Once again, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for peaceful engagement between India and other South Asian nations. It is a laudable, albeit uncertain, goal, given the proclivities of our neighbours.
While addressing a conclave of India’s envoys on Tuesday, Singh said: “India has a stake in the prosperity and stability of all our South Asian neighbours. We should strive to engage our neighbours constructively and resolve differences through peaceful means and negotiations.” In a reasonable world, this would make perfect sense. The world is imperfect and South Asia even more so.
Consider what has been happening in two of our more troubled neighbours in the past two days or so. In Nepal, the chief of the Maoists, Prachanda, was on Monday trying hard to persuade the Nepali Congress leader G.P. Koirala to fast-track the inclusion of Maoist cadres into the Nepal army, a move that is distinctly uncomfortable not only for the Nepal army, but also for most mainstream politicians in that country. In Pakistan, meanwhile, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani wanted resumption of the composite dialogue with India on the basis of “equality” even as his country’s army is locked in mortal combat with the Taliban.
These might appear to be normal, unconnected, and certainly uncorrelated, events to Indian eyes. But are they? They speak of instability in those countries, instability that is fuelled locally but often blamed on India. In such conditions, does it make sense to argue for peaceful engagement with nations that are bitterly polarized?
In all likelihood, India’s interlocutors in these countries want India to make concessions that are likely to run against our interests. Pakistan wants a slice of Kashmir even as that country frays. The Maoists in Nepal pretty much scuttled the recent trip of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to India. Such was the pressure back home that no major agreement could be signed by Nepal during his visit.
The first condition for peaceful engagement is peace within these countries and others that India wishes to engage. Engage we must, but in conditions when outcomes are mutually beneficial and not a mere going through of motions.
Is peaceful engagement a realistic possibility in South Asia? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org