Tuesday, February 15, 2005

India No More in a Mood to Appease Troublesome Neighbors

+ Notwithstanding my grouse that Shyam Saran was a bit late in the day, he deserves to be congratulated for putting out a clear, unambiguous message, that has been long over due in the sub-continent. As he said, India’s neighbors will have to ‘demonstrate sensitivity to India’s vital concerns. These concerns relate to allowing the use of their territories for cross border terrorism and hostile activity against India, for example, by insurgent and secessionist groups .+

15/02/2005

India No More in a Mood to Appease Troublesome Neighbors
M Rama Rao

NEW DELHI, February 16: India’s critique of SAARC as articulated by the Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran is timely though it could have come a little early in the day in view of the flak Delhi has faced from Pakistan and Bangladesh over the postponement of the Dhaka summit.

The main thrust of Shyam Saran is that blame for SAARC failure does not lie at New Delhi’s doorstep. He also put the neighbors on notice when he made 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 maneuver’.

In so many words, the Saran speak on ‘India and its neighbors’ (at India International Center, New Delhi on February 14) marks a calibrated departure from the Gujral doctrine that laid stress on appeasing the neighbors for peace in the region. It heralds an intelligent and well-considered neighborhood policy that befits a country of India’s stature.

Certainly, India’s neighbors cannot afford to be insensitive to its vital concerns, more so since it is aspiring for a place in the Security Council with veto rights, and, by the admission of the US, racing ahead along with China to emerge as a new super power.

Interestingly, the first major foreign policy statement of the UPA government came on the same day the media front-paged a report that could not have brought smile to Gen Musharraf, the President of Pakistan. He has been given an honored place among the top ten worst dictators.

This dubious honors list, prepared for the first time, has been compiled by writer David Wallechinsky in consultation with Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders that have not hesitated to expose the policies of dictatorships of both the left and the right over the years.

Musharraf has been flexing muscles in a manner of speaking vis-à-vis India in the wake of Dhaka postponement. He has gone to the extent of saying that SAARC summits should not be held hostage to the whims of any one member (read India).

Obviously, he is still smarting under the humiliation the NDA government had heaped on him soon after he seized power by ‘exiling’ Nawaz Sharif, the ‘corrupt’ Prime Minister. It may be recalled New Delhi got the SAARC summit cancelled in the wake of Musharraf coup. When Islamabad was to host the summit last year, it made a song and drama of security for its prime minister.

So, in a sense, Indian Foreign Office has given a stinging reply to Musharraf couched in all civilities that the occasion demanded.

Notwithstanding my grouse that Shyam Saran was a bit late in the day, he deserves to be congratulated for putting out a clear, unambiguous message, that has been long over due in the sub-continent.

As he said, India’s neighbors will have to ‘demonstrate sensitivity to India’s vital concerns. These concerns relate to allowing the use of their territories for cross border terrorism and hostile activity against India, for example, by insurgent and secessionist groups.

Implicit is the message that the neighbors cannot hope to get away with statements of the type Gen Musharraf had authored on January 6, 2004 in the company of Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, where in he had promised an end to cross-border terrorism directed from the Pak soil against India.

By a strange coincidence, Shyam Saran’s straight talk was timed with the declassification of a memo authored by former senior White House official Richard Clarke.

In the section devoted to Pakistan, Clarke wrote that Pakistan’s approach to the Taliban and to terrorism flows from concerns with “seizing Kashmir and redressing its defeat by India in three wars”.

He pointed out that “support for the Taliban has run through three Pakistani governments – Bhutto, Sharif and now Musharraf ” – and is predicated on the concept of ‘strategic depth’, i.e., ensuring a friendly government in Kabul that will not pose a threat in the event of war with India.

A salient feature of Shyam Saran speak is the frank admission of the challenge for Indian diplomacy, namely how to convince its neighbors that India is an opportunity, not a threat, whether bilaterally or regionally under SAARC banner.
It is clear from a careful reading (listening) of the speech that South Block has drawn appropriate lesions from the NDA interregnum. This is evident from his remark on democracy and it must have been sweet music to Nepal, where the King has just staged a palace coup.

“As a flourishing democracy, India would certainly welcome more democracy in our neighborhood, but that too is something that we may encourage and promote; it is not something that we can impose upon others”, he said. India will have to deal with whatever government is there whether it is Nepal or Dhaka, as it has learnt to do in respect of Pakistan.

It is this failure to know the Lakshman Rekha that made India to have egg on its face in its early dealings with Gen Musharraf. The then Prime Minister grandly refused to sit with Musharraf at the SAARC table once the army chief became the chief executive but he did not have any qualms for a one-one summit at Agra.

Pakistan and Bangladesh, in fact, even Nepal will do well to give a serious thought to Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran contention that the only one logically sustainable approach to SAARC demands that “we set aside our differing political and security perceptions for the time being, and focus attention on economic cooperation”.

The very dynamic of establishing cross-border economic linkages, drawing upon the complementaries that existed among different member nations would eventually help SAARC to ‘overcome the mutual distrust and suspicion which prevents us from evolving a shared security perception’.

As Shyam Saran put it, India is today one of the most dynamic and fastest growing economies of the world. It constitutes not only a vast and growing market, but also a competitive source of technologies and knowledge-based services. Countries across the globe are beginning to see India as an indispensable economic partner and seeking mutually rewarding economic and commercial links with our emerging economy.

Should not our neighbors also seek to share in the prospects for mutual prosperity India offers to them? Do countries in our neighborhood 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 on answers to these questions in the SAARC capitals that the success of the 20-year-old regional group depends. - Syndicate Features