The lack of a serious foreign policy has cost India a chance to be an active player in West Asia, a retired diplomat said in Kolkata on Tuesday.
He blamed people who were “on the sidelines’’ in the freedom struggle for dragging India back to “19th-century debates’’.
Talmiz Ahmad, who has been India’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE, was addressing students and teachers on the Alipore campus of Calcutta University.
Talking about his new book, West Asia At War, Ahmad spoke in detail about political developments in the region.
The book ends in 2021 but the region is still in the middle of an “extraordinary churn”, he said.
“Saudi Arabia and Iran have had five rounds of dialogue. Turkey has reinvented itself. You find certain Arab countries reaching out to Israel…. All of these have significant potential for the future…. Where does all of this leave India? This is a narrative of intense disappointment,” said Ahmad, who retired from the IFS in 2011.
“What is the Indian focus? Anyone of us would have imagined that the last 10 years would have seen frantic activities in India, to reinvent India so that we are able to be an active player in these challenging times. The primary interest in India today… is the identity politics of a domestic character. I see a near-total absence of any interest in serious foreign policy issues,” he said.
He went on to say what was present in today’s India.
“What we are seeing is the reinvention of the idea of India. The debates that happened in undivided India in the 19th century and… were resolved by the Constitution of India, they are being torn open and we are being dragged back into the 19th century. We are being asked to review everything that happened back then, right up to our Independence.
“Everybody who fought for our freedom is today a villain. All those who were on the sidelines have pushed themselves forward…. But there is no foreign policy, no serious interest in being a serious player,” said Ahmad.
Giving the example of Afghanistan, Ahmad explained how the use of faith as a political tool had its consequences.
West Asia, he said, had a “Cold War divide”, where the republics were pitted against the monarchies.
“One consequence of this… is that the Western powers led by the US actually believed very strongly that Islam isa natural ally of the West,” he said.
This belief had led the US to convert the struggle of the Afghan people against the Soviet occupation into a “global jihad”, said Ahmad.
“It made complete sense. You could mobilise Islam against godless Communism…. It was state-sponsored, by the US, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who gave a free right to every Muslim in the world to rally at the Pak-Afghan border and get the benefit of indoctrination…. If you think of global jihad today as a scourge, do recall who its parents are — a very cynical bunch of people who got together and chose faith as an instrument of political influence. “But once you have tampered with faith, you will find that this… is no longer under your control…. The very parent became its victim. That is what led to the events of 9/11.”