Foreign policy doldrums

Foreign policy doldrums
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First Published: Sun, Jul 19 2009. 09 17 PM IST

 Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Updated: Sun, Jul 19 2009. 09 17 PM IST
There has been much comment on the joint statement issued at Sharm-el-Sheikh by the prime ministers of India and Pakistan and its implications. India agreed to share terrorism-related intelligence with Pakistan on a real-time basis. It also agreed to delink action on terrorism from the composite dialogue between the two countries. Finally, the line “Prime Minister (Yousuf Raza) Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information on threats in Balochistan and other areas” found its way into the joint statement.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
These are howlers. The question to be asked now is, how did this happen? What does it portend for the steering of India’s relations with other nations in a difficult time for the country?
There are two interlinked factors at work here. On the one hand, there is ever-greater prime ministerial intervention in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. On the other hand, the present leadership in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) is singularly uninspiring. It is led by a collection of politicians with precious little experience in handling what is arguably a complex and sensitive sector of the government. This is by design, for the Prime Minister could have picked more experienced and suitable persons for these tasks.
These factors feed into each other. They allow the Prime Minister, if not force him, in critical moments to take over this sensitive task. At the same time, the MEA team is neither capable of, nor interested in, handling challenging tasks. It is similar to the mistakes that the first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, made when he doubled up as prime minister and foreign minister.
The risk in such a situation is that it makes the Prime Minister more susceptible to pressure to make unconscionable compromises. This is in contrast to the situation faced by a team led by the minister of external affairs, his ministers of state and the usual crowd of secretaries. That, at least, would have been the situation with more experienced leaders at the helm of MEA. That firewall does not exist at the moment.
Damage control for what happened in Egypt is bound to be difficult, for it has given Pakistan a handle on India. Prime Minister Gilani made statements about Indian interference in Balochistan as soon as he landed in Islamabad. What is more alarming is the prospect of such situations recurring when we confront far harsher negotiating environments on global climate change talks and likely US pressure to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the comprehensive test ban treaty.
Has Pakistan gained an upper hand over India in bilateral talks? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Jul 19 2009. 09 17 PM IST