New emerging threats present new foreign policy challenges before Modi 2.0

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Published: May 24, 2019 10:08:18 PM

The new government would need to strengthen ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), home to eight million Indian diaspora and their livelihoods, Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Australia where a number of opportunities will arise.

PM Narendra Modi (Image: Reuters)PM Narendra Modi (Image: Reuters)

India is wading through trying times and the International discourse is fraught with unpredictability, unilateralism and multiple centres of conflict that would pose challenges and impinge in short and medium term on the pursuit of our national interests says, foreign policy experts.

The new government would need to strengthen ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), home to eight million Indian diaspora and their livelihoods, Africa, Latin America, Central Asia and Australia where a number of opportunities will arise.

According to Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, “One of the biggest will be the art of managing the opposites in zero-sum game scenarios for example the US Vs Russia or Iran or China where certain choices could be forced upon. The neighbourhood will have to be managed with dexterity and non-reciprocal manner.”

He says that Africa and Latin America will have to be cultivated with clarity and greater vigour and focus. Soft power projection will have to be professional, consistent and long term. India could work for alternate foreign policy initiatives and choices that are necessarily traditional if we wish to play an appropriate role in global affairs. Of course, economic diplomacy has to be clearly articulated and robust to match India’s rising aspirations.

Says Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, at Jawaharlal Nehru University “The foreign policy priorities of the new government will be reflected in the President’s speech to the Joint Parliamentary session in June. Broadly, these include firstly protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, protecting India’s rights in the immediate neighbourhood including in the Indian Ocean region and creating conditions for economic growth.

Secondly, Kondapalli says, given the recent Air Force strike at Balakot, the new government is likely to consolidate gains in this regard and make political overtures in Jammu and Kashmir.

Thirdly, the new government needs to evolve a sound strategy one to address the fallout of reducing oil imports from Iran and at the same time diversifying towards renewables as the oil prices are steadily increasing in the recent years. This would be a Herculean task for the new government.

Lastly, relations with major powers like the US, Russia, the European Union, China and Japan are likely to attract the attention of the new government as India has been increasingly focusing on the dual tasks of external stability and economic growth rates. A more nuanced approach is likely to be formulated even as New Delhi protects its core interests, Kondapalli opines.

Ambassador Anil Wadhwa, former secretary Ministry of External Affairs points out that the new government faces multiple challenges on the foreign policy front. “Foremost is the tension between the US and Iran, which threatens to engulf the GCC. It also has potential fallout on the energy security of India,” he says.

On the immediate horizon is the trade squeeze being put on India by the US on the trade front – the latest salvo being the withdrawal of the GSP treatment and the ongoing negotiations on increased duties on Indian steel, aluminium and other products.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping will come calling some – perhaps in August – and on the agenda will be India’s ballooning trade deficit with China and the challenges. India because of the Belt and Road Initiative Projects (BRI) of China in the Indian ocean and the neighbourhood as well as the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor Project (CPEC) which violates Indian sovereignty. A challenge before India is to ensure that Chinese industry does not stifle Indian industries – especially in consumer products and durables,” says Wadhwa.

From a security point of view, according to Wadhwa, China’s forays into the Indian Ocean remain a matter of concern and India will have to undertake appropriate measures to safeguard our interests.

There will be calls to restart a dialogue in Pakistan. “While there will be pressure to restart a dialogue with Pakistan, India would do well to insist on Pakistan cracking down on militancy and terrorist activities in its own territory,” Wadhwa adds.

In Afghanistan, India faces a prospect of being left out in the cold in the peace process involving the US and Taliban and Pakistan would like to step into this space. India faces a strong test ahead in terms of actions it could undertake.

On the trade front, there will be pressure on the new government to sign on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been a protracted stint of negotiations.

According to Prof Ajay Dubey, of JNU, little change is expected and maybe Pakistan will see another short phase of dialogue before Pakistan Military sabotages this. “There will be closer engagements with China with continued border talks. Also, there will be a closer engagement with Africa, the US, Europe and Japan.”

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