World, Asia - pacific

India:Modi’s return tight rope walk on diplomatic front

All eyes on Indian PM Modi's first foreign visit to Kyrgyzstan where he will face arch-rival Pakistani counterpart

Iftikhar Gilani, Adil Ahmad and Aamir Latif   | 23.05.2019
India:Modi’s return tight rope walk on diplomatic front

ANKARA, Turkey / CHANDIGARH, India / KARACHI, Pakistan 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won a strong mandate for a second term, will face a cliff-hanger challenge on diplomatic front to balance between the U.S., Iran and Russia -- which form core economic and defense components of the country’s interests. 

Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had told her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif that New Delhi will take a decision on the purchase of Iranian oil after the election results.

But all eyes would be transfixed on Modi’s first foreign assignment soon after his takeover -- participation in the two-day Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit on June 14-15 at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He will be facing for the first time his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan at the summit.

Experts in both countries are not so confident if there would be any formal bilateral engagement on the sidelines of the summit stalled since January 2013, but they agree that exchange of smiles and pleasantries may break ice and lower tension in the region.

Former Indian diplomat Rajiv Dogra rules out any change on the foreign policy front. But he felt that the meeting of Swaraj with her Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the SCO ministerial meeting few days ago has indicated a new start in the relations. “There are possibilities and indications that both countries want to give peace another chance and friendship another try,” he told Anadolu Agency. He, however, identified tensions between Iran and the U.S., followed by dealing with China as main challenge for the new Modi government.

Former Indian ambassador Arun Kumar Singh is also hopeful that Modi will restart engagements with Pakistan. But he said it depends on the behavior and reciprocity of Islamabad. “They [Pakistan] should now realize that India is a rising power and the capability of Modi government. It is better to talk rather to act foolishly at the border,” he said.

It is believed that Pakistan has informally conveyed to India through China and Russia that the opportunity presented by the presence of the leaders at the SCO summit could be utilized for a bilateral meeting. Sources in New Delhi said, they have not turned down the proposal, but were assessing its feasibility. But they say that India would continue to insist on its stand that terror and talks could never go together and would demand “credible, effective and verifiable actions” to address India's concern over cross-border terrorism from Pakistan before starting a formal bilateral dialogue process.

Former Pakistani diplomat Shahid Amin also said there were chances of resumption of peace talks.

“No doubt, Modi’s election campaign was based on anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim rhetoric. But it was a deliberate move to secure election victory,” he said. With Modi’s objective achieved, he may return to normal business and resume talks. The first step of normalization may be to allow Indian planes to use Pakistani airspace, which had been closed since February.

“Indian airlines have conceded huge losses due to closure of Pakistani airspace for over three months due to ongoing tensions. Therefore, resumption of talks will benefit both sides,” he told Anadolu Agency.

 'Not much hope'

In Pakistan also, former diplomats and analysts do not see any immediate breakthrough in relations.

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, a professor at the international relations department in Quaid-I-Azam International University in Islamabad believed that Modi will not be able to lower the rhetoric he used during elections so soon.

“Therefore, I do not see any immediate chance of resumption of talks between the two countries,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Jaspal even disagreed with Pakistani prime minister, who last month said, there would be better chances of peace talks if the BJP returns to power.

He believed that foreign policy of the two countries is not completely in the hands of elected governments.

Former ambassador Ataul Haq Qasmi, predicted a stronger tone from Modi, especially on Kashmir. Qasmi who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador in Norway and Thailand said the elections in India revolved around Pakistan. “Expecting something from him with respect to peace talks, mainly on Kashmir will just be a wishful thinking,” he added.

Former ambassador Neelam Deo, who is director of a Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House, said Modi will continue his outreach to Gulf nations, besides building a quadrilateral framework (U.S., Japan, Australia and India) to secure maritime highways -- essential for India’s economic security. 

Show of strength

Meanwhile, Pakistan testing its 1,500 km ballistic missile on the day of counting of votes has not gone unnoticed in India. Experts in India believed that it was a signal to new Indian government.

“It is not even subtle. It is actually a communication to India and its leadership that Pakistan cannot be taken as a pushover neighbor, and has all the means to hurt India if India chooses to hurt it,” retired Lt. Gen. Syed Ata Hasnain, the former chief of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps, told an Indian news website ThePrint.

Indian Retired Maj. Gen. S.P. Sinha also said the tests were aimed to send multidimensional messaging. “One, to its own citizens, that there is nothing to worry because the Pakistan Army will look after security.”

Sinha also said Pakistan wanted to send a message to the new government that it is not scared and it will be business as usual.

The test by Pakistan comes a day after the Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully test fired the air-launched version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile from its frontline Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft.

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