The wages of inattention to trade
There’s a good reason why army chiefs are not allowed to solely define foreign policy. Just look at Pakistan. For that matter, it’s a bad idea to allow the petroleum secretary (or any other secretary for that matter) to lay down the word.
So while Gen Deepak Kapoor and Petroleum Secretary M S Srinivasan can forcefully argue their perspective on India’s interests in Burma—as they should—by no means can their views be seen as definitive. The whole point of having a democratic institutional set-up like ours is so that elected politicians can make policy based on the larger national interests.
India’s appalling failure to promote its interests in Myanmar, therefore, cannot be attributed to the army chief or the civilian bureaucracy. It should properly be attributed to the abject failure of the UPA government to steer the nation’s policy with a deft hand during a defining moment in the region’s history. The fault is that the UPA government’s leaders see the state as the sole solver of problems. In doing so they reinforce a bureaucracy that is long conditioned to statist solutions. Energy security? Here, take state-owned pipelines or ‘equity oil’. Small neighbours playing India off against China? Here, take arms sales or ‘non-interference internal affairs’. And blame it all on realpolitik.
But here’s the rub: If India finds itself having to submit or turn a blind eye to an energy rich country, it is because it has failed to deepen bilateral economic relationships. [See this excellent Mint editorial] It’s far too easy for a energy rich country to blackmail India if the only thing at stake is fuel supply (for which there is no shortage of buyers). If there is a lesson from recent incidents—from Iran to Russia to Myanmar—it is that it’s time for India’s policymakers to realise that greater trade builds mutual dependencies that make bilateral relations more stable. Ironically, India is trying to create mutual dependencies in the wrong place—Pakistan.