The Modi gov­ern­ment’s third year in of­fice show­cases a tena­cious for­eign pol­icy un­afraid to punch above its weight

India Today - - 30 YEARS OF MODI GOVERNMENT | EXTERNAL AFFAIRS - By San­deep Un­nithan

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.

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