Modi government is a gross failure in confronting Chinpak

Our present stance is a saga of confusion

The Narendra Modi government’s gross failure in foreign policy is best illustrated by our being at loggerheads with our two biggest neighbours—China and Pakistan. They have actually merged into one ‘enemy’, Chinpak, for the Chinese are no longer behind the Himalayas but poised inside Pakistan on the banks of the Sindhu (Indus) river just about where Alexander was in 326 B.C.

How far we have drifted from the halcyon days of December, 1988, when, in quick succession and within the same month, Rajiv Gandhi became the first Indian prime minister to visit China and Pakistan in 32 and 28 years, respectively, to open new doors to good neighbourly relations with both. It may be contrasted with the continuing logjam in China-India relations and the total absence of any meaningful engagement with Pakistan since 2014.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Let us take China first. What Xi Jinping is showing his Indian counterpart is that you can’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hare at the same time. Do we believe with the Americans that China is a dangerous enemy whom we must confront in coalition with like-minded countries? And is that why we are so eagerly in the Quad? Or are we seeking a settlement of the border to resume cordial relations with our great civilisational neighbour? While nominally sharing a swing in Ahmedabad and photo-ops in gorgeous Xian and Wuhan, and swallowing idlis together in Mahabalipuram, Xi wanted to gauge whether what Modi was whispering to Xi squared with what he was vouchsafing Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. For with the US presidents, Modi was signalling his readiness to play footsie with an international ganging-up against China, while pretending to Xi that the days of renewed ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ were just around the corner. Xi was having none of this and moved his troops further forward along our northern border.

The foreign minister claims this is in line with our traditional non-alignment. It is not. For non-alignment was about not aligning with either. Our present stance, in contrast, is a saga of confusion, akin to a young woman alternately pulling out the petals of a flower asking, “Will he?”/“Won’t he?”. It would seem Modi wants to remain a “natural ally” of a west that is hostile to China while talking to China at the highest level even if they are in occupation of what we consider our own. What other explanation can we give for the Indian government spokesman describing as “pleasantries” what video clearly showed was Modi in Bali initiating, apparently without success, a conversation with Xi? And then in Johannesburg last month claiming through the foreign secretary that Modi and Xi had held an “informal conversation” during which both “had underlined that the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas” required “observing and respecting the LAC” as “essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship.” Egg was all over the Indian face when the Chinese spokesman riposted that Xi had only met Modi because India had asked for it while turning down a Chinese request for “a more structured dialogue”. The Chinese then rubbed it in saying “both sides should bear in mind the overall interests” of ties and “handle properly” the border issue.

As for Pakistan, the government has declared times without number that “talks and terror can’t go together”. Well, it has been nine years and if there is now no “terror”, then why can’t talks start? And if, despite this rhetoric, there is still “terror”, then is it not time to rethink this tired old cliche?

If “no dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and “no structured dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis China, then are you surprised at China roosting on the Indus?

Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.