Continued from Putting India Emphatically on Global Map – Part 1

It defies logic that a country that is considered as our most serious adversary and whose policies in our region has done us incalculable strategic harm should have been accepted as India’s strategic partner during Manmohan Singh’s time. Such a concession that clouds realities serves China’s purpose and once given cannot be reversed. Pursuant to discussions already held during the tenure of the previous government, the Chinese announced during Xi’s visit the establishment of two industrial parks in India, one in Gujarat and the other in Maharashtra, and the “endeavour to realise” an investment of US $ 20 billion in the next five years in various industrial and infrastructure development projects in India, including in the railways sector. The Chinese Prime Minister’s statement just before Modi goes to China on May 14 that China is looking for preferential policies and investment facilitation for its businesses to make this investment suggests that the promised investment may not materialise in a hurry. While the decision during Xi’s visit to continue defence contacts is useful in order to obtain an insight into PLA’s thinking and capacities at first hand, the agreement, carried forward from Manmohan Singh’s time, to explore possibilities of civilian nuclear cooperation puzzles because this helps to legitimise China’s nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.

Even as Modi has been making his overall interest in forging stronger ties with China clear, he has not shied away from allusions to Chinese expansionism, not only on Indian soil but also during his visit to Japan. During his own visit to US in September 2014 and President Obama’s visit to India in January 2015, the joint statements issued have language on South China Sea and Asia-Pacific which is China-directed. A stand alone US-India Joint Vision for Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region issued during Obama’s Delhi visit was a departure from previous Indian reticence to show convergence with the US on China-related issues. India has now indirectly accepted a link between its Act East policy and US rebalance towards Asia. The Chinese have officially chosen to overlook these statements as they would want to wean away India from too strong a US embrace. During Sushma Swaraj’s call on Xi during her visit to China in February 2015 she seems to have pushed for an early resolution of the border issue, with out-of-the-box thinking between the two strong leaders that lead their respective countries today. Turning the Chinese formulation on its head, she called for leaving a resolved border issue for future generations.

It is not clear what the External Affairs Minister had in mind when she advocated
“out-of-the-box” thinking, as such an approach can recoil on us. That China has no intention to look at any out-of-the-box solution has been made clear by the unusual vehemence of its reaction to Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in February 2015 to inaugurate two development projects on the anniversary of the state’s formation in 1987. The pressure will be on us to do out-of-the-box thinking as it is we who suggested this approach. China is making clear that it considers Arunachal Pradesh not “disputed territory” but China’s sovereign territory. This intemperate Chinese reaction came despite Modi’s visit to China in May. The 18th round of talks between the Special Representatives (SRs) on the boundary question has taken place without any significant result, which is not surprising in view of China’s position on the border. The Chinese PM has recited the mantra a few days ago of settling the boundary issue “as early as possible” and has referred to “the historical responsibility that falls on both governments” to resolve the issue, which means nothing in practical terms. As against this, India has chosen to remain silent on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will traverse territory that is legally Indian, and which even the 1963 China-Pakistan border agreement recognises as territory whose legal status has not been finally settled. The CPEC cannot be built if China were to respect its own position with regard to “disputed” territories which it applies aggressively to Arunachal Pradesh. Why we are hesitant to put China under pressure on this subject is another puzzle.

Modi’s visit to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka in March 2015 signified heightened attention to our critical interests in the Indian Ocean area. The bulk of our trade- 77% by value and 90% by volume- is seaborne. Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Seychelles in 34 years, which demonstrates our neglect of the Indian Ocean area at high political level and Modi’s strategic sense in making political amends. During his visit Modi focused on maritime security with agreement on a Coastal Surveillance Radar Project and the supply of another Dornier aircraft. In Mauritius, Modi signed an agreement on the development of Agalega Island and also attended the commissioning of the Barracuda, a 1300 tonne Indian-built patrol vessel ship for the country’s National Coast Guard, with more such vessels to follow. According to Sushma Swaraj, Modi’s visit to Seychelles and Mauritius was intended to integrate these two countries in our trilateral maritime cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives.

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In Pakistan’s case, Modi too seems unsure of the policy he should follow- whether he should wait for Pakistan to change its conduct before engaging it or engage it nevertheless in the hope that its conduct will change for the better in the future. Modi announced FS level talks with Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif visited Delhi for the swearing-in ceremony, even though Pakistan had made no moves to control the activities of Hafiz Saeed and the jihadi groups in Pakistan.

The Pakistani argument that Nawaz Sharif was bold in visiting India for the occasion and that he has not been politically rewarded for it is a bogus one. He had a choice to attend or not attend, and it was no favour to India that he did. Indeed he did a favour to himself as Pakistan would have voluntarily isolated itself. The FS level talks were cancelled when just before they were to be held when the Pakistan High Commissioner met the Hurriyet leaders in Delhi. Pakistan’s argument that we over-reacted is again dishonest because it wanted to retrieve the ground it thought it had lost when Nawaz Sharif did not meet the Hurriyet leaders in March 2014.

Modi ordered a robust response to Pakistani cease-fire violations across the LOC and the international border during the year, which suggested less tolerance of Pakistan’s provocative conduct. We have also been stating that talks and terrorism cannot go together. Yet, in a repetition of a wavering approach, the government sent the FS to Islamabad in March 2015 on a so-called “SAARC Yatra”. Pakistan responded by releasing the mastermind of the Mumbai attack, Lakhvi, on bail and followed it up by several provocative statements on recent demonstrations by pro-Pakistani separatists in Srinagar, without any real response from our side. Surprisingly, in an internal political document involving the BJP and the PDP in J&K, we agreed to include a reference to engaging Pakistan in a dialogue as part of a common minimum programme, undermining our diplomacy with Pakistan in the process.

Pakistan believes that it is US intervention that spurred India to take the initiative to send the FS to Pakistan, which is why it feels it can remain intransigent. Pakistan chose to make the bilateral agenda even more contentious after the visit by the FS by raising not only the Kashmir cause, but also Indian involvement in Balochistan and FATA. On our side, we raised the issue of cross border terrorism, the Mumbai terror trial and LOC violations, with only negative statements on these issues by Pakistan. Since then the Pakistani army chief has accused India of abetting terrorism in Pakistan. The huge gulf in our respective positions will not enable us to “find common ground and narrow differences” in further rounds of dialogue, about which the Pakistani High Commissioner in Delhi is now publicly sceptical.

Even though one is used to Pakistan’s pathological hostility towards India, the tantrums that Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, threw after President Obama’s successful visit to India were unconscionable. He objected to US support for India’s permanent seat in the UNSC and to its membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). He castigated the Indo-US nuclear deal, projecting it as directed against Pakistan and threatened to take all necessary steps to safeguard Pakistan’s security- in other words, to continue to expand its nuclear arsenal.

Chinese President Xi’s April 2015 visit to Pakistan risks to entrench Pakistan in all its negative attitudes towards India. The huge investments China intends making through POK constitutes a major security threat to India. China is boosting a militarily dominated, terrorist infested, jihadi riven country marked by sectarian conflict and one that is fast expanding its nuclear arsenal, including the development of tactical nuclear weapons, without much reaction from the West. President Ashraf Ghani’s assumption of power in Afghanistan and his tilt towards Pakistan and China, as well as the West’s support for accommodating the Taliban in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s help will further bolster Pakistan’s negative strategic policies directed at India. Ghani’s delayed visit to India in April 2015 has not helped to clarify the scenario in Afghanistan for us, as no change of course in Ghani’s policies can be expected unless Pakistan compels him to do by overplaying its hand in his country. Modi is right in biding his time in Afghanistan and not expressing any undue anxiety about developments there while continuing our policies of assistance so that the goodwill we have earned there is nurtured.

Prime Minister Modi, belying expectations, moved rapidly and decisively towards the US on assuming office. He blindsided political analysts by putting aside his personal feelings at having been denied a visa to visit the US for nine years for violating the US law on religious freedoms.

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