Does Modi really have a strategy to handle China and Pakistan?

The Week

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.

Bruce Jones, Director of Foreign Policy Programme at Brookings Institution was quoted in the cover story of The Week on India’s relations with China and Pakistan. 

India seems to have lost its way in managing its ties with China and Pakistan, letting the powerful neighbours set the agenda in bilateral relations.

Modi stormed in on the promise of a new era. His well-attended swearing-in ceremony set the tone and then there was the hug in Lahore on Christmas day when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was celebrating his granddaughter’s wedding. But as one seasoned diplomat puts it, every Indian prime minister has a fatal flaw. It is the belief that he or she will be the one to bring peace between India and Pakistan. Modi is no different, but in his attempts to bring about rapprochement, policy flip-flops have become more pronounced and frequent.

Bilateral talks have been on and off, repeatedly. The bonhomie of the swearing-in quickly wore off, with India cancelling bilateral talks over the Pakistan high commissioner meeting separatist leaders. After a series of highs and lows, the secret meeting of the national security advisers held last December in Bangkok set a positive tone, leading to Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan for the Heart of Asia conference.

So, does Modi really have a strategy to handle China and Pakistan? “There are glimmers of bold thinking, but no stamina to push those through,’’ says Mansingh. But this seems to be how the Modi magic works. Lots of vigour, plenty of excitement, and as Bruce Jones, director of foreign policy programme at Brookings Institution, says, “great power speed dating.” India has gained many new friends. But the real test lies in turning the dating into a committed relationship. It is here that Modi falls short. Despite the progress made in ties with a number of countries ranging from Mongolia to Saudi Arabia, there is an inability to push tough ideas through.

While this might be “wishful thinking” as strategic affairs analyst Sushant Sareen puts it or “baloney’’, as Uday Bhaskar sees it, India’s difficult neighbours will not be easy to placate, especially as India tries to become more ambitious and turn into a bigger player in the region. The question is, will Modi be able to move from speeddating to committed relationships?

Read the full story here.