Foreign Policy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee served as India’s 10th Prime Minister between 19 March 1998 and 22 May 2004. Key highlights of his foreign policy are as follows:

Pokharan-II and Its implications

In the elections, the BJP manifesto had promised that party would reconsider India’s nuclear options. To fulfil this promise, his government carried out two nuclear tests in deserts of Rajasthan on 11 and 13 May, 1998. The Vajpayee government also declared that the tests were conducted only as deterrence and believed in the “no first use” policy of nuclear weapons. India also imposed a self moratorium on nuclear tests with this. At the end of that month, Pakistan also carried out similar tests in Baluchistan.

The nuclear tests conducted by India and Pakistan not only escalated tensions in South Asia but also raised concerns all over world. These tests put the Non-proliferations efforts of west to real test. India was condemned by west, and imposed economic sanctions. With this, economic aid from US and other financial institutions stopped; severe restrictions on military sales to / from India was imposed.

Normalization Efforts

At Pokharan, the government had flaunted its nuclear muscles but immediately thereafter, it came under damage control mode. The doors of diplomacy were open from both Pakistan and United State sides. In 1998, India and US engaged in a longest ever diplomatic dialogue between the two countries which extended for three years. From Indian side, this dialogue was led by Jaswant Singh. These negotiations helped to a great extent to normalize the relations between India-US.

Lahore Declaration, 1999

Under persuasion from United States, India and Pakistan agreed to resume talks to reduce tension. Initiative was taken by the Prime Minister Vajpayee who in February, 1999 took a bus to Lahore and signed Lahore Declaration with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaj Sharif.

The Lahore Declaration proposed several measures to restore confidence and normalize relations. These included:

  • Both countries would avoid nuclear arms race and accidental / unauthorized operational use of nuclear weapons.
  • Both countries will avoid non-conventional and conventional conflicts.

Thus, Lahore declaration was second agreement between India and Pakistan to avoid a nuclear conflict. {First was Non-nuclear aggression agreement (NNAA), 1988 between Rajiv and Bhutto}. The Lahore treaty was not only quickly ratified by parliaments of India and Pakistan but also came into force within same year.

However, soon Nawaj Sharif was deposed by Parvej Musharraf in a coup and this declaration was thrown into dustbin in the aftermath of Kargil War.

Kargil War, 1999

The Lahore peace process was derailed by intrusion of Pakistani troops in Kargil in Kashmir. The Kargil conflict led to a limited war between the two countries and this created uneasiness in the non-proliferation lobby; as it could transform into a full scale nuclear war. The US and west identified Pakistan as aggressor and condemned it. Nawaj Sharif was summoned to United States to withdraw troops from region. This was for the first time since WW-II when United States showed a favourable stance on India. Finally, the Pakistani troops had to retreat from Kargil in July 1999 leading success of Operation Vijay of Indian army.

Relations with United States

In March 2000, US President Bill Clinton visited India as first President in 22 years after President Jimmy Carter’s visit in 1978. During this visit a very comprehensive document “India Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century” was signed. This document declared that the Heads of Government of the two nations would meet at least once a year to discuss bilateral matters and to sort out differences. With this several mechanisms such as US-India Financial and Economic Forum; US-India Commercial Dialogue;US-India Working Group on Trade; US-India Science and Technology Forum etc. were created. This was foundation on which India-US relations were built better in later years.

Relations with China

In 2003, China officially recognised Indian sovereignty over Sikkim as the two countries moved towards resolving their border disputes.

Foundation of IBSA

In 2003, via the “Brasilia Declaration” IBSA Dialogue Forum was formed. IBSA {India-Brazil-South Africa} is a trilateral, developmental initiative to promote South-South cooperation and exchange.

Relations with Russia

In October 200, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited India and during this visit, the two countries signed defence agreements for supply of arms and aircrafts. Next year, when Vajpayee visited Russia, a Moscow Declaration was signed to start close cooperation in trade, security and political sphere.

Agra Summit, 2001

In July 2001, Parvej Musharraf visited India to normalize relations between the two countries. However, the summit did not produce any positive outcome due to Musharraf’s uncompromising attitude on the issue of Kashmir.

Strengthening relations with trade blocks

Towards Look East Policy, Vajpayee visited Vietnam, Indonesia and signed trade and commercial agreements. The Vajpayee government also established close trade relations with ASEAN, which was hitherto little connected with India. In June 2000, first India-EU summit took place in Lisbon.