A GOAL-ORIENTED FOREIGN POLICY
The Modi government’s third year in office showcases a tenacious foreign policy unafraid to punch above its weight
THE FIRST TWO YEARS of the Narendra Modi government seemed like a series of unending picture postcard moments as New Delhi engaged the three world capitals that matter the most— Washington, Beijing and Islamabad. One, a distant strategic partner, and the other two, neighbouring strategic challenge and security nightmare. So there was Prime Minister Modi and President Barack Obama, meeting an unprecedented eight times; Modi sharing a swing with Xi Jinping on the Sabarmati riverfront; Modi hugging Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad and visiting his mother at the family home in Raiwind.
The Modi government’s third year, in some sense, has seen a sobering of sorts, after the first two where India’s diplomacy showed renewed vigour and where even relations with Pakistan and China seemed to hold limitless possibilities. That has given way to renewed tensions with Pakistan and regressing relations with an increasingly assertive China. Part of the reason for these tensions is the emergence over the past three years of a pragmatic India-first foreign policy which pursues the three pillars of trade, energy and security with a singleminded spirit, where diplomats are unafraid to roll with the punches and give as good as it gets. So a murderous attack which kills 18 sleeping Indian soldiers is answered by coordinated cross-border ‘surgical strikes’ on terror launchpads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). A statement read out by a uniformed three-star general the following morning instantly sets it apart from previously unacknowledged raids. It was a politico-military signal
to the world and a reminder of the iron fist under the velvet glove. This pugilistic spirit has signalled the end of business-as-usual. India entered the Missile Test Control Regime (MTCR) last June but failed to be disheartened by China stymying its attempts to enter the elite Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty club. The NPT is a goal on its way to the next one, a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. India has called attention to Beijing’s attempts to block the UN Security Council’s move to declare Jaish-e-Mohammad supremo Masood Azhar, a global terrorist, even as it has ploughed a lonely furrow by boycotting China’s One Belt One Road initiative in Beijing because it impinges on Indian sovereignty.
Like the Indian PMs before him, Prime Minister Modi sets the tone for Indian diplomacy. But few predecessors have exhibited the kind of stamina Modi has by personally setting a scorching pace of global capital hopping as he outlines India’s foreign policy priorities.
Talks with Islamabad remain in stasis as they have post the January 1, 2016, attack on the Pathankot air base. But the government has quietly boosted ties with other neighbours—Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka—and even got all of them on board to boycott the SAARC summit scheduled for Islamabad last November.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv this July, the first ever by an Indian head of government since ties were established with Israel 25 years ago, will finally bring its close ties with the Jewish state out of the closet. It will make India one of a handful of large countries to have excellent relations with three civilisational adversaries in the Middle East—Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Modi is ably aided by vice-captain Sushma Swaraj, who arguably runs the biggest public diplomacy drive by any world foreign minister and is not averse to going the extra mile. Last year, she asked the naval spokesperson to steer the closest Indian warship towards a citizen in distress in the Gulf of Aden. A metaphor for her government’s new reimagined goal-oriented diplomacy.