Modi earns appreciation in US media for his SAARC outreach

NEW YORK (TIP): Prime Minister Narendra Modi has earned enormous appreciation in the American media for his out-of-the-box and successful diplomatic outreach that saw the leaders of South Asian nations, notably Pakistan, attend his swearingin ceremony, followed by bilateral talks with each one of them on his very first day in office.

Noting that the attendance of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other SAARC leaders “signals an early effort by Modi to strengthen political and economic ties in the region”, Time magazine spoke of the belief among many observers that the Modi Government “may take on a more Asia-centric approach to foreign policy”, even if the US continues to be an important ally.

Modi’s initiative in reaching out to Sharif after his “hard-line oratory on Pakistan” during the recent election campaign was seen by The New York Times as a move that offers “some hope that the two countries may resume a tentative peace process after a year and a half of frosty silence”.

The paper, however, advanced the view that further steps towards dialogue may prove difficult, given the past experience when talks have “derailed repeatedly over security issues, finally coming to a halt after cross-border skirmishes in Kashmir early last year, when an Indian soldier was beheaded”.

Participating in the Voice of America’s Encounter program, Lisa Curtis, South Asia expert from The Heritage Foundation, felt that despite the conciliatory gestures, there are hardline currents under the surface in both Pakistan and India.

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“If, God forbid, we have some kind of major attack in India, I think we’re going to see a tougher response from a BJP Government than we would have expected to see under Congress,” Curtis said. Modi isn’t looking to pick a fight with Pakistan, she said and noted that Sharif “will have to ensure that the military backs him in anything he does with India”.

“He’s learned the hard way that he certainly (can’t) defy the Pakistan military. In terms of the Pakistan military calculations, it’s unclear if they’re interested in having Pakistan engage a BJP Government or not,” said Curtis. Writing in the Foreign Policy magazine, South Asia expert Neil Joeck from the University of California, Berkeley, notes that Modi’s victory could offer a new chance to the Obama administration to make good on its much-touted “Asia pivot” vision.

“India has arguably been the least appreciated and attended to element of Obama’s foreign policy in Asia. The President started off on a good foot by inviting then- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a state visit in November of 2009 but little developed subsequently,” writes Joeck, blaming the Obama administration for looking at India “through the prism of Pakistan’s historic grievances, rather than in the context of a broader global strategy”.

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