India: Rating Modi’s Foreign Policy – Analysis


By Manoj Joshi

At first sight, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy appears awe-inspiring. The sheer energy he has invested in his 46 foreign visits has taken him to destinations that were ignored or played down by his predecessor — Central Asia, Indian Ocean Region, the Persian Gulf, besides the usual staples of the US, western Europe, China and Japan. Their outcome, however, is a matter of opinion.

There has been a sharp rise in FDI into India, but whether it was due to his visits is a question. Foreign visits do have the virtue of concentrating the attention of the various arms of government to Indian interests in a specific country or region. But thereafter what matters is follow-up.

Actually, the big problem is in deciding what exactly is the government’s goal — attracting investment and technology, or political support for a seat in the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or countering terrorism, or building a coalition to check China and Pakistan. Since the government of India does not put down its goals in writing, you can assume that it is all of the above, with no specific prioritisation.

In one, arguably the most important, area of foreign policy, however, the Modi government has failed. This is with China and Pakistan individually, as well as as a combine. It is no secret that neither of these can be considered friendly and India has serious disputes with them. But since 42 per cent of our land borders are with them, our inabililty to break the Sino-Pak nexus is a significant failing which, in all fairness, cannot be blamed entirely on the Modi government alone.

In the case of Pakistan, the reasons for the estrangement are clear. Indian relations with Islamabad have never been very good and the slow poisoning of the Nawaz Sharif government by the Pakistani military has put paid to any effort by New Delhi to improve relations in the last two years.

As for China, the reasons are more complicated. In some measure, they are a result of a gauche handling of China by Modi and his team. They worked under the impression that quick deals with Beijing were possible and Modi’s personality would be enough to score a breakthrough. However, things haven’t quite worked out and the border talks are frozen. India remains suspicious of China’s One Belt One Road initiative and keeps Chinese investments at an arm’s length, so Beijing sees no payoff in backing India’s membership to the NSG or abandoning Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. In short, in the give and take of international intercourse, Beijing does not see what India has on offer in exchange for the things it wants from China.

In all this, New Delhi is the loser. If it thinks that the US will succumb to its campaign and sanction Islamabad on the issue of terrorism, it is mistaken. The US has been there and done it and found that it does not help. Indeed, as it pulls out from Afghanistan, Washington finds that it needs Islamabad more, not less. Afghanistan is a benighted land which, if left to itself, will descend to chaos. But the US cannot afford to allow that to happen to nuclear-armed Pakistan. In any case, US interests go beyond this negative consideration — Washington has dealt with the generals and understands them well and it realises that even to deal with chaotic Afghanistan, it needs to retain its ties with Islamabad. More germane is the fact that having invested what it has in “human resources” in Pakistan’s army and civil society, the US has important assets which it would not like to abandon, especially when China is stepping up its ties through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

It is difficult for Modi government’s supporters to swallow this, but the best option for India is to go back to the beaten track of engagement. This time, engage with both China and Pakistan. Indian policy needs to understand that Pakistan remains a failing state with multiple centres of authority, and engagement with each of them can only be at varying levels of satisfaction. Nothing here should imply that we let our guard down from the point of view of our security.

New Delhi has dithered between Islamabad and Beijing, hoping that some breakthrough in our bilateral ties will help to break that nexus. Instead, what India needs to do is to sally forth to meet that nexus and transform it through its economic power and diplomacy. Notwithstanding what China has on offer in the CPEC, Pakistan’s economic future lies in its ties with India and South Asia.

There are elements in Pakistan — its civilian government, civil society, businessmen and ordinary folk — who realise that good ties with India are a necessary condition for the transformation of their country. What is needed is an imaginative leadership in New Delhi that can link its economic ambitions with a transformational agenda in South Asia, instead of getting trapped in the minefields of the past.

This article originally appeared in Mid Day.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

2 thoughts on “India: Rating Modi’s Foreign Policy – Analysis

  • September 19, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Last sixty years have not produced results with Pakistan or China, hence that is not a failure of Modi policy. Instead it is a failure of its predecessors. But in last two years with greater focus on FDI & technology and shaking hands with so many heads of states has definitely changed india’s standing in the world. All this is helping the economy to go in high gear. Not with standing UN Security Council permanent seat or NSG membership, a two trillion economy ($5 or 6 Trillion on PPP basis) which is consumption oriented has made rapid strides. That will stand in good stead when sooner than later dramatic events in the world will reorder the world order. Then India will be front and centre. Last time when UN charter was written in 1946, India’s interests stayed unprotected by the ruling British.

  • September 21, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Let down it’s Guard? The LOC is the most militarized Boundary in the World. Yet so called terrorists waltz into indian territory and cause havoc. Is it a case of incompetence, complacency or something else. Consider how minorities and even well- to-do strata’s of hindu society perceive their rights and opportunities under the Modi ultra nationalist Government, not very favorably. Add to that India’s inability to provide equitable opportunity within a secular and democratic framework lies the foundation of its biggest challenge. Inequality and its consequent reaction has the potential to rend the Economic, Social and Political fabric of any society, let alone one as divided as India’s. Ignoring it may well unravel the ambitious plans of perceived Kings, Holy men and politicians in record time.


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