By Kallol BhattacherjeeFocus on trade likely to be the defining feature of Modi’s foreign policy As Prime Minister Narendra Modi touched down in Bhutan on June 15, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was hosting a special Indian guest and his companions in Islamabad, who had come for a Track II dialogue. While the Prime Minister’s Office is tight-lipped about editor and columnist Ved Pratap Vaidik’s visit to Islamabad, he is believed to have gone to Pakistan as the representative of the RSS, tasked with dispelling misunderstandings about the Sangh Parivar and its south Asian agenda. Vaidik had travelled to Lahore on his own to meet Sharif in May last year after the Pakistani leader won the elections. In return, Sharif, reportedly, rewarded him with rare access and contacts, which he used extensively during a trip to Pakistan early this year to convince its leaders that Pakistan can do business with India under Modi. Najam Rafique of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad, which is hosting the Track II dialogue, told THE WEEK that Vaidik represented not just the RSS, but also Modi. “Vaidik is visiting us as an emissary of the Indian prime minister. On June 23, he is addressing an in-house meeting at ISSI. The agenda is how to revive the Pakistan-India dialogue process and what issues are to be taken up. The Indian side is resisting to discuss Kashmir,” he said. Sources in Islamabad said the Modi government’s focus was on trade, especially getting the non-discriminatory trade agreement ratified by Pakistan. Rafique, however, said it might not be easy and would require some arm-twisting by India. “The Pakistani side is insisting that Kashmir should be on the table during the Track II dialogue. But, there is a widespread understanding that trade has to come first,” he said. Given the sensitivities involved, not all details are on public domain, but Union Minister Arun Jaitley’s comment about a possible dialogue with separatists in Kashmir has added to the sentiment that the Modi government will manage south Asia unconventionally, with a surprise cast of characters, if necessary. Darakhshan Andrabi, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir Socialist Democratic Party, who is lobbying Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh for creating an alternative political platform in Kashmiri politics, said the Track II dialogue with Pakistan was aimed at attempting an enabling condition for going ahead with other aspects of life, like trade and development. Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran said the Modi government’s emphasis on trade with Pakistan, the rest of south Asia and the major world powers could well be the defining feature of Indian foreign policy under Modi. “Allowing Pakistani banks in India and the State Bank of India to operate in Pakistan and granting non-discriminatory market access to India by Pakistan will add to India’s growth economy status. Much of our diplomatic stalling of the last five years happened because the world, after celebrating our economic growth for some time, suddenly started perceiving us as a low-potential economy hobbled by a weak political structure. India’s diplomacy will change dramatically if Modi can create an impression by his initial deals in south Asia and Japan that India will prioritise trade over other differences, whether big or small,” he said. These priorities will be reflected in External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s foreign trips as well. Swaraj, fresh from her tour to Bhutan, accompanying Modi, is expected to leave for a meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 26, carrying forward the Look East dynamic of Modi’s foreign policy. Already, the Bhutan visit of Modi is being interpreted as a message to China not to snatch away India’s partners in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Saran said the September session of the UN General Assembly, which Modi was likely to attend, would give his team another major opportunity in perfecting its trade diplomacy. In Washington, DC, the United States India Political Action Committee, the organisation that facilitated the pre-election US visit of Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, is doing unofficial groundwork for Modi’s visit. “We are excited about the defence IT sector as a new area, as India plans new investment zones in defence production,” said Sanjay Puri of USINPAC. An immediate challenge for Modi will be in breaking ice with Italy, which is taking advantage of the football season by selling T-shirts with the names of the Italian marines charged for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. “The European Parliament will be headed by Italy from September and there is a possibility that tough Italy-India ties might hurt India-EU ties,” said a European ambassador. The Modi-Swaraj-Doval team has begun with an intense plan of action. But, given the uncertainties in the world of diplomacy, it may also need some luck to succeed. The gambit Modi’s tenure has begun with a bang: * Neighbouring heads of state at the swearing-in ceremony * First foreign visit to Bhutan, emphasising its significance * Back-channel talks on with Pakistan * Hosted Chinese foreign minister and Russian deputy PM * Talks scheduled with Bangladesh PM * Interactions being worked on with leaders of the US and Japan * Renewed focus on trade diplomacy -Source: The Week, India- Print Version
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