Pakistan and China keep us so preoccupied that the rest of foreign policy is forgotten.
Not so long ago most Indians were rejoicing in their globe-trotting Prime Minister’s diplomatic conquests. He received rockstars welcome and charged the People of Indian origin with frenzy.
New ‘strategic partnerships’ were forged with potential allies ranging from the US to Japan. The neighbourhood wasn’t neglected either. Narendra Modi invited leaders of all SAARC nations to his oath-taking ceremony and followed it up by lavishing special attention on Nepal. An Olive Branch was extended to Pakistan and the warm welcome extended to Chinese President Xi Jinping arousing hopes of further ‘normalisation’ of relationship with the usually belligerent ‘superpower in the making.’
From G20 summits to BRICS conclaves and sessions at UN the Indian Prime Minister performed in dazzling contrast with his lacklustre predecessor-timid and tongue-tied Dr Manmohan Singh. It appeared for a few shining moments that India had arrived.
As the nation goes to polls that many consider a decisive moment, a possible turning point, foreign policy is strangely forgotten in public discourse. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Pulwama and retaliatory air strikes across the border the many ‘achievements’ of past five years in the realm of international relations are not even being mentioned as an aside.
It seems that nothing matters more than an inimical Pakistan next door. Protected by China and forever propped up by the US it continues to cripple us like the proverbial albatross round the neck. The myriad options explored by Modi apparently were not enough to redress the imbalance tilting against our vital national interest in South Asia. The country seems to be back at square one.
What is even more distressing is that the election campaign has been highjacked by supercharged ‘Patriots’ and the ‘Traitors’ targeted by them. The dangerous labelling of political opponents as ‘jingoist chauvinists’ or ‘traitors and enemy agents’ has made it impossible to take stock of the challenges confronting the nation. Rhetoric devoid of reason is trying to sway voters it's way. The traditional consensus in matters of foreign policy has been almost entirely eroded.
We forget at our peril that in ultimate analysis foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. It is an instrument to safeguard the independence and autonomy in the formulation of economic policies, to enjoy the freedom to live according to ones cultural preferences-inherited as well as acquired. In short, the task of foreign policy is not confined to protecting the borders from external invasions.
This is where Pakistan has succeeded in distorting our perspective disastrously. Be it the perpetual turmoil in the valley of Kashmir or legislation affecting customary practices of Muslim Indian citizen those at the helm try to steal a look towards Islamabad. It isn’t surprising that this has resulted in an incurable painful squint. Either the secular-supposedly liberal- regime at the helm bends backwards to appease the self-styled leaders of minorities-Muslims, Sikhs and Christians- or those who have proclaimed themselves to be custodians of tradition and swadeshi culture, begin hounding anyone who dares to dissent- issuing ultimatums to ‘Go to Pakistan!’ or face the lynch mobs. Discussion on foreign policy has been reduced to a farce.
The response to China’s bullying isn’t very different. Few Indians have displayed the wisdom to assess the long term Chinese ‘threat’ dispensing with the Pakistani looking glass. It is the Chinese Veto shielding Azhar Masood that blinkers our eyes. China’s tentacles in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar remain invisible but the Dragon can bare its fangs and claws at will. China, today, no longer has to irritate India with Doklam like cleverly engineered crisis on the border. Fomenting resentment against India among its smaller neighbours. We occasionally express nominal concern about the Garland of Poisoned Pearls it has trigged to strangle us but remain blind to the traps it is laying for us in distant lands where we are China’s principal competitors in the domain of food and energy security.
Pakistan and China keep us so preoccupied that the rest of foreign policy is forgotten. Election sloganeering deafens us to alarm bells ringing from West Asia to Europe. Let us wake up to the harsh realities of life. Foreign Policy isn’t some luxury that you can dispense with when elections are underway.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)