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'Dr Singh has tried for dialogue and reconciliation with Pak'

October 01, 2013 20:23 IST

'Dr Singh has tried for dialogue and reconciliation with Pak'

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In the last year of his tenure, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes back from a significant trip to the United States with a few diplomatic trophies that almost symbolise the legacy that he leaves behind in the foreign office -- a joint declaration on defence cooperation that brings India in the inner-most fold of US allies, a space hitherto occupied only by the United Kingdom; a meeting with his counterpart from Pakistan Nawaz Sharif with a pledge to scale down violence on the Line of Control and a few good words about reforms in the United Nations Security Council.

What really are the implications of these developments on India’s foreign policy and has the United Progressive Alliance, under Dr Manmohan Singh’s stewardship, left any diplomatic legacy behind after ten continuous years of relative peace?

Scholar-diplomat and India’s foremost foreign policy analyst Professor Muchkund Dubey explains to Poornima Joshi the highs and lows of the United Progressive Alliance’s 10-year tenure, the legacy that the present regime leaves behind and whether he would advice the Bharatiya Janata Party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi on matters concerning diplomacy.

Professor Dubey, before we get to the prime minister and the UPA’s achievements and failures, would you have a word of advice on foreign policy for the principal opposition party, especially their prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi?

First let me clarify that I would not accept any position which comes anywhere close to being Narendra Modi’s advisor. Having said that, if we are faced with the reality of him becoming prime minister, then I will tell him what I would tell any other prime minister -- have a long-term perspective while dealing with all our neighbours, do not communalise your relationship with any country especially one which is in the neighbourhood and march together towards a prosperous, equitable and just future.

Lastly, while being mindful of the fact that national interest and not ideology has become the guiding principle behind shaping foreign policy, let us not forget that a just world order also best serves India’s national interest.

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Image: Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the United Nations General Assembly at the New York Palace hotel in New York
Photographs: Joshua Lott/Reuters

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'Dr Singh has tried for dialogue and reconciliation with Pak'

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How would you describe the PM’s trip to Washington; his meeting with Nawaz Sharif and the address to the UN General Assembly?

There are several parts to this question; let me address the one that animates everyone -- the bilateral with Sharif. With Pakistan, the PM has shown a degree long-term perspective of improving relations and strategic approach. There was tremendous pressure on him not to even meet Sharif but he kept his conscience and stuck to the view that we have to work towards peace.

It is true that this meeting has not resulted in any tangible progress but the very fact that this meeting took place and an agreement was reached on stopping the violation of ceasefire makes us hopeful. It is difficult to discern a timeframe but in my view, the situation along the LoC should normalise and such incidents should stop in a month or two.

It will, hopefully, pave the way for the resumption of the composite dialogue. I also think that Sharif should take serious note of the PM’s statement that until they give us concrete evidence of doing something to control terror groups operating inside Pakistan, then even in the event of resumption of the composite dialogue, the chances of progress on each item are not very bright.

We have to tip the level of expectations within realistic limits and it would be really difficult for any prime minister to promise concrete results on any of the items in the composite dialogue and address contentious issues such as Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage or Siachen. Much of it is also linked to how far the Pakistan government is able to control extremist elements which, in turn, is linked to the domestic political situation in Pakistan.

Actually, the issue is much bigger than what the elected government in Pakistan can or cannot do or what the army wants to do vis-à-vis India. It is about what kind of society that Pakistanis as a nation are presently engaged in building. I am an optimist but unfortunately, Sharif carries more burden and is more restrained than the Pakistan People’s Party in this regard because of the influence of the extremists on his party; the way they are embedded in the party structure and various alignments have been formed.

Sharif’s way of dealing with them is to have a dialogue. But a dialogue is between equals and not when one side is dictating terms by continuing a cycle of violence to assert their ideology and dominance. Besides what it tells us about how the idea of Pakistan is being shaped by continual marginalisation of religious minorities, the domestic situation in Pakistan is also reflective of how conducive the situation is for a dialogue with India.

Given all these circumstances, I am not very hopeful and I think that the government’s margin of maneuverability for talks with India is considerably compromised. The diktat of diplomacy, however, is to try for a dialogue even under very trying circumstances and that is what both sides should strive for.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com

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'Dr Singh has tried for dialogue and reconciliation with Pak'

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How would you compare the 10 years of UPA with its predecessor regime especially with regard to Pakistan? There is a perception that the BJP, especially under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was more successful in handling Pakistan; the January, 2004 agreement is still a benchmark in defining Indo-Pak relations whereas Dr Singh, despite his continual efforts, has not been able to break ground and leave a legacy worth celebrating.

The BJP definitely has an advantage with regard to dealing with Pakistan but there is also a downside to it. Let me explain. The advantage is that the BJP is less likely to face opposition to whatever package they deliver with regard to Pakistan. That is because they are the most strident in opposing the government of the day so when they are the ruling regime, the opposition is naturally more muted.

The disadvantage is their communal approach which is apparent in referring to migrants from Bangladesh as infiltrators and characterising migrants from Pakistan in more benign terms as refugees and working towards their rehabilitation.

This is a dual and communal approach which is in contrast to how IndianState should view the issue of migrants as a whole. Admittedly, Vajpayee was successful in neutralising this approach to some extent but that does not alter the BJP’s fundamental approach.

So far as leaving legacies with regard to Pakistan is concerned, let me clarify that it is difficult for any prime minister to leave a lasting impression. To Dr Singh’s credit, I would say that he has been consistent in his approach and tried for dialogue and reconciliation.

The dialogue between special envoys, the progress in narrowing down differences with regard to Kashmir etc. are noteworthy achievements.

Of course, all of this is subject to interpretation. But barring the unfortunate reference to Baluchistan in Sharam Al Sheikh, I cannot say that the present regime has made any major mistakes vis-à-vis Pakistan. They have shown a long-term perspective and movements towards peace despite grave provocation and that is a sign of a maturity.

Dr Singh has been critiqued for sacrificing India’s strategic partnerships for closer ties with the United States. The UPA had to win a trust vote in Parliament following the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. Does it not reflect an excessive urge to win over a powerful ally at the cost of other, perhaps more important, relationships?

I have differences with my friends on the Left with regard to the Indo-US nuclear deal. I believe it was necessary and it lifted decades of apartheid and gave us access to crucial technology.

The criticism should not stem from the nuclear deal but from the grave error in the present regime’s assumption that that India’s growth and prosperity critically depends on the US whereas the problem lies with the development model that pays lip service to sectors critical to shaping the nation’s destiny -- education and health to name a few -- and depends on external inflows of capital.

The criticism should stem from the fact that we are now perceived as any other ally of the US and this relationship has been built at the cost of other crucial relationships. In the immediate context, the most relevant example is that of Iran.

This is not about ideological and historical reasons. This is about the plain and simple fact that our energy security is better ensured by securing ties with Iran rather than depending on nuclear energy. We have also lost out on exploring our role in the Iranian market.

In our endeavour to cultivate the US, we have paid scant attention to reforms in the UN. The PM has made some remarks in the general assembly but the fact is that we have not submitted any blueprint or road map for such reforms that would work towards equalising global power equations.

After the end of the Cold War, the international system should be based on a democratic and dynamic multilateralism underpinned by the United Nations. India should play a proactive role in strengthening the United Nations and restoring to it the functions of its charter. But there has been scant effort from our side in this respect.

Similarly, we have shown very little interest in enhancing pan-Asian cooperation and, instead, encouraged the Americans. I have no hesitation in saying that our stand vis-a-vis the Defensive Weapons System is utterly wrong. The Russians and the Chinese are absolutely right in opposing it and I am dismayed that we are, on grounds of expediency, supporting a system that is designed to neutralise deterrence.

This cooperation with Israel and the US was initiated by the National Democratic Alliance and unfortunately, the UPA has continued to support it in sharp contrast to initiatives taken earlier for achieving nuclear disarmament. Our cooperation with the US in this regard is a blow to disarmament.

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Image: Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his then Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee wave to a crowd at Wagah border near Lahore
Photographs: Reuters

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'Dr Singh has tried for dialogue and reconciliation with Pak'

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Do you think there is any relevance of the Non Aligned Movement in today’s world?

I am not an advocate of a so-called multilateral world where the dominance of one or two super powers is replaced by five other global powers. Why should Africa or Latin America concede the dominance of India or Brazil? What we need is universal multilateralism underpinned as I said, by the United Nations. The raison d’être of NAM is not yet invalidated because much of its old agenda, like disarmament and development, still remains valid.

This is why UN reforms are critical. Our voice is muffled at the international arena because of our proximity with the US. In the last almost three decades since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Action Plan for Ushering in a Nuclear-weapon Free and Non-violent World Order’ proposed at the Third Special Session on Disarmament of the General Assembly in June, 1988, we have not made any significant effort towards a just, equitable and non-violent global order.

I would draw your attention to the rebuke delivered by the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to the US in her opening address at the 68th UN General Assembly on the revelations about NSA’s spying. Why has India not made any noise about it? Given the scale of what the technology can achieve, is it not time that we participate in global efforts to prevent these things? 


Image: Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff waits during a welcoming ceremony in Brasilia
Photographs: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

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