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India sheds its softness
March 08, 2005
Recent events in the neighbourhood have shown an India firmly jettisoning its image as a soft State.
The rapidity and firmness of decision-making of the Government of India in dealing with the Nepal crisis, the very bold step not to participate in the SAARC at Dhaka and a rather tough message by the foreign secretary in Delhi clearly spells out that India has, albeit belatedly, dispensed with the historical baggage of constantly appeasing some of its neighbours despite their repeated provocations.
India cuts SAARC to size
The external affairs minister's highly successful visit to Pakistan to sign some long-awaited agreements must be seen in this light.
The importance of Pakistan -- now a close ally of Bangladesh -- inking significant agreements with India only a few days after India's tough stand vis-ŕ-vis Dhaka cannot be missed by any observer of South Asian affairs, least of all by the Bangladeshis.
Both Nepal and Bangladesh fully comprehend, if not acknowledge, that India, in reality, harbours no ill-will or hidden ambitions towards them. A very benign attitude towards them is a part of our thinking, which has translated into India not only being a major donor, but the opening windows of opportunity for them in virtually all fields in India.
All India has asked for in return is that all our neighbours remain sensitive to common security concerns, especially the scourge of terrorism, narcotics exports, crime and illegal migration.
It is now just a matter of time before Nepal's King Gyanendra regrets his hasty and ill-timed decision to derail the democratic process in his country.
The king's attempts to resolve the Maoist insurgency through the ill-equipped Royal Nepalese Army is now just not possible.
With India, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union recalling their ambassadors, this tiny landlocked Himalayan kingdom will soon feel the heat of being isolated and the subsequent grave economic problems. China's silence is intriguing, though not unexpected.
Nepal sneers at threat to cut arms aid
As for Bangladesh, it needed firm signals much earlier by a combination of diplomatic, political, economic and other measures to desist from a self-defeating and wholly unwarranted anti-Indianism.
Perhaps the influence of Pakistan's ISI on the Bangladesh government to keep India's eastern borders on fire has been much too strong, apart from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party's agenda to remain ensconced in power with the help of the fundamentalist elements in Bangladesh like the Harakat ul-Jihad-i-Islami and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Bangladesh's intelligence agency, the Director General Forces Intelligence is universally known an adjunct of the Pakistani ISI and takes its orders from that agency. The killing of over a dozen leaders of the Opposition Awami League in Bangladesh is a clear-cut strategy on part of the ISI and DGFI to eliminate moderate and sane political elements from the polity of that country.
However, there are still many elements even today among the Bangladesh armed forces, their bureaucracy and their foreign service who rue the increasing fundamentalism in Bangladesh but helplessly have been watching its founding father Mujibur Rehman's ideals of a modern and moderate Islamic state going awry.
A large number of them want India to play a more pro-active role in the region to keep fundamentalist forces away before South Asia goes the Middle East way. Amazing as it may sound, similar echoes are also heard from many quarters in Pakistan and even Afghanistan. It is time India did something.
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In addition, India must impress upon Bangladesh to close the over 250 anti-India insurgent camps running in its territory and take sincere steps to stop the demographic invasion of India.
By commonly accepted figures, over 1.5 crore Bangladeshi nationals are in various parts of India not only seeking employment but causing grave security, socio-economic problems wherever they are. It is time our politicians moved ahead of vote bank compulsions before it becomes too late. Assam is a classical case of illegal demographic changes causing havoc.
The Government of India will be well advised to ask Dhaka to hand over ULFA leaders like the Barua brothers to it as this step will help greatly to bring back normalcy to Assam and the northeast. But the ISI and DGFI, of course, will have its own agendas for the Barua brothers and may even whisk them away.
The Congress-led government deserves all the accolades for adopting a very proactive approach in foreign policy without the hype associated with it earlier.
The visit of Natwar Singh, sporting his favourite Kashmiri cap, to Pakistan has been a resounding success by any standards.
The Pakistanis also have realised the futility of their own Kashmir-centric stand, beyond a point (never mind the regular and vociferous chanting of the Kashmir mantra) and it is here India must also reciprocate in some way or the other.
India is too big a country to think of scoring a few brownie points against anyone in South Asia. We must think big and act big if we expect respect from others.
Why these concessions to Pakistan?
Kudos to our very soft-spoken prime minister who gently yet unambiguously had conveyed to the Pakistan president that there shall be 'no delineation of existing borders.'
The relationship of India and Pakistan is the key to success of SAARC as an entity. It was thus gratifying to hear the same sentiment being echoed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Kasuri, who called for 'strategic stability in South Asia' during his joint press conference in Islamabad with Mr Natwar Singh, where they both managed to dodge the media rather unconvincingly. The travails of diplomacy perhaps.
A word of caution before, as is our wont, we get carried by undue hysteria, to all those in charge of the restoration of the 250 km-long Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service -- never mind the documentation. Do be very careful and particular about the security aspects of this route as well as the Munnabao—Kokhrajhar rail service. There will always be a few elements who would like to jeopardise these journeys of harmony and goodwill.
But sane people along both sides of the international border and the Line of Control -- call it what you want -- would definitely like the Srinagar to Muzaffarbad road become 'the high road to peace.'
Lieutenant General Kamal Davar retired last year as the first chief of India's Defence Intelligence Agency. These are his personal views.
'We were ready to punish Pakistan'
Bussing the Peace Process
The Blurring of the LoC
The Rocky Road to Muzaffarabad
The bus to nowhere
The LoC Border Permit
Why these concessions to Pakistan?
Did Godhra save Pakistan?
The India-Pakistan peace process
Our neighbours: Complete coverage
Photograph: Devendra M Singh/AFP/Getty Images