For the four-and-a-half years that the Congress party has been in power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used the profit motive to attract India’s recalcitrant neighbours in South Asia to do business with the booming Indian economy, hoping to pave the way for a resolution of political disputes.
With Pakistan, Delhi promoted the idea of cross-Line of Control movement between the two parts of Kashmir, with Bangladesh a public-private partnership in the exploitation of gas for mutual benefit, with Sri Lanka a comprehensive economic partnership that expanded bilateral trade into services, with Nepal a new trade pact as well as a revamped friendship treaty. And in Afghanistan, it spent $1 billion (Rs4,860 crore) on building schools, bridges and electricity grids after the government of President Hamid Karzai came to power in late 2004.
Pakistan would have been the diadem on the crown of this resurgent economic diplomacy. The Mumbai attacks have changed all that.
Over the last six weeks, as the US sent several high-profile political visitors to defuse tension between India and Pakistan—Richard Boucher, the pointperson for South Asia in the State Department comes to Delhi on Thursday, via Islamabad and Kabul, while US vice-president-designate Joe Biden is expected in Islamabad by the end of the week—one other psychological change seems to have taken place in Delhi: Despite its strategic partnership with the US, forged in the euphoria over the nuclear deal, the Americans will only go this far in putting pressure on Pakistan to end its sponsorship of terrorism in India.
Meanwhile, as the internal investigation into the attacks proceeded apace, Delhi launched a propaganda offensive this week, briefing every one of the 100-odd envoys in the Capital on the evidence it had gathered about the Pakistani hand in the attacks and asking its missions around the world to do the same.
Several envoys clucked in sympathy, especially those whose nationals had been killed or injured in the attacks. Some, however, including the Americans, did not want to be publicly associated with the analysis that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence, was involved with the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group in planning, mounting and executing the Mumbai attacks.
So here’s the beef: Steve Hadley, the outgoing US national security adviser, has told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that Pakistan, not Afghanistan or Iraq, will be the main challenge for the incoming administration. President-elect Barack Obama already believes in the triangulation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India security paradigm. But despite all these epiphanies, it seems that the US is unwilling to help.
In the new year, the realization that India is alone, that it must fight its own battles, could of course become a transformational experience. For a start, it could help set the house in order at home. Secondly, India should move beyond its star-struck, somewhat unidimensional engagement with the Americans in recent years and rediscover some old relationships in the old world.
The Gulf might be a good first stop, not only because it brings in $18 billion out of the $26 billion that Indians abroad send home every year, but because Gulf states often look to India’s Islamic experience as a reference point. Iran is a major halt, especially because India voted against it, twice, at the International Atomic Energy Agency, in the effort to win over the Americans during the roller-coaster negotiations over the Indo-US nuclear deal.
There’s the gas pipeline with Iran that India still doodles over, not only because of the price of the gas, but also because of US opposition. Then there’s the strategically located Chabahar Port in south-east Iran, from where a road is still being built to neighbouring Afghanistan. Meanwhile, there’s Central Asia, Russia and China, all of whose relationships with India have been significantly neglected.
If India had nurtured these relationships, even as it raised the pitch with the US to a crescendo, it may not have been as isolated on Pakistan, post-Mumbai attacks, today. Nations such as China and Russia that have their own problems with terrorism are surely sympathetic, but they might have leant on Pakistan much more. As the world’s surviving superpower, the US is enormously powerful. By that logic, the Americans are great friends to have. But if they remain unwilling to get Pakistan to deliver on the Mumbai attacks, then what good is a strategic partnership with India?
So let’s wake up and smell the coffee: 2009 has begun on a lonesome note, so let’s make amends. Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, whose country floats on both gas and oil, is the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day ceremonies. A revivified relationship with Kazakhstan, a moderate Muslim nation, could up or end Pakistan’s geostrategic stranglehold on Central Asia. The Kazakh example might even lead to a Central Asian encirclement of Pakistan.
If India allows itself to think big, it could surprise itself.
Jyoti Malhotra is Mint’s diplomatic affairs editor and writes every week on the intersection of foreign policy, trade and politics. Comments are welcome at email@example.com