Growing foreign policy challenges for Modi-government

By Dr Satish Misra. Dated: 8/13/2019 10:46:18 AM

The Modi 2.0-government is facing challenges on twin fronts. While it is confronted with rising unemployment and economic slowdown, challenges in the field of foreign policy too are no less daunting. India's relations with the Trump administration have begun to develop cracks with President Donald Trump developing a soft corner for Pakistan and its Prime Minister Imran Khan. It is not a change of heart for the US President but his commitment to withdraw the American forces from Afghanistan has forced Trump to cozy-up to Islamabad.
During the recent visit of Imran Khan to the US last month, relations between the two countries as the Afghan policy both Islamabad and Washington began to converge creating conditions for closer cooperation for geo-strategic reasons. Surprisingly, there was hardly any mention of terrorism or terrorist related activities during official meetings between civilian and military leadership. It was widely believed and the Modi government was not tired of talking that Pakistan that had been cornered in world capitals for its aid and support to terrorism but suddenly there was hardly any talk of terrorism even though Pakistan Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa had accompanied the Pakistani premier to the US and was negotiating with his counterpart.
Fact that Kashmir was discussed between Khan and Trump at length is confirmed with the US President's offer to mediate between India and Pakistan. While New Delhi vehemently denied that Prime Minister Modi had asked Trump to mediate but reiteration of mediation offer by Trump is an irrefutable evidence of bettering of ties between Islamabad and Washington.
Establishment of a personal chemistry and a warm rapport between Trump and Khan has contributed to sorting out of differences between the US and Pakistan and has helped in setting up a direct communication line between the two that plays a decisive role at crucial times. It is already reflecting in the aggressive stand that has been taken by the Pakistan Prime Minister on India's scrapping of Article 370 and 35A from the Constitution that accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Khan's visit has boosted bilateral security cooperation and military to military that had received a setback during the Trump administration. Last year military training programmes for Pakistan had been suspended but now there is a strong likelihood that they are going to be revived soon.
Economic and trade ties between India and the US are already under tremendous strain. The US was India's second largest trading partner in goods in 2018 and the singles largest export destination for Indian exporters. Bilateral trade in goods and services grew at annual rate of 7.59 per cent from 2008-18, double in value from $ 68.4 billion to $ 142.1 billion. After the ending of preferential benefits that India's exports to the US used to get under Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), further growth in bilateral trade seems to be jeopardized unless the political leadership of two countries take steps to restore the momentum.
In the backdrop of the sudden turn of events in the Afghan theater where the urgency of the Trump administration to withdraw from Afghanistan, India that was the second biggest donor to Kabul has become an outcast. New Delhi is now required to rework its equations with stakeholders in Afghanistan particularly at a time when Islamabad has regained its pre-eminent position in the strategic game thanks to Washington.
While India will have to carefully calibrate its relationship with Washington in time to come, relations with China are also not very cordial though both New Delhi and Beijing are trying to observe utmost caution to keep them steady and out of choppy waters.
India's China policy, under the Modi government's first five years, was inconsistent that was marked by phases of euphoria and confrontation till Modi and Chinees President Xi Jinping met at the Chinese city of Wuhan where the two leaders decided to steady ties.
This resulted in lowering down of New Delhi's support to Tibet's spiritual leader Dalai Lama and the exiled government of Tiber. In the process, China's aggressive forays in the Indo-Pacific trampling on the rights of countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Japan are going unchallenged by New Delhi causing consternation among India's friends.
On the other hand, Beijing continued to consolidate and strengthen its bilateral ties with Kathmandu where it pushed for the unification of two Communist parties that used to be each other's bitter political rival. China ensured that leader of the unified Communist Party K P Sharma 'Oli' became the Nepal's prime minister. Development is a serious setback to India's goals of foreign policy.
Relations with Bangladesh have been excellent in recent years but the issue of illegal immigrants into India and sending them back has been on high priority for the ruling BJP for decades and now that it is in full control of the levers of power, it is very keen to have Dhaka's cooperation,
During the recent talks between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the visiting Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzamman Khan, the issue figured prominently. Shah raised the issue of illegal movement of people across the border and urged Dhaka to take action in this regard.
The visiting Minister from across the border told his Indian counterpart that no Bangladeshi goes to India illegally. "Our country is in very good shape and people from different countries come here for employment. Why will Bangladeshis cross the border illegally", he said point blank giving a rebuff to Shah. Bangladesh's reply is pertinent to note and reflects the confidence that India's neighbours have. If the issue is not handled sensitively and carefully, it could adversely affect the bilateral ties.
In the face of mounting challenges in the realm of foreign policy, the Modi government would need to tread very carefully while adopting aggressive postures towards country's enemies and over accommodative policy towards friends.
—(IFS)
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.

 

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