“If Pakistan behaves well, india’s hand is extended and open,” said former foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, responding to a question after a lecture in July last year. Jaishankar is now India’s foreign minister. It would suffice to say that what he said then continues to be India’s present policy under the Narendra Modi government 2.0. Pakistan has not behaved well and India’s hand is a balled fist.
The policy that ‘talks and terror cannot go hand in hand’ started soon after the January 2016 attack on Pathankot and cross-border commando raids, resulting in the killing of 14 soldiers at Uri in 2017. On February 14 this year, a suicide bomb attack on a CRPF convoy by a Jaish-e-Mohammed militant killed 40 troopers. The attack drew a swift response-an unprecedented bombing of a training camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province by IAF jets.
The January 2019 Mood of the Nation (MOTN) survey had showed a poll-bound Bharatiya Janata Party on the backfoot with mounting pressure from the economy and rural distress and because of the opposition’s attempts to rake up corruption allegations in the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. However, post-Pulwama and Balakot, the BJP made national security one of its major electoral planks and returned to power with more seats than it had won in 2014.
The disinclination to pursue talks with Pakistan unless Islamabad significantly addressed the issue of cross-border terror continues. While Prime Minister Modi might have exchanged pleasantries with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, he remained resolute about not pursuing formal talks.
Two key MOTN questions elicited interesting responses from participants. Sixty-three per cent of the respondents said that ‘India should not hold any bilateral talks with Pakistan unless there is total end to cross-border terrorism’. This thumping endorsement of the government’s stance has gone up by seven percentage points this time over the MOTN survey in January 2019. Around 75 per cent are satisfied with the way the Modi government has handled relations with Pakistan under Imran Khan. In fact, of the total respondents, 42 per cent feel they have been handled very well.
The pressure on Pakistan comes at a point of inflection. The US wants Pakistan’s support for a risk-free pullout from Afghanistan by November 2020. Acknowledgement of Pakistan’s concerns over Kashmir, New Delhi fears, could be the bargaining chip for Pakistan facilitating talks between the US and Taliban in Qatar.
The reason for New Delhi’s move to effectively scrap Section 370 might be arising from President Donald Trump’s statement before PM Imran Khan in Washington. Trump had said that Modi had asked him to mediate on Kashmir, a claim denied by New Delhi.
Since last year, Pakistan has been placed under the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) ‘grey’ monitoring list for not doing enough to combat terrorism and to halt funding to terrorist organisations. An FATF ‘black’ list this year could disrupt a $6 billion tranche Islamabad is seeking from the International Monetary Fund to bail out its struggling economy.
The Modi government features what is arguably one of independent India’s strongest line-up of hawks-foreign minister Jaishankar, national security advisor Ajit Doval and home minister Amit Shah. Under them, India’s foreign policy, security concerns and internal security issues are becoming increasingly enmeshed. China and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours with whom India shares contested borders, were always two of its greatest external security challenges. Despite the flare-up at Doklam and a tense 72-day standoff in 2017, New Delhi has reworked its diplomacy with China, with Modi setting up annual informal summits with President Xi Jinping. China blocked two western-sponsored moves in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to declare JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar a globally designated terrorist. On May 2 this year, it finally lifted the hold it had placed on the UNSC resolution declaring Azhar a terrorist.
Forty-one per cent of MOTN respondents think that India’s relations with China have improved in the past five years. Significantly, this score has gone up by 10 percentage points since the previous survey.
The US, under the unpredictable and mercurial Trump, has become a somewhat unlikely third foreign policy challenge. This has forced India to rebalance its foreign policy, lean more on old friend Moscow and, consequently, cement Russia’s position as India’s largest arms buyer with deals worth over $14 billion in the pipeline.
Despite Trump publicly venting his frustration over the Indo-US trade imbalance, ties between the two countries are on the upswing. More than half the respondents feel that India’s relations with the US have improved under Trump. This score has gone up by 13 percentage points since the previous survey. All in all, judging by the MOTN results, the government is perceived to be doing a good job on the foreign affairs front.