Geopolitics

Analyzing the Indian Foreign Policy in 2016: A Review
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Jan , 2017

As the year 2016 came to an end, one can look back and assess how the year has been for India in terms of its engagements with the other states in the international system. The year 2016 started with a great bonhomie between India and Pakistan as the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had just made a surprise to Pakistan to wish his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his birthday on 25th December, 2015.

One hoped that 2016 would prove to be a good one in the context of Indo-Pak relations. All hopes were shattered in the first week of 2016 itself when Pathankot airbase in Punjab was attacked by terrorists from Pakistan.

This gesture by Prime Minister Modi surprised the international relations observers, academicians, politicians, media and public at large on both sides of the border. Suddenly, articles were being written on the statesmanship of Mr. Modi. One hoped that 2016 would prove to be a good one in the context of Indo-Pak relations. All hopes were shattered in the first week of 2016 itself when Pathankot airbase in Punjab was attacked by terrorists from Pakistan. This was seen as a ‘back-stabbing’ act by Pakistan as it came just a week after Modi’s visit to Lahore.

What transpired after the Pathankot attack was another tense phase in the relations between the two South Asian neighbours. All the bonhomie suddenly disappeared which affected the diplomatic relations as well as both India and Pakistan decided to put off the talks between their foreign secretaries.

In the meanwhile French President Francois Hollande visited India on a state visit as the chief guest at India’s 67th Republic Day celebrations. Before that a joint statement was made by PM Modi and President Hollande under which 13 agreements were signed which comprised of signing an MoU on the purchase of Rafale fighter jets from France. This Rafael- deal boosted the strategic ties between the two countries.

The next month saw the visits of Swedish and Finnish Prime Minister to India, though these visits remained low-key in terms of its coverage in the media. The catchphrase of the India-Sweden Joint Statement’s was ‘New Momentum-Higher Ambition’ as it recognized how the respective strengths and character of the two countries and economies together underpin the great potential in their bilateral partnership.

Closeness with Saudi Arabia, didn’t lead to Iran distancing itself from India considering the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Infact, India and Iran went on to sign the extremely significant ‘Chabahar Deal’.

The visits by Nepalese and Bhutanese Prime Ministers to India in the same month further enhanced the bilateral cooperation between India and its two neighbours. The next big moment came when PM Modi went to US to attend the Nuclear Security Summit which was attended by leaders from more than 50 countries. Informing the world leaders of measures taken by him, Mr. Modi said India will continue to accord a high national priority to nuclear security through strong institutional framework, independent regulatory agency and trained and specialized manpower.

On his way back to India, Mr Modi went to Saudi Arabia on an extremely important visit. The visit was hailed ‘important’ because it had the potential to un-nerve Pakistan as economic and strategic opportunities brought India closer to the oil-rich gulf nation. Secondly, Pakistan, which for years considered Saudi Arabia as a major ally and economic benefactor, was on the verge of losing its erstwhile patron to arch rival India. This is evident with the fact that India and Saudi Arabia have become economically more significant for one another with USD 39.4 billion in bilateral trade in 2014-15, while Pakistan-Saudi trade by contrast stood only at USD 6.1 billion.

Closeness with Saudi Arabia, didn’t lead to Iran distancing itself from India considering the Saudi-Iran rivalry. Infact, India and Iran went on to sign the extremely significant ‘Chabahar Deal’. Under the deal, India would invest $500m (£344m) to develop the strategically important Chabahar port, close to Iran’s border with Pakistan. The port opens a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia for Indian goods and products, avoiding the land route through Pakistan. Secondly, due to the closeness betwen Chabahar Port and Gwadar Port in Pakistan, the deal is going to give both ‘geo-strategic’ and ‘geo-economic’ advantage to India.

India gave a huge emphasis on good bilateral relations with countries all over the world and international relations observers and political analysts believe that this trait can be attributed to PM Modi’s attitude of forging close personal friendships with leaders all over the world. One can realize this fact when one looks that PM Modi visited USA, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Switzerland, Afghanistan and Qatar just in the month of June.

Getting the membership of MTCR, boosted India to get entry into another coveted group named NSG (Nuclear Supplier Group). But China, which is a part of the group, maintained its position against India’s entry into NSG…

This doesn’t mean that India didn’t give importance to its place on the high-tables of international system. India became a part of MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) group, which is an exclusive club of countries controlling exports in missile technology. As a member of the group, India gained access to crucial missile technologies.India’s entry into the MTCR came after years of diplomatic negotiations with its 34 members.

Getting the membership of MTCR, boosted India to get entry into another coveted group named NSG (Nuclear Supplier Group). But China, which is a part of the group, maintained its position against India’s entry into NSG according to which India should not become a member until it signs the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) – a key requirement for all NSG members.

India’s diplomatic efforts to gain entry in NSG have been an emphatic one, to an extent that it emerged as one of the key priority area for the Modi government. Despite all the efforts, India couldn’t become a member of this group which was one of the big disappointments of the year 2016.

Leaving aside this disappointment, India gained success in getting entry into SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). On being accepted as the permanent member in SCO, PM Modi in his official statement mentioned that India’s ties with the bloc will help protect the region from threats of radicalisation and violence asserting that it would adopt “zero tolerance” to terrorism.He also mentioned that “India would significantly benefit from the grouping’s strengths in energy and natural resources and in turn India’s strong economy and vast market could drive economic growth in the SCO region”.Pakistan also got admitted as the permanent member simultaneously into the group.

 The Kashmir valley was under curfew for more than 51 days straight and, the Valley remained shut for over four months due to strike called by the separatists”.

Around the same time in July last year, India and Pakistan once again were at loggerheads with each other on the issue of Kashmir, which was on the boil after Burhan Wani, a Hizbul Mujahedeen militant commander was killed by Indian security forces. After Burhan’s death, Kashmir was on boil for almost next 100 days, anti-Indian protests started in all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley. Protesters defied curfew with attacks on security forces and public properties.

As per the latest report by New Indian Express, “At least 94 people were killed, more than 13000 injured and over 8000 arrested in the Valley during over five months of the unrest. Of the 13000 injured, 8000 were hit by pellets and 1100 sustained pellet injuries in eyes. The Kashmir valley was under curfew for more than 51 days straight and, the Valley remained shut for over four months due to strike called by the separatists”.

The use of ‘pellet guns’ and very high number of blinding of civilians became International news as media, academia, civil society groups and various international non-governmental and human rights organisations started accusing Indian government of brutality in the valley. They were also appealing the Indian government to stop the use of ‘pellet guns.’

Indian government on the other hand maintained its strong stance on the way the situation was dealt in Kashmir. Jumping into the situation, Pakistan declared Burhan Wani as a ‘Martyr’ and accused India of indulging in ‘genocide’ in Kashmir. The issue was also discussed by Pak PM Nawaz Sharif in his speech in UN General Assembly when Sharif hailed Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani as a ‘young leader’ and said that he was the ‘symbol of Kashmir’s demand for resolution’. “Burhan Wani, the young leader murdered by Indian forces has emerged as a symbol of latest Kashmiri ‘intifada’,” Sharif added.

…India conducted a ‘surgical strike’ across the Line of Control in Pakistan targeting the military launch pads there causing heavy casualties there…

From Indian side, India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj hinting towards Pakistan rebutted Nawaz Sharif by saying, “There are nations that still speak the language of terrorism, that nurture it, peddle it, and export it. To shelter terrorists has become their calling card. We must identify these nations and hold them to account. These nations, in which UN declared terrorists roam freely, lead processions and deliver their poisonous sermons of hate with impunity, are as culpable as the very terrorists they harbour. Such countries should have no place in the comity of nations”.

Four days before the UN General Assembly meeting, ‘Uri Attack’ had already taken place in which 18 Army personnel were killed by four “suicidal jihadi terrorists”. These millitants were from Pakistan and had been sent across the border explicitly for this attack. In fact, the entire operation has the fingerprints of Pakistan’s military establishment, showing yet again the country’s persistent use of terrorism as a state policy.

Responding to the attack, India conducted a ‘surgical strike’ across the Line of Control in Pakistan targeting the military launch pads there causing heavy casualties there, amounting to 40 in number(as per the official statement of Indian Defence Ministry), which included 2 Pakistani soldiers as well. Pakistan refuted the Indian claim of ‘surgical strike’ by calling it a ‘bluff’ by the Indian side.

India was so much irked by Pakistan that it wanted to isolate Pakistan in the international community. This was evident with the fact that the ‘SAARC Summit’ scheduled to take place in Islamabad in November 2016 had to be cancelled because Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan followed India’s decision to stay away from the Summit. India cited “cross-border terrorist attacks in the region” as a reason for boycotting the summit while Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan too expressed concern about the same issue in their official note for not participating in the summit.

BRICS 2016 summit was a big success where ‘Goa Declaration’ was adopted. The summit was attended by power packed personalities like Vladimir Putin from Russia and Xi Jinping from China.

But India didn’t want to lose contact with the all the SAARC countries as a ‘group’ just because of Pakistan. This is where Indian foreign policy makers shrewdly played their card wisely when along the lines of BRICS Summit in Goa, BIMSTEC countries were also invited. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation involving a group of countries in South Asia and South East Asia. These are: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

This gave India an alternative platform to engage with all its immediate neighbours such as Sri Lanka, China, Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, while keeping Pakistan at an arm’s length. BRICS-BIMSTEC was the mini-congression of SAARC nations for 2016 with six of the eight – SAARC members participating in it.

BRICS 2016 summit was a big success where ‘Goa Declaration’ was adopted. The summit was attended by power packed personalities like Vladimir Putin from Russia and Xi Jinping from China. The Goa declaration called upon all nations to adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, violent extremism, radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including foreign terrorists and blocking sources of financing terrorism. India’s ability to hold BRICS-BIMSTEC summit jointly and bypassing Pakistan speaks volumes about India’s rise as an ‘emerging power’ in the international system.

The next month was marked by the visit of British PM Theresa May to India, where both the countries discussed improving trade and economic relations with each other in the Post-Brexit scenario. Two MoU’s were signed in the Modi-Theresa meet, where one dealt with improving the ease of doing business and the other on intellectual property rights.

…the year 2016 saw India’s rise in the international system as an emerging power.

Another extremely important visit to India was made by the Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. which marked the 25 years of Indo-Israeli Diplomatic relations. The visit was important because after two decades an Israeli President visited India, the previous one coming in 1997.The visit came after President Pranab Mukherjee’s visited Israel last year.The visit also symbolized India’s growing partnership with Israel in areas related to security and defence.

The last month of 2016 marked the 25 years of India’s relationship with Russia and Central Asian countries, as all these post-soviet states came up after the dissolution of USSR in 1991. Amidst all this, two Central Asian leaders i.e President of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan visited India to mark the 25 years of relationship with India. Both these countries constitute a vital part in the India’s ‘Connect Central Asia Policy’. With both these countries India shares good relations and wants to improve its ties with these countries as they are a part of India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’. The same was reiterated in the visits of the two Central Asian leaders to India.

To conclude, the year 2016 saw India’s rise in the international system as an emerging power. Right from Chabahar Deal to India’s entry in MTCR, from gaining the membership in SCO to side-lining Pakistan by conducting BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit, from its stand on Kashmir to its stand on Balochistan; the year 2016 on a whole was a mixed year for India in terms of its overall gains and losses.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Martand Jha

Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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