Since coming to power in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to shape New Delhi’s foreign policy with an aim to not only dominate South Asian region but also act as a “net security provider of the region.” In fulfillment of that dream – what some call it a prelude for an “Akhand Bharat” – Modi has always seen Pakistan as a stumbling block. Thus, it has been Modi’s ultimate aim to “isolate Pakistan” in South Asia. In this context, 2016 SAARC summit – that was to be held in Islamabad – should be seen as India’s ‘peak diplomacy,’ when New Delhi successfully convinced SAARC member states to boycott the summit because of rising Indo-Pak diplomatic tensions resulting from Uri attack. But New Delhi’s regional diplomacy has been on a downward spiral ever since.
Consider: First of all, the recent diplomatic tensions with Nepal – previously considered a client state of India – have made the officials in South Block wonder what went wrong. In May, 2020, Indian Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road-link between Dharchula and Lipulekh – a disputed territory between New Delhi and Kathmandu. Later, Nepal’s Foreign Ministry expressed “regret” at India’s “unilateral act.” It further added that according to 1816 Treaty of Sugauli, Nepal claimed all territories to the east of Mahakali River, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh. On June 13, 2020, Nepal’s Parliament unanimously passed a constitutional amendment to the country’s constitution by officially re-drawing Nepal’s political map to include the aforementioned disputed territories. Later, on June 21, 2020, reports emerged in media that Nepal’s radio stations near the Indian border were airing anti-India speeches and songs – which could be heard in Indian state of Uttarakhand. Furthermore, speaking at an event on June 27, 2020, PM Oli accused Indian government of conspiring to topple his government. He said, “Listen to the media in Delhi. Activities have been stepped up in hotels and at the Indian mission. If anyone dreams of unseating the prime minister of this country for publishing the map and including the map in the constitution. Don’t even think of it.” In addition to that, PM Oli’s Communist Party is ideologically inclined towards Communist Party of China. This led to President Xi Jingping’s historic visit to Nepal and Kathmandu’s growing tilt towards Beijing away from New Delhi.
Second, the bilateral relations with Bangladesh took a serious hit when India amended its Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide path for Indian citizenship to illegal immigrants of Hindu, Parsi, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Christian minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The bilateral relations with Dhaka hit rock bottom when Indian politicians and leaders made sweeping statements regarding alleged torture of Hindus in Bangladesh – so much that they fled the country and sought refuge in India. As a sign of protest, Bangladeshi officials canceled three high-level visits to India. The simmering tensions also led Modi to cancel his visit to Bangladesh on Sheikh Mujib’s centenary celebrations. Dhaka also claimed that many Muslims from Indian state of Assam – fearing religious persecution in India – have illegally entered Bangladesh, thus creating a refugee crisis.
Third, since 2019 elections in Sri Lanka that brought Rajapaksa brothers to power, there has been a mark shift in relations between New Delhi and Colombo. In his first visit to India after assuming the office of prime minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa argued for revival of SAARC – that laid dormant since 2016. Despite, New Delhi’s diplomatic push for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) – that is effectively SAARC without Pakistan – Colombo took a stand that is arguably in support of Islamabad. Moreover, Colombo’s presence as an important node in Beijing’s “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” has made it a proverbial battle ground between India and China – a clash in which Beijing seems to be winning.
Fourth, with the signing of US-Taliban deal in Doha, New Delhi’s – diplomatic, moral and economic – investment in Kabul is under serious threat. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, New Delhi has been supporting Northern Alliance – and every other anti-Pakistan element in Kabul – to sandwich Islamabad between two hostile governments. Furthermore, Afghanistan was effectively used a safe haven for India-sponsored anti-Pakistan terrorists. In the last two decades, India has used first Hamid Karzai and then Ashraf Ghani to spew venom against Pakistan. The 29-February agreement between US and Taliban has brought New Delhi’s “House of Cards” crashing down. Not only was New Delhi kept at arm’s length during Afghan peace process, the Taliban – the government-in-waiting – also castigated India. Sher Muhammad Stanikzai, the chief Taliban negotiator in Doha, said, “India has always played a negative role in Afghanistan. India supported traitors in the country.”
Lastly, PM Modi’s decision to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution – that gave Indian-occupied Kashmir a special status in Indian Union – was nothing less than India shooting itself in the foot. The abrogation and the subsequent offensive diplomatic maneuvers by Pakistan not only brought the Kashmir dispute into limelight but also pushed the international community to unequivocally censure New Delhi of its gross human rights violations in the disputed Himalayan Kingdom; even India’s strategic partners – US and France – felt cornered by Islamabad’s aggressive diplomacy on Kashmir, and subsequently expressed their concerns on the deteriorating situation in the region. Severals report from international human rights organizations reprimanded New Delhi for its fascist actions in Indian-occupied Kashmir; and western publications – like New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Guardian etc – wrote numerous articles critical of Modi’s heinous actions in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
In short, the proverbial tables have turned; Modi’s sinister designs to “isolate Pakistan” have been ripped into shreds; New Delhi is gradually moving towards regional and global isolation. In order to arrest this downward spiral, Modi government is trying to buy its way out – without knowing that its economy is also facing a slowdown and that soon New Delhi won’t be in a position to buy shiny new defence hardware from developed countries to get them to not censure Modi’s fascist policies.
The writer is a retired government servant