India has earned the respect of the world afresh. This has resulted in global responsiveness to India’s concerns.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj recently declared in a speech in New Delhi, that India had visited 189 countries at the level of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the President or the Vice President, over the last five years. The sharp ramping up of policy level contact is what she emphasised.
This is unprecedented diplomatic outreach, with an energetic King Kong style embrace of the world. This has resulted in global responsiveness to Indian leadership in a number of instances. As well as appreciation of India’s concerns—money laundering, fugitive businessmen, exchange of intelligence, manufacturing, IT collaborations, amongst which, the scourge of global terrorism has always found prominent mention.
Some of these countries had never received a high level visit from India before; and some like Nepal, situated next to India in SAARC, with open borders and a mere hour-and-a-half flight time away, had not had a prime ministerial visit in 17 years.
The effect of this activity has also been the facilitation of bilateral and Indian initiatives at a quickened pace, and a gush of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), amounting to over $320 billion.
India has perhaps the unique distinction of criss-crossing groupings and blocks to create strong diplomatic bonds with countries that may not see eye to eye with each other on all matters. We now get on just as well with Iran as we do with Saudi Arabia, and with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, for example. We have armament contracts with both America and Russia, and a relationship of “competition and cooperation” with China that goes on apace, despite border disputes and other disagreements with them.
We have also been invited on to highly selective international weapons and dual use technology platforms such as the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Australia Group which looks at the non proliferation of chemical and biological weapons. India has been inducted into the prestigious Missile Control Technology Regime (MTCR). It is a de facto member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which enables us to import and build nuclear power plants, even though China continues to block our formal induction into the latter.
It is expected, the minister said, that India would soon be invited as a full-fledged UNSC permanent member with veto powers, emphasising that we were not interested “in a second class citizenship at the high table”.
Given the unhappiness of the other permanent members of UNSC with China’s obdurate stand on Masood Azhar and other issues, unilateral actions including a further squeeze on Pakistan’s finances from the concessional lending agencies such as the World Bank and IMF are not ruled out. In addition, an expanded UNSC may come about, whether China likes it or not.
The fact that India received such solid support from the resolution sponsoring nations of France, Britain, and America, with Russia and several Islamic countries joining in, is most heartening.
The only place it appears where Indian diplomacy has not worked so well, even if it is in terms of exchanging fire at the LoC, and via the long drawn out battle with terrorists, rather than a war, even on the restricted basis of Kargil, is in our relationship with Pakistan. But here too, the Modi regime has called Pakistan’s long standing nuclear bluff, during the surgical strike of 2016, and again at Balakot just last month. This is an international first and will have far reaching consequences.
Diplomatic bilateral and back channel efforts have by no means ceased however, though, the minister pointed out, we have done rather better with the Pakistani politicians, than we have with the Pakistan army, the ISI, and its large apparatus of terrorist organisations. So much so, that Pakistan came towards India the day after Balakot with 24 fighter planes, and a view to avenge the attack. In fact, every time there has been a move towards dialogue and understanding with the Pakistani civilian leadership, the real power centres of Pakistan have been quick to scuttle it. The new and highly effective tack that India has taken by way of a pre-emptive strike against the JeM training centre at Balakot may perforce cause a rethinking of the long held strategy of a “thousand cuts” across the border, but not, it seems, just yet.
The most important diplomatic dividend after the strike was that not a single country condemned India for carrying it out, though all were keen that we should not escalate matters. This is, of course, partly due to the relative geopolitical importance of India today, in comparison to a terrorist sponsoring but nearly bankrupt and isolated Pakistan. This was illustrated by a pointed invitation from the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), which had Minister Swaraj as chief guest, over the objections of Pakistan, to the recently held UAE Summit. Pakistan refused, as a consequence, to attend.
Indian commentators baying at the moon after China’s altogether expected 11th hour veto on the UNSC resolution on designating Masood Azhar a global terrorist, need to think again. They may be well advised to read and meditate upon the ancient (9th century BC) system of divination via cleromancy called the I Ching or Book of Changes. It has a chance of revealing aspects of the complex Chinese way of thinking to them, with its apparent inscrutability and multiple objectives. Yes, China moved to block the declaration on Masood Azhar at the UNSC for the fourth time. But the predictable criticism should take into account that it did, reluctantly, after asking for minute changes eight times, join others to name Jaish e Mohammed a terrorist organisation just a few days ago.
And what good has naming his terrorist colleague Hafiz Saeed a global terrorist and putting a large price on his head actually done to hamper his nefarious activities vis-a-vis India? In fact, the number of banned and UN designated global terrorists roaming about freely in Pakistan number well over a hundred, with no adverse consequences visited on them.
Critics, including those who object to India’s low key “disappointment” with China’s latest veto, should also remember China’s advice to Pakistan to settle issues with India on a bilateral basis after Balakot. With the ambitious CPEC that leads China to a port on the Arabian Sea at Gwadar, and sunk costs of over $50 billion, it would be unreasonable for China to invite attacks from the JeM and friends. But India, taking out the terrorists in a pre-emptive strike with a promise of more to come if necessary, is another matter altogether.
And trade relations with India are on an ever growing track. On our part, India has seen to it that it has not participated in the Belt and Road Initiative, a pet project of President Xi Jinping. This includes the CPEC that cuts illegally through PoK. India has also gone on record to warn other participants that it is a road to their inevitable bankruptcy and loss of key assets, given the financial terms used. This has, in fact, been borne out in country after country already.
India has its own gentler forms of economic partnership with the African nations, the ASEAN countries, within the rest of SAARC and BIMSTEC that have been ramped up and been highly appreciated by all.
In fact, as China embarks on a course towards world domination, the credentials of India as the fastest growing large economy in the world but without aggressive intent are attracting more and more goodwill.
The extradition of wanted people from the UAE and Saudi Arabia has set the ball rolling for infamous hideouts from the arm of home-country justice, such as Britain. Indian foreign policy over the last five years has been responsive to Indians stranded, or in difficulty overseas, most dramatically demonstrated in the rescue from a war torn Yemen of 7,000 Indians and some 4,000 nationals from 48 other countries, including three from Pakistan. And while passports and travel documents are now processed in record time, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Prime Minister himself have built bridges for the first time with the over 31 million strong Indian diaspora.
All of this augurs well for India, especially as Narendra Modi and the NDA are widely expected to win a second term in office come May 2019.
India has earned the respect of the world afresh and this is an intangible that can be built upon to secure stellar tangible gains as well.