External Affairs

The Modi Government Has Dismantled India’s Foreign Policy

One of the government’s biggest failures has been its handling of Kashmir, singularly blaming Pakistan for everything that went wrong without understanding the nature of civil violence in the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrives at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Etienne Oliveau/Pool

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrives at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Etienne Oliveau/Pool

As a kid in the 1950s, I remember my parents thrusting Meccano sets at me, with the fond belief that it would encourage their son to become an engineer. It turned out that I was good at taking things apart, but hopeless at putting them back together again. Something like that seems to be the case with the Narendra Modi government. It has proved to be a good at dismantling the old, but is finding it uncommonly difficult to construct something new. Maybe, as in my case as a budding engineer, Modi and company are simply incompetent.

The fiasco of demonetisation is just one of the things that comes to mind. Look at the once hallowed Planning Commission, which has given way to the Niti Ayog, whose CEO has decided that the way to push policy is to run lotteries. In the realm of foreign policy too, the Modi team has dismantled the older policies towards Pakistan and China, but nothing new seems to be on the horizon. All it has achieved is an increase in the truculence in our relations with our two big neighbours and potential adversaries. As for the management of various ministries, especially defence, the less said the better.

Where competence is the issue, the real big test has been the government’s Jammu and Kashmir policy. Sad to say, it is difficult to give it anything but a failing grade. Last week, militants ambushed an army convoy near Pampore, killing three jawans and injuring two. This was the fourth attack on an army convoy since August and is part of the uptick in violence in the Valley, which, according to the Indian Express, has led to 60 soldiers being killed in the state this year, double the annual toll in the last two years. The deaths of the soldiers can be attributed to two reasons – the Line of Control turning “active” (as much from Pakistani actions as our reactions) and the internal situation in the Valley deteriorating because of the inability of New Delhi to manage the fallout of Burhan Wani’s killing.

The government of India has taken a strange ideological position that the violent civil protests that hit the Valley in the wake of the killings are entirely directed by Pakistan. Indeed, in the wake of the demonetisation, there was a claim that the instances of stone pelting had declined because the Pakistani agents had run out of cash to distribute to the stone pelters. Needless to say that this crude narrative was entirely false. Anyone familiar with the cycle of violence that wracks Kashmir will know what is Pakistan-directed and what is spontaneous.

Last week, S.P. Vaid, special director general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, told Rising Kashmir in an interview that there was no proof that Pakistan was involved in the civil protests in the Valley or was directing the calendar of protest events. He noted that the number of militants active in the Valley had gone up to some 250-270, as against an earlier estimate (not by Vaid) of just 150 in 2015. (This item has since vanished from the newspaper website, but look hard enough and you will find its traces.)

Pakistan may not be involved in the violent civil protests in the Valley, but it is involved in other nefarious activity. One is the pushing of the so-called Border Action Teams to attack Indian army positions along the LoC. The other is the “special” violence, such as the burning of schools and attacks on police personnel. In any case, Pakistan doesn’t need to do much, all it has to do is to sit back and watch.

The big problem is the inability of the government, both in Srinagar and New Delhi, to understand the nature of the civil violence in the state. Blaming Pakistan is the simplest option. Actually one major reason for the violence is the disillusionment of the supporters of the PDP who were largely in South Kashmir with their party’s link up to the BJP. While electoral arithmetic indicated that there was little choice, the emotions of the people have been contrary. This is manifested also in the fact that while the Jammu and Kashmir police estimates that 80% of the militants in the north are not locals, while in the south, they comprise 80-90% of them.

Like it or not, the Jammu and Kashmir issue has two components – the domestic “dissidents” represented by elements ranging from the insurgents to the Hurriyat and the external factor, Pakistan, which continues to provide political, moral and material support to militancy in the Valley and conducts a proxy war against India through its jihadi armies. In the meantime, the National Conference which has stood as a steadfast as a rock with the Indian Union through the worst of the Kashmir disturbances, is making noises about azadi.

While military force is required to deal with armed rebels, there is need to simultaneously engage the political elements, whether they are the Hurriyat or the National Conference in a dialogue process aimed at restoring normality to the state. The government’s somewhat belated response has been to send a Track II delegation led by former finance minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha to the Valley. But just how much authority Sinha has with the heavily securitised  Modi setup in New Delhi is difficult to gauge.

The issue of Pakistan is more complex. After reaching out to Islamabad in 2014 and 2015, Modi found them a hard nut to crack. Following the Pathankot attack, he appears to have decided that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lacks the heft to deliver anything and India’s policy has since been to roundly denounce Pakistan at every international forum and call for its isolation through sanctions for supporting terrorists.

This one-dimensional policy is not yielding any results. Pakistan continues to give as much as it takes in the brutal cross-LoC boxing match. The so-called “surgical strikes” do not seem to have deterred them in any way and as the figures cited above show, all that has been achieved through the missteps in handling the domestic issues and Pakistan may be to put Jammu and Kashmir back in the ICU it was till 2005.

Far from being isolated, Pakistan is now being seen as a solution, rather than a problem on the issue of resolving the Afghanistan tangle. If anything, New Delhi seems to be isolated. On December 27, China, Russia and Pakistan will have their third meeting of their “trilateral working group” in Moscow. On the other hand, India’s friend Iran has expressed a desire to join the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Pakistan is handling its Indian end skilfully, which is what cannot be said about the Modi team. Rawalpindi is ensuring that its attacks on India focus on military or police targets and do not get the kind of mileage that the Mumbai massacre of 2008 got. In any case, in an environment where terrorism is hitting closer home in  Turkey, Belgium, France and Germany, no one is particularly concerned about what is happening in our part of the world. In essence, Modi’s anti-terror campaign is barking up the wrong tree.

China is another issue. New Delhi has worked under the illusion that it is competing with China. The Modi government  has adopted a posture aimed at disconcerting Beijing – inviting the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile for Modi’s swearing in, allowing the Karmapa and Dalai Lama to go to Tawang, sharply and publicly criticising China for not supporting India’s case in the NSG and demanding support for proscribing Masood Azhar. Baiting the dragon, especially on the issue of Tibet, is risky policy. It could lead to China encouraging Indian separatists in Kashmir, Punjab and elsewhere.

Manoj Joshi is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

  • G.S.K. herzak

    Excellent honest analysis that blames India’s problem on itself , not neighbours. Reality is hard to accept in jingoistic juvenile India!