Indian Neutrality during the Cold War and Lessons for Pakistan

INdian Neutrality & pakistan #Baaghi

Lahore, 15th June: In 1947, as the devastation caused by World War II changed the global dynamics, borders were drawn in the Indian subcontinent and two states were carved as a legacy of British colonialism. India and Pakistan, despite gaining independence in the same year, took different paths from then onwards.

At another end, from the ashes of World War II, a new bipolar world order emerged. The US camp, dispensing democracy and liberalism, and the Soviet camp, spreading communism based on socialist thought.

As a result, countries began gravitating towards their respective orbits. Pakistan, owing to the immediate crisis brought by partition, economic strangulation and governance deficit, sought refuge in the US-led camp.

On the contrary, India restrained itself from indulging in global disputes. It opted for a policy of neutrality and non-alignment for the sake of bolstering national integration, fostering democracy, and achieving sustainable economic growth.

As a result, despite being one of the most heterogeneous societies in the world, India remained intact with representative polity and commendable economic growth. 

Pakistan on the other hand suffered extensively for siding with the US. Unnecessarily, it became an adversary of the Soviet Union.

Pakistan was also granted easy access to debt relief packages, an upheaval for sustainable economic growth. The spillover of US adventures in the region resulted in a heavy toll for Pakistan as extremism, sectarianism and ethnic divide became its fault lines, culminating in the 1971 division of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

Thus, the Indian foreign policy stance of neutrality amidst the Cold war can be a lesson for Pakistan in the face of contemporary challenges faced by the latter. 

An analysis of Indian neutrality amidst the Cold War underscores the roots of this concept linked inextricably with Indian history.

As a result, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s proposal of staying out of global influence was not something new for the policymakers.

Nonetheless, practicing such a posture and resisting the lucrative benefits offered by each side shows strong leadership and farsighted policy planning from India. PM Nehru envisaged the consequences of being dragged into the great game of power as he said, ‘Are we, the countries of Asia and Africa, devoid of any positive position except being pro-communist or anti-communist?’  

How did India remain neutral against all the odds? How did it strike a balance between the then superpowers as well as ensuring that the conflict is kept at the bay?

India is home to a diverse set of people. Ethnic, religious and lingual heterogeneity necessitated that national integration and representative democracy were to be the principal drivers of the state. Indulging in any external conflict could expose its fault lines, making it vulnerable to religious extremism and sectarian conflicts.

During the Cold War, India secured military aid and diplomatic cooperation with the Soviet bloc, even while courting American development assistance and the moral support of the US intellectual establishment.

Thus, India made no new foes. This can be gauged from the fact that when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, India entered a US-led IMF financial assistance package to sustain its crippling economy.

Having discussed the Indian strategy during the Cold War, it is pertinent to discuss the dividends of practicing neutrality for India.

As a first, staying neutral defined a strong foreign policy posture for India. It showed resilience and dedication to Westphalian principles helping India forge new partnerships in East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

It proved that India has a stable and isolated economy impervious to foreign forces. Furthermore, by not aligning with both sides, it used extensive diplomacy to exploit and fetch economic, strategic, and military benefits sponsored by both the US and USSR.

Thirdly, India became the leader of the group and aligned with nonaligned countries. Its diplomatic and trade relations with Asian countries skyrocketed. Countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, etc. tilted towards India defined regional order of non-alignment.

As a result, India’s economy saw massive progress. It had to knock only once at the IMF doors to resuscitate its economy and transform it into sustainable growth. 

Pakistan on the other hand, as discussed, opted for the US prescriptions, assistance, and aid. As a result, it was isolated in the Asia region, barring it from getting diplomatic and economic support. It dedicated all its energies to US ambitions in the region and bore heavy losses when US games spilled over in Pakistan in the form of extremism, terrorism and militancy.

The course is taken by Pakistan’s history since the 1980s lends credence to this fact. Pakistan’s economy has remained far away from being sustainable as the country had to turn to the IMF a staggering 22 times.

US policy prescriptions have also crippled political development in the country. Many times in the past, politicians have seen tenure continuity on the whims of US officials. This foreign dictation on domestic policies has had an adverse impact on socio-economic growth in Pakistan. 

From the Indian Cold War strategy, there are many lessons for Pakistan in the contemporary scenario.

The Afghan Peace Process requires farsighted participation and a judicious stance from Pakistan. It has endured heavy financial and human losses by becoming a US scapegoat. The Peace Process is an opportunity for Pakistan to helm peace efforts in Afghanistan in the most prudent manner.

On another front, as the US pivots to China, Pakistan must strike a balance between these two superpowers instead of inclining towards one as per our history. China has offered economic partnerships, security guarantees and growth triggering initiatives to Pakistan and deserves special status and attention.

However, this should not come at a cost to US Pakistan relations. As a leader of global multilateral institutions, Pakistan needs to fetch economic and technological and security-related gains from the US. It should transform the transactional relationship with the US to a bilateral one, where Pakistan takes from the US instead of giving it. 

In the Middle East, the formation of two blocs led by Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively requires Pakistan to remain nonaligned. In the past, blinking at one side welcomed antagonism from the other in the form of sectarianism and radicalism.

The refusal by Pakistan to take any sides in the Yemen and Syria War was a step in the right direction. It must focus on prioritizing the economic aspect while keeping discord at the bay. Pakistan must dedicate all its energies to geoeconomic dividends.

For far too long, we have used geostrategy to achieve security aims, however, regional economic integration and market diversification priorities require us to remain neutral in global power games while concentrating on economic aspects. 

The Indian strategy amidst the Cold War can be a template for Pakistan. Both the countries share a colonial past and represent a diverse set of people, divided into ethnic, lingual and religious aspects.

Geographically, both the countries are located in a sensitive part of the world where security is of paramount importance vis-a-vis maintaining sovereignty. Pakistan should remain nonaligned and neutral in the contemporary setting.

It should concentrate on geoeconomic benefits on its relations with global powers while forging new partnerships in the region for market expansion and socioeconomic growth. This is the only suitable way to progress for the country.

The writer is a Computer Science graduate from LUMS.

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