Firm and Res­o­lute


India Today - - CONTENTS - By San­deep Un­nithan

The gov­ern­ment’s stand that talks and ter­ror won’t go hand in hand gets huge pop­u­lar en­dorse­ment

IF PAK­ISTAN BE­HAVES WELL, IN­DIA’S HAND IS EX­TENDED AND OPEN,” said for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary S. Jais­hankar, re­spond­ing to a ques­tion af­ter a lec­ture in July last year. Jais­hankar is now In­dia’s for­eign min­is­ter. It would suf­fice to say that what he said then con­tin­ues to be In­dia’s present pol­icy un­der the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment 2.0. Pak­istan has not be­haved well and In­dia’s hand is a balled fist.

The pol­icy that ‘talks and ter­ror can­not go hand in hand’ started soon af­ter the Jan­uary 2016 at­tack on Pathankot and cross-bor­der com­mando raids, re­sult­ing in the killing of 14 sol­diers at Uri in 2017. On Fe­bru­ary 14 this year, a sui­cide bomb at­tack on a CRPF con­voy by a Jaish-e-Mo­hammed mil­i­tant killed 40 troop­ers. The at­tack drew a swift re­sponse—an un­prece­dented bomb­ing of a train­ing camp in Balakot in Pak­istan’s Khy­berPakhtun­khwa prov­ince by IAF jets.

The Jan­uary 2019 Mood of the Na­tion (MOTN) sur­vey had showed a poll-bound Bharatiya Janata Party on the back­foot with mount­ing pres­sure from the econ­omy and ru­ral dis­tress and be­cause of the op­po­si­tion’s at­tempts to rake up cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions in the Rafale fighter air­craft deal. How­ever, post-Pul­wama and Balakot, the BJP made na­tional se­cu­rity one of its ma­jor elec­toral planks and re­turned to power with more seats than it had won in 2014.

The dis­in­cli­na­tion to pur­sue talks with Pak­istan un­less Is­lam­abad sig­nif­i­cantly ad­dressed the is­sue of cross-bor­der ter­ror con­tin­ues. While Prime Min­is­ter Modi might have ex­changed pleas­antries with Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan at the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (SCO) sum­mit in Bishkek, Kyr­gyzs­tan, he re­mained res­o­lute about not pur­su­ing for­mal talks.

Two key MOTN ques­tions elicited in­ter­est­ing re­sponses from par­tic­i­pants. Sixty-three per cent of the re­spon­dents said that ‘In­dia should not hold any bi­lat­eral talks with Pak­istan un­less there is to­tal end to cross

bor­der ter­ror­ism’. This thump­ing en­dorse­ment of the gov­ern­ment’s stance has gone up by seven per­cent­age points this time over the MOTN sur­vey in Jan­uary 2019. Around 75 per cent are sat­is­fied with the way the Modi gov­ern­ment has han­dled re­la­tions with Pak­istan un­der Im­ran Khan. In fact, of the to­tal re­spon­dents, 42 per cent feel they have been han­dled very well.

The pres­sure on Pak­istan comes at a point of in­flec­tion. The US wants Pak­istan’s sup­port for a risk-free pull­out from Afghanista­n by Novem­ber 2020. Ac­knowl­edge­ment of Pak­istan’s con­cerns over Kash­mir, New Delhi fears, could be the bar­gain­ing chip for Pak­istan fa­cil­i­tat­ing talks be­tween the US and Tal­iban in Qatar.

The rea­son for New Delhi’s move to ef­fec­tively scrap Sec­tion 370 might be aris­ing from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s state­ment be­fore PM Im­ran Khan in Washington. Trump had said that Modi had asked him to me­di­ate on Kash­mir, a claim de­nied by New Delhi.

Since last year, Pak­istan has been placed un­der the Fi­nan­cial Ac­tion Task Force’s (FATF) ‘grey’ mon­i­tor­ing list for not do­ing enough to com­bat ter­ror­ism and to halt fund­ing to ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions. An FATF ‘black’ list this year could dis­rupt a $6 bil­lion tranche Is­lam­abad is seek­ing from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund to bail out its strug­gling econ­omy.

The Modi gov­ern­ment fea­tures what is ar­guably one of in­de­pen­dent In­dia’s strong­est line-up of hawks—for­eign min­is­ter Jais­hankar, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor Ajit Do­val and home min­is­ter Amit Shah. Un­der them, In­dia’s for­eign pol­icy, se­cu­rity con­cerns and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity is­sues are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly en­meshed. China and Pak­istan, two nu­clear-armed neigh­bours with whom In­dia shares con­tested bor­ders, were al­ways two of its great­est ex­ter­nal se­cu­rity chal­lenges. De­spite the flare-up at Dok­lam and a tense 72-day stand­off in 2017, New Delhi has re­worked its diplo­macy with China, with Modi set­ting up an­nual in­for­mal sum­mits with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. China blocked two western-spon­sored moves in the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (UNSC) to de­clare JeM chief Maulana Ma­sood Azhar a glob­ally des­ig­nated ter­ror­ist. On May 2 this year, it fi­nally lifted the hold it had placed on the UNSC res­o­lu­tion declar­ing Azhar a ter­ror­ist.

Forty-one per cent of MOTN re­spon­dents think that In­dia’s re­la­tions with China have im­proved in the past five years. Sig­nif­i­cantly, this score has gone up by 10 per­cent­age points since the pre­vi­ous sur­vey.

The US, un­der the un­pre­dictable and mer­cu­rial Trump, has be­come a some­what un­likely third for­eign pol­icy chal­lenge. This has forced In­dia to re­bal­ance its for­eign pol­icy, lean more on old friend Moscow and, con­se­quently, ce­ment Rus­sia’s po­si­tion as In­dia’s largest arms buyer with deals worth over $14 bil­lion in the pipe­line.

De­spite Trump pub­licly vent­ing his frus­tra­tion over the Indo-US trade im­bal­ance, ties be­tween the two coun­tries are on the up­swing. More than half the re­spon­dents feel that In­dia’s re­la­tions with the US have im­proved un­der Trump. This score has gone up by 13 per­cent­age points since the pre­vi­ous sur­vey. All in all, judg­ing by the MOTN re­sults, the gov­ern­ment is per­ceived to be do­ing a good job on the for­eign affairs front.

A RIGID STANCE: PM Modi (ex­treme left) with the heads of the SCO mem­ber states at the sum­mit this year

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