PM Narendra Modi | Commons
PM Narendra Modi | Commons
Text Size:

From Afghanistan to Pakistan to Bangladesh, the most interesting thing about India’s foreign policy establishment this week is that it has put on hold its reservations, apprehensions and misplaced loyalties and decided to talk to all the players in the region, in an effort to match China’s expanding influence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet visiting Afghan foreign minister Haneef Atmar — who has just returned from Moscow after participating in talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government — before he flies off to Bangladesh later this week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence.

Modi hopes that with this visit and the talks with neighbours, he will send Beijing the appropriate message – that India and South Asia belong to each other and there’s no room for three.

Meanwhile, the Indus waters team from Pakistan has arrived in New Delhi to talk to its counterpart, days after a Pakistani equestrian team participated in the International Tent-Pegging Federation World Cup qualifying match on the outskirts of Delhi for which they borrowed horses from their Indian hosts.

Certainly, if wishes were horses, as the English proverb goes, beggars would ride; then there is the cautionary Chinese saying, “Be careful what you wish for, it may just come true.”


Also read: Chinese Communist Party has goals. India needs to have its own, not just respond to aggression


India knows it must reach out

This week, then, PM Modi is straddling the subcontinent, wishing he can regain India’s traditional influence that has been lost in recent years, because of either New Delhi’s refusal to talk (to Pakistan, unless cross-border terrorism comes to an end), or talk too much (about Bangladesh, calling its people “termites”).

China, of course, is an acknowledged rival. It is well known as Pakistan’s chief patron. It was very much part of last week’s Moscow talks on how to make peace in Afghanistan – along with the US, Russia and Pakistan. Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s video message was the first to be played at the inauguration of the anniversary celebrations at Dhaka’s parade ground last week.

Atmar’s presence in Delhi is certainly confirmation that the newest chapter of the Great Game is underway – a phrase used when Governor-General William Bentinck was tasked in 1830 by London to find a trade route to Bukhara, so that intervening nations like Afghanistan would become buffer zones between the British and Russian empires. It would be another 70 years before the phrase caught common fancy, when it was used by that Raj-era enthusiast Rudyard Kipling in his novel, Kim.


Also read: Why Modi’s first foreign trip after Covid year is to Bangladesh


India now on Afghan table

Back in Kabul these days, the intensity of the diplomatic cut-and-thrust between the big powers has certainly intensified. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently wrote a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, suggesting talks between Afghan elders – that is former president Hamid Karzai, Ghani himself and key leaders like Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Mohammed Atta Noor and Abu Sayyaf – and the Taliban.

The talks will be held in Turkey in April – an interesting choice of venue, because it is seen to be close to Pakistan. And while the increasingly unpopular Ghani has rejected Blinken’s attempt at brokering another peace initiative (“I am not like those willows that bend with the wind” he said about forming an interim government), he may find that he has no alternative but to go to Istanbul.

What, you would ask, has this got to do with Atmar’s visit to Delhi? The answer is that the Afghan foreign minister is seen to be close to Moscow. That perceived proximity stems from the 1980s when, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the young Atmar worked for the Afghan intelligence agency KHAD – which, of course, was fully funded and supported by the Soviets.

Atmar fought against the mujahideen at the time and in 1987, lost a leg in a battle in Jalalabad – but he survived. When the Americans threw out the Taliban after 9/11, Atmar first worked for Karzai, then for Ghani. As a survivor in the Afghan Great Game, his briefing to PM Modi about the big powers jostling for influence in inner Asia will be significant.

Meanwhile, weeks ago, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy to Afghanistan, called external affairs minister S. Jaishankar to tell him that India, along with Afghanistan’s neighbours like Pakistan and Iran, would be part of the new peace conversation in Turkey.

That’s why Atmar is here – because India, despite Pakistani opposition, has made it to the Afghan table. For Jaishankar, the several briefings are great preparation before he embarks for Turkey.


Also read: Taliban contesting election is a risk. But India must support Ghani’s democratic appeal


Election and foreign policy in one

Once Atmar returns home, Modi will embark for Bangladesh to participate in the 50th anniversary of its independence, concluding a 10-day-long celebration joined by four other leaders from South Asia – Maldives President Ibu Solih, Nepal President Bidya Bhandari, Sri Lanka PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Bhutan PM Lotay Tshering.

Modi will fly to Satkhira district in Bangladesh’s southern Khulna province to pay obeisance at the Jeshoreshwari Kali temple – one of the 51 ‘shakti peeth’ sites considered sacred in Hinduism — located cheek by jowl with the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, which is going to the polls over the next several weeks.

Modi will also go to Gopalganj to pay his respects at the grave of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman— and interact with the large Matua community, the scheduled caste group said to have influence in 40-45 constituencies in the West Bengal assembly election.

Clearly, the Bharatiya Janata Party hopes the PM’s Bangladesh visit will pay off. Note that BJP leaders have now consciously stayed away from making disparaging remarks about Bangladeshis, like home minister Amit Shah once did by calling them “termites” – it might have been easy in the heat and dust of a very important election campaign.

Certainly, the PM is trying to restore India’s image across South Asia. He wants to be more involved in Kabul and he wants to have a better relationship with Dhaka. With China looming large across the region, Modi knows India must step up to the game.

Views are personal. You can follow her on Twitter @jomalhotra.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

25 COMMENTS

  1. The article is better than some of Malhotra’s recent ones starting with over effusive praise of Modi. However, it is not consistent with Malhotra’s previous article.

    This article admits that Modi and Shah ruined relations with neighbours, and now they have done a volte face – out of compulsion. Would it not have been better if they had used sense all the way along ?

    This looks like you tried to bully all the neighbours, and they drifted to China, and now you want to do a quiet correction – and imply it is due to Modi’s great vision. Amit Shah, after repealing 370, vainly boasted about recapturing Aksai Chin and PoK by force. Then China retaliated and put India in a quandary, forcing high defence expenditure. The BJP became aware of the possibility of a two front war.

    Malhotra’s conclusion was ‘Certainly, the PM is trying to restore India’s image across South Asia. He wants to be more involved in Kabul and he wants to have a better relationship with Dhaka. With China looming large across the region, Modi knows India must step up to the game.’

    A good leader would not damage India’s image and then try to rectify afterwards with too little, too late. It is like destroying the economy with demonetisation and then looking for investment. Malhotra herself wrote that Modi the visionary is pragmatic and he his happy with Chinese investment (after putting some curbs earlier), as it will make India stronger so it can ignore the west’s remarks on rising autocracy and mob rule in India China then is looming not only across the region, it is looming all over India as well, and that is welcome according to her last article !

    A suave diplomat like Gujral remarked that the purpose of diplomacy is to make your neighbours your associates, and your associates your friends. That would be beyond the intellect of the BJP and its bhakts. The BJP will be making unforced errors and then trying to correct it. In tennis, unforced errors leading to loss of service and it leads usually to the loss of the game.

    In the great game, India has already lost the initiative badly to China due to the BJP’s unforced errors.

    • Ha!! Ha!! Even Pakistan was made by the BJP, NOT Mullas & Congress/communists!!

      China is strong because they know how to have a central command, a unified civilzation while putting anti Han & anti national’s in re-educations camps!!

      Once India has true control of the nation & goes back to it’s sanatani civilization-al roots, it’s bound to be more successful than China today!!

      • True control will be by RSS Brahmins I presume. You will certainly be benefited, so I can see why you are so enthusiastic !

        As for sanatani civilization, what is that ? Manusmriti ? You think then you will be able to compete with China when society is re-ordered with caste ? That was the only thing missing in India that made it uncompetitive. Those damned Muslim and British rulers spoilt it !

  2. The reason behind India’s political overtures is quite simple. Its policymakers originally thought that it will isolate Pakistan. Unfortunately, when it became clear that Pakistani policymakers are winning the game, it is not anymore possible for India to be hegemonic anymore. Having many internal and religious divisions, failing on the Chinese, Nepalese, Srilankan, and Pakistani fronts, it has no choice but to relinquish its hegemonic style, hold hands and remain peaceful with its neighbors. It also knows, it can no longer think of being a super enemy who has almost singularly destroyed SAARC.
    Perwez USA.

    • Well it took Galwan for Modi and Shah to realise hegemony will not work. Now they talk about the threat of a two front war – which did not exist before Modi.

      I am not sure the BJP has realised hegemony will not work. They have no consistency, because they have a lot of extremists and irrational people with them, including Modi and Shah. Shah referred to Bangladeshis as termites, boasted India will recapture PoK and Aksai Chin by force, and said that BJP will open an office in Sri Lanka. Their specialty is fomenting internal and religious divisions (because they have a craving for Hindus to be mighty), but that does not work in the international arena.

      Even the author of this article indirectly acknowledges Modi’s policies failed but she still tries to project Modi as a diplomatic genius. The title ‘modi-saying-india-and-south-asia-belong-to-each-other-no-room-for-three’ is written as if Modi is the regional king which is telling a neighbouring king that South Asia his his kingdom. This mentality is in the BJP supporters’ psyche.

  3. Wonder WHY communists like this author and @The Print don’t shift to their ideological mother land China!!

    For sure, these people will disappear there in no time if they spit such anti national rubbish against the Han Chinese!!

  4. Mighty China keeps Modi on his toes, BJP leaders should control their tongue when they talk about Indian neighboring countries.

  5. Looks like The Print is now on it’s way to disturb Indo Bangla relations just like the Media did with Indo Nepal…. shame on you people calling Bangladeshi Neighbors as Termites….. Do you have a visual proof of Modi calling them Termites or is just another stupid Editors opinion of yours!!!!!

    You want donation from us to destroy our relationship with neighbors using our own money…. might be not getting enough of foreign funding or able to garner attention for ads.

    • Correct!! Illegal migrants & anti nationals can only be called termites!! This communist author & indeed @The Print are living examples!!

    • Read the article – it says Amit Shah (not Modi) who used the term ‘termites’. For that, there is visual proof. He was saying what a typical BJP person thinks. If sense has returned to Modi and Shah, it is only due to the beating administered by China.

      • @The spinner: What would you call illegal Jihadi evil entering from Bangladesh or Myanmar?? Desh bhakts perhaps, NOT termites??

  6. The writer is totally confused. He/she is writing Modi hopes, modi thinks, Modi is trying, he wants, etc. Understand this is not Modi who has expressed this feeling. It’s you who is thinking Modi might be hoping or thinking, etc.
    The article has several self conclusion without facts. It seems writer knows a lot of thing based on which the conclusion is coming. But, only giving final statement, the reason is missing.
    Don’t spoil three name of your publisher with half cooked stories. Write full with meaning and reasoning why you are saying something. Who is thinking what, you don’t know. You can only think and then again that is your thinking.

  7. MODIJI realises the bigger enemy is the ultra left wing radicals and jihadist supported by journalists financed by church. All these groups are attacking HINDUS all over the world by calling them communal for resisting RIOTERS AND PROSELYTIZERS.

    This ofcourse is presented by ANTI HINDU journalist as some kind of backtracking as they are facing real time loss of income and their role of middlemen stands shattered.

    However MODI government is on right track as anti HINDU forces who have ruled INDIA for almost 600 years of Islamic extremist rulers followed by 200 years of Christian church controlled rulers and then followed by a combination of both under congrass are not going to let INDIA prosper without extreme resistance

    • You nailed it!! It’s high time India practices some of the communist Chinese policies against communists/congressi’s & anti national’s in India!!

  8. Actually Modi is the man who has only one agenda, that is improve your economic conditions of India as he is hard-core businessman but like Tata with no family libality.

  9. Very thoughtful article and I like the perspective of the writer.

    However, the writer is misquoting Amit Shah’s comment and misinforming the readers. Shah’s ‘termites’ reference was for ‘ILLEGAL Bangladeshi intruders’ who entered in this country illegally and have no plan to go back to their country. The word is not for Bangladesh-based citizens.

    The writer must not tarnish the image of her nation with her misinformation.

    • Still, it is uncouth, unacceptable and undiplomatic language. There are illegal Indian immigrants in western countries, if anyone made such a comment about termites from India, there would be an outcry, and you would not point that they only meant illegals.

      • @Tog: Your ignorance & lies can only be seen in leader of the west, America’s meeting with the Chinese in Atlanta!!

        The Americans were exposed as bigots on all issues from human rights to democracy to so called secularism!! The Americans were exposed as they kept migrant children in cages for animals!! Meanwhile, Europeans have been killing Muslims running away from Islam!! They slaughtered them at sea like they were some jungle pigs!!

  10. There is no need for India to be involved in any great games. Irrespective of what other countries including China do, India must walk it’s own path as Gurudev Tagore once said. India’s primary responsibility is to it’s self and the upliftment of it’s own citizens. The Nehruvian obsession with foreign policy and interfering/preaching in the neighborhood and rest of Asia needs to stop. India doesn’t have the heft and primarily needs to focus on the economic upliftment and welfare of it’s own people.

    • “There is no need for India to be involved in any great games irrespective of what other countries including China do… ”

      Oh really?? That’s what you learned in school & in life?? With Gandhian a.holes like you India was enslaved for a 1000 years & Hindus suffered genocide & still do!!

  11. Jyoti Malhotra thinks the kashmiri pundits “left” the valley in 1991, as if they got bored there and left on a whim. This puttana has zero credibility. The Print is tainted as long as it is led by rabid Marxists like her.

  12. No room for three … That is a very expansive formulation, considering the level of China’s economic engagement with each country in South Asia.

  13. The high point of foreign policy / regional diplomacy was that magnificent swearing in ceremony – despite Delhi’s fierce heat in May – where all SAARC leaders were present. To offer friendship and support to what was universally expected to be a transformative government. We always pray for the government to recreate that magic and promise. India must make its place in the world starting from South Asia, in the form of a productive SAARC, that can segue seamlessly into ASEAN.

Comments are closed.