Something monumental happened and no one noticed. Not the Ministry of Defence, not the Ministry for External Affairs — the two ministries that will be most affected. Unless they have known about this and are quietly reconciled to this development by stealth. Or, because they do not take seriously the seminal change announced by Amit Shah, the Home Minister.
The undisputed Number Two in the Narendra Modi government, Amit Shah made public something that was at once strange and stunning. No one has commented on his statement or even reacted to it. Delivering the KF Rustomji Lecture on July 17 at the 18th investiture ceremony of the Border Security Force, Shah remarked that he “used to think if there is a security policy of this country or not?” This is a reasonable thing to wonder about. I have done so too. Then he elaborated a bit by adding a qualifier. “Till Narendra Modi became the prime minister”, Shah declared, “we did not have any independent security policy.”
But for the insertion of Modi into that line, I would agree with this conclusion. That India’s foreign and military polices and, therefore, the national security policies are not “independent” is, after all, a theme I have been dilating on for the better part of the past 25 years, especially in the context of America’s conspicuous role in the last decade and half in shaping and channeling Indian government’s thinking. So, you can understand my nearly jumping out of my skin at finding the Home Minister seemingly seconding my view, leading me, for an instant, to expect that Modi, having belatedly recognized the flawed policy system he was working with, had decided on a structural overhaul and a radical change of course.
That joy lasted the proverbial half second — the time it presumably took Shah to read the next line in his speech, which brought me down with a thud accompanied by much befuddlement. This effect would have been replicated on anyone who was paying attention to Shah.
The Home Minister, it turns out, was not referring to any foreign influences on Indian foreign and military or security policies, but rather was expressing his elation at the country’s “security policy” being unshackled from the malign influence of — wait for it — India’s “foreign policy”!!
To quote Shah per a newspaper report: the country’s security policy he declared “was either influenced by foreign policy or it was overlapping with the foreign policy” — both, by his reckoning, bad things to happen. “Our idea is to have peaceful relations with all” he continued, “but if someone disturbs our borders, if someone challenges our sovereignty the priority of our security policy is that such an attempt will be replied in the same language.” He added that this new security policy was a “big achievement” and “I believe without [it] neither the country can progress nor democracy can prosper.” He then congratulated “Modiji [for doing] this big job” before revealing that this policy had already been operationalized.
Is that too much to take in all at once?!
National security considerations are at the apex and dictate foreign and military policy choices and options. In the event, if Shah is to be taken at his word, it means primarily that the “security policy” making is now in the Home Ministry’s bailiwick, and secondarily, because disturbances on the border, “peaceful relations with all” and “challenges [to] our sovereignty” are apparently not “priority” with either the MEA or MOD, the Shah-led Home Ministry will put in place measures to implement these priority jobs. In other words, the task of managing relations with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Pakistan are now transferred from South Block to Sardar Patel Bhavan. China, because it does the intimidating where India is concerned, is left for the MEA and MOD to handle. The MEA, MOD and the armed services on their part will feel relieved that in this new Shah scheme they will have something to do other than sit on the sidelines unprofitably twiddling their thumbs.
Then again, it may just be that nothing has changed and Amit Shah does not know what he is talking about. This is a real possiblity given how ministers read babu-drafted speeches they can’t make head or tail of, in which case, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and his minions ought to be blamed for making the Home Minister sound, well, as not quite there! In this policy realm, is there anything more outlandish than what Amit Shah said?
The interesting thing is why did Shah, even in his muddled fashion, say what he did? May be the Home Minister is in an aggrandizing mood and believes diplomacy with adjoining states would be conducted better by him and his boys, and would like to wrench decisionmaking turf from the MEA and MOD, and find more military missions and such for the BSF and other paramils under his control to carry out? Or, with the neighbourhood blowing up around us the Home Minister is a bit jealous of his colleague, the external affairs minister, S Jaishankar for being, willy nilly, in the public eye. Except the foreign minister is in the limelight lately for the wrong reasons.
Diplomats, it is said should think twice or thrice before saying nothing. Jaishankar, perhaps, feels that because he has graduated from the ranks of babu to minister, he can let his mouth run wild, the diplomat’s characteristic tact be damned! He let this happen around the same day that Shah was asking the MEA to keep off security policy in order to make it more “independent”. What? How? Don’t ask!
Speaking to a virtual audience of his BJP partymen in a foreign policy training session, Jaishankar couldn’t resist boasting. “Due to us, Pakistan is under the lens of FATF and it was kept in the grey list”, he asserted. “We have been successful in pressurizing Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan’s behaviour has changed is because of pressure put by India by various measures.” He elaborated further: “FATF, as all of you know, keep a check on fundings for terrorism and deals with black money supporting terrorism. Also terrorists from LeT and Jaish, India’s efforts through UN, have come under sanctions.”
So, where was the diplomatic boo-boo?
FATF (Financial Action Task Force) is fairly unique in how it holds a targeted country’s feet to the fire. For instance, at the last FATF meeting in Paris in end-June Pakistan did not get a pass out of the institution’s ‘Grey List’ even though it fulfilled 26 of the 27 conditions because there was telltale evidence of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist outfits beneftting from monies Pakistani agencies had a role in laundering. By the same token, US will ensure, Pakistan never slips into the Black List which India wants, which will activate comprehesnive economic sanctions, because Islamabad is, owing to the civil war in Afghanistan, all but indispensable to America.
The trouble is this: Pakistan is in the FATF crosshairs because of its covert and overt support to the various terrorist outfits it has nursed for operations in Jammu & Kashmir which, in turn, keeps alive what, for all intents and purposes, is the dead 1949 UN Resolution 47 pertaining to Kashmir — the outcome of Jawaharlal Nehru’s referring the dispute to the UN.
India does not have to do a thing to keep Pakistan in the Grey List other than do what it has quietly been doing — list terrorist incidents traceable to Pakistan-based gangs and refer to their financial links to the Pakistan state. In that sense, the Indian government is merely an agency reporting terrorist incidents and the electronic/paper trails of terror financing; that this implicates Islamabad is by the way. This was done routinely and without fuss. Now Jaishankar has gone and spoilt it.
For the Indian foreign minister to publicly take credit and crow about India’s efforts in keeping Pakistan on the FATF’s warning list is to arouse suspicions among the European and other member states of this body about motives other than terrorism driving Indian government’s actions. Not that they are unaware of how much value and weight New Delhi attaches to keeping Pakistan on the FATF hook. But, for that very reason, they could at any time convert their decision into diplomatic leverage for use against India.
Indeed, the Pakistan Foreign Office was very fast in trying to corner India on just this point, claiming that New Delhi had “politicized” the FATF, and offered Jaishankar’s “confession” as it called his gloating, as proof for its charge. Such a claim is rendered credible because India is the co-chair of the Joint Group that assesses whether Pakistan’s warrants placement in the grey list in the first place. The more low key and objectively the Indian government acts in the FATF the more convincingly Pakistan crucifies itself by its own irrefutable acts of ommission and commission. Should Pakistan’s case of India politicizing the FATF take hold, however, Pakistan may well be let off on its good faith actions and for fulfilling most of the criteria and Indian interests will end up taking a hit
For Jaishankar to have thus imperilled India’s case and potentially loosened the FATF noose around Pakistan’s neck is an inexcusable mistake particularly for a supposedly seasoned former career diplomat to make. But then just may be Jaishankar felt pressured. Can it be Amit Shah and Jasihankar are both competing, trying to elbow each other out of Modi’s attention, by trumpeting the performance of the ministries they head?