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Learning to Tango

September 13, 2009

Indian Home Minister’s visit to the US could not have come a day too soon. He was expected to visit Washington DC for quite some time now. He had mentioned this in the passing as had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to India. It is not about the details that interest me as much as the gestures and the noises made by India and the US. You see, in international diplomacy, especially when one is dealing with the west one needs to be there all the time. That is not to say that our top honchos should be scooting to the US and Europe at the drop of a hat, but it is terribly important to remain in touch and not to hesitate to fly over if there is anything that comes up that requires immediate attention. India had presented Pakistan six dossiers on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Islamabad was almost contemptuous of Indian efforts. Six dossiers flew back and forth and nothing happened. In the meanwhile the Pakistani terrorist involved in the Mumbai carnage, Ajmal Kasab’s trial began. The FBI sent two of its officers to give statement in the court. Here it was construed as American interest in Indian affairs. The US had to clarify that since five of their nationals had been killed in the Mumbai attacks therefore as per the US laws the FBI agents could not refuse to testify. It was a silly question and a needless clarification. The Left centered press keeps putting up questions to keep the west at bay.

I am not suggesting that India must genuflect in front of the western powers in order to get what we want. To the contrary, we need to keep our priorities clear when dealing with the west and make sure we do not give away too much in our dealings with them. Yet, it is equally important to have close cooperation with our western allies in all spheres of relations and that includes not only defense and strategic issues but also economic and other fields. And one way to make sure we are there in the thick of things is to keep in touch at all levels. The interactions need to be more meaningful and that can come about only if there is an appreciation of each other’s concerns. A closer cooperation should also mean being able to interact in an informal way. Informality is the key, I guess and knowing your counterparts in Whitehall and Capitol Hill on a first name basis should come naturally. That is the kind of close cooperation that should be there and this familiarity should result in meaningful dialogue. There was this instance when Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush were walking across the White House when at a distance someone waved at President Bush. It was none other than John Howard, the prime minister of Australia. When Manmohan Singh remarked that it was Prime Minister Howard, President Bush casually pointed out that John keeps dropping by half a dozen times a year. That was a kind of education for the Indian delegation. That familiarity and respect for one another is the key to diplomacy in the twenty first century. I do not think Prime Minister Howard’s Washington trip made more than a snippet in the Australian and the American media. It was one of those things and that was that.

I know there are cultural barriers. Japan is a close ally of the west yet the interactions between the Japanese and the west are different from what Europe, the US and Australia and New Zealand have between themselves. But we do need to learn the ropes. We need to learn to tango. It is a bit like ‘you scratch my back and I scratch yours’, but in a more subtle natural way such that we do not stick out like a sore thumb. Communication skills among our diplomats and ministers and sensitivity to their way of doing things is basic education that we need to inculcate. I know we have a lot to offer to the west, but let me assure you that the west could transform India were we to play our cards well. Getting an international organization like the Asian Development Bank to fund hydro projects in Arunachal Pradesh would be passé, were we to tango with our western allies. We need to learn to walk in step with the free world.  India is doing well to let the Dalai Lama make a trip to Tawang. It jells into the scheme of things. The US and India will have military exercises in the North Eastern border region. That has raised the hackles of Beijing. We need to be able to assert ourselves politically and militarily in our region. Let us not get bogged down by a Pakistan centric politics. That is exactly what China wants and we are playing into Beijing’s hands by restricting ourselves to focusing on what Islamabad is doing. Pakistan’s role in the Chinese scheme of things is to keep needling India so as to keep us busy, preventing us from looking at the larger picture. We have a far bigger footprint in the Asian and the world polity and economy than we realize. Pakistan has reacted to Chidambaram’s US visit with a shade of panic. That is what we need to do more often. Keeping in touch with the right inputs is the key to success. The detention of the Korean ship MV Mu San and then the close inspection of the UAE C 130 Hercules plane bound for China, in Kolkota was again something that we needed to do. Sharing of sensitive information will help us and the world become a safer place. We can learn a lot from the American way of fighting terror. Our own experiences (and we have many) could help the west pinpoint the source of terror worldwide. The terror links are not unfathomable. The world terror network are all interlinked and without getting to the bottom of the Indian part of the madness it may not be possible for the democratic world to be able to clearly unravel this intricate network. We need to tango for the world to be a safer place.

India could benefit a lot by closer cooperation in the economic, agriculture, education and science and technology. The Chandrayaan (Indian moon mission) was an experience that we shared with NASA and the European Space Agency. It was an eye opener in many ways. Similarly, European management students have landed in IIM Bangalore and there had been some useful interaction that has cleared some cobwebs about Indian business in the minds of the younger generation of Europeans.  Similar interactions need to happen in all spheres. We need to realize the importance of such interactions and be ready to share our experiences while not hesitating to learn from what they have to offer. P. Chidambaram’s US visit has been a good step forward. We need to develop closer links with our allies to be able to achieve our strategic and economic aims. We cannot be expected to keep up to the western beat all the time. It therefore becomes important for us to keep the doors open with Beijing too. They have their problems and they have had an uprising in Xinjiang. They have not been left untouched from terrorism.  It would be foolish to shut the door on China. If only to keep the west on its toes, a regular contact with Beijing and Moscow becomes imperative. But again we must never forget to talk to them from a position of strength. The west will then make sure that they also need to keep up to the beat and make sure that the tango is a seamless exercise that helps us both. Next time one of our top bureaucrats lands in Washington or in London, I hope the media keeps it in perspective and includes it just as a snippet. The Indian Diaspora in the US and Europe needs to be proactive so that we have a leverage in the west. If the Jewish lobby can be so vocal and effective, there is no reason why the Indian community cannot do the same. There has to be a concerted effort on our side and we must learn to use all resources at our disposal to be able to leverage our interests with our western allies. If Israel can get away with murder and more, we have a very reasonable position – we are directly in the line of fire. It all depends how well and how soon we learn to waltz and tango and learn to give and take. In diplomacy and strategic issues these small intangibles can go a long way in furthering our cause.

Update 18.09.2009: The Pakistan government has charged Hafiz Sayeed on three counts and has put him behind bars, or so it seems. But the charges have got nothing to do witth the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan cannot be seen to be bowing to ‘pressure from India’. The anti-India rhetoric over the decades has been so shrill that being seen to be soft vis-a-vis India is unthinkable. That is not the funny part. The comedy was the way Rehman Malik their interior minister reacted. He wondered out aloud as to ‘why did Chidambram had to go all the way to Washington, when we are so near, he could have come to Islamabad or asked us to come to Delhi’. These Pakistani’s do have a sense of humor. They have panicked as only they can, and this has tickled the funny bone of many here in India. I do not believe anyone takes the Pakistan establishment seriously here in India any longer. This only reinforces the need for India to engage the west bilaterally to address issues that affect us both.

Update 28.09.2009: There are reports that the Pakistan intelligence agency the ISI is harbouring Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief in Quetta. That Mullah Omar is in Quetta has been doing the rounds for long, but the new assertion that the ISI is protecting him is something new. There are further reports that American aid is being diverted to fund the Taliban. This may come as a surprise to the people in the west, but for us Indians this is no news at all. The surprise element would have been had we learnt that Pakistan is genuinely fighting the Taliban. The Times, London also mentions in one of its articles on Afghanistan that the MI5 has traced down most terrorist strikes to Pakistan and not to Afghanistan. Which means that the whole operation in Afghanistan is a misadventure and the rogues are in Pakistan. What does this teach us?

So the west is indirectly funding the enemy. And the west is losing men and women to these radicals who are being funded by Islamabad through Washington. Would there be any reason for the world to doubt that perhaps Osama is also being protected by the ISI?

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