India’s Strategic Culture: ‘Software’ That Can’t Be Outsourced

By Apoorva Shah

NEW DELHI — Almost two weeks after the tumultuous meeting in Islamabad between the Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a bad taste continues to linger in the mouths of many Indian foreign policy analysts. Since the meeting, every major Indian newspaper has published a column regretting India’s decision to engage Pakistan. The WikiLeaks episode, which included more evidence of the Pakistani intelligence services’ links to the Taliban, added fuel to this fire.

What was once exuberance about India’s prospects for rapprochement with its rival has now turned into regret and bitterness. The shift happened as soon as Krishna and Qureshi walked out of their meeting room in Islamabad and into a joint press conference, where they returned to their old ways of finger pointing and bickering.

But what explains India’s capricious Pakistan policy? Here in New Delhi, strategic thinkers in think tanks and universities recognize the changing dynamic of Indian foreign policy. Simply put, there are bigger fish to fry: China, East Asia, and the Indian Ocean are just a few of India’s future challenges. Yet when push comes to shove, neither the media nor diplomats can avoid their instinctual reactions to Indo-Pak tensions.

In a lecture at India’s National Maritime Foundation, strategist C. Raja Mohan diagnosed the problem not as one of hardware, but rather of software. India needs an “intellectual underpinning” to its military and diplomatic forces, he said. Outside of the government, in private think tanks and universities, these strategic needs are becoming clearer. Transferring this mindset to the ministries and agencies that handle India’s foreign policy, on the other hand, will be a challenge.

Unfortunately, unlike India’s economic needs, its foreign policy can’t be outsourced to vibrant start-ups and ambitious corporations. It’s one area where the change will have to happen within the central government. Until then, we can continue to expect puerile behavior from India whenever times get tough with Pakistan.

Apoorva Shah is a research associate at AEI.