthening its ties with countries such as Mongolia by asserting our common Buddhist heritage, it also at the same time, stepped up its relations with the Indian Ocean and the Pacific States. The SAGAR initiative was launched from Mauritius in 2015 by Prime Minister Modi. The first ever Summit meeting with the Pacific Island States was held soon after the Modi government came to power in 2014.
The Modi years
If the post-Independence period was about defining the basic building blocks of India’s sovereignty, the years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been the years of putting diplomacy to the direct benefit of the people, robustly furthering and protecting India’s security interests, expanding India’s influence by transitioning from a rule taker to a rule maker, and reclaiming India’s civilizational heritage.
Yoga and the world
On 11 December 2014, a record 177 countries in the UN co-sponsored and voted in favour of declaring an International Day of Yoga on June 21st every year. This was an extraordinary display of India’s soft power and acceptability cutting across regions, religions, colour, and languages.
India has successfully created international coalitions that contribute to global welfare based on India’s national experience and strengths. These are specific and practical initiatives that bring diplomacy and real-life challenges together. Prominent among these are the International Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, and Traditional Medicine. We have entered into an era of proactive malalignments and building international coalitions of common interest.
Leader in thought and practice in the fight against global warming
India is today at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. We are no longer defensive or apologetic about our views. The Prime Minister has led India’s approach. He has said that Indian values, ethos, way of life, and culture provide a way forward for the international community. India has set ambitious goals for itself which are on the right track to implementation.
Also Read : High points in Indian diplomacy in 75 years - I
As we celebrate 75 years of our Independence, the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, we should be proud of our diplomatic history and the contributions to it by successive generations of Indian diplomats as well as governments. In the last eight years, there has been a transformation of both the goals of our diplomacy and how these are being pursued. This is a result of political stability in the country and decisive leadership. The levels of ambition have grown. So has the self-confidence and pride in our civilizational culture and heritage. Today, diplomacy is being actively deployed to support the larger national goals of ensuring the growth, security, and welfare of 1.4 billion Indians.
(Pankaj Saran is a former Diplomat and former Deputy national security advisor)