Shashi Tharoor, Congress MP and former Minister of State for External Affairs, says Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought “dynamism” to India’s foreign policy but lacks consistency in the country’s neighbourhood strategy.
In an interview with IANS, Tharoor particularly mentioned Pakistan and China in the light of the unending cross-border exchange of fire and the Doklam standoff, saying it has mostly been a flip-flop approach while dealing with the two immediate neighbours of India that belies the Prime Minister’s “neighborhood first” policy on geoeconomics and geopolitics.
He also said the reduction of foreign policy into “PR and marketing” exercises by the government didn’t bode well for India’s substantive status in the world.
“Modi has brought a lot of energy and dynamism to the conduct of (the country’s) foreign policy. He travels tirelessly and all of this is good. He makes a very energetic impression wherever he goes. That is the positive side,” Tharoor said, counting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s achievements on the foreign front.
He noted that “another positive” was the fact that many of the foreign policy initiatives of India that pre-date Modi continue under the government.
But, Tharoor said, there were areas where “we have concerns”.
“One is the complete incoherence of policy on Pakistan where he has veered up and down, and repeatedly up and down in a way that is not just confusing but bewildering,” he said, noting how a “saree-shawl diplomacy” and attending wedding and birthday celebrations have ended up in a complete “cold war” situation between the two countries.
Tharoor said that, on the one hand, while Modi keeps repeating that there would be no engagement with Pakistan till cross-border terror is stopped, on the other, “suddenly, unexpectedly announcements are made that the NSAs met in Bangkok”.
In the last two years, he said, ithings have become “worse”, referring to the increased number of terrorist activities in Jammu and Kashmir.
And, despite that, National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval met his Pakistani counterpart Nasir Khan Janjua in Bangkok again on December 25 last year, he said.
“We have seen, sadly, an increase in terror incidents… All of this suggest to me that there is a certain lack of stability and coherence in India’s Pakistan policy that really bodes ill.”
The second aspect of the concern, he said, was about the failure of the government to level with the Indian people on foreign policy issues.
“There is this reduction of foreign policy to PR and marketing which we have seen on the domestic issues. In domestic issues it does less harm, in foreign policy it does more harm because it affects India’s substantive place in the world and also the security of Indians.
He referred to the Doklam stand-off with China “where the whole disengagement was spun as a huge diplomatic victory”.
“It turns out that Chinese have moved only 200 metres away and they have reinforced themselves to an extraordinary extent on the same plateau so that tomorrow whenever snows melt, if we want to move, we will be in no condition to resist without provoking a war.”
He said the September 2016 “surgical strikes” against terror launch pads in Pakistan were also made into “a big triumph having neutralised terrorism.
“And terrorism has actually increased since then. So has the number of cross-border infiltration deaths…”
Tharoor said it was the duty of any Indian government to be honest with its people. “We worry about this over-emphasis on spin and under-emphasis on being straight with the public.”
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])