Foreign tongues

The DMK wanted a strengthened US resolution against Sri Lanka at Geneva, while New Delhi wan- ted Washington to ‘dilute’ the resolution

Even the habitual defenders of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance would find it hard to deny that its foreign policy has run into a very bad patch. While regrettably saying this, the countervailing reality must also be acknowledged fully: Since the last week of December 2012, there has been an unending procession of world leaders to New Delhi.

They included Russian President Vladimir Putin, France President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Speaker of Iran’s Majlis Ali Larijani and heads of Asean nations. All of them wanted to expand and deepen their countries’ relations with India. In addition came the special envoy of President Assad of Syria, Bouthaina Shaaban, with the request that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should “take the lead” at the Brics summit in Durban later this month to “bring peace to Syria”. President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt is the latest to arrive.
Evidently, this glittering galaxy would not have spent so much time at Hyderabad House and South Block but for its conviction that India is and will continue to be a major player on the world stage. This makes it all the more ironic that during the same period, in our immediate neighbourhood relationships have worsened considerably and, in some cases, are becoming messy. For instance, while the leader of one of the three permanent members of the Security Council was still in Delhi, the Maldives, the tiniest country in South Asia, thumbed its nose at the region’s pre-eminent power for the second time in a matter of months. China’s encouragement to it this time around, as in the past when the Maldives evicted an Indian company with a 25-year contract for running Male’s international airport, is manifest.
In the case of Sri Lanka, of late there have been enough strains in the relationship over the critically important 13th Amendment to that country’s Constitution. An essential part of the 1987 Rajiv-Jayawardene Accord, this amendment is the only viable way to devolve powers to the Tamil minority in the island republic. Previous governments in Colombo have failed to enforce it but have remained committed to it. From all accounts it looks as if President Mahinda Rajapakse would prefer to jettison the amendment.
Since it is India’s moral responsibility to ensure that what it and Sri Lanka promised the Tamils of the island republic must be delivered to them, the obvious course for New Delhi to follow is to achieve the desired result through patient and persuasive negotiations, combined with the pressure of international opinion. But before such a policy could be given a chance, America’s resolution against Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council has hit the Indian political scene with the force of a bombshell. The situation is now highly inflamed.
All political parties in Tamil Nadu are agitated, of course, but it is the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the second-largest constituent of the ruling UPA, that is leading the campaign. It wanted New Delhi to see to it that the US resolution at Geneva is strengthened at a time when New Delhi’s objective was to persuade Washington to “dilute” the resolution so as to make it acceptable to Sri Lanka. The infuriated DMK leader and five-time chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunanidhi, would have nothing of this. After threatening to withdraw his ministers from the ruling coalition if his demand that the US resolution use the word “genocide” and call for an independent international inquiry was not accepted, he finally pulled out of the UPA government on Tuesday. Mr Karunanidhi also wanted the Indian Parliament to adopt exactly the same resolution.
Needless to add that China is watching this situation keenly, and in this context what transpired on the day China’s new leader Xi Jinping took over is worthy of notice. On receiving congratulatory phone calls from President Rajapakse and President Zardari of Pakistan, Mr Xi promised China’s continuing support to the efforts of both these countries to “safeguard” their national sovereignty and independence”. To Lanka he also promised support at the UNHRC “as last year”, while in a more exuberant exchange with Mr Zardari, he talked of extending “all weather” China-Pakistan friendship “from generation to generation”. For his part, Mr Zardari said that the people of Pakistan “loved China”. China’s long shadow over this country’s neighbourhood will be a lasting one.
And this brings me to the crucial point that what has happened to India-Pakistan relations in recent months should be a lesson for the future. It is nobody’s case that this country should refuse to talk to its western neighbour under any circumstances. But that is one thing and a comprehensive or structured dialogue even when Islamabad turns a deaf ear to repeated Indian pleas for adequate action against the masterminds and perpetrators of 26/11 and other terrorist acts quite another. Today the consequences of this contradictory policy are out in the open. Both the agreement on the liberal and indeed welcome visa regime and the generous trade agreement that New Delhi offered Islamabad at considerable cost to itself and in disregard of World Trade Organisation’s norms are on hold, thanks to Pakistan’s strange response. This began with the horrors at and across the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir in January, was followed by Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s campaign in the US, maligning India as a “warmonger” and has culminated in a terrorist attack in Srinagar after three years and the soon-to-be-dissolved National Assembly’s appalling resolution condemning the execution of Afzal Guru.
On top of this has come the ugly and perhaps avoidable spat with Italy over the unacceptable and unpardonable behaviour of the Italian ambassador in Delhi. The envoy had gone to the Supreme Court as a petitioner and yet defiantly claims diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. The Supreme Court has ruled that he has no longer any immunity nor the freedom to leave India. How the imbroglio would be resolved is anybody’s guess.

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