Aparna Pande is a Research Fellow and Director of the think tank Hudson Institute’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia as well as Fellow, Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World. Pande remembers her younger years traveling within Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand as her father was an IAS officer. When she was eight-years-old, she spent one year in Cambridge where her father studied at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – and this led to her developing an interest in Foreign Policy.
The alumnus of St Stephen’s College, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Boston University wrote her PhD dissertation on Pakistan’s foreign policy. Her major field of interest is South Asia with a special focus on India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Foreign, and Security Policy. Further to that, she also taught International Relations, International Business, and South Asia at Boston University and also South Asian Relations at Tufts University.
“My exposure to the United States and to academia led to an interest in foreign policy and diplomacy. Initially, it translated into an interest in History and in later years into an interest in foreign policy.”
She says, “My exposure to the United States, and to academia led to an interest in foreign policy and diplomacy. Initially, it translated into an interest in History and in later years into an interest in foreign policy.
When I applied for a PhD program I was one of the few who wanted to work on policy and whose goal was to work at a think tank. I enjoyed teaching and academic research but my passion was always policy.”
Elucidating on her current research work at the Hudson Institute, she informs that foreign and security policy is the primary area of her research at Hudson Institute. She is also interested in domestic politics and political economy. She has written books on India and Pakistan’s foreign policies and her next book is going to take a deeper look at India’s desire to become a leading power.
But, what are the challenges of researching on South Asian foreign policy while living the US?
She says, “There are benefits and challenges to researching on a part of the world from a distant location. In earlier years it used to be difficult to access information, news, and data when you were located far away. Fortunately, today not only is travel easier but media, social media, and local connections make it easier for scholars like myself to stay abreast with what is happening in the region.
I also believe that distance from your area of research also provides an objectivity and clarity that has tremendously helped with my research.”
Every country’s foreign policy has an underlying paradigm that explains what has influenced its policy and why that country takes the stand that it does. This paradigm is the product of the nation’s history and its view of self.
Pande asserts that while Pakistan’s foreign policy was and remains India centric, combined with a desire to escape an Indian-South Asian subcontinental identity by affirming an Islamic Middle Eastern identity and secondly, a desire for parity with India, especially in the military arena, India’s foreign policy is not centered on any one country or ideology.
In her book, ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’, she goes back in history to examine the legacy of the past on Indian foreign policy from the times of Chanakya through the medieval era and finally colonial rule and the national movement.
“There is constancy in India’s foreign policy, as it is in the foreign policy of most countries, but India’s leaders have been able to adjust and adapt, even if often with some reluctance, to changes in the region and the global environment.”
She says, “We can still see the legacy of ancient philosophers, medieval sultans and British colonial strategists on India’s external relations… There is constancy in India’s foreign policy, as it is in the foreign policy of most countries, but India’s leaders have been able to adjust and adapt, even if often with some reluctance, to changes in the region and the global environment.
Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment continues to believe that Pakistan is so critical to the world that others will be willing to ignore Pakistan’s support of jihadi terrorism and unwillingness to change its strategic calculus…Pakistan’s leaders, especially the military-intelligence establishment, have been reluctant to change their worldview and subsequently their tactics and strategy.”
So, when it comes to foreign policy, where does she see the sub-continent headed in the next five years? Does she think that India and Pakistan might at least try to resolve their grievances and work together, especially with the west becoming increasingly intolerant of immigrants as such?
Pande feels that India is rising above being a regional player. Delhi understands the importance of closer economic and strategic ties with all its neighbors and is slowly accepting that wanting to be a global player needs action not simply words.
She informs, “India’s ties with all its immediate neighbors – except China and Pakistan – will improve over the next five years and become deeper in the economic and strategic realm. While India’s smaller neighbors will continue to have some reservations and points of friction will arise they will be easier to tackle as India becomes more confident in its position and more accepting of the neighbors’ interests.
However, India-Pakistan will remain captive to the mistrust that characterizes this relationship.
For decades every Indian Prime Minister sought improvement of relations with Pakistan as their legacy. An India that is moving ahead in the economic and military arenas has closer ties with countries around the world and has a deeper relationship with the United States is less likely to seek the same. While Pakistan’s civilian leaders and business community see the benefits in closer ties with India, the reins of foreign and security policy lie with the military-intelligence establishment that as yet refuses to give up on its policy of using jihad as a lever of foreign policy especially with respect to India.”