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|August 31, 1998||
Vajpayee seeks Namibian help to counter possible Pretoria offensiveKanchan Gupta in Windhoek (Namibia)
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ends his two-day visit to Namibia today and flies on to Durban, South Africa, for the crucial Non-Aligned Movement conference of heads of State.
Vajpayee's visit to Namibia, apart from reiterating the cordial relations between the two countries, assumes significance in light of the upcoming NAM conference where India may find itself on a sticky wicket because of South Africa taking a stand that is not too favourable towards India.
South Africa is proposing a clause harshly criticising India for conducting the May nuclear tests in the draft NAM declaration.
Taken along with the fact that the US will be attending the NAM conference as a guest, the proposed inclusion in the declaration is cause for some concern. What has added to the concern is Pakistan's concerted attempt to raise the Kashmir issue at the conference -- a move no doubt backed and supported by the Americans, if not overtly then covertly. This time the Americans are present on the scene to egg on the Pakistanis.
Post-apartheid South Africa, led by Nelson Mandela, was no doubt avowedly friendly towards India. But in recent times, there has been a change in the South African attitude. This can be attributed to the increasing American influence on South African affairs as well as the declining influence of Mandela on the affairs of his country and government. Thabo Mbeki, the South African vice-president and Mandela's designated successor, is not too kindly disposed towards India.
On its part, India, too, could be blamed for not cultivating Mbeki in the same manner it cultivated Mandela. Indeed, India did not bother to change tacks even after it was apparent that South Africa had voted against the Indian claim to the non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 1996.
Although South Africa promised to vote for India, in the end it went and voted for Japan. This came as a rude shock, especially because India was among the front-line countries that relentlessly fought against the apartheid regime and helped establish Black majority rule in South Africa.
But apparently little was done by New Delhi to arrest the nosedive in relations with Pretoria and put it on an even keel. Gauging the mood of the South Africans, the prime minister's principal secretary Brajesh Mishra did visit South Africa after the May nuclear tests. Obviously, that was not enough to swing the prevailing mood in Pretoria which is now reflected in the move to criticise the nuclear tests through the NAM declaration.
Seen in this context, Vajpayee's stopover at Windhoek, the Namibian capital, gathers importance beyond the obvious. Namibia did not hesitate to support India over the nuclear tests in May and since then has made it clear that it deeply appreciates and understands India's security concerns.
By stopping over at Windhoek, Vajpayee has sought to ensure that Namibia sticks to its pro-India stand at the NAM conference and thus throw a spanner in South Africa's works if diplomatic efforts fail. How far this will succeed, remains to be seen.
Two other reasons make the stop-over important in terms of India's recent pro-active diplomatic initiative. First, Namibia begins its two-year term as a member of the UN Security Council this October. With Namibia on its side, India can seek to counter any America-initiated Security Council move on the nuclear tests. Second, Bon Gurirab of Namibia takes charge as president of the UN General Assembly when it meets in September. Once again, with Namibia favorably disposed towards India, this could prove to be fortuitous.
Meanwhile, at Durban, in South Africa, the run-up to the NAM concurrence has gathered speed. The two-day meeting of NAM foreign secretaries is over and the foreign ministers are meeting on Monday and Tuesday to finalise the draft declaration.
In an attempt to push ahead with its stand on global nuclear disarmament and to place India's nuclear tests within the context of ''nuclear haves'' discriminating against ''nuclear have-nots'', India has promoted the concept of calling an international conference on nuclear disarmament to prepare a draft global disarmament treaty. And, in order to mollify Pretoria, India has suggested that South Africa should chair the conference.
America's presence at the NAM conference as a ''guest'' is being seen not so much as an attempt to hijack the NAM agenda and give it a pro-US tilt as for its nuisance value.
In the past, the Americans have sought to influence the NAM agenda by lobbying with individual countries and using pressure tactics. Those methods, which come so easily to the Americans, continue even today. This time, to the Americans' advantage, their representative will be present as a ''guest'', giving Washington the chance to openly operate at the conference venue in addition to operating behind the scenes.
The slated talks between Vajpayee and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief on the sidelines of the NAM conference have now become a non-issue with the latter opting out of the conference.
India's Foreign Secretary K Raghunath and his Pakistani counterpart Shamsad Ahmed have met in Durban to pave the way for a possible meeting between Vajpayee and Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz.
However, it is unlikely that much will come out of the meeting, if it does take place, apart from reiteration of declared positions and the intention to resume the stalled dialogue.
In any event, the charged atmosphere that prevailed during the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation summit at Colombo where Vajpayee and Sharief had a one-to-one meeting, is missing this time. If the joke in Colombo was that SAARC was held on the sidelines of the India-Pakistan meeting, the relief this time is that the India-Pakistan encounter will remain on the sidelines of the NAM conference.
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