What is the Gujral Doctrine?
Former Prime Minister, Late I.K. Gujral propounded the Gujral Doctrine when he was the Union Minister of External Affairs in 1996-1997 in the H.D. Deve Gowda Government. The Gujral doctrine was a five-point roadmap that sought to build trust between India and its neighbours, of the solution to bilateral issues through bilateral talks, and to remove immediate quid pro quo in the diplomatic relationship between India and her neighbours. The ‘Doctrine’ emphasized the importance of unilateral accommodation for friendly and warm relations with India’s neighbours.
The five principles are:
- With neighbors such as Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, India does not seek reciprocity but offers and accommodates what it can in good faith and trust.
- No South Asian country should permit its territory to be used against the interest of another South Asian nation.
- Countries should not interfere in the internal affairs of one another.
- All South Asian countries should respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
- They should settle all their disputes via peaceful bilateral negotiations. The essence of the Gujral Doctrine has been that being the largest country in South Asia, India can extend unilateral concessions to neighbours in the sub-continent.
Application of the Doctrine
- Sharing of Ganga Water with Bangladesh: It is in pursuance of this policy that late in 1996 India concluded an agreement with Bangladesh on sharing of Ganga Waters. This agreement enabled Bangladesh to draw in lean season slightly more water than even the 1977 Agreement had provided.
- Freezing of Border Dispute with PRC: The confidence-building measures agreed upon by India and China in November 1996 were also a part of efforts made by the two countries to improve bilateral relations, and freeze, for the time being, the border dispute.
- Increasing People-to-People Contact with Pakistan: This doctrine advocated people-to-people contacts, particularly between India and Pakistan, to create an atmosphere that would enable the countries concerned to sort out their differences amicably. India unilaterally announced in 1997 several concessions to Pakistan tourists, particularly the elder citizens and cultural groups, in regard to visa fees and police reporting.
- “Confidence Building Measures” Talks with Pakistan: The Gujral Doctrine assumed significance when at Foreign Secretary-level talks between India and Pakistan in June 1997, the two countries identified eight areas for negotiation so as to build confidence and seek friendly resolution of all disputes
Positive Aspects of the Doctrine
The logic behind the Gujral Doctrine was that since India had to face two unfriendly neighbours in the west and the north, it had to be fully at peace with all other immediate neighbours so as to contain the influence of Pakistan and China. Its significance lies in the insight that for India to become a global power in sync with its stature, it needs a peaceful neighbourhood.
The positive aspects of the Gujral Doctrine can be enumerated as follows.
Gujral Doctrine Achievements
- It recognized the supreme importance of friendly, cordial relations with neighbours.
- It helped achieve a fundamental recasting of South Asia’s regional relationships, including the difficult relationship between India and Pakistan.
- Further, the implementation of these principles generated an atmosphere of understanding and cooperation between India and these countries.
- The Gujral Doctrine was accepted not only within the country but also by most of the neighbours and major powers.
- In the context of the changing international environment in the post-Cold War world, the Gujral Doctrine became a new and important principle of India’s foreign policy.
The continued relevance of the Gujral Doctrine
The Gujral Doctrine suggests prioritizing equity over absolute equality in quid pro quo and reciprocity among asymmetrical partners in South Asia. India’s geography and weight of numbers, its military and economic might with respect to its SAARC neighbours including Pakistan can be intimidating. So, it might not be worthwhile to insist on absolute parity on everything and every time. The smaller partner should feel empowered to accept a full relationship at a level and pace that it can determine.
If India adopts this kind of path, it would be serving its own interests and not abandoning them. The end result matters more than anything. It does take a while to build confidence but the political investment is worth making. A country can give today to gain tomorrow or exchange a ‘concession’ in one domain in order to secure another domain. In the beginning, initiating both the process and the event is crucial, with both being equally important, especially to kickstart things. The Gujral Doctrine is a process and not an objective. Its aims are changing mindsets, confidence building, and having procedures and issues in a larger perspective of national interest.
Criticism of the Gujral Doctrine
- The Gujral Doctrine had a weakening impact on R&AW’s ability to conduct intelligence operations in Pakistan. Mr Gujral directed the closure of the Pakistan special operations desk of R&AW on the advice of strategic affairs specialists, resulting in a significant gap in India’s intelligence capabilities. Experts cite this as one of the chief factors that caused the intelligence failure before the Kargil war.
- Over the years, this doctrine has come under fire, particularly Gujral’s decision to dismantle the country’s military capability to launch covert strikes against terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.