Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign relations innings began with a bang with the invitation to heads of the SAARC countries for his swearing-in. The resounding success of that initiative can be gauged from the fact that all but one head of state/ government turned up for the event, making it an international relations coup of sorts.
Through this deft move, PM Modi proved that he understands the external affairs department well enough. He is not all that new to other countries and their leaders. As chief minister and even earlier as a party leader, he had visited several countries, including China, Japan and the US. His home state became a destination for countless world leaders during his stewardship and he regularly rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty from more than a hundred countries during the Vibrant Gujarat summit and other events.
His cabinet colleague and minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, too is no novice to the subject. As leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, she had had the opportunity to interact with a number of senior world leaders, including US President Barack Obama. Her recent visits to Singapore and Sri Lanka as the leader of the BJP showed her grip on foreign affairs. Leaders of those countries fondly remember their association with her even to this day.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the swearing-in has raised big hopes in the diplomatic circles in both countries. India and Pakistan have had chequered relations from day one. Moreover, the BJP is seen as a hardline party when it comes to relations with Pakistan. Given that scenario, it is natural that a lot of discussion took place on whether Modi and Sharif would kickstart a new era in vexed bilateral ties.
This feverish enthusiasm is understandable. Many Indians have, for several decades, been obsessed with Pakistan. For them, the benchmark of success of our international relations is our relationship with Pakistan. They fail to appreciate that India is miles ahead of its failed western neighbour. They also fail to realise that Sharif is not the right man to deliver anything. As Ayaz Amir pointed out in his latest article in The News, while Manmohan Singh took 10 years to fail, Sharif may need just two years to collapse. Already the all-powerful Pakistan army and the mercenaries of the ISI are baying for his blood. As Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai pointed out, the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat by ISI cronies on the very day of Modi’s swearing-in was more a warning to Sharif than to India.
However, the Modi government should realise that the real foreign policy challenge comes not from Pakistan but from China. India and China have been uneasy neighbours for longer years than India and Pakistan. continued…