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PM Modi’s Neighbourhood First Policy
Opinion

PM Modi’s Neighbourhood First Policy

Hari Jaisingh

PM Modi has set the pace for a pro-active neighbourhood policy by visiting Maldives first in the second term as Prime Minister. Thereafter, he visited Sri Lanka and reiterated the country’s solidarity with the island nation in its fight against terrorism, our common enemy. He also visited St Anthony’s Church in Colombo which had been targeted by suicide bombers on Easter Sunday. He said that “cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat the spirit of Sri Lanka”.

PM Modi’s post poll visits are part of the government’s Neighbourhood First Policy. His visit to Maldives is significant since Maldives was being actively wooed by China during the Abdulla Yameen regime. Maldives is now ruled by President Solith who is favourably disposed towards India. PM Modi has assured him of all financial and strategic support. With the shadow of China hovering over the Indian Ocean, strong India-Maldives ties will be the key to India and the region’s maritime security.

In this context, Narendra Modi’s full focus is on terrorism and has called for a global conference to counter terrorism. Addressing the Maldivian Parliament, he rightly stated that the fight against “terror and radicalization is the world’s biggest challenge”. This long-drawn battle has to be properly assessed and right instruments of policies and strategies evolved.

Interestingly, one question often asked by terrorism experts is how India with 14.2 percent of its population being Muslim, it has only a few cases of pro-ISIS activities, and that speaks a lot about India’s counter-terrorism strategies.

India, of course, is the victim of Pakistan-sponsored proxy terror war in Jammu and Kashmir. New Delhi is on the job in its anti-terrorism operation. Of course, the requisite capacity to tackle the biggest challenge facing India, South Asia and the rest of the world have to work out collectively. The proposed global summit can help in this regard.

As it is, the new challenge is no longer confined to ISIS. We have to look at new trends in terrorism that could be replicated by others in the future. The global summit will have to address this issue comprehensively and work out a charter of action in a coordinated manner. This cannot be a short-term action plan, but has to be seen in a larger global framework.

However, for an effective anti-terror battle, India will have to seek cooperation of the neighbouring countries. PM Modi and new External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar are right on the job. He has visited Bhutan to strengthen ties with the Himalayan strategic state. As a new policy approach to the neighbour, he has stated that India should follow “generous policy” and “incentive cooperation” by often “stepping out” and not emphasizing too much on reciprocity. Well, everything depends on how South Block goes about the job, connecting our neighbours with cooperative socio-economic activities where we stand on solid grounds amidst complex political and strategic global settings.

Among our neighbours, India’s major problem is mainly with Pakistan and its changing terror tactics. PM Modi has said that terror and talks cannot go together. I am also of the same view. Still, I feel that South Block will have to explore the possibility of opening of “back channel of diplomacy” with Islamabad to handle hardcore terror elements there. We need to find ways and means to put ISI and the Generals on the right track to ensure Islamabad pursuing terror-free policies vis-à-vis New Delhi.

From India‘s point of view, the Pakistan establishment is untrustworthy. It says one thing one day but does exactly the opposite, later. This has been the Indian experience for the past 70 years. In fact, but for Pakistani leaders’ duplicity and dubious games, India would not have been subjected to three unwanted wars.

In any case, New Delhi cannot close its eyes to several disturbing facts in Pakistan. It has to find an effective answer to counter the unleashing of militancy as well as Islamic fundamentalism by Islamabad on this side of the border. India has to face new threats firmly and boldly. It must see to it that the forces of fundamentalism and militancy are crushed decisively to keep our national spirits high.

The moot point is: Can we take Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan seriously? I don’t think so since he is said to be a mere puppet in the hands of Army Generals. So, first of all, we have to learn to deal with Pak Generals. This is not an easy task. I wish to quote Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee after his bitter experience at the Agra summit with General Pervez Musharraf.

PM Vajpayee said that “our cooperative future will be significantly influenced by the way in which we can tackle terrorism together. The international community has agreed that no country would allow its soil to be used, actively or passively, to finance, shelter, arm and train terrorist groups”.

“The experience of Afghanistan also showed graphically that tolerance, approval or sponsorship of terrorism creates a monster out of the control of its own creator”, said the former Prime Minister. I saw in these simple observations the emergence of a tough Vajpayee. Perhaps, the sad experience at Agra made him realise that Pakistani leaders do not understand the language of niceties and gentlemanliness.

It is gratifying that PM Modi understands the negative mindset of Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan. That is the reason why he does not take the former cricketer seriously.

Reaching out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi the second time since May 23, Pak Premier Imran Khan, in his second letter, reportedly advocated for “durable peace and stability” in South Asia and “peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues, including the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”.

Well, I have said repeatedly that Kashmir is not a matter of territorial dispute. It is a matter of principles of secularism, democratic and ethical values on which rest the very foundations of the Indian Republic.

It is a pity that over the years the world leaders failed to understand Indian sensitivities and conveniently overlooked the historical evolution of the country’s traditions in sharp contrast to the highly communal politics pursued by Pakistani leaders.

I am not a hawk. I fervently believe in India-Pakistan amity. I believe in the people’s freedom from poverty, deprivation, disease, illiteracy and related socio-economic problems the region is suffering from. This is possible if Pak leaders abandon the politics of brinkmanship and settle for amiable and friendly ties with India to mutual advantage. This could be possible if Imran Khan’s patron gives up the politics of confrontation and tries not to grab Kashmir in the name of Islam and through violence and the proxy war.