India's size, population, and strategic location give it a prominent voice in international affairs, and its growing economic strength, military prowess, and scientific and technical capacity give it added weight. The end of the Cold War dramatically affected Indian foreign policy. India remains a leader of the developing world and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India is now strengthening its political and commercial ties with the United States, Japan, the European Union, Iran, China, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. India is an active member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
Always an active member of the United Nations, India now seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. India has a long tradition of participating in UN peacekeeping operations.
Bilateral and Regional Relations
Pakistan. India and Pakistan have been locked in a tense rivalry since the partition of the subcontinent upon achieving independence from Great Britain in 1947. The principal source of contention has been Kashmir, whose Hindu Maharaja at that time chose to join India, although a majority of his subjects were Muslim. India maintains that his decision and subsequent elections in Kashmir have made it an integral part of India. This dispute triggered wars between the two countries in 1947 and 1965 and provoked the Kargil conflict in 1999.
Pakistan and India fought a war in December 1971 following a political crisis in what was then East Pakistan and the flight of millions of Bengali refugees to India. The brief conflict left the situation largely unchanged in the west, where the two armies reached an impasse, but a decisive Indian victory in the east resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
Since the 1971 war, Pakistan and India have made slow progress toward normalization of relations. In July 1972, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met in the Indian hill station of Simla. They signed an agreement by which India would return all personnel and captured territory in the west and the two countries would "settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations." Diplomatic and trade relations were re-established in 1976.
The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan caused new strains between India and Pakistan. Pakistan supported the Afghan resistance, while India implicitly supported the Soviet occupation. In the following eight years, India voiced increasing concern over Pakistani arms purchases, U.S. military aid to Pakistan, and Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. In an effort to curtail tensions, the two countries formed a joint commission. In December 1988, Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto concluded a pact not to attack each other's nuclear facilities and initiated agreements on cultural exchanges and civil aviation.
In 1997, high-level Indo-Pakistani talks resumed after a three-year pause. The Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan met twice, and the foreign secretaries conducted three rounds of talks. In June 1997 at Lahore, the foreign secretaries identified eight "outstanding issues" around which continuing talks would be focused. The dispute over the status of Jammu and Kashmir, an issue since partition, remains the major stumbling block in their dialogue. India maintains that the entire former princely state is an integral part of the Indian union, while Pakistan insists upon the implementation of UN resolutions calling for self-determination for the people of the state.
In September 1997, the talks broke down over the structure of how to deal with the issues of Kashmir and peace and security. Pakistan advocated that separate working groups treat each issue. India responded that the two issues be taken up along with six others on a simultaneous basis. In May 1998 India, and then Pakistan, conducted nuclear tests. Attempts to restart dialogue between the two nations were given a major boost by the February 1999 meeting of both Prime Ministers in Lahore and their signing of three agreements. These efforts were stalled by the intrusion of Pakistani-backed forces into Indian-held territory near Kargil in May 1999 (that nearly turned into full-scale war), and by the military coup in Pakistan that overturned the Nawaz Sharif government in October the same year. In July 2001, Mr. Vajpayee and General Pervez Musharraf, leader of Pakistan after the coup, met in Agra, but talks ended after two days without result.
After an attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, India-Pakistan relations cooled further as India accused Pakistan of involvement. Tensions increased, fueled by killings in Jammu and Kashmir, peaking in a troop buildup by both sides in early 2002.
Prime Minister Vajpayee's April 18, 2003 speech in Srinagar (Kashmir) revived bilateral efforts to normalize relations. In November 2003, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf agreed to a ceasefire, which still holds, along the Line-of-Control in Jammu and Kashmir. After a series of confidence building measures, Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf met on the sidelines of the January 2004 SAARC summit in Islamabad and agreed to commence a Composite Dialogue addressing outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including Kashmir. The UPA government has continued the Composite Dialogue with Pakistan.
In February 2004, India and Pakistan agreed to restart the "2+6" Composite Dialogue formula, which provides for talks on Peace and Security and Jammu and Kashmir, followed by technical and Secretary-level discussions on six other bilateral disputes: Siachen Glacier, Wuller Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Sir Creek estuary, Terrorism and Drug Trafficking, Economic and Commercial cooperation, and the Promotion of Friendly Exchanges in various fields. The Foreign Secretary talks resumed in November 2006, after a three-month delay following the July 11, 2006 terrorist bombings in Mumbai. The meeting generated modest progress, with the two sides agreeing to establish a joint mechanism on counter-terrorism and agreeing to a follow-on meeting in February 2007. The restart of the Composite Dialogue process is especially significant, given the almost six years that transpired since the two sides agreed to this formula in 1997-98.
Following the October 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, the two governments coordinated relief efforts and opened access points along the Line-of-Control to allow relief supplies to flow from India to Pakistan and to allow Kashmiris from both sides to visit one another.
SAARC. Certain aspects of India's relations within the subcontinent are conducted through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Its members are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, with the People's Republic of China, Iran, Japan, European Union, Republic of Korea, and the U.S. as observers. Established in 1985, SAARC encourages cooperation in agriculture, rural development, science and technology, culture, health, population control, narcotics, and terrorism.
SAARC has intentionally stressed these "core issues" and avoided those which could prove divisive, although political dialogue is often conducted on the margins of SAARC meetings. In 1993, India and its SAARC partners signed an agreement gradually to lower tariffs within the region. Forward movement in SAARC had slowed because of tension between India and Pakistan, and the SAARC summit scheduled for 1999 was not held until January 2002. In addition, to boost the process of normalizing India's relationship with Pakistan, the January 2004 SAARC summit in Islamabad produced an agreement to establish a South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA). All the member governments have ratified SAFTA, which was slated to come into force on January 1, 2006, with a series of graduated tariff cuts through 2015. As of December 2006, however, the FTA partners were still negotiating sensitive product lists, rules of origin, and technical assistance. India hosted the 2007 SAARC summit, which called for greater regional cooperation on trade, environmental, social, and counterterrorism issues.
China. Despite suspicions remaining from a 1962 border conflict between India and China and continuing territorial/boundary disputes, Sino-Indian relations have improved fo awhile sfter 1988. Both countries sought to reduce tensions along the frontier, expand trade and cultural ties, and normalize relations. Their bilateral trade reached $24 billion in 2006. China is India's second-largest trading partner behind the U.S.
In December 1996, Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited India on a tour of South Asia. While in New Delhi, he and the Indian Prime Minister signed a series of confidence-building measures along the disputed border, including troop reductions and weapons limitations.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao invited Prime Minister Vajpayee to visit China in June 2003. They recognized the common goals of both countries and made the commitment to build a "long-term constructive and cooperative partnership" to peacefully promote their mutual political and economic goals without encroaching upon their good relations with other countries. In Beijing, Prime Minister Vajpayee proposed the designation of special representatives to discuss the border dispute at the political level, a process that is still under way.
In November 2006, President Hu Jintao made an official state visit to India. The two countries opened the Nathu La Pass to bilateral trade in July 2006 for the first time in 40 years. Though it is the first direct land trade route in decades, trade was expected to be local and small since the pass is open only four months a year.
In June 2020 troops from the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and India clashed in the Galwan Valley. The battle was fought with rocks, batons, and barbed wire-wrapped clubs. A 1996 agreement banned the use of guns and explosives along the disputed line of control. India reported 20 of their soldiers were killed, whereas the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) did not report any of its deaths. Indian media and the Russian news agency TASS reported that as many as 45 PLA soldiers may have been killed. Over the following 12 months the PLA increased its troop strength along the border from 15,000 to 50,000 by July 2021, and moved advanced surface-to-air missiles including its HQ-9 system, which is similar to Russia’s S-300 and America’s Patriot missile.
Beijing's campaign against India has been multifaceted. Cleo Paskal of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said, "Since June of last year , there was a China-attributed attack on the Mumbai electric grid, Chinese-linked Maoist terrorists killed another 20 Indian security forces, and we witnessed a destructive attack on an iPhone parts-manufacturing plant that looks like part of a Beijing political warfare operation to discourage the shifting of supply chains to India." Paskal explains, "The breadth and depth of the Communist Party's aggressive unrestricted warfare against India leads one to think there are no barriers to Beijing's malign behavior."
China has changed the definition of "warfare," and one of its instruments is disease. If SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen causing COVID-19, did not start out as a biological weapon, Chinese Communist Party leaders turned it into one, by lying about contagiousness and pressuring other countries to take disease-ridden arrivals from China.
Former Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had major repercussions for Indian foreign policy. India's substantial trade with the region plummeted after the Soviet collapse and has yet to recover. Longstanding military supply relationships were similarly disrupted due to questions over financing. Russia nonetheless remains India's largest supplier of military systems and spare parts.
Russia and India have not renewed the 1971 Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship Treaty and follow what both describe as a more pragmatic, less ideological relationship. The visit of Russian President Boris Yeltsin to India in January 1993 helped cement this new relationship. The pace of high-level visits has since increased, as has discussion of major defense purchases. UPA leader Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Singh visited Russia in July 2005. President Vladimir Putin traveled to India in January 2007 to attend an Indo-Russia Summit and was the guest of honor at India's Republic Day celebrations.