A new spring?

Looks like there been a change at South Block

Dr Manmohan Singh should not have attended the summit meeting of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) at Yekaterinberg not only because India is formally only an ‘observer’ at that outfit, but also because it is not a club that India ought to join. The co-location of the summit with that of Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) was unfortunate, but even so, there was nothing to stop the Indian prime minister from attending the BRIC event, and insulate himself from the SCO pow-wows. Dr Singh, it turns out, does not have the appetite for such sharp diplomacy.

But recent events suggest that there might be a little more spark in the second UPA government than there was in the first one. First, some tough-minded diplomacy—including a threat to review India’s relationship with the Asian Development Bank—succeeded in isolating China’s attempt to use a multilateral economic forum as an instrument its bilateral political dispute with India. Like at last October’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting, not only were Chinese moves foiled, but China was completely isolated. Now this is in part due to China’s attempts to overplay its hand, but diplomatic victories are seldom the result of serendipity. There was hard work involved.

Second, Dr Singh’s meeting with Asif Ali Zardari showed a welcome change of style. “I am very happy to meet you,” Dr Singh told Mr Zardari “But I must tell you quite frankly that I have come with the limited mandate of discussing how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terrorist attacks on India.” In front of the assembled media. Of course, the Indian media reported it, the Pakistani media seems to have ignored it and the Pakistani foreign minister tried to paper it over, but it still is infinitely better than two smiling faces shaking hands as if nothing had happened in Mumbai last November. Beyond style, the substance of the talks appears to be that India is willing to re-engage Pakistan in a dialogue, on condition that between now and July 16th, Messrs Zardari & Co need to deliver a meaningful something on the issue of cross-border terrorism.

Third, the Indian government denied visas to members of a US government outfit that wanted to visit India to audit religious freedom, especially “concerned about judicial processes with regards to the incidents in Gujarat and Orissa are not functioning properly and we only wanted to get them going.” (It’s funny how these groups are terribly selective about improperly functioning judicial processes: for instance, the Kashmiri Pandits marooned in various Indian cities don’t even have a judicial process.) Denying them visas is a gentle way of saying “no, thank you” to these kind American people.

And finally, even in Yekaterinberg, it appears that the diplomatic minders did what they could to distance the Indian prime minister (see the missing) from the SCO publicity material.

If all this appears to be a nice start in managing the form of foreign affairs, it is because the bar was set so low in the last five years. The next five will be rougher and more challenging. So let’s hope it is a new spring.

Update: Now some Pakistani grandee declares that Dr Singh’s remarks are ‘unacceptable’, which is as weird as it is absurd. That is the Indian prime minister’s mandate, and there’s nothing in it for Pakistan to accept or reject. Also, it turns out that top Indian officials repeatedly emphasised to the media that the foreign secretaries will only discuss the investigations into 26/11, nothing more.

15 thoughts on “A new spring?”

  1. @nitin,

    Talking to Pakistan is common sense and good sense. What those talks are about is important. If it is back to the peace process train, then it’s bad. If it is a pursuit of tangible counter terrorism objectives that put Kayani-Gilani in the dock, then it is good.

    What do you think?

  2. I see only a hot and humid June day in “visa denial” to USCIRF; no spring. Beneath the “religious feedom” facade, the USCIRF’s primary interest in visiting India is to make sure the freedoms of evangelicals are not restricted in the country. (It armtwisted small Asian countries like Vietnam to fall in line on this score). That point is moot with Sonia again at the helm of the government. “Visa denial” could well be the mechansim by which a redundant gameplan will be rolled back.

  3. We have the right to ask our neighbor to dispose off their terror garbage(meaning, take action against terror on it’s own soil), since it’s raising a stench in the neighborhood.

  4. @oldtimer

    You are right about the USCIRF agenda. It’s also driven by the Left-Liberal agenda that is so dear to Obama crowd

  5. @Udayan

    If it is a pursuit of tangible counter terrorism objectives that put Kayani-Gilani in the dock, then it is good.

    Interesting point, although from what we see Zardari I’m not sure how useful an ally he is…

    @ Vickey Vice
    We have the right to ask our neighbor to dispose off their terror garbage

    Just as they have a right to ignore our call 😉

  6. My only problem is Manmohan sprung into action when the Americans came calling. His speech on peace talk were right before Bill Burns came along to Delhi. And so was the topic of press conf in Delhi. While I don’t know if public scolding helps the cause, the whole thing seems to be driven by Americans and we seem to be following their lead, again, instead of taking the driver seat for once!

    Giving it to the Chinese was good. We’ll see what they’ll be up to next. Did Global Times speak too soon about the power of Chinese diplomacy. 🙂

    Denying visas to US govt sponsored quasi-christians groups is fine. But can the govt handle the propaganda deluge that’ll follow from the west?

  7. I do not understand The Acorn’s skittishness about SCO? What is all this hullaballoo about the PM’s well-considered visit to be part of the SCO? What exactly is wrong with getting tighter knit with CAR states or with SCO member states that are also in India’s neighbourhood? Or is it only the prerogative of the US to establish relations with those countries? The SCO countries have a lot to offer India tradewise and India should not have any compunctions being part of SCO.

  8. The Hindu has a story on the various responses from the Pakistani media.

    “Pakistan feels Manmohan was rude, but ice has melted ”
    http://www.hindu.com/2009/06/18/stories/2009061855381000.htm

    “Several journalists told this correspondent that the “public slight” was not something they had expected from someone like Mr. Singh, who is seen here, as elsewhere, as a leader with a “soft and pleasing personality.””

    Soft and Pleasing?!! Is this Pakistani code for dal-eating-surrender-monkeys : )

  9. SCO is essentially a military bloc, designed as a counterweight to NATO. Member countries of SCO share few, if any, of the fundamental principles and values upon which democratic India has been founded. This doesn’t preclude bilateral trade or even strategic cooperation with any of these countries, but full membership in SCO comes with a price that is too high to pay for India. Observer status is fine, and Nitin is right – it doesn’t warrant participation by India’s head of state, unless of course, it is taken to mean the titular one.

  10. NATO is not doing India any favours currently, unless the opinion here is that NATO’s billion dollar aid to Pakistan and its army is all okay. Since when does “sharing of democratic values” make an ounce of difference to reality. Do I have to point out that the countries that are feeding billions of dollars to the Pakistani army is known as the world’s oldest democracy and Indeed shares these “democratic values” you all speak of. However, that does not seem to stop them from arming and aiding the Pakistani army into committing acts of terror only against India. So the claim that “sharing of democratic values” is one reason to keep out of SCO seems like a non-argument. There really seems to be no good reason for India not to be part of SCO in the coming years, or at least none has been given on these blogs so far.

  11. Nitin, If you are saying maintain distances of varying length at various times (depending on the environment of the day) with the different alphabet soup orgs., then I fully agree with you. Just as long as we do not cut off relations with any of these orgs in the misguided belief that hooking with one of these organizations rather than the other as a winning strategy (which it is not).

  12. I would have to agree with Alagu Periaswamy here. Whoever thought that India would oblige the yesteryear Nehruvian fascination of going along with the fictional reality of a utopian brotherhood in the neighbourhood is the one who needs a dose of reality in the first place. I don’t see how observer status at the SCO hurts India. In fact, it augurs well for us as it makes us privy to the happenings in the region. Just because an organisation is working to the benefit of some other country doesn’t mean that you walk away like a spurned lover. The line of argument adopted would make it very difficult to sustain membership with any organisation. The UN is a mouthpiece of the West. The NATO of the US and AU of Africa. Pessimistic countries will see it as a waste of their time and an optimistic one will see an opportunity which through persistent and clever politicking can be turned around to its advantage. The issue here is whether the Indian foreign policy establishment at South Block and MMS has the smarts to do so and not whether we should be observers at the SCO.

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