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Tough-talking PM builds bridges with neighbours

  • Jayanth Jacob & Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 02, 2014 13:13 IST

Narendra Modi’s foreign policy over the past three months has been marked by three distinctive traits — warmth and close engagement with smaller South Asian neighbours; reconciliation followed by a tougher stance vis-a-vis Pakistan; and multi-layered engagement with the big powers.

Modi set the ball rolling by inviting Saarc leaders and Mauritius for his inauguration.

It was in line with his belief that India cannot grow unless it stabilises its relations with its smaller neighbours. Modi chose Bhutan as a first port of call.

In August, he became the first PM in 17 years to land in Nepal where he made a historic speech in the Constituent Assembly, addressing Nepali insecurities about India. But his vision of a harmonious South Asia hit a roadblock soon after when he cancelled planned talks with Pakistan, because the Pakistani high commissioner met Kashmiri separatist leaders.

Previous governments had turned a blind eye to such engagement, but Modi drew a new red line in a decision largely driven by domestic political compulsions.

Whether this is a tactical shift or a strategic overhaul of the way to approach Islamabad is yet to be seen. But it is clear the bar has been raised and policy on Pakistan will be a key challenge.

In another display of tough talking, Modi told visiting US secretary of state John Kerry why India had refused to back a global trade pact under the World Trade Organization. Unfazed by the flak received over its decision, the PM stuck to his guns and displayed directness in diplomacy.

All eyes are now on Modi’s meeting with US president Barack Obama in September and the big question is whether he will be able to wrest any big deals with Washington. The PM has creditably managed ties with China and Japan.

After initial hiccups with Tokyo over visit dates, he has reached out to the Japanese prime minister personally and made an effort to collaborate with Beijing by agreeing to accept a Brics bank headquartered in Shanghai.

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