India experiences a week of hectic diplomacy and international activism. New Delhi ups its game to reaffirm its international position and promote the national interest. Modi’s admirers, and there are a great many, would say in chorus that India is vigorously promoting its national interest and claim its global role. The critics would have a contrarian opinion. Our objective is to objectively reflect on the events of the week.
At least three major events are taking place which engage India and evaluate her diplomacy. Twenty seven members of European Parliament are on a study-visit to Kashmir, Modi is on a-day-visit to Saudi Arabia, and the third, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, the strongest economy of Europe landed yesterday for a-day-long visit today (1st November). These three engagements are driven by different objectives, yet, they test New Delhi’s diplomatic acumen as well as resilience.
Obviously, the visit by the Members of European Parliament is the most sensitive one in view of the world attention Kashmir draws, especially when Pakistan tries persistently to internationalise the issue. Pakistan is fully aware that it cannot snatch Kashmir from India by a war. New Delhi refuses to entertain any dialogue process as per the Shimla Agreement between the two countries signed in July 1972 until Pakistan stops sponsoring cross-border terrorism. Thus, the stalemate continues.
In the meantime, New Delhi abolished Article 370 that kept the State of J&K separate from the rest of the country by conferring it some special status. Pakistan backed by China raised it in the international fora, namely the United Nations, that the action by India amounted to injustice and even oppression of Kashmiris. New Delhi holds that it is an internal issue of India, and no country, let alone Pakistan, should have any opinion on it. However, post-abrogation of 370, two other countries Malaysia and Turkey criticised New Delhi’s action in the last UNGA. Modi government has reacted strongly to Turkey’s criticism. We covered that retaliation last week in this column.
Against this backdrop, the visit of 27 law-makers from European Parliament that has representation from 27 member countries bears considerable significance. This is the first foreign delegation after the D-Day, the 5th of August, the day, Parliament nullified Article 370.
There is quite a controversy around the high-powered delegation to Kashmir. One British MEP has protested that his name was dropped as he put a small rider to the scheduled programme i.e. he wanted to talk to the locals about how they feel after this drastic step was taken by the Union government. Remember, Britain itself is in throes of a political-diplomatic crisis on its withdrawal from the European Union. So, British MEPs protestation may not bite much.
The critics of Modi regime suggest that the delegation is stage-managed, by a social entrepreneur supportive of the government. Also, the MEPs are of a particular ideological shade, the right-wing conservative or neo-liberal. They are largely supportive of the government’s position. Such a perspective may sound cynical. If leaders from abroad support the defanging of Article 370 as internal governance matter of India, we should welcome it. Some of us have endorsed the action of the government while being critical of the manner it was done and the post-370 developments. A new governor has just been appointed, and one hopes that things return to normal sooner than later. What is of critical interest of the country, is what the visiting delegation remarks at the end of their programme.
The Home Minister had claimed that ‘not a bullet was fired’ in the valley since 5th August. One could say the ‘peace’ that followed the taking-over of the valley by the Union government accrued from total control of the people and institutions. But, that is also shattered, as bombs have exploded, and people killed. The best way to silence any international criticism is to improve the situation in Kashmir.
The second event is the a-day-long visit of Prime Minister Modi to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The NSA Ajit Doval was rushed to Saudi as it had expressed unhappiness over the situation in Kashmir, perhaps for the sake of some solidarity with their Sunni brethren in Pakistan. At the same time, Saudi Arabia is an important ally of USA in the Middle East. Ajit Doval seemed to have cooled the Saudi tempers.
However, the current visit by the Prime Minister is for trade and investment, backed by a strategic partnership. India and Saudi Arabia signed up for a Strategic Partnership Council (SPC) to monitor trade and energy. This is a significant move towards deepening the bilateral ties. The SPC will have two mechanisms – one led by the foreign ministers of both countries to cover political and diplomatic ties, and the other under the commerce ministers for trade and energy relations. Modi urged the rich Saudi Kingdom and the companies to invest in India. He promised to create favourable investment climate as India aims to become a $5 trillion economy.
The third important event is the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the ‘Iron lady’ of German politics. Despite huge problems of migrants in her own country, and the economic upheavals in the European Union, she survives in leadership of Germany as well as EU. But, what are our expectations and learnings from Germany? In the renewable energy sector, Germany is the world leader. Are we building our own RE infrastructure, reducing our crippling dependence on eh fossil fuel, although India is the convener, International Solar Alliance and so on.
To be sure, Germany is an economic power. New Delhi tends to mix-up or mismatch diplomacy and economy. With Germany, we should talk trade, technology and investment. And, if we can persuade Germany for appropriate technological collaboration, while assuring them the market, we would have drawn huge advantage. Talking terrorism and Kashmir in passing may be a good idea, but these should not dominate the agenda with Germans.
All in all, a busy week of diplomacy and international relations. The axiomatic truth of any successful foreign policy is having strong and credible domestic determinants or national capabilities. For now, it is our economy, political stability and a healthy society based on harmony, and nationhood. If Modi missed this link, we would have once again missed the bus.
The writer is Prof. International Politics, JMI