The Road To Nowhere: Modi's Foreign Policy

25/08/2015 12:47 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi, left, prepares to shake hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, as Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, right and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, left watch during Modi’s inauguration in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 26, 2014. Modi took the oath of office as India's new prime minister at the sprawling presidential palace on Monday, a moment made more historic by the presence of the leader of archrival Pakistan. (AP Photo /Manish Swarup)

"A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman's birthday but never remembers her age." -- Robert Frost

Diplomacy is a fine art, requiring both sense and sensibility. Sadly, both deserted a stubborn Modi Sarkar, hell-bent on its predilection for atmospherics, as the much-hyped National Security Advisor' s talks between India and Pakistan collapsed on 22 August, 2015. The air was pregnant with smartly worded rhetoric which must have provided occupational fodder to diligent wordsmiths employed by their respective foreign offices. But the bottom-line is that both countries stand to lose in this obdurate positioning, where strategic cross-border negotiations to alleviate escalating tensions took a backseat to pleasing restless domestic constituencies.

India's famous "red line" that it would not accept the Hurriyat leadership meeting with the Pakistani establishment was expectedly challenged by Pakistan. In effect, the Hurriyat issue has become a default red line now for both countries, each resolute in its conviction. Overnight, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiq Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik have recaptured their fast-dissipating halo, especially post the Jammu and Kashmir state elections, which showcased Indian democracy in its incandescent glory in an otherwise troubled valley. India effectively neutralised its own strategic advantages.

"[T]he reason India has reached a remarkable economic and military stature compared to its beleaguered, belligerent neighbour is because of its intelligent, calibrated policy of strategic restraint. "

The right-wing commentariat in India, led by cacophonous BJP spokespersons, repeatedly call Pakistan a "rogue, failed state". Fair enough. But they should realise that the reason India has reached a remarkable economic and military stature compared to its beleaguered, belligerent neighbour is because of its intelligent, calibrated policy of strategic restraint. This has been practiced with extraordinary consistency by successive Congress governments. There could not have been a more gruesome experience than the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, orchestrated by ISI. But the UPA did not fall prey to instant military reaction or territorial hot pursuits. Pakistan's international isolation over the years as a state that harbours a complex network of terrorist organizations (Haqqani Network, Pakistan Taliban, LeT, etc) as part of its foreign policy was in great ways because of India's sustained diplomatic pressure and pragmatic maturity. Meanwhile, Pakistan lives in denial at its own peril, the Peshawar massacre being a case in point.

Modi missed a chance to make diplomatic capital out of PM Nawaz Sharif's visit to Delhi for his swearing in ceremony on 26 May last year. It could have been more than a photo-op, providing an amicable platform to seize the moment. But Modi faltered. I think we are being extremely charitable in believing that the decision to make the Hurriyat a deal-breaker issue was doctrine. Notice its abruptness (talks between foreign secretaries were cancelled just hours before they were due to take place on 18 August 2014) to understand that it seemed almost whimsical, like a sudden afterthought.

Sure, Modi scored huge brownie points for himself among some of his warmongering acolytes in the electronic media, who cheered the flexing of his 56-inch ki chhati as the missing machismo in India's Pakistan policy. A year and a quarter later, this stance has clearly boomeranged. PM Nawaz Sharif is enervated, General Sharif is energised. The hardliners within both camps are triumphant. The hyperventilating pseudo-nationalists back home are perfectly matched by their chest-beating, jingoistic counterparts in the Pakistani media, who are busy whipping up anti-India sentiment. Even Stevens.

There are also contradictions galore. In Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP is aligned with the PDP in a Common Minimum Program that talks of engaging with all "internal stakeholders". Who are they, who deserve such a special mention? The question remains mysteriously unanswered. Despite the Gurdaspur and Udhampur terror attacks, and 850 cross-border violations within a year, the Modi Sarkar's sanguine expectations from the meeting between NSAs Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz seemed bizarre. But clearly they believed otherwise. The dismantling of terror infrastructure within Pakistan is an issue on which our neighbour has always been dodgy. We needed to get them on the table, especially if we had classified dossiers on their terror operators. Pakistan successfully circumvented it. Again.

Bilateral dialogue is a necessity if we are to truly adhere to the principle of peaceful co-existence. And with regular heavy-mortar shell attacks at the LoC, Pakistan has a lot to answer for. Ufa was never a breakthrough, incidentally, as is evident. Both sides had their own individual interpretations of the joint statement. Manohar Parrikar's verbal aggression and Rajyavardhan Rathore's embarrassing hosannas to Modi's 56-inch chest after the Myanmar operations were preposterous populism. It was plain stupid. Such inflammatory language we should leave to Pakistan. We should create the leading diplomatic strategy that is result-oriented; not respond to Pakistan's predictable bellicosity for an intermittent headline.

"Mr Modi's foreign policy so far was restricted to Vibrant Gujarat overseas stalls. He needs to lift his vision."

There was a palpable softening of Modi's attitude towards Pakistan, post the visit of President Barack Obama to India earlier this year for the Republic Day celebrations. Weeks later, Modi did a U-turn, and ostensibly under the garb of SAARC, dispatched the Foreign Secretary to Islamabad. The fact is Modi has no foreign policy other than court FII/FDI investments, which anyway follow the path of attractiveness of ROI (just see the crash of the Indian stock markets on 24/08). A hike in US Fed rates could lead to a further flight of this fancy capital in September. Mr Modi's foreign policy so far was restricted to Vibrant Gujarat overseas stalls. He needs to lift his vision. National security, terrorist threats, bilateral relationships and diplomatic negotiations on thorny issues require an altogether different altitude.

Mutual suspicion has turned into deep distrust with Pakistan. Post Ufa, the dreaded N-word has been uttered by none other than the Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Asif. And China has shown steadfast adherence to Pakistan by blocking India's attempt to seek UN action against Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi for the 26/11 attacks. A prolonged period of frozen turbulence is good for neither country. Mutual recriminations will get us nowhere.

Sushma Swaraj says there is a road full of potholes between the two countries. Right now, though, both India and Pakistan are staring down a big black hole. Try drawing a red line there.

The author is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. The views are his own

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