In remarks made on Sunday, Pakistan’s ambassador to India, Shahid Malik, said India and his country were quite capable of conducting bilateral relations. He bristled at the mere suggestion of US involvement in relations between the two countries. It holds valuable lessons for India.
Times change and role reversals are common in relations between nations. In the last decade of the 20th century, India was under constant pressure to accede to third-party mediation over Jammu and Kashmir and other bilateral matters. Pakistan raised the ante by raising the issue at international fora and India was on the defensive. Pakistan faces that situation now. There is, of course, no similarity between the two situations: Pakistan’s western frontier is the fountainhead of terror in today’s world.
That, however, should not be a cause for triumphalism in India. It should be a reason for our policymakers to look at horizons beyond tomorrow. More so as political dynamics in India’s periphery are changing by the day. Nepal is likely to declare itself a democratic republic, Bhutan has elected representatives now and Pakistan is a democracy again, at least for now. Dealing with democracies that are accountable to citizens is very different from doing so in dictatorships and oligarchies.
In India’s case it’s doubly so as people in neighbouring countries have been fed on a diet of anti-India rhetoric. This requires careful handling. At one level, this requires that Track 2 diplomacy be taken more seriously than it is now. This is not easy and may not fetch immediate returns. In the long run, however, it’s crucial that India mobilizes opinion in these countries using this tool. For example, the surprise our foreign policy establishment faced after the Maoists won elections in Nepal (contrary to expectations) could have been avoided had these links been strong.
Equally, these nations need to be told that today trade and commerce count for much more than holding on to imagined grouses and fear. This is where the real challenges lie. A more imaginative approach to managing relations is the need of the times. Otherwise, role reversals of the kind faced by Pakistan can’t be ruled out.
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