India’s Foreign Policy between 1991 and 1998

The collapse of the Soviet Union and transformation of the global order forced India’s policymakers to make drastic changes in India’s foreign policy at multiple levels. NAM movement had ceased to have much meaning and it was shunned for all practical purposes. Further, the gulf war of 1991 led to severe economic constraints on India. India had purchased significant oil in spot market sensing the Iraqi attack on Kuwait. This drained much needed foreign exchange.  Hundred Thousand Indian workers from Gulf were repatriated at short notice. Inward Remittances lost. This was time for opening India’s economy to Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization. India abandoned the historic commitment to the import-substituting industrialization and unbundled the vast public sector and disbanded the license Raj.

A new course of Foreign Policy was sought by the then Prime Ministers IK Gujaral and later PV Narsimharao. Gujaral is known for the Gujaral Doctrine, whereby supreme importance was given to peace with neighbors. The doctrine seemed to be idealistic but it affected RAW’s ability to keep a watch on Pakistan’s nasty activities.

PV Narsimha Rao was an able Prime Minister who possessed a sufficient grasp of international affairs to recognize the necessity of charting a new course for India’s foreign policy.

During the 1990s, the following were trends in foreign policy:

  • Firstly United States, which was now strongest power in the world, had few interests in India. In fact the entire western world was interested in India mainly with respect to the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) because India was an staunch opponent to this treaty.
  • Secondly, in second half of the 1990s, the US department of commerce specified India as one of the Big Emerging Markets and expressed concerns over low investment and trade ties with India.
  • Thirdly, India focused its attention toward South-East Asia, which long neglected during the Cold war period; and embarked upon a “Look East policy”. Further, Narsimharao government tried to improve relations with China. He visited China in 1993 and signed an agreement on the maintenance of peace and tranquility along the line of actual control. However, the two important confidence-building measures (CBMs) in 1993 and 1996 designed to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control could make little or no progress.
  • Finally, due to the insurgency in Kashmir since 1989, the relationship of India and Pakistan remained bitter as always. Continued Pakistani logistical support for the insurgents, the provision of sanctuaries in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and a porous border has prevented India from successfully suppressing the insurgency.

The Vajpayee Government chose to exercise the nuclear option and carried out nuclear tests in 1998 in Pokharan. Despite the initial burst of hostility from the United States and the other great powers, the international community grudgingly accepted India as a de facto nuclear weapons state. The Pakistani attempts to revive Kashmir issue through its incursion in the Kargil region led to a limited war 1999. India reclaimed all that had gone under Pakistan army’s possession. However, a full scale war was avoided. The circumstances in the 1990s onward that underpin the international relations can be summed up in the following.

  • Emergence of China as a defiant power and a fast growing economy
  • Emergence of Islamic Terror in the name of Jihad.
  • Emergence of new powers in Middle East such as Iraq and Iran.
  • Established Importance of Oil in the International Politics.
  • Emergence of New Economic order followed by India’s liberalization of economy.
  • Emergence of Organized Terrorism around the world,
  • Emergence of new tools and techniques such as Internet revolution.
  • Emergence of a market culture around the world.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001, India resorted to a strategy of coercive diplomacy over Pakistan which brought mixed results. Thus, relations with Pakistan have been remaining quite fraught till now.  India’s relations with United States Improved and secured a firm footing. The Bush administration helped India to get exempt India from the requirements of the NPT and also the two countries pursued a civilian nuclear agreement, which provided a sound foundation for the relationship.

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