Defence/foreign affairs: big stick diplomacy – Cover Story News

China and Pakistan remain New Delhi’s big external challenges, but MOTN respondents endorse the government’s stance on both, and a tougher stance on Kashmir

A poster for the 13th virtual BRICS summit, featuring (from left) Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

India entered the new year looking forward to what could be a third year of military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. A 14th round of corps commander-level talks on January 12 failed to resolve the military standoff that began in May 2020 when China moved two divisions through Ladakh. The two armies continue to stare at each other at three contentious locations. And as long as these sticking points remain, both sides will continue to deploy nearly 100,000 troops to their respective ends at extremely high altitudes, making it the longest such military deployment in the world.

India entered the new year looking forward to what could be a third year of military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh. A 14th round of corps commander-level talks on January 12 failed to resolve the military standoff that began in May 2020 when China moved two divisions through Ladakh. The two armies continue to stare at each other at three contentious locations. And as long as these sticking points remain, both sides will continue to deploy nearly 100,000 troops to their respective ends at extremely high altitudes, making it the longest such military deployment in the world.

China’s new border law signals a hardening of its stance on long-running border disputes like the one with India. The permanent structures he builds on the Tibetan plateau indicate that he is here for the long haul. There have been no violent incidents on the border since the June 15, 2020 clashes in Galwan in which 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed. Border vigilance pays off, as the government has discovered, as it allows it to resolve border trouble spots using diplomacy and military dialogue. Seventy-five percent of MOTN respondents believe the central government has handled the border standoff with China very well, down slightly from 78% who approved of the government’s position in August 2021.

The potential for escalating conflict with China means that New Delhi’s other major foreign policy headache, Pakistan, looks relatively manageable. Given the perilous state of its economy and day-to-day existence, Pakistan seems incapable of being a significant short-term threat. The country’s recently unveiled national security policy talks about wanting to improve relations with India, but, from New Delhi’s perspective, there can be no talks as long as Islamabad continues to foment cross-border terrorism in Jammu- and Kashmir and Punjab. More than 55% of respondents do not want the dialogue to resume.

The union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of which remain under Chinese and Pakistani occupation, is therefore more targeted than before. Three years ago New Delhi split the former J&K state into UT and watered down Section 370. There is a hardening of respondents’ stance towards returning to normalcy in the state with a noticeable drop compared to 66% in the August MOTN. 2021 in favor of restoring statehood to 46% now.

The China-Pakistan axis means that India will need support from friends like the United States. Relations between India and the United States have improved over the past two decades. Apart from being a major strategic ally, the United States is India’s biggest trading partner – bilateral trade is expected to exceed $145 billion (about Rs 10.7 lakh crore) in 2020-21. The steady decline in US President Joe Biden’s MOTN ratings is therefore somewhat of a mystery. From a high of 52% who viewed it favorably in January 2021, it has fallen to 42% in August and now only 38.8% think it is good for India. This may be one more reason why Biden must accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to visit New Delhi.

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