Text of “Aspects of India’s Foreign Policy,” a speech by I.K. Gujral at the Bandaranaike Center For International Studies in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 20, 1997
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You have done me a very great honour today, by giving me this opportunity to speak at this Centre dedicated to the memory of the late Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, a pioneer of the Asian resurgence, and one of the great leaders not only of Sri Lanka, but of Asia as well. It is also an honour for my country and a tribute to the friendship between Sri Lanka and India that I have been asked to address you on the theme of India’s foreign policy. May I add Mr. Chairman, that I am particularly happy to be here at a time when both India and Sri Lanka are nearing the 50th anniversary of their independence, and of their cooperation in the larger Asian framework.
The turn of a century is a kind of natural punctuation mark in human affairs and prompts us to take stock of change that has taken place. For us in India, the 20th century has been an era of profound change. Almost exactly midway through it, we threw off the shackles of colonialism and awoke to freedom. We were aware that we were being born as an independent nation into a world that was already dangerously divided by the Cold War, Yet we were also fortunate that our freedom struggle had provided us with a self image and a world-view, It had instilled in us the values of participatory democracy, respect for individual faiths and freedoms and a deep commitment to preserve variety in society. Our earliest interaction with the outside world was naturally driven by these values. Just as we had fought for freedom and a just and egalitarian society for ourselves, so too did we seek an end to colonialism everywhere and just and egalitarian world order. Shortly after assuming responsibility as independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru would observe, and I quote:
I have become more and more convinced that so long as we do not recognise the supremacy of moral law in our national and international relations, we shall have no enduring peace. So long as we do not adhere to right means, the end will not be right and fresh evils will flow from it. That was the essence of Gandhiji’s message and mankind will have to appreciate it in order to see and act clearly…….. Let us try to get rid of fear and base our thoughts and actions on what is essentially right and moral, and then gradually the crisis of the spirit will be resolved.
This stream of thought was and remains India’s precious heritage. Independence for us did not signify only the new-found freedom to control our own destinies. More importantly, it represented an obligation and a call to duty to stand up firmly for what was right and just. By upholding what was right and just, we, in essence, upheld and reinforced our own independence.
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Independent India’s early years in international fora are remarkable for their idealism and enthusiasm. This commitment was reflected even before our independence, when we became an original signatory of the Charter of the United Nations, and thus, a founder member of this Organisation. Subsequently, we participated in the founding of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and its successor, the World Trade Organisation. The same holds true in the case of the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and various other international agencies and bodies.
The maintenance of peace was one of the fundamental principles of the UN, and it was natural that India would not hesitate to put men and material where they were required in order to maintain or reinforce peace. We participated in nearly every significant operation of the UN, from the earliest, in 1956, in Gaza and Sinai, to the latest in Haiti and Angola.
India was the first country to place the issue of apartheid on the agenda of the UN. We did likewise on the crucial issue of global disarmament. We were also amongst those who pioneered the concept of Non-Alignment, a movement which today embraces over 110 countries in its fold.
Through the UN and the NAM, India has consistently sought to build a better world by strengthening the structures of international cooperation. We have spoken in every international body during every debate of any consequence to express our view point and our voice of moderation and reason has invariably been heard and respected. In this context, I am particularly proud that, in this 50th year of its independence, India will host the Ministerial Conference of the NAM.
Today, more than ever, there is need for the developing countries of the world to have a much greater voice within the councils of the UN. The Non-Aligned Movement too needs be reinvigorated. Together, we seek a renewed commitment to multilateralism, a new international partnership for economic development and cooperation against terrorism. We also seek a more peaceful and secure world for all through genuine and comprehensive disarmament including the total elimination of nuclear weapons
I hope I have been able to convey a sense of how India sought to find it rightful place on the world stage. The principles of truth and non-violence, of tolerance and justice, which guided India’s freedom struggle, also inspired the vision and subsequent development of India as a free society, and shaped its foreign policy. We do not believe that any one model of democracy can lay claim to superiority or perfection. But we do believe that the fundamental principles of democratic societies have much in common – equality and non-discrimination, freedom of choice, adherence to the rule of law, secularism and tolerance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am firmly of the view that these are the very principles that should form the basis of an international order where different nations have to co-exist and cooperate to build a better future for our coming generations.
Ladies and Gentleman,
India has always sought friendship with all nations. Even while constrained by the realities of the Cold War, we opposed the division of the world into blocs. With you in Sri Lanka and others, we forged a framework of nonalignment through which we retained our freedom of choice and action in dealing with the major powers. The changed era of the ’90s, with new equations between the erstwhile great powers, has opened new vistas for Indian foreign policy. We have restructured our policies to encompass these changes, giving a thrust to our ties with our traditional partners such as the US, Russia, the European Union and Japan. At the same time, we have sought to unfold a vision that has at its heart the redefinition of our immediate and extended neighbourhood.
Our geographical position in South Asia, within the Asia-Pacific region, as a major presence on the Indian Ocean Rim, and as a close neighbour of the Gulf region and Central Asia, is the main factor in this vision. As Pandit Nehru said 50 ears ago and I quote:
We are of Asia and the peoples of Asia are nearer and closer to us than others. India is so situated that she is the pivot of western, southern, and south east Asia. In the past, her culture flowed to all these countries and they came to her in many ways….
This same vision, Ladies and Gentlemen, informs our interaction with all these regions. Our status as a Full Dialogue Partner with ASEAN will, we believe, work to the mutual benefit of both our regions. With regard to China, we are anticipating progress in both economic cooperation and a full-fledged dialogue on security issues. The visit to India by the President of the Republic of China has marked an important step forward in our bilateral cooperation. Wealso expect important breakthroughs in our relationships with the emerging Central Asian states and at the forthcoming meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.
Within the South Asian region, which is our common home, I would like to say that, for my Government, the development of close and friendly relations with our immediate neighbors commands the highest priority. Both in our pronouncements, and through our actions, we have shown our belief in the primacy we attach to relations with our neighbours. My first bilateral visits too have been with neighbours, and we have repeatedly emphasised that our attitude is constructive and principled.
Ladies and Gentleman,
I have had occasion in the recent past to talk about my view of inter-state relations especially in India’s immediate neighbourhood. This is a view based on five points with the inherently simple premise of non-interference in the affairs of our neighbours and respect for their sovereignty. The “Gujral Doctrine”, if I may call it so, states that, first, with its neighbours like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India does not ask for reciprocity, but gives and accommodates what it can in good faith and trust. Second, we believe that no South Asian country should allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country of the region. Third, that none should interfere in the internal affairs of another. Fourth, all South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. And finally, they should settle all their disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
India has already demonstrated that it will practice what it preaches. We have shown that we are ready to go that extra mile and take that extra step that can get things moving. I am fully convinced that the few simple ideas that I have outlined, if implemented seriously by all 7 nations of our region, can result in a fundamental recasting of South Asia’s regional relationships, and propel our region to the forefront of the Asian resurgence. I am sure that they would also lead to a climate of greater confidence and close and mutually benign cooperation in our region, where the weight and size of India is seen positively.
We aim to achieve this goal both through bilateral interaction with our neighbours, as well as through the framework of SAARC. A peaceful, stable and constructive environment in our neighbourhood is vital for us as we pursue the goals of accelerated development for ourselves and the region. We need neighbours who are developing at least as fast as we are to avoid imbalances which feed dissatisfaction and political problems.
I would stress that our hand of friendship will always be stretched out to our neighbours. We are ready to work to build up confidence and establish cooperation in all facets of our relationships. You might well know of the offer of a dialogue we made to Pakistan soon after our Government took office. Even while we are awaiting Pakistan’s response, we are taking unilateral steps to improve the relationship at the people-to-people level. We are also trying to preserve a positive atmosphere, by avoiding polemic, and ignoring the occasional hostile rhetoric from across the border.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have recently discussed and implemented some significant initiatives with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh which are steering our relations to higher levels of cooperation. The Treaty on sharing of Ganga waters has established a landmark in our relations with Bangladesh, and opened up new vistas of constructive collaboration in all areas of our interaction. I say with not a little pride that this Treaty has been welcomed, not only in India and Bangladesh, but the world over, and is a clear demonstration of what can be achieved with a little sincerity and lots of determination. In time, we expect that the entire eastern region of the sub-continent, including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and India would see a surge of development through cooperation in the areas of transport, energy development, water management, etc.
Our aim is to develop an integrated strategy for what we hope will be a resurgent area of growth. We are also taking steps to ensure that greater access to the Indian market is provided for these economies so that a thrust can be given to industrial development in these countries. Meanwhile, we remain committed to a free trade area in South Asia by the year 2000 if possible, and latest by 2005 as has been agreed to by all SAARC countries. I would state at this point that we are also willing to look at bilateral frameworks for trade liberalization in case SAPTA and SAFTA are prevented from taking-off as a result of the hesitation of any of the South Asian partners.
Let me at this point dwell briefly on SAARC. In the past decade of its existence, SAARC has clear achievements to its credit. We are already grappling with the core issues of economic cooperation. Fast progress in SAPTA, and realisation of our mutual commitment to a South Asian Free Trade Area by the turn of the century or latest by 2005 is a priority. It may sound ambitious, but I have had the opportunity of speaking to several of my colleagues within SAARC, and a broadly shared conviction of the benefits of trade liberalisation in the region is clearly evident. It will be our endeavour to put this process on a fast track. SAPTA, or SAFTA for that matter, will serve to create a conducive market environment for growth of intra-SAARC trade to its optimum levels, and remove the artificial distortions that have been created for a variety of reasons. This, however, is not enough. We will have to take the process much further, opening up areas like investment, banking, EXIM credit, travel, communications, energy resources and so on, to reap the rewards of our regional complementarities, and bolster the capacities of all our countries to derive full benefits from such cooperation.
We are currently exercising our minds on new initiatives for SAARC’s second decade. We are looking at new possibilities of cooperation in fields such as preservation of the environment, protection of biodiversity, education and information and media. The SAARC Chamber of Commerce organised the first SAARC Economic Cooperation Conference in November last year, to discuss and recommend possible initiatives on an entire gamut of related subjects, including trade liberalization, investment, energy, science and technology, telecommunication links, travel and tourism, business data networking, human resource development, women entrepreneurs and the social dimensions of business development. We fully support this initiative and we hope it will become a regular feature on the SAARC calendar in the coming years.
Let me turn now to our approach to relations with Sri Lanka. In keeping with our broader neighbourhood policy, we would like to extend the maximum possible cooperation to Sri Lanka as a good friend and neighbour. You are today seeking to overcome the consequences of long years of conflict which have exacted a heavy toll of your society. We have watched with great interest and, may I say, admiration, the efforts made by Sri Lanka under the leadership of President Kumaratunga to work for a political resolution of this conflict within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. On occasion, the process has seen setbacks, but we are confident that given your commitment to a negotiated settlement of the problem, peace and stability can be restored. I hope that day will come soon. It would also afford me the opportunity to drink in the beauty of Sri Lanka as unequivocally as Pandit Nehru did and I quote:
Lanka is an enchanted place, beautiful till the eyes get satisfied with its beauty and nature’s prodigality. It is ever afternoon there and the summer breezes blow and rustle through the graceful palm trees. And the great blue sea kisses lightly its pleasant green shores and sings a lullaby which soothes and intoxicates. One forgets almost the struggle and misery of the world of action.
Naturally, this was in a moment of leisure. As a scholar and as a statesman, Nehru drew from the world of the spirit to spur on action in the temporal world. For him, the message of the Buddha, that great son of India, and of the world, was a special guide in a world of confusion and bewilderment. And so it must be for us as we seek a pathway amid the fog of conflict and competition.
As a close neighbour, India cannot but be affected by the conflict in Sri Lanka. Our desire to be helpful without being obtrusive, is based on our assessment that a settlement in Sri Lanka would have a beneficial fallout for India and for the entire region. Our own experience as a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic democracy leads us to concur with the aspiration for political and constitutional reform and negotiations as a way out of the crisis. The devolution proposals put forward by your Government seem to us to be a reasonable basis for negotiations towards a political solution.
As I just said, we have a vested interest in such a solution. We would like to see refugees, who have crossed the Palk Straits and come to our shores, return to their homes in safety and dignity. It is our earnest hope that there would be no need for more people to risk their lives and come to India. We would like the Palk Straits to become a gateway for peaceful commerce and communication among our people. We feel that the difficulties faced by various sections of some of the specifically affected populations can be better addressed when there is no conflict raging in the backdrop. We can dream of once again making the maritime frontier, which we share, an area of peace, and then take up collaborative ventures for advanced research and exploitation of ocean resources. Situated as we both are at the centre of the Indian Ocean, our maritime interests are close and intertwined. Together with the Maldives, our partner in the SAARC, we can explore possibilities to turn this region into a prosperous growth area. Our friendship will also provide an anchor for the security and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region.
India and Sri Lanka are both members of a sub-continent which has vast natural resources and talent, and is in the midst of the great endeavour of eradicating poverty. We are both committed to rapid economic growth to provide better living standards for our people, and better social development. We have also been long standing partners and our commercial transactions have grown manifold in the last few years to reach over US $500 million at present. This is no small achievement, and credit must go to the large numbers of business persons, professionals and others who have taken advantage of the process of economic liberalisation in both countries. We now seek new ways of cooperation and plans for unleashing the energies latent in our societies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I started by recalling that both India and Sri Lanka are close to the 50th anniversary of their independence. Both can reflect with pride on their achievements as democratic societies over these last five decades. We must draw inspiration from the glorious legacy of our common religious and cultural heritage to build just and peaceful societies. India and Sri Lanka are among the very few countries in the developing world that have combined political democracy and free plural societies with rapid economic development, and a great degree of economic and technical modernisation. Let us go ahead with the confidence that our cultural and civilisational roots provide us. Here, I recall the words of the late Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike at the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi 50 years ago, and I quote:
In our own interest, in the interest of humanity, we must make a supreme effort to skip some pages of history, to bridge a gulf of history, and step out into the sunlit land of freedom prepared straightaway, or at least with the briefest interregnum, to take an equal place, and to share an equal responsibility, with the free and progressive nations of the world.
I am only too well aware of the serious difficulties that face us in achieving that object. Internally, conflicts of a communal and of an ideological nature; externally, mutual suspicion and distrust; generally, difficulties, political, economic, administrative and strategic. But let us also remember this. On the measure in which we succeed in overcoming these difficulties, will depend not only our own fate but that of humanity as well.” Unquote.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Both our countries are indeed fortunate in having had prescient and far-sighted leaders who not only had a sense of the history of our countries, but also a very clear idea of the role they had and the challenges that would need to be met as we sought to fulfill that role. Our culture, our traditions, our resources and the inspiration of our leaders provide us with the foundations of what should be a renewed effort on our part to build a brighter future. Ours is a shared destiny on the subcontinent. Let us all join hands in realising that destiny.