We should look at our foreign policy options realistically and judge our successes and failures keeping in mind that we do not control the policies of other sovereign countries who may view their interests differently from ours, and that even small countries can be defiant. We cannot also put a limit on the presence of outside powers in our neighbourhood. Shaping our external environment as we like for realising our goals and priorities is not possible.
In the light of these caveats and limitations, our foreign policy in 2017 was largely successful in promoting our interests in an uncertain international environment. We have had to cope with the reality of US foreign policy becoming unpredictable and inconsistent under Trump. We have had to deal with China’s growing ambitions in Asia and the expansion of its influence in our neighbourhood at our expense. We have had to protect ourselves from the geographic spread of religious extremism and terrorism. 2017 saw the situation in West Asia — where we have huge energy, manpower and financial interests — becoming ominous with mounting confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with its sectarian Shia-Sunni dimension.
We have waded through these developments reasonably well in 2017. We managed our relations with Trump, his team and members of his immediate family well. Any untoward escalation of economic differences was avoided. As part of a deepening strategic relationship with America, Japan was brought further into the security fold by its permanent inclusion in July 2017 in the India-US Malabar exercise. A quadrilateral US-India-Japan-Australia dialogue at official level was initiated in November As a balancing exercise consistent with our interests, we participated in the Russia-India-China dialogue, the BRICS and SCO forums where we have convergent interests with member countries.
2017 was marked by a show of much-needed confidence in dealing with China, both in our opposition to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the handling of the Dokalam standoff. With the US and Japan subscribing to our critique of the BRI and the US embracing the concept of the Indo-Pacific, India’s growing regional importance got recognition. Our continuing tough response on the LoC and rejecting a dialogue unless Pakistan ceased terrorist activity directed at us did not, as in the past, generate any external pressure on us to talk to Islamabad, and to that extent we are now less encumbered diplomatically. Our equities in Afghanistan were recognised in Trump’s Af-Pak policy review in August, much to Pakistan’s dismay.
China no doubt made gains in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives in 2017 at our expense, compounding our longstanding difficulties with these countries. But we too were able to raise our profile with China’s neighbours such as Japan, and oppose China’s position on South China Sea and UNCLOS issues. We navigated ourselves reasonably well on the Myanmar-Bangladesh refugee rift, with requisite political and humanitarian gestures. Our success in not only delinking our relations with Israel from those with Israel from those with Arab countries but also separately fortifying ties with both continued in 2017, especially with Modi’s path-breaking visit to Israel in July. With Russia, despite concerns about its overtures to Pakistan and the Taliban, Modi was able to renew understandings with Putin during his June visit to St. Petersburg.