Rajnath Singh's remarks on China, Pakistan show that bureaucratic stasis still hampers foreign policy

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh's comments on China and Pakistan should raise alarm in India. Unless one of the most senior ministers in Narendra Modi's Cabinet was bluffing on record, his answers to pointed questions raised by Network 18 group CEO Rahul Joshi were tepid at best and smacked of bureaucratic stasis on issues where India can ill-afford to be complacent.

This isn't to say that Rajnath should have launched an invective rhetoric on Sino-Pakistan axis and risk jeopardising statecraft, but the worry is that no statecraft seems to be visible when it comes to India's China and Pakistan policies. All we have is hopeful optimism, a tactic that is futile and even dangerous today.

Other than 'hope', Rajnath Singh didn't seem to have much to offer. PTI

Other than 'hope', Rajnath Singh didn't seem to have much to offer. PTI

Rajnath called Pakistan's house arrest of Hafiz Saeed dikhawa (eyewash), but when asked what would be India's next step to ensure that the 26/11 mastermind is brought to justice and put behind bars, the home minister said, "We are continuously trying to ensure that action is taken against such terrorists, terror organisations and their bosses. Our prime minister has tried to get the international community on board on the question of terror, and in a lot of ways he has been successful."

And what could be these "continuous" steps that Rajnath was speaking of? What measure does he have of the success that India has apparently achieved on Hafiz Saeed? A report in CNN News 18 has shown that despite the so-called "house arrest", Saeed's Jamaat-ud-Dawa office in Lahore's Model Town was "buzzing with activity".

But India's response to this sham of an arrest was equally telling. On Pakistan's statement that India needs to provide more "concrete evidence" to nail the chief planner of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks that left 166 civilians killed and over 300 injured, the External Affairs Ministry said that "the so-called concrete evidence that the Pakistani establishment is looking for is already available in Pakistan. All they need is to find the requisite political will".

Beyond appealing to Pakistan's conscience, there seems to be little meat in India's plan. Right now, there is no incentive for Islamabad to take real credible action against Saeed, except as the minister rightly pointed out, indulging in a game of smoke and mirrors.

Already, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Saeed's front for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiyaba, has been re-branded under a new name — Tehreek Azadi Jammu and Kashmir.

This 'hopeful optimism' again came through when Rajnath was asked about India's plan to get Dawood Ibrahim back, though CNN News-18 came up with evidence that he is being sheltered by Pakistan.

But Rajnath offered little beyond "sooner or later". "I am confident that sooner or later we will be successful in getting Dawood Ibrahim back to India. Our efforts are on. There is no two ways about the fact that Dawood is in Pakistan. We have repeatedly told the government of Pakistan that Dawood is nowhere else but in Pakistan. Where exactly he is in Pakistan, that too we have told the Pakistani government," he said during the interview.

If India's policy on Pakistan seems clueless enough, the relationship with China appears to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma. To a question on why India has not been able to persuade Beijing on NSG membership or on Masood Azhar, the home minister said, "I believe he should be jailed and his organisation should be banned. In this we need the support of everybody. Perhaps China didn't support us because of its own internal issues, but in the future they will. That is my hope. They will support us to ban Masood Azhar."

Is "hope" the only thing the home minister has to offer? When it comes to protecting a nation's sovereign interests or extending geostrategic influence, New Delhi can take a lesson or two from Beijing. The prime minister's Act East policy, which involved discussion over providing the Akash surface-to-air missile system to Vietnam, triggered a furious response from Beijing. Its state-run newspaper Global Times ran an editorial issued a bare-knuckle warning.

"If the Indian government genuinely treats its enhancement of military relations with Vietnam as a strategic arrangement or even revenge against Beijing, it will only create disturbances in the region and China will hardly sit with its arms crossed," it had written.

It also reacted with similar belligerence to US President Donald Trump's tough talk on One-China policy. Shortly after the then US President elect had stirred up a hornet's nest by receiving a congratulatory phone call from the Taiwan President, China's foreign ministry spokesperson minced no words. "The one-China principle is the political foundation of China-US relations. Any US administration has the responsibility to honour the bipartisan commitment of successive US governments to continue to uphold the one-China principle," Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing, according to news agency PTI.

The point being made is that there is no place for stasis and inaction in a post Cold War era where the global geopolitical order is changing rapidly. Instead of issuing 'cautious optimism', India should work seriously with the new US administration and tap Asian neighbours like Japan, Australia or Vietnam to hedge against China's revisionist tactics. While Beijing is ready to undercut India's rise by using Pakistan as an effective tool, our leaders seems heavy and leaden-footed in developing counter-strategies.

Firstpost's Ajay Singh wrote recently on how a top government official in Cambodia told him that while Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian businessmen are busy taking advantage of the nation's relaxed rules on tax-breaks and full foreign ownership of business projects, Indians are lagging far behind. "Why you guys are not open to us? You probably look to Europe and the US, and tend to ignore the eastern part of Asia," he asked.

There is no place for complacency in foreign policy. India needs to be more proactive in building a credible deterrent to Sino-Pakistan axis. Negligence would result in a heavy price.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 18:22 PM

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