He rubbed shoulders with global leaders, invited international business tycoons to ‘make in India’ and prompted the Indian diaspora that time will soon arrive to pay back to their mother land (Aachhey Din Aayengey). During 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi left no stone unturned on the diplomatic, military and economic front. One may call it ‘speed dating’ foreign policy, but for once – New Delhi has laid the foundation stone for the revival of India’s presence not only in the SAARC region, but also reached out to the satellite states in South East Asia, Far East and Central Asia, sending clear signals to China and Pakistan that New Delhi will not allow military and economic encirclement of its national frontiers.
Modi-critics lambasted his frequent foreign trips, but 2015 played a vital role in bridging the gulf between India’s capabilities, realities in the immediate neighbourhood and the global opportunities. His hectic schedule covering over 30 countries has been an indication enough that the PM was not on holiday. From his first visit to the Himalayan country Bhutan to smallest island Fiji to economic powers USA and Japan and now Afghanistan – Modi set the correct foreign policy priorities certainly aimed at catapulting India to a global power in the coming years. For the first time Indian foreign policy has started to free itself from the clutches of the Non-Alignment Movement of Pt. Nehru when India acted without any specific agenda to the NDA and UPA years of Pakistan- specific diplomacy.
Often mocked as the NRI Prime Minister, Modi’s critics forget that India’s crucial geographic location serves both as a security challenge and an economic corridor to the Central Asia via Afghanistan and sea lanes connecting Straight of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Straight of Malacca in South East Asia via Hambantota in Sri Lanka have the potential not only to bring trade to Indian shores, but can control China’s crucial oil, gas and trade supplies.
Below I discuss that why the PM Modi chose to travel the world.
Pakistan: The Problem In Perpetuity
Away from the media glare – the increasing bonhomie between PM Narendra Modi and Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif has raised many eyebrows. Meeting between the two leaders at Ufa in Russia, talks on the sidelines of in Paris climate meet, secret meet between two NSAs in Bangkok and now Modi’s air dropping into Lahore is a diplomatic masterstroke to break the ice between the two sides. Certainly, Modi is delivering diplomatic bouncers. Pakistan army has always clipped the powers of the country’s PM, but Modi’s repeated outreach to Nawaz Sharif has worked to increase the latter’s image and value in Islamabad’s political corridors, especially in the eyes of the army. His Pakistan policy appears to go beyond the regular game of talking cross border terror and increasing cultural exchange. For once, his critics are quiet.
With Afghanistan getting back on its feet, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) oil pipeline, China’s increasing presence in Central Asia and China-Pakistan economic corridor – for India the economic and military security stakes are very high.
Originating in Turkmenistan, the pipeline will run alongside the Herat-Kandahar highway, moving on to Quetta and Multan in Pakistan and finally ending in Punjab in India. But the success of the project depends on security assurance, which is yet to be provided by the Taliban in Afghanistan and trust deficit between Indian and Pakistan. To convince Taliban for its support and assure security for the pipeline’s safe entry into India, New Delhi needs Islamabad on its side. If Nawaz Sharif doesn’t seize the opportunity provided by Modi, Pakistan will lag behind in economic development, Afghanistan will further get grind in poverty and for New Delhi, China will strengthen its economic and security grip on the region. There is no doubt that for Islamabad, friendship with Beijing is more important than her own future and Afghanistan’s security. But for New Delhi, Afghanistan’s security is of prime importance as it acts as a base to control Pakistan and it also is an access point to the energy-rich Central Asia, where China is expanding its footprint.
China – In The Jaws Of The Dragon:
The China-Pakistan axis is not new, but the economic corridor between the two countries, which is planned to run through PoK is primarily aimed at allowing Beijing an access to Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean – allowing PLA to strengthen its encirclement of India. Linking Gwadar port with the Karakoram highway will have severe military security implications for India. Pakistan is not only a Chinese pawn, but will be a base of power projection for the Chinese.
A brief look at the history tells us that China has always filled the gaps in India’s immediate neighbourrhood and satellite states. Considering PoK’s strategic location as a connecting point of South, West and Central Asia, China’s move has implications for limiting India’s outreach to the critical Eurasian region. India always looked at the world through Pakistan, but missed out the crucial security points. Footprints in Central Asia and Mongolia will allow India access to China’s backyard.
Barack Obama entered office at a particularly difficult time. America was busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and economic crisis followed soon. Taking advantage of the same, China expanded its reach in the Asia Pacific region. Losing ground in East Asia and South East Asia to Beijing’s economic and military power was never an option for Washington. New Delhi has never openly supported the American Pivot, but has quietly embraced it. Former PM Manmohan Singh’s ‘Look East’ policy did not deliver any results as the UPA-II was a dysfunctional government. But the Modi administration with the makeover of the ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’ has worked quickly to join the geographically strategic dots that have historic animosity with China. Though the ultimate goal will be to militarily balance Beijing, the work has begun with economic efforts. India by engaging with Japan has become part of the same equation.
Whether it is developed or developing nation, foreign policy rarely appears in the domestic politics of the country. What matters is, how big is the government wallet. During Bihar polls, the PM did open a big piggy bank, but animosity between Modi and Nitish Kumar was at the centre of the electoral battle, to which the Dadri incident and the ‘award waapsi’ campaign played the catalyst BJP’s defeat.
However, Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore has gone a long way in rebuilding confidence between the two sides and detox domestic environment. It has sent a clear message to the minority community about the changing approach of the government. Keeping in mind the realities in the neighbourhood, Modi has scored a political masterstroke to woo the minority community and keep the Sangh Parivar away from the centre’s Pakistan policy.
The foundation for India’s dynamic foreign policy has been laid. Now is the time for the PM to give more importance to domestic issues. After two electoral debacles – Delhi and Bihar – if Modi wants to revive the BJP, his foreign policy efforts will need to bring in the investment promised by foreign leaders. Fortunately, political ‘vyabhichar’ (corruption) has not infected his government so far, but there is no guarantor for politicians in India.
The real test for Modi’s foreign policy begins now.