India's Foreign Policy Has Dug Itself a Deep Hole
Forewarned apparently does not, for the Bharatiya
Janata Party government, mean being forearmed.
In writings prior to and in my recent books - Why India is Not a Great Power
(Yet) in end-2015 and Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India's Global
Ambition in late 2018, and in articles, op/eds and media interviews since, have
been warning incessantly of the deep hole Prime Minister Modi is digging India
into by thoughtlessly climbing on to Donald Trump's bandwagon at one end and
reflexively appeasing Xi Jinping and China at the other end.
Troubles, as a result, may be coming home to roost in flocks.
After the over-hyped Houston tamasha and the equally overwrought media coverage
of the PM's UN General Assembly peroration which fell flat because, other than
painting India as a do-gooder nation and cultural icon - a view there's no
international consensus about, Modi harped on terrorism and its source - the
unnamed Pakistan. As former MEA Secretary Vivek Katju (in an op/ed) has
correctly surmised, the terrorism issue has about run its course in terms of
diplomatic traction it affords Delhi and puts the brakes on Pakistan's attempts
to get out from under the terrorist sponsor tag.
This issue has been milked for all it is worth and has now become a barren cow.
That Islamabad will not transit from the "grey list"to the "black list" automatically triggering sanctions is a certainty primarily because Washington
can't do without its help in re-starting talks with the Afghan Taliban.
Moreover, the Sunni Gulf nations' siding with India has about peaked, the
evidence for which is the fact that Prince Mohammad bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia
used Imran Khan as the medium to initiate backdoor negotiations Tehran rather
than stick with the US' blow hot-blow cold strategy.
The Iran-aided Houthi rebels' drone attack on the premier Saudi oil refining
complex that virtually instantly collapsed 40% of that country's oil production
capacity, sobered up Riyadh damn quick. So the Sunni Arab states want to cut a
deal with shia Iran, and the country most to benefit from this rapprochement will
As repeatedly stressed in previous posts, had India maintained its neutrality
in the US-Israeli-Gulf versus Iran fight and not treated Tehran shabbily at
Washington'say-so, Modi would have been in a position not only to mediate - a
role successfully assumed by Imran Khan, but to secure unending long term
energy supplies at a basement price from that region by subtly playing off Iran
and Saudi Arabia, while retaining leverage with both. This in turn would have
beefed up Delhi's bargaining power with Trump. This power to strike beneficial
deals with Washington, Tehran and Riyadh is no longer available to Delhi.
With Trump in a political slump and headed towards impeachment, leaders of
countries who risked closeness with his Administration will feel the heat.
While Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine, Boris Johnson of Britain and Scott
Morrison of Australia are in the line of fire in their own countries for
cultivating proximity to Trump and their regimes may suffer should the
Democrats cease control after the 2020 elections in the US, India may suffer
Modi has made himself a target by openly canvassing the NRI vote for Trump at
the 'Howdy, Modi' do. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar airily downplayed such a
downturn by giving a twisted and unconvincing explanation for Modi's foray into
domestic American politics. Except, unlike Zelensky, Johnson and Morrison, Modi
may not be hurt by this development because he will continue to sell himself to
the Indian masses as someone Trump has special fondness for even if such
supposed fondness has not, and will not in the future, fetch India any give on
Washington's part on any of the issues where the interests of the two countries
collide. This much is clear.
At the World Economic Forum, for instance, the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur
Ross asserted that a trade deal with India could be obtained in "five minutes" if India conceded American demands on e-commerce benefiting Amazon, etc. and,
in any case, that his counterpart Piyush Goyal would have to make all the
concessions to equalize the terms of trade.
The fact that he did not raise the matter of US agricultural and dairy exports
to India - the other sticking point, suggests that Delhi has already thrown in
the towel. So, we can expect a surge in imports into this country of American
agricultural and dairy produce, with the effected small trader, farmer and milk
producer in India, being thus left in the lurch - as predicted in a post prior
to the last one.
Incidentally, Ross also waved aside concerns about the US treating India and
China in the same way even though the trade deficits with the two Asian states
are $17 billion and $419 billion respectively! So, which country, do you
reckon, Trump would like to be on the right side of? So, why is Jaishankar
sanguine about reaching a trade deal? That is because as experts in succumbing
to charms-qua-pressure at the negotiating table, Delhi will compromise and keep
compromising the national interest until there's nothing left to compromise.
Relations with China epitomize this Modi tendency institutionalized in MEA by
The lead for setting the agenda for the Modi-Xi summit in Mamallapuram Oct
11-13 has been taken by Beijing. Luo Zhaohui, former ambassador in Delhi and
currently vice minister after conferring with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale,
glided past all the Chinese provocations, the latest being Chinese foreign
minister Wang Yi pointedly voicing support for Pakistan on Article 370 at the
UNGA, one of only two leaders to do so, the other being Erdogan of Turkey, to
say that the emphasis would be on keeping the "Wuhan spirit" - whatever that is - in play.
"It's clear that both sides won't give up their longstanding positions on core
issues", he told a newspaper, "and the summit will be about carefully
calibrating positions to satisfy the other partner and to take care of each
other's sensitivities." Come again!! The only country whose sensitivities have
so far been taken care of is China; this being the case, why would Beijing not
want to continue with what has transpired so far?
Consider: Regarding Kashmir, China claims territorial interest even though it
annexed most of the Aksai chin area, constituting almost a third of the
erstwhile princely kingdom of Kashmir, as early as 1958, and then was ceded
more parts of it by Pakistan vide the 1963 Ayub-Zhouenlai accord. But the
Indian government has never, but ever, diplomatically raked up this matter of
forcible absorption of Indian territory.
India gave up its inherited rights and privileges in Tibet even though, per the
1913 Simla Agreement, Tibet's status was formalized as an Indian protectorate.
With the HH Dalai Lama's forced exile in Dharamshala India has been cagey about
supporting him and the Lamaist traditions and, with Vajpayee's 2003 visit, all
but washed its hands off the issue.
So, that option that India had, and still has, of activating the Tibet card has
not materialized because Vajpayee's recognition was for the Tibetan Autonomous
Region as part of China, but because China has never permitted Tibet any
autonomy that recognition is void - or so I have argued for years together,
allowing India to get back into the Tibet tangle. But the fainthearted pussies
in GOI/MEA want to have nothing to do with it.
The Indian military has played its part in this sordid affair by not
appropriately building up its warfighting capability in hinterland Tibet,
choosing to stay stuck on a defensive line with Indian officers occasionally
quaffing down maotai with the Chinese at flag meetings (as recently reported in
Further, Tibet, as I have maintained, should have been equated with Taiwan and
Beijing's insistence on the Ã¶ne China, 2 systems-principle should have been
countered with 'One India'-principle with China requiring to acknowledge Pakistan-occupied
Kashmir and the Aksai Chin it occupies as parts of India's Jammu & Kashmir
province. Delhi may then negotiate with Beijing for the latter to keep its part
of the Aksai plateau, but the principle has to be held sacrosanct. Because
China will not be easily moved, India should establish full-fledged diplomatic
relations with Taiwan and formally ramp up its defence linkages with Taipei.
And most egregiously, Beijing has so far got away with nuclear missile arming
Pakistan. A strong-minded government in Delhi should long ago have retaliated
by transferring like armaments to all countries on China's periphery,
especially Vietnam with the kind of fighting spirit that India can only dream
of. That would quieten down China as nothing else would. But again instead of
tit-for-tat, we have stayed our hand. Talk of self-abnegation and outdoing the
And at the UNGA, when Wang Yi raised the matter of Kashmiris, was even a First
Secretary at the UN Mission tasked by way of right of reply, about all of Xinjiang
being turned into a vast concentration camp with Uyghur Muslims disallowed from
manifesting any symbols of their religion - Islamic names, beards, prayer
beads, madrassas? (When a hyperventilating Imran, talking a mile to the minute
about the poor Kashmiris oppressed by the Indian army, was asked about the
state of the Uyghur Muslims he answered blandly that he knew nothing about
And talking of trade, it is so unbalanced it is surprising the Modi government
has done less than nothing about it even as it presides over wealth flowing in
torrents from the Indian coffers to the Chinese treasury. And yet there are
Fifth columnists in the corporate world eager to drag in the Huawei - an out
and out PLA funded operation - 5G system Trojan Horse inside India's portals,
chief among them Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel who, incidentally, is also the
lead financier of an American Trojan horse already active in Delhi policy
circles - Carnegie India.
With the entire caboodle of Indian political class, government, the corporate
world, military, and the intelligentsia, seeing nothing wrong about the course
the country is embarked on, India's future cannot be other than bleak.