All hat, No Cattle

modi 2

India’s foreign policy remains cautious and unimaginative

Even as the
World beyond India is being Transformed

Special
report Oct. 24th 2019 edition

India stayed
aloof during the cold war, happy to be the flag-bearer for non-aligned nations.
With the rise of China and the retreat of America transforming international
relations, and with India’s growing sense of its destiny as a soon-to-be great
power, some observers believed its foreign policy might change, too. Yet
Narendra Modi has struggled to match the country’s big ambitions with its
still-limited capabilities.

The
relationship with America has grown closer. But for all the razzmatazz of Mr
Modi’s recent rally with Donald Trump in Houston, there has been little
progress on difficult issues. A mooted trade deal fizzled as the American team
blamed India for protectionist policies. Mr Trump shook his head at India’s
“very aggressive” tone towards Pakistan. And, though Mr Modi loudly endorsed Mr
Trump, that may look less wise as impeachment proceedings against the erratic
American president unfold.

here are
particular pitfalls to dealing with the Trump administration. Yet the mix of
going big on public relations while reaping relatively small political
dividends seems to be a signature of Mr Modi’s foreign policy. He has shared
photo opportunities with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping as often as with Mr
Trump, with similarly scant returns. Russia, long India’s main source of
weapons, now sells weapons to Pakistan, too.

Mr Xi has
avoided direct friction with India at disputed spots on their long, mountainous
frontier. But China has made deep inroads in India’s backyard, wooing countries
such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It has also grown even closer to
Pakistan, propping up its economy with billions of dollars worth of arms,
infrastructure and investment. China’s navy intrudes with growing frequency
into the Indian Ocean, challenging India’s traditional dominance of its own
back yard. Yet although the Indian fleet struggles to keep up, Mr Modi still
seems to fear partnering with maritime powers that share his unease about
Chinese intentions.

So
non-alignment has continued. This means that, although it has no real enemies
apart from Pakistan, India also has few friends. That would be fine if it were
stronger militarily or economically. But among larger powers it stands out as
the only one that relies chiefly on imported arms, and whose military budget is
spent largely on salaries and pensions. In addition, its relationship with
Pakistan seems stuck, never able to get beyond the ugly tit-for-tat that has
characterised the past 70 years. When India struck a guerrilla training camp in
Pakistan last February, in retaliation for a terror attack that killed 40 of
its soldiers in Kashmir, the Indian public cheered loudly, but the ensuing
crisis between the nuclear-armed neighbours necessitated emergency intervention
by outside powers.

It says
much that Mr Modi’s biggest foreign-policy success may be to have achieved a
relatively muted global response to his recent actions in Kashmir. Yet the lack
of international condemnation may reflect compassion fatigue and dislike of
Pakistan more than Delhi’s diplomatic skill. Abroad, as at home, Mr Modi’s
dreams are bolder than his actions.

This
article appeared in the Special report section of the print edition under the
headline “All hat, no cattle”

( Source:
The Economist – India)

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