Mumbai: Minister of External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar on Saturday batted for shaping international relations with Indian characteristics, stressing the need for devoting more time to look at India’s reservoir of culture and knowledge.
He was speaking in Pune during the ‘International Relations Conference on India’s Strategic Culture: Addressing Global and Regional Challenges’, organised by an educational institute.
“The question I have is to develop an Indian strategic culture; if we are to create international relations with Indian characteristics, is it not necessary that we actually devote more time, attention, and energies to look at our reservoir of culture, knowledge, history and traditions,” he asked.
The minister, who had a long diplomatic career, buttressed the point, citing his interaction with his American peers about Afghanistan years ago.
“I found that even after 20 years of being in Afghanistan, so much of the American understanding about that country was moulded by what was the British narrative of Afghanistan… I actually asked them does it occur to you, have you ever thought why Peshawar is where it is? Was the Durand line actually something because the British Colonial construct was there,” he asked.
Durand line is the international land border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He said people who spent their “lifetime” in Afghanistan had never heard of a figure like Hari Singh Nalwa, the legendary Sikh warrior of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire. Nalwa was the commander-in-chief of the Sikh army along its border with Afghanistan.
“And that tells you something. It tells you that they have looked at geography from one cultural lens. Unless we are able to put our lens in place, they will never look at it in a way in which it will serve our interest,” Jaishankar said.
He said Western intellectuals have no problem in accepting the “5000-year-old unbroken Chinese history”, but many of them would not give that same “privilege” and understanding to India. “In fact, an extreme example of that was Churchill himself, who said that India was no more a country than an equator,” said the foreign minister.
Jaishankar also said that many equate “Westernism” with modernism. “In everyday life, we use terms like Pyrrhic victory, Gordian knots, trojan horse. These are not just used but we have universalized it in a way. Generally, intellectual concepts, traditions, and constructs are largely British.
“The thinkers whose names naturally come into your mind are Socrates and Plato. In the case of European statesman, people will quote Lord Palmerston on permanent interests but not remember that Kautilya said it several centuries before that,” he said.