Thursday, August 30, 2012

Policy is foreign to Government

By Swapan Dasgupta

At a time when the governance of the country is in total disarray, foreign policy is the least of India’s national preoccupations. Yet, thanks to a blundering government that has lost its balance, India has committed one astonishing blunder and may be on the verge of another diplomatic boo-boo.

The first, predictably, centres on Pakistan, a country which is internally beleaguered and externally short of credibility and friends (barring China). Last week, in an astonishing show of cynicism, the Union Home Secretary accused forces in Pakistan of disseminating fraudulent and inflammatory propaganda aimed at inciting communal troubles in India. The purpose was charmingly blunt: to suggest that the tensions all over India flowing from the troubles in Assam’s Kokrajhar district were the creation of the proverbial ‘foreign hand’.

It is no one’s contention that forces in Pakistan, both official and non-official, are not inimical to India. For a very long time, official thinking across the Radcliffe Line has salivated over the likelihood of an eventual break-up of India. The war of a thousand cuts that General Zia-ul Haq launched in the early-1980s was aimed at encouraging every separatist trend in India, be it in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab or the North-east. Since 1993, Pakistan has also been hyper-active in fermenting Islamist terrorism and its role in the Mumbai attack of 2008 has been extremely well documented. Even to this day, the promoters of the notorious Lashkar-e-Tayiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed are allowed a free run within Pakistan to disseminate their hateful anti-India message.

That certain Pakistani websites run by extremist elements (with or without official backing) did their bit to promote and nurture a sense of Muslim victimhood over events in Assam and Myanmar isn’t in any doubt. Some jihadi elements within India also echoed these themes in their websites.

However, it is one thing to be alert to the dangers of cyber disinformation. It is a completely different matter for the Centre to argue that the mobs in Mumbai, Lucknow and Allahabad were instigated by Pakistan.

The argument that otherwise good Muslims were cynically misled by dark forces may be good for TV chat shows. The problem arises when the Government starts touting this as the official explanation. Naturally Pakistan has demanded proof. And never mind supplying evidence that would leave Islamabad squirming in embarrassment, the Home Ministry has failed to satisfy colleagues in the Ministry of External Affairs. Indeed, India’s diplomats are themselves shamefaced over this ham-handed bid to pin the responsibility for our internal failings on Pakistan. Apart from everything else, this amateurish buck-passing has ended up putting needless question marks over the credibility of the evidence on Pakistan’s culpability in the Mumbai attacks. If there was a well-directed self-goal, this was it.

The Government, it would seem, is so caught up with obfuscation that it can’t tell its rear from its elbow. This week, the Prime Minister is going to take a break from ‘coalgate’ and other domestic headaches and travel to Teheran for a completely useless Non-Aligned Movement summit. I am no kill-joy and would not like to deprive junketeers of the opportunity of buying Persian carpets at bargain prices. Yet, there is a compelling case for the PM to cite domestic preoccupations and despatch External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to shake hands with President Ahmadinejad and other representatives of the Iranian theocracy.

That India and Iran has deep ‘civilizational ties’ is a cliché that often rivals the ritual boasts of us being a 5,000-year-old civilisation. No doubt both contain grains of truth which are supplemented by material interests. India still needs Iranian oil and needs Iran for an overland access to Afghanistan. The strategic importance of both should not be underestimated. If he doesn’t, it will be shameful. (END)

At the same time, there are some features of the Indo-Iran bilateral relationship that could do with some clarification. The most important of these is the question of Iranian involvement in international terrorism.

It is understandable, though not morally defensible, that India chooses to look the other way (and at times even condone), Iran’s activities in Lebanon, Syria and Israel. As a country that has a glorious track record of preachiness, India has chosen to keep remarkably silent about Ahmadinejad’s repeated threats to wipe out Israel from the face of the earth—the latest one being his Quds Day address on August 17. But why has India chosen to be silent when Iran exports its terror to New Delhi?

The Delhi Police, after an uncharacteristically unpublicised inquiry, has gathered enough evidence to indicate that three Iranian nationals, along with one Indian, were involved in the explosion that left an Israeli diplomat seriously injured in February this year. Despite the evidence linking the Delhi bombing with the Bangkok bombing where Iranian nationals were also involved, Teheran has chosen to brazen it out, in the understanding that India is powerless to do anything.

The issue is not merely that Iran must not be allowed to export its terror, but that India must make it clear that it will not countenance any physical harm to the representative of a friendly country—which is what Israel unquestionably is.

For too long, India has allowed its policy to be guided by spurious sectarian concerns. If the Prime Minister does go to Teheran at this inopportune moment, the least we can expect is for him to tell Ahmadinejad to lay off.  

Sunday Pioneer, August 26, 2012

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