Monday, February 14, 2005

INDIA: Blunt-Speak with neighbours [3 NEWS CLIPPINGS]


+ Sick and tired of being pilloried for its "big brother" status, South Asian giant India Monday did some blunt speaking, asking its neighbours to put an end to needless New Delhi-bashing. The foreign secretary, in response to a question, acknowledged that "our very size creates apprehension among the neighbours". But, he added with a touch of sarcasm, "we can't cut ourselves to small pieces to assuage their fears." He said in fact, there is deep resistance to "doing anything that could be collaborative. On the other hand, some members of SAARC actively seek association with countries outside the region or with regional or international organisations, in a barely disguised effort to "counterbalance" India within the association or to project SAARC as some kind of a regional dispute settlement mechanism." He was referring to moves by Pakistan and Bangladesh to include China in the seven-nation club. +

HEADLINES IN CLIPPINGS

01. For once, India speaks bluntly to neighbours:
02. India urges neighbours to join in economic success
03. India decries hostility of SAARC members
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01. For once, India speaks bluntly to neighbours

New Delhi, Feb 14 : Sick and tired of being pilloried for its "big brother" status, South Asian giant India Monday did some blunt speaking, asking its neighbours to put an end to needless New Delhi-bashing.

In a far-reaching speech after which he took some questions, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran made it clear that India did not like being blamed needlessly by its neighbours for their own failures.

At the same time, he said New Delhi had no evil designs to pursue in South Asia.

"India wishes to reassure its neighbours that it respects their independence and sovereignty," Saran told a packed auditorium at the India International Centre in what is widely seen as a major policy speech.

"What it regards as unhelpful is the display of narrow nationalism based on hostility towards India that often becomes a cover for failure to deliver on promises made to their own peoples," he added.

The foreign secretary, in response to a question, acknowledged that "our very size creates apprehension among the neighbours". But, he added with a touch of sarcasm, "we can't cut ourselves to small pieces to assuage their fears."

He was delivering a lecture on "India and its Neighbours". The audience consisted of foreign diplomats, senior foreign ministry officials and Track-II activists.

"This (display of narrow nationalism) inhibits the development of normal relations, including economic cooperation, and prevents our region from emerging as a region of both political stability and economic dynamism," he said.

Saran said the challenge to New Delhi's diplomacy lay in convincing its neighbours that "India is an opportunity, not a threat, that far from being besieged by India, they have a vast, productive hinterland that would give their economies far greater opportunities for growth than if they were to rely on their domestic markets alone".

Referring to India's decision not to attend the SAARC summit in Dhaka last week, leading to its postponement, Saran asked the question whether New Delhi's decision "conforms to an intelligent and well-considered neighbourhood policy?"

"Our approach to SAARC was the only one logically sustainable - we set aside our differing political and security perceptions for the time being, and focus attention on economic cooperation.

"Our expectation was that the very dynamic of establishing cross-border economic linkages, drawing upon the complementarities that existed among different parts of our region, would eventually help us overcome the mutual distrust and suspicion which prevents us from evolving a shared security perception," he said.

But he noted that the record of SAARC, which groups India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives and Sri Lanka and was founded in 1985, has been "hardly inspiring".

"The fact is that SAARC is still largely a consultative body, which has shied away from undertaking even a single collaborative project in its 20 years of existence."

He said in fact, there is deep resistance to "doing anything that could be collaborative. On the other hand, some members of SAARC actively seek association with countries outside the region or with regional or international organisations, in a barely disguised effort to "counterbalance" India within the association or to project SAARC as some kind of a regional dispute settlement mechanism."

He was referring to moves by Pakistan and Bangladesh to include China in the seven-nation club.

"It should be clear to any observer that India would not like to see a SAARC in which some of its members perceive it as a vehicle primarily to countervail India or to seek to limit its room for manoeuvre.

"There has to be a minimal consensual basis on which to pursue cooperation under SAARC, and that is the willingness to promote cross-border linkages, building upon intra-regional economic complementarities and acknowledging and encouraging the obvious cultural affinities that bind our people together.

"If there continues to be a resistance to such linkages within the region, even while seeking to promote linkages outside the region, if the thrust of initiatives of some of the members is seen to be patently hostile to India or motivated by a desire to contain India in some way, SAARC would continue to lack substance and energy," he warned.

Unless the SAARC countries restored the road, rail and waterway links that bound the different sub-regions of the sub-continent into a vast interconnected web of economic and commercial links, the proposed South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) would remain a "limping shadow of its true potential", he said.

He noted that India was today one of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies of the world.

Countries across the globe were beginning to see India as an indispensable economic partner and "seeking mutually rewarding economic and commercial links with our emerging economy.

"Should not our neighbours also seek to share in the prospects for mutual prosperity India offers to them? Do countries in our neighbourhood envisage their own security and development in cooperation with India or in hostility to India or by seeking to isolate themselves from India against the logic of our geography?"

"It is true that as the largest country in the region and its strongest economy, India has a greater responsibility to encourage the SAARC process," he said.

He referred to the free markets that India has already established with Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan on a "principle of non-reciprocity."

He said India was prepared to do more to throw open its markets to all its neighbours. "We are prepared to invest our capital in rebuilding and upgrading cross-border infrastructure with each one of them.

"In a word, we are prepared to make our neighbours full stakeholders in India's economic destiny and, through such cooperation, in creating a truly vibrant and globally competitive South Asian Economic Community."

But, he said, while India was "ready and willing to accept this regional economic partnership and open up our markets to all our neighbours, we do expect that they demonstrate sensitivity to our vital concerns".

He referred to some countries allowing the use of their territories for cross-border terrorism and hostile activity against India by insurgent and secessionist groups and asserted: "India cannot and will not ignore such conduct and will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard its interests."

Referring to the developments in Nepal, where King Gyanendra dismissed prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and assumed absolute powers, he said as a flourishing democracy, India would certainly welcome more democracy in its neighbourhood.

"But that too is something that we may encourage and promote; it is not something that we can impose upon others."

02. India urges neighbours to join in economic success

Kamil Zaheer

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India, one of the world's fastest-growing economies, made an appeal to its neighbours on Monday to shed their mistrust and take advantage of its rising economic influence and growing prosperity.

"We are prepared to make our neighbours full stakeholders in India's growing economy and economic destiny," Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told an audience of diplomats, foreign-policy analysts and academics in a rare and frank discussion of India's policy towards its South Asian neighbours.

His comments came a day before a visit by Foreign Minister Natwar Singh to Pakistan to try to push a sluggish peace process between the two rivals who have fought three wars.

The top Indian diplomat's remarks come after India faced criticism from neighbours such as Bangladesh and Pakistan after it announced Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would not attend a South Asian summit this month, leading to its postponement.

Citing security concerns in host country Bangladesh and the seizure of power by King Gyanendra in Nepal, Singh declined to attend.

The decision led to criticism that India was not serious about the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the area's economic grouping formed 20 years ago which has made negligible progress in pushing regional trade, one reason being strained ties between India and Pakistan.

But on Monday, India tried to use its economic strength -- Asia's fourth-largest economy is expected to grow by 6.5 percent in the year to March -- to allay concerns.

"AN OPPORTUNITY, NOT A THREAT"

"The challenge for our diplomacy lies in convincing our neighbours that India is an opportunity not a threat," Saran said.

India's "extended hand that needs to be grasped", in Saran's words, comes after it helped Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia in tsunami relief despite being hit itself.

India has been pressing Pakistan for greater trade ties but Pakistan has linked commercial progress to movement in talks over the disputed Kashmir region.

Some Pakistani businessmen also fear their country could be swamped by Indian goods in a free trade zone.

But Saran also used his speech to warn neighbours -- alluding to Pakistan and Bangladesh -- not to encourage insurgent groups in India.

"We do expect they demonstrate sensitivity to our vital concerns. We need to create a positive and constructive environment by avoiding hostile propaganda and intemperate statements."

"India cannot and will not ignore such conduct and will take whatever steps necessary to safeguard its interests."

Indian analysts said the government's frankness was refreshing.

"It shows we are willing to reach out and focus on cross-border trade, not cross-border terrorism," said C. Uday Bhaskar, Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, which helped organise Saran's address.

"But if neighbours insist on misusing this appeal for greater cooperation and opportunities, India is saying it will not tolerate it any longer."

Bangladesh and Pakistan deny Indian accusations that they support militants in India's northeast and Kashmir respectively.

Saran's also used his speech to display displeasure with King Gyanendra of Nepal who on Feb 1 sacked the government, suspended civil liberties and seized full power, citing the government's failure to tackle a Maoist insurgency.

"Abandonment of democracy is not going to provide the solution. That is our genuine conviction and we are trying to get this across to the monarchy," he said.

"Multiparty democracy, at the end of the day, is very important for the future of Nepal."

Saran said India was constantly reviewing its supply if military equipment to Nepal to help it crush the revolt.



03. India decries hostility of SAARC members


India today declared that it was ready to throw open its markets to all the neighbours and encourage the SAARC provided they diplayed sensitiveness towards its security concerns.

"Hostile propaganda and intemperate statements against India need to be stopped as it cannot and will not ignore such conduct and will take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard its interests," Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said during a lecture on 'India and its neighbourhood' here.

"It is true that as the largest country in the region and its strongest economy, India has a greater responsibility to encourage the SAARC process," he said.

In the free markets that India has already established with Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan, it has already accepted the principle of non-reciprocity, he said.

"We are prepared to do more to throw open our markets to all our neighbours. We are prepared to invest our capital in rebuilding and upgrading cross-border infrastructure with each one of them," he said.

"In a word, we are prepared to make our neighbours full stake-holders in India's economic destiny and through such cooperation, in creating a truly vibrant and globally competitive South Asian Economic Community," Saran said.

Saran, however, said while doing so "we do expect they will demonstrate sensitivity to our vital concerns", apparently referring to Pakistan and Bangladesh.

"These vital concerns relate to allowing the use of their terrorities for cross-border terrorism and hostile activity against India, for example, by insurgent and secessionist groups," Saran said.
He said the countries needed to create a "positive and constructive environment" by avoiding hostile propaganda and intemperate statements.