Between friends and foes

Between friends and foes

Rajeev Sharma
Indian foreign policy continues to go through an intense phase of churning, largely aimed at its two contiguous members: Pakistan and China. Old regional players are playing new games in the India-Pakistan-China triangle, such as Bangladesh and Afghanistan in the India-Pakistan context and Nepal and Myanmar in context of India-China rivalries.
As regards Pakistan and China, the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to up its ante with pro-active diplomatic strokes, like a blacksmith’s hammer in case of Pakistan; and a goldsmith’s chisel in case of China. Modi’s different strokes vis a vis the two countries convey different shades of his foreign policy and shows that while he is taking Pakistan head on, he is dealing with China far more subtly and cautiously.
Take the case of Pakistan first.
India’s Pakistan policy has completely reversed in the past 27 months. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar shockingly compared going to Pakistan to a Hell trip. There was no denial or even clarification either from Parrikar, or his ministerial colleagues or the prime minister himself conveying that the government supported this outrageous remark.
Then Modi himself gave a new dimension to his government’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric by referring to Balochistan in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. Both these remarks were unprecedented in the bilateral context and plunged the two South Asian nuclear-armed rivals’ bilateral relations to a new low.
Stepping up attack on Pakistan, Modi used the multilateral event like 14th ASEAN summit in Laos to say: “One country has only one competitive advantage: Exporting terror… The time has come to isolate and sanction the instigator of terror.” Though he did not name Pakistan directly, the hint was obvious.
The reason for the upping the ante against Pakistan is obvious. It is to pre-empt the latter’s diplomatic offensive against India at the UN General Assembly which has just begun in New York.
Moreover, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all set to play a deeper strategic game wherein the two South Asian nations are going to tighten the screws on Pakistan with covert encouragement from India. Their diplomatic relations with Pakistan have deteriorated considerably for different reasons and this may cast a shadow on the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan later this year.
Indications are that Bangladesh and Afghanistan may make themselves hard to get for attending the SAARC summit. Needless to say, India would encourage the two countries to take a hard stand on Pakistan.
The case of India-China interplay is of more curiosity: The two sides are engaged in a billiard game of the strategic kind where they are hitting the red ball to actually net the blue ball!
While Modi has just visited China for the G20 summit and Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to come to India next month for attending the BRICS summit in Goa, the two Asian giants are stepping up their rivalries through smaller regional players like Nepal and Myanmar.
Nepal’s newly appointed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, will be making India the destination of his first foreign visit after taking over and will begin his three-day visit from Sept. 15.
In contrast, Myanmar’s most charismatic and internationally well-known leader Aung San Suu Kyi has already made China her first port of call after taking over as foreign minister. She will be undertaking her maiden visit to India as foreign minister in October in the run up to the BRICS summit next month. She has already met Modi in Laos last week.
The contrast is interesting as well as significant because the general perception is that Prachanda is closer to China than India and Suu Kyi is closer to India than China. But what one is witnessing is entirely different and the two leaders’ choice of first destination of their maiden foreign trips reveals their newer priorities, if not alignments.
Though Suu Kyi studied and spent many years in India, she has never forgotten or forgiven New Delhi for its ‘apathy’ toward her party’s struggle for a quarter century when military junta held Myanmar in its iron grip. By visiting China recently much ahead of India, she has made her own priorities clear, though Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw visited India and had comprehensive delegation-level talks with Modi on Aug. 29.
Prachanda’s move to visit India soon after taking over again as Nepal’s prime minister has riled China. There have been reports that the Chinese president has canceled his visit to Nepal, which was set to take place next month, apparently miffed by Nepal’s lack of preparedness for this visit and more importantly because of Prachanda’s reluctance to implement several important China-Nepal agreements signed during his successor KP Oli’s visit to China in March this year.
Though both China and Nepal have denied reports of cancelation of Xi’s proposed visit to Nepal, the fact is that Xi’s maiden visit to Katmandu is not happening any time soon.
China suspects India’s hand in the Prachanda government’s reluctance to implement China’s ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) passing through Nepal which the previous Oli government had agreed to. India stiffly opposes OBOR. Undoubtedly, interesting times are ahead in the India-Pakistan-China triangular interplay.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view