Diplomacy is an adroit art employed to manage relations with other countries for the attainment of core national interests. In this dexterous art, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has nimbly played his diplomatic cards by clinching massive trade deals with the energy-rich Middle Eastern countries in recent months. On the other side, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is embroiled in brewing internal political issues that he barely has the diplomatic expertise and time to follow suit.
Our incumbent democratic government considers the intricate subjects of foreign policy and diplomacy purely peripheral matters. It has turned a blind eye to the diplomatic instructions which Machiavelli suggested in his famous book, The Prince. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his advisors on foreign affairs presumably lack the astute diplomatic language and finesse to outwit their Indian counterparts on the external theatre.
Our democratic fragility, surging internal challenges and lingering dependence on the US and international financial institutions have made us amongst the Muslim countries an unimportant player to be relied on. The Muslim world has come to realized that beggars cannot be choosers at all. Modi has ably exploited our internal and diplomatic failure to maximize India’s burgeoning interests by cultivating amicable ties with the Middle Eastern countries.
Pakistan took a prudent foreign policy decision by flatly refusing to join the Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in war-torn Yemen in April 2015. However, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has so far failed to discreetly tackle the backlash of such audacious diplomatic move due to the ongoing “democratic crisis” at home. Modi grabbed the unfolding opportunity by both hands and paid a highly significant visit to Saudi Arabia in April this year. The importance of this visit can be gauged from this point that Modi’s visit to the UAE was first by an Indian premier in 34 years.
The visit yielded some effective economic and security-related results for India. New Delhi and Riyadh concluded five important deals covering intelligence sharing on terrorism financing, increasing investment and fostering defence cooperation. More importantly, the Saudi king bestowed King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit medal on Modi; it is the kingdom’s highest honour and has never been given to a purely civilian Pakistani leader (although it was given to former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007).
The visit created some economic vistas for more than 3.5million Indian expatriates working in the kingdom. It would also help the Modi government to substantially increase the current bilateral trade of $ 40 billion to over $ 50 billion this year, mostly in Indian favour. Since Saudi Arabia is already India’s top energy supplier providing a fifth of its oil needs, New Delhi has decided to increase its import of oil from the kingdom during Modi’s visit.
As a result of enhanced bilateral cooperation, India also intends to further promote bilateral trade and widen its scope particularly in the non-oil sectors. Modi, during his visit to Riyadh, encouraged more investments from Saudi Arabia into India. According to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, Saudi Arabia holds the world’s fourth-largest sovereign wealth fund with the present holding standing at USD 632.3 billion. So, India is determined to tap into this huge fund by inviting investments from the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has also shown interest in investing in India’s infrastructure sector.
Over the past few years, there has been some cooperation on security between Saudi Arabia and India, with Riyadh deporting four most wanted fugitives to India. Modi was aware that Saudi Arabia and the United States had already imposed joint sanctions targeting the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group blamed for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. In his discussion with Saudi leaders, Modi obliquely referred to Pakistan’s role in supporting terrorism in the region aimed at garnering assistance against LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD).
According to the Hindustan Times, both the countries, in the joint statement, “called on all states to reject the use of terrorism against other countries; dismantle terrorist infrastructures where they happen to exist and to cut off any kind of support and financing to the terrorists operating and perpetrating terrorism from their territories against other states and bring perpetrators of acts of terrorism to justice.” Modi had only Pakistan in his mind while calibrating this joint statement. New Delhi considers it a diplomatic success to bring Saudi leaders into its bandwagon against Pakistan on the regional terrorism issue.
India achieved a phenomenal foreign policy objective through the well-calibrated incident of RAW’s operative, Kulbushan Yadav. The timing of Yadav’s arrest and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan was not accidental; rather, it was well planned by some forces to make President Rouhani’s visit fruitless and augment distrust between Pakistan and Iran. As a sovereign and nuclear power, we should not have let the Yadav’s incident strain our geo-economically important relations with Iran.
Despite long-lasting historical and religious affinity between Iran and Pakistan, India has effectively snatched Iran from Pakistan by making the sanctions-free energy-rich nation its main economic partner. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tehran on May 22 for starting ‘a new phase’ in India-Iran ties. During the visit, Mr Modi sealed the multi-billion dollar agreements on Chabahar Port, investments in Farzad B gas project, construction of International North-South Transport Corridor, the India-Iran gas pipeline and security. Moreover, India is also looking at doubling oil imports from Iran.
The Modi government has played the main role to instigate US Congress from blocking partial funding for the sale of eight F-16 fighters to Pakistan. Sartaj Aziz has categorically highlighted extensive Indian propaganda and lobbying against Pakistan. He said, “The Indian lobby has been making untiring efforts to reverse the US decision, and a strong attempt, through Senator Rand Paul’s resolution, to block the sale itself.” Due to such Indian diplomatic offensive in Washington, Pak-US relations have witnessed a downward trajectory in the past three months. On this front, the Nawaz team lacks the diplomatic prowess to outsmart its Indian counterpart.
Owing to our flawed regional policy, Afghanistan has completely tilted towards India. The fragile unitary government in Afghanistan has continued to blame Pakistan for all terrorist and militant attacks occur there. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has recently warned that he would knock the door of the UN against Pakistan on Taliban issue. Capitalizing on Afghan fear and reservation, India has gained full freedom from Kabul meant to train Pakistani-based terrorists and insurgents on the Afghan soil.
We should not let India alienate the Afghans from Pakistan. Without all-out Afghan support, the ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb cannot be wrapped up due to the infiltration of hardcore terrorists from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Apart from that, Pakistan needs this landlocked country to access the energy resources of Central Asia. In this Great Game, India has made a new grand strategy aimed at sabotaging the much-touted TAPI gas project in order to deprive Pakistan of gas. The Modi government wants to connect Chabahar port to Central Asia via Afghanistan so as to pipe gas and oil, thus excluding Pakistan in this game. What Nawaz team is doing is under questions. We should know the maxim of “survival of the fittest.”
In this anarchic world, states employ all means fair and foul to maximize their core national interests. Since India considers Pakistan its biggest regional challenge, that is why the former is leaving no stones unturned to isolate Pakistan on the diplomatic front. If India succeeds in isolating Pakistan completely, the latter will face enormous economic and security issues. So, the fledgling Nawaz government still has adequate time to defeat India diplomatically by cultivating friendly ties with its neighbouring countries through realistic and prudent diplomacy.
The writer is editor of The Asia Watch.