Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending the G7 summit this weekend in Biarritz, France as a ‘Biarritz Partner’. Representing 1.3 billion Indians and the world’s 6th largest economy, he will be about India’s development agenda and aspirations.
The tone and pace of his visit were set minutes after Modi landed in France Thursday night. India and France jointly called out global terrorism. French President Emmanuel Macron and Modi asked countries to work together to root out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure “disrupting terrorist networks and their financing channels, and halting cross border movement of terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahedeen, Lashkar-e-Tayabba and their affiliates as well as terrorist groups threatening peace and security in South Asia and the Sahel region.”
New Delhi and Paris said, “terrorism cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever and it should not be associated with any religion, creed, nationality and ethnicity.” Both countries will work closely on climate change, cybersecurity and defence procurement among other issues. Read here.
A few hours later on Friday morning the Asia Pacific Group (APG) of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), set up by the G8 in 1989, blacklisted Pakistan for failing to comply with its parameters on money laundering and terrorism financing, the two main tenets of the organisation. In June 2018, the FATF had placed Pakistan on a grey list for slipping on its commitments. With today’s announcement, Pakistan is between the devil and the deep sea, its India-blaming bluff now exposed to the whole world.
I am not a fan of G7 and G20 gatherings that have long run out of steam. The weekend meeting in France is however different, probably the first complete recognition by world leaders that they need India firmly on their side. This is not flowing from any wisdom. It comes from a sense of survival against China (mainly trade) and to a lesser extent, against Russia (history). Facing crises ranging from unemployment to immigration as well as terrorism in their cities and villages, the European Union (EU) is in a state of turmoil. It is often said that convergence of political and historical time lead people, movements and governments to an inflection point. Is this India’s moment? Is India finally running with the ball that says the only interest in foreign policy is self -interest?
India is the world’s 6th largest economy, a market none can ignore. A peaceful nuclear weapons state, it is wedged between two hostile nuclear powers China and Pakistan. Democracy is New Delhi’s biggest ally and its processes are recognisable and transparent. The warmongering givers of lessons and condescending talkers of peace that include members of G7 know this. As noted defence analyst and strategic thinker Brahma Chellany tweeted recently, “…India is the first developing country that, from the beginning, has strived to prosper through a democratic system.”
The world is changing. Old alliances are falling but new ones are yet to emerge. Good diplomacy moves in peaks and troughs and present times are waves. The meeting between Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin this week is also a major gesture signalling that obduracy and diplomacy is an eye-to-eye match when it comes to economic interests. The first one to blink loses. Russia is part of Europe and does flourishing business with countries, but currently not part of it for the G7 high table. It was thrown out after it annexed Crimea. Macron said Russia could if the Ukraine issue is sorted out. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have said no to the idea and Trump has tweeted that getting Russia back on board is not a bad idea. The EU fears geopolitical alliances between the two major military powers in Russia and China.
Let us look at what’s happening within the G7. Brexit is driving Johnson and Macron to a war of words on a daily basis. Merkel’s words have lost their power and Italy where the government collapsed this week has broken ranks with the G7 and walked into the Chinese embrace in Europe. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is nice and kind, but plays a secondary role when it comes to geopolitical negotiations. That leaves Trump who will tweet his way in and out of the summit grandstanding about Iceland and Kashmir one minute and garlic the next which the travelling US press corps will zealously report.
Seen in this frame, there’s a sail in India’s winds as it navigates the high seas. The world saw some sterling diplomacy last week when Syed Akbaruddin, India’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) in New York gently told reporters about Pakistan’s failed attempts to hoodwink the world on Kashmir. That was just a glimpse – a lot of diplomacy is underground, a process which some garrulous and talkative media don’t comprehend. When I tell people west of Tokyo and east of Turkey, we have always been a continuously unbroken democratic country, now 1.3 billion strong, I get blank looks.
The middle-east card has also been done and dusted. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has given its highest award to Modi (the Saudis did so earlier) signalling that religion and national interests can no longer be weighed in the same balance. Three out of ten of India’s largest trading partners are in the Gulf and some two-thirds of our oil and energy imports come from these countries not to mention half of our remittances. India is not a dangerous neighbour or for that matter a dangerous country. That penny has dropped internationally.
Pragmatism is second nature for survival. Common interests are bringing countries together. India is entering conversations at a crucial moment in geopolitical timing. “The idea of India-first has trickled down and become a national conversation…Modi is as much a product of the time as he is the character-defining it,” writes Gautam Chikermane, Vice President Observer Research Foundation. In a lucid essay, he argues that from indolence the country has gone to an assertive role and tone. Read here.
Make no mistake. The tremors of an India emerging within are felt around the world. Policy and media experts used to old ways will have to keep pace to remain relevant. Speed and diplomacy have an intriguing relationship – you feel the wind in your face only when it hits you, not when people have been paddling underwater to achieve cruising altitude and speed.
Post this G7, there won’t be any difference between terrorism in India and elsewhere in the world. Hundreds of hours of work must have been devoted to getting the joint declaration with France sorted out. The FATF listing completes the picture. Well done, India. We keep the faith.