West’s pride neighbour’s envy

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by utubekhiladi, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. utubekhiladi

    utubekhiladi The Preacher Elite Member

    Dec 3, 2010
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    TX, USA
    The five major global powers came calling on India this year, seeking its huge, untapped market to boost their economies. But here is a twist: While Delhi is being celebrated across the world for its economic vibrancy; it is losing its strategic edge in its immediate neighbourhood. Utpal Kumar analyses the trend

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...
    — Charles ****ens, A Tale of Two Cities

    Had the legendary 18th century English novelist been alive today, he would have said the same thing about India of 2010. It’s indeed the best time for the country. And the worst time as well. After all, how often one gets to see all five permanent members of the UN Security Council — America, China, Britain, Russia and France — come calling on India in the same year and seeking its help for reviving their economies. And, how often one finds India’s neighbours rebuffing Delhi the way the Maldives did when it sought the help of the United States and Sri Lanka to get over a political crisis that had engulfed the island nation in August this year. How often you see US President Barack Obama saying amid thunderous applaud that “India has already emerged” and that its support is needed in the reconstruction of the treacherous AfPak region. How often you see Nepal cancelling a passport deal that enabled India to print machine-readable passports for the Himalayan nation to stop misuse by suspected terror outfits, and giving the contract to a French firm. How often you see the West rebuking Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. And when was the last time you saw Sri Lanka and Bangladesh showing no qualms about using China as a balancer to India’s dominance in South Asia.

    It’s an enigmatic time for India. The country can celebrate its emergence as a global power. But the sense of triumphalism is marred by the simultaneous loss of the country’s strategic depth in its immediate neighbourhood. What’s more worrying is the fact that the sole beneficiary of India’s shrinking syndrome is its major regional as well as global rival — China.

    What has ensured the West’s discovery — or rediscovery — of India? It’s primarily due to the combination of two factors. First, the pervading economic despondency in the West has made some of the waning big powers seek India’s help in bailing themselves out of the crisis. The second factor, of course, is the no-longer-peaceful rise of China. Mulling over how to deal with Beijing, the West has fixed its gaze on another rising power, close to, and close of the heels of, China — India.

    If we discount Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s India visit in March (as President Dmitry Medvedev, too, visited Delhi within nine months), British Prime Minister David Cameron was the first ‘big’ leader to visit the subcontinent. Aware as he was of the fact that Britain had to pull out all the stops to “do business” with India, Cameron came with the single largest foreign business delegation in recent memory. He knew he had the disadvantage of coming here without a “big ticket item” to sell. Also, with India moving closer to the US, and the growing impression that Britain unwittingly pursues the American line in foreign affairs, London has become peripheral to Delhi’s global aspirations. So much so that Britain, India’s third-largest trade partner 10 years ago, is now placed at poor 13.

    During Cameron’s visit, both sides avoided speaking on contentious bilateral issues. If Delhi reiterated its reservation on the British cap on immigration, it did so without any fuss. While there has been no change in substantive positions, the British Prime Minister was careful enough not to mention the Kashmir issue at all — a mistake committed by David Miliband during the Brown regime! He also endeared himself to Indians through candid statements on terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

    Cameron was followed by Obama. Coming as it was after the Congressional drubbing for the Democrats and amid unemployment rate touching the double-digit mark in the US, the visit was widely seen as a ‘sales’ trip, aimed at getting more jobs for Americans back home. On the very first day of his visit, Obama signed deals worth $10 billion, enough to create more than 50,000 jobs in America. In return, he endorsed India’s bid for a permanent seat at the Security Council, besides singing a music that Indians wanted to hear on Pakistan.

    Things weren’t so easy for Nicolas Sarkozy, particularly in a changed global scenario when India no longer lingers at the periphery of the global order. With Delhi moving at the centre of the international order, France’s ‘anti-American tactics’ have lost much of their sheen. Sarkozy tried to replace this obsolete diplomatic foundation with a strong economic bonding by unveiling Rs 92,000 crore deals. He also echoed the American line on Pakistan and terror, besides supporting India’s claims for the Security Council seat.

    As for Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit, one didn’t expect much as it was not only hastily organised, but also the bilateral atmospherics weren’t too conducive for talks, coming as they were after a serious of confrontational postures along the border. The visit was a disappointment, for the two sides decided to leave all contentious issues aside and expand bilateral trade by two-thirds over the next five years. However, increased trade is no panacea for the sharpening geopolitical rivalry. In the last decade, the Sino-Indian bilateral trade has risen 20-times, but tension, too, has increased manifold. As trade was the focus of Wen’s visit, all controversial issues, including those of territorial disputes and stapled visas, were ignored.

    Then came Medvedev, who did his bit to strengthen the Indo-Russian friendship. A total of 30 agreements, covering areas ranging from nuclear and space cooperation to defence and counter-terrorism, attests to the expanded scope of the relationship. The multi-million dollar programme for joint production of a fifth generation fighter aircraft has been described by the Defence Ministry as the “biggest defence programme ever in the country’s history”. India’s traditional defence ties with Russia were parasitic in nature, with Moscow meeting 70 per cent of its arms requirements. But the fighter aircraft programme intends to take this relationship to a higher level of partnership marked by joint development and collaboration.

    Isolation in neighbourhood

    If India is being sought after so vigorously on the global front, why is it losing its strategic edge in its backyard? Call it benign neglect, or the delight of being romanced by the West, particularly the US, and the tantalising prospect of joining the Security Council, India’s geopolitical influence in South Asia has fallen considerably in recent years. As China, with an economy poised to become the world’s largest in next 15 years, casts its shadow over Asia and is desperate to fill the gaps Delhi has left in its neighbourhood, the question remains: Is India leaving the Asian realities for American dreams?

    “Today, with the exception of Bhutan, India cannot count on a single all-weather friend in the region. From the Maldives in the west to Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east to Sri Lanka in the south, their national interests need not converge with Indian interests and a little bit of China on the side adds heft to smaller nations when dealing with ‘big brother’ India,” says security expert Brahma Chellaney. As for Pakistan, the lesser said the better it would be.

    Why has India lost its strategic relevance in the neighbourhood? Analysts blame the UPA Government’s lackadaisical approach for this. They say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has not paid a bilateral visit to a single SAARC nation during his six years in office. An External Affairs Ministry official, seeking anonymity, however, says the problem is hardly party-centric. “Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee, save for the 1999 Lahore trip, didn’t visit the neighbourhood, except for attending SAARC summits. Maybe we are too concerned with the West,” he said. He also hinted at a secret note prepared by the External Affairs Ministry four years ago that listed countries in order of strategic importance to India. The US, obviously, tops the list, followed by Britain, France, Japan and Russia. Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were conspicuous by their absence from the top 10!

    In our excitement at being feted by Western powers, we have ignored our regional constituencies. We need to cultivate them as strategic assets, else the country, being celebrated economically the world over, might stand weakened geo-strategically.

  3. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney
    This article is also in the same vein. The regional GoI diplomacy is beholden to Pakistan alone. Although there are some baby steps in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malidives, there has been no PM level visits with close neighbours on a regular basis.

    Kishan S Rana: Beyond diplomacy 101

    Strategic partnership” is one of the overused words in our diplomatic discourse. Some years ago, India called Vietnam a strategic partner; that ignored the content of India-Vietnam political, economic, cultural and other ties, and became a minor source of amusement within the New Delhi diplomatic corps. For sure, Vietnam is important to India in many ways, but the “strategic” label is an expression of intent, far from realisation. Yet, we seldom use this label for our immediate neighbours, notwithstanding the fact that Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Iran, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, even Pakistan, directly connect with our strategic interests.

    New Delhi has witnessed a succession of eminent leaders; the Chinese Premier and the Russian President making it a perfect score, in terms of visits by the UN Security Council permanent member quintet, all within barely six months. Today’s question is: how might vital relationships be best managed, not just the P5, but also the key neighbours, some of them small and medium states? Are there “best practices” to emulate, based on our experience and that of others?

    For any country, the community of world states easily divides into three concentric circles: those at the core of one’s concerns, those in the middle circle that are important to advancing external interests, and those at the periphery in terms of those interests. Joseph Nye, an arch-realist, divides foreign states into those that have a potential to threaten one’s survival; those that threaten one’s interests but not survival; and finally those that affect one’s interests, without threatening them. Whatever yardstick one applies, it is the countries in the first cluster, big and small, that should logically be at the centre of attention.

    What are the instruments at our disposal to forge close links with such priority countries? How should one flesh out the skeleton of a “strategic partnership”? What are the things that merit universal application?

    One may well ask, is this not “Diplomacy 101”? It is, but improbably, the basics do not always make the foundation of policy. Look at the way India handles immediate neighbours, leaving out Pakistan, which receives vast attention in New Delhi. First, our prime minister has not made a bilateral visit to Bangladesh, Nepal or Sri Lanka in the past six years.

    Second, A S Bhasin, assiduous compiler of Indian foreign policy records, has graphically narrated the casual manner in which different Indian functional ministries have simply failed to push forward on bilaterally agreed minutes and memoranda of understanding (MOUs). Bhasin has given examples of minister-level meetings, where, year after year, the same action points were set out, without anyone asking why the earlier agreed decisions had produced no movement.

    Third, the ministry of external affairs has arrangements to hold annual “foreign ministry consultations” with a wide swathe of countries, some even with those that one should place close to the outer rim of the second ring of priority states, and yet, none with immediate neighbours.

    Rather than carp about what might have been, let us consider the positives, our own and as practised by others, as smart steps that produce strong outcomes.

    One, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawarta (2001-06) introduced a number of corporate practices in the country’s public service, including performance measurement norms (some borrowed from New Zealand). Twenty-odd countries were identified as foreign partners of special importance, and over several months, a detailed position paper was produced on each by the Thai foreign ministry, with inputs from all the ministries and agencies involved in that relationship. The focus was on the actions needed over the next five years to strengthen relations, leading to mutually gainful outcomes. This action plan was approved by the Cabinet, and remitted back to all the agencies for implementation, coordinated by the foreign ministry, under the oversight of a special unit in the PM’s Office.

    Two, the French have long practised a method known as “ambassador’s instructions”. Every French envoy going on a new assignment receives from the Secretary General of the Quai d’Orsay a document setting out the tasks to be accomplished at that particular post. It is the end product of a process of consultation and collective reflection, involving the envoy-designate, with contributions from the ministries and departments having significant interests in that country. Within six months of taking up the post, the ambassador returns to the Secretary General with his “plan of action” to execute the instructions, requesting additional resources, as needed. Thereafter, during the envoy’s term, implementation is tracked through annual programmes, work-plans for individuals and timelines. The method has the merit of tying resources to objectives.

    Three, in 1991-92, India and Germany jointly developed the modern version of the “eminent person” group, an empowered mechanism for annual review of bilateral ties by non-official public figures, reporting back to the leaders of the two countries. Countries enjoying exceptional relations have long used such methods. Ours was the first experiment at bringing in businessmen, academics, scientists, plus cultural, media and other public figures (usually 10 to 15 on each side) in a single intense conversation, held over a day-and-half, to produce do-able action suggestions (Ke‘EP’ up the good work, Business Standard, August 20, 2002). This method is now being used by several other pairs of countries.

    Four, the Indo-British Partnership, established in 1993 under the sponsorship of the Indian and British prime ministers, by the Confederation of Indian Industries and its UK counterpart, the Confederation of British Industry, produced a balanced set of month-by-month actions, putting counterpart industry segments into close exchanges, overcoming gaps in information. It produced an unprecedented surge in trade and investments.

    Such measures produce a surge in ground-level activities, breathing life into the pronouncements of leaders at bilateral summits. All these actors, especially the economic ministries, must be harnessed to advance our interests overseas, across a broad front. That is what inclusive, proactive diplomacy is all about, moving beyond slogans.

    The writer is a former diplomat, teacher and writer

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