Minister of External Affairs, Dr S Jaishankar, delivered a compelling address in Pune during the ‘International Relations Conference on India’s Strategic Culture: Addressing Global and Regional Challenges,’ organized by an educational institute. Addressing the audience, Jaishankar posed a critical question regarding the development of an Indian strategic culture. He emphasized the necessity of dedicating more time, attention, and energy to understanding India’s rich history, traditions, and knowledge.
Drawing on his extensive diplomatic career, Jaishankar shared insights from his interactions with American peers about Afghanistan. Despite two decades of American presence in Afghanistan, Jaishankar observed that much of their understanding was influenced by the British narrative of the region. He urged a reconsideration of geopolitical constructs, asking whether the Durand Line, the international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a result of British colonial influence.
Highlighting the importance of diverse perspectives, Jaishankar noted that individuals spending their entire lives in Afghanistan might not be familiar with figures like Hari Singh Nalwa, a legendary Sikh warrior from Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire. This, he argued, emphasised the need to view geography through different cultural lenses.
The Foreign Minister stressed the significance of framing international relations through India’s lens to serve the country’s interests effectively. He pointed out that Western intellectuals often fail to extend the same understanding to India’s rich history, quoting Churchill’s dismissive remark about India.
Jaishankar challenged the perception that modernism is equated with Westernism, emphasising that Indian intellectual concepts and traditions have contributed significantly to global discourse. He highlighted the prevalence of Indian terms like Pyrrhic victory, Gordian knots, and Trojan horse in everyday language, universalized through cultural influence.
In addressing the asymmetry in the acknowledgment of historical contributions, Jaishankar pointed out that Western thinkers are commonly referenced, but Indian philosophers like Kautilya, who predates Lord Palmerston, are overlooked.
The Minister’s address highlighted the imperative of promoting a nuanced understanding of India’s cultural heritage and its impact on shaping international relations. As India asserts itself on the global stage, Jaishankar’s call for embracing Indian characteristics in diplomatic engagements echoes a broader vision for a more inclusive and culturally rooted approach to global affairs.