2016 Review: Did the Modi Doctrine successfully reinvigorate India’s Foreign Policy?

The year 2016 started on a dreary note for India. Pathankot airbase was attacked by Pakistan’s strategic assets, the veritable militant outfits, on January 2nd. Deep state of Pakistan reciprocated Prime Minister Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore the previous week by launching a brutal an attack on Indian airbase. This event not only sabotaged comprehensive bilateral talks but also mirrored reluctance of sections of Pakistan establishment towards peace initiatives. Clandestine attacks provided opposition enough fodder to denigrate Modi’s Pakistan policy and extinguished hopes of renewed engagement. Despite the breach of trust, Modi government made a rare concession of allowing access to Joint Investigation Team (JIT) of Pakistan containing members of ISI to investigate the Pathankot attack. In return Pakistan promised to reciprocate Indian largesse by providing access to Indian Investigation team to terrorist havens in Pakistan. Islamabad reneged and admonished New Delhi for staging the attack to tarnish the reputation of Pakistan.

Smitten by obfuscation of Pakistan, Modi hardened his stance and chasm between India and Pakistan widened. Pakistan continued to intensify its proxy war against India. This trend was reflected in record number of ceasefire violations and border infiltrations throughout the year. Surprise attacks on armed personnel increased, Pampore incident stands testimony to this changed tactics of Pakistan. Killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen leader Burhan Wani tactically changed the dynamics of Indo-Pakistan relations. Turning this into a moot point, Pakistan glorified Wani and bestowed martyr status. Portraying him as a “good terrorist” carried out high decibel campaign at UN, UN Human Rights Council, Nuclear Suppliers Group and OIC. While India had punctured Pakistan’s vilification, Indian resolve of isolating Pakistan began to gain more momentum. Under the guise of azadi, Pakistan orchestrated an insurgency in the Valley through its stooges that lasted for almost four months. Life in the valley was crippled. Pakistani apologists in the Valley instigated youth into stone pelting resulting in volatile civilian-military relations.

India sharpened its diplomatic weapons and began unraveling the trouble fomented by cross border terrorism nurtured by Pakistan at international fora. India started reviewing and questioning the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) and began contemplating on using its waters fully. Islamabad was to hold the SAARC summit for the year 2016. In the spirit of regional cooperation, at the height of insurgency in Kashmir valley, India sent its Home Minister to attend a conference of Ministers of Interior Affairs at Islamabad. Rajnath Singh was welcomed by protests organized by Masood Azhar in Islamabad. Miffed by ill treatment and media blackout, India expressed its inability to join other rounds of SAARC summit. Joining the chorus, all other members stood by India. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and finally Nepal backed out forcing the Pakistan to cancel the summit. With Pakistan acting as an obstructionist, experts even suggested the plausibility of an association of South Asian nations without Pakistan to foster regional cooperation.

India thus made a humble diplomatic effort to take on Pakistan. Undeterred or rather a more determined Pakistan intensified nefarious attacks. Terrorists launched one of the deadliest attacks of 26 years, on an Army base at Uri, close to LoC killing 17 personnel and 34 jawans critically injured. India was outraged, tensions aggravated across border and public demand for instantaneous justice grew. Shunning characteristic restraint, Indian army launched surgical strikes with meticulous precision on the terror launch pads across the border inflicting great damage by the end of September. India’s temerity startled Pakistan. Sadly, Pakistan’s unabated clandestine attacks post India’s surgical attacks claimed lives of 29 army personnel. Afflicted by Ghazwa-e-Hind syndrome, Pakistan has launched another attack on Nagrota army base. Series of terrorist attacks targeting the armed personnel seems to be part of new strategy adopted by Pakistan.

Indeed, Pakistan’s new-found brazenness can be attributed to unequivocal support of China who has been marauding Indian efforts to isolate Pakistan. At the BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit China bulldozed India’s attempts to name and shame Pakistan. China stalled India’s membership for NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), vetoed India’s efforts at UN of imposing sanctions against JeM chief Masood Azhar, opposing India’s permanent membership for extended UNSC, fomenting terror in North East by supplying arms to insurgents, waging cyberwars and aggressively going forward with CPEC passing through India’s legitimate territory. China’s embrace has emboldened Pakistan. Together, a formidable cahoots of a regional bully and a terrorism sponsored state are taking toll on India. Modi’s two years of proactive diplomacy towards its neighbors seems to be of no avail. Modi government through high-level diplomatic visits reached out to China for NSG membership but China remained intransigent. It openly barricaded India’s attempts to be part of global platforms. Breaking menacing nexus can alone fructify Modi’s aspirations for rapid economic development. While there are many caveats to this strategy, Modi has no choice.

Global alliances are rapidly transforming. Shifting geopolitical paradigms are exacerbated by unpredictable foreign policy stratagem of the bulwark, US. India can now no longer take Russia for granted. Contracting economy has thrown Russia into China’s orbit. Keen on strengthening Russia’s geostrategic positioning, Moscow has drifted towards Beijing. Rapid military gains in Middle East thus far has enthused Russia prompting the possibility of developing an alternative Russia-China axis. Russia has been largest defense supplier for India till recently but now US is slowly competing for this position. During the BRICS summit Modi held bilateral talks with Putin and revamped cooperation in areas like nuclear, defense, counter terrorism and strengthened energy links. Simultaneously, India consolidating ties with US by signing the LEMOA (Logistics Exchange of Memorandum and other Agreement). Russia though not seemingly miffed, began warming up to Pakistan. Both countries even conducted joint military exercises despite India’s objections. Russia has been sending conflicting messages by expressing interest in CPEC and announcing to work with Afghan Taliban to attack Daesh. Now, with US senate passing the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA) India will become a major defense partner of US. By essentially dehyphenating relations with different countries Modi is trying to buttress India’s position as a balancing power in the region.

China’s defiance in accepting the verdict of Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) coupled with US’s timorous assurances to its allies in the region has turned South China Sea into a tinderbox. Frequent egregious incursions by China into overlapping territorial waters and exclusive air zones of Japan has changed the geopolitics of Indo-Pacific region. Japan is keen on developing a quadrangle comprising of US, India, and Australia. Burgeoning assertiveness of China, uncertain US policies synergized Indo-Japan strategic ties. As a token of trust and faith in bilateral ties, Japan sealed civil nuclear deal with India.

Modi assiduously built bridges with Middle East region, for their phenomenal significance to India which includes-substantial volume of remittances, energy supplies, and traditional Muslim connect. Modi visited Saudi Arabia and Iran, traditional rivals of the region and won the faith of both regimes by genuinely pursuing Indian interests. Saudi Arabia conferred Modi with highest honor of King Abdul Aziz Shah. Modi pioneered India’s strategic engagement with Iran and Afghanistan by sealing the long pending Trilateral Transport and Transit Corridor Agreement aimed at developing Chabahar port in Iran is considered as “game changer”. Since India can connect to extended neighborhood whose access is hindered by geographical obstruction and obdurate Pakistani dispensation.

Modi extensively promoted India’s NSG membership bid by travelling to Switzerland, Mexico and Qatar to expound India’s faith in principles upheld by NSG. Reiterating India’s commitment towards Nuclear Security, Modi at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS), Washington, pledged $1 million towards Nuclear Security Fund and as a house gift established a Global Center of Excellence for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCENEP) at Bahadurgarh, Haryana.

Modi invested more energy in rejuvenating ties with India’s traditional partnership with Afghanistan. He dedicated Indo-Afghan Friendship Dam (Salma Dam), donated four attack helicopters, extended $1billion aid and pledged to help in reconstruction. India recently hosted Heart of Asia conference at Amritsar to chart out collaborative plans with over 40 other supporting countries for restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan. Through neighborhood first doctrine, India resurrected ties with Nepal (which continues to play China card), Maldives, and Sri Lanka. To mitigate tremendous fluctuations of geopolitical paradigms, Modi intensified engagement with East. Under the Act East policy Modi reinvigorated historical connect with Vietnam, who was bestowed Most Favored Nation status by India in 1975. India upgraded ties with Vietnam, enhanced cooperation in defense, trade and investment, offered a $500 million credit and pledged to deliver BrahMos missiles. Since India was admitted into the elite 34-member nuclear club Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in June. Overwhelmed by bilateral strategic engagement, hawkish China derided it as an attempt to develop India-Vietnam axis.

Modi on his visit to Belgium gave a renewed push to the Bilateral Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BITA) which has been in pipeline since 2007. He unveiled India-EU Agenda for Action-2020. To explore new horizons with Africa, Modi paid bilateral visits to Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. India hosted Central Asian leaders from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and renewed strategic defense ties. Ceremonial welcome was extended to President Francois Hollande of France, President of Myanmar Htin Kyaw, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Britain Theresa May, President of Israel Reuven Rivlin and leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi. Issues of shared interests are discussed with these countries.

Under the theme of connecting Asia, India held a massive flagship program, Raisina Dialogue, first of its kind, to explore economic opportunities and challenges. Besides, India hosted the BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit meeting and Heart of Asia. Modi called for international collaboration for counter terrorism cooperation and reiterated need for Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at G-20 summit, East Asia Conference and ASEAN meet.

With tumultuous conditions showing no signs of respite in Middle East, traditional alliances are becoming increasingly fragile. Brexit, Euroscepticism, rise of right wing parties in Europe, intimidating aggression of China have critically changed the geopolitical architecture. As Jaishankar Subramanyam recently summarized, “when every variable is in flux, imagine the fluidity of the World”. So far, Modi clearly steered Indian foreign policy into new realms with rare diplomatic acumen. But challenging times demand dynamic solutions. Modi must evolve a resurgent policy to hoist India as a responsible power on global platform.

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