The world did not end in December 2012 as the Mayans had feared. Still, to the superstitious, the figure 13 in 2013 has an ominous ring about it. For us too, in India, there aren’t too many things to cheer for. In fact it could be said with a reasonable amount of accuracy that the year gone by hasn’t been one of the best for us; domestically and externally too.
The foreign policy dimension on a national slate is normally not an attention grabber, unless there is some dramatic event like a break down in relationship with another country. Even then diplomats try to play it down. Till the very last moment they feel they can paper over the cracks and resolve the issue. Their instinctive reaction to a crisis is to smile and announce, ‘all is well’. If a relationship between two countries is complicated, then diplomats call it multifaceted!
But for our purposes let’s look critically at the world around us. How have we fared externally in the year gone by? Can we, as we begin this New Year, claim that ‘all is well’? Or should we be alarmed by what has happened in the year gone by?
Let us begin by making a tabulation of what went against us. At the international stage we have lost considerable lustre. Now, we are no longer congratulated on our potential as a super power. There is no doubt that our domestic political troubles, and the uncertain trajectory of economy, have dented our standing in the world.
Separately, we ceased to be members of the UN Security Council at the stroke of midnight hour on 31st December. Did we influence the Security Council significantly in the last two years? Did we, even slightly, reshape the world in our image? The clear answer on both these counts is no — we did not and we could not.
We had also expected Pakistan to extend the Most Favoured Nation status to us by that same midnight hour. And expectantly, we kept waiting. But that was not to be, and when that became amply clear on January 1, we said understandingly that it was due to their domestic political situation.
The question that we must ask ourselves is: whether we do not, ever, have domestic political compulsions? Why are our neighbours not mindful of our public opinion in the way we are of theirs?
It could be argued that we are a bigger country. We must therefore be magnanimous to our smaller neighbours. Let us concede that point for a moment. But why is it that this rule of bilateral behaviour should apply to us only? Why is China not similarly honour bound? Why can’t China be magnanimous to us, or indeed to its much smaller neighbours like Philippines and Vietnam whose territory it is coveting?
The fact is that in International councils there is no bigger or smaller nation. All countries enjoy sovereign equality. So, to that extent China is correct by not getting swayed by the woolly notions of magnanimity. National interests matter more to it. As a witness of that it has recently stamped its territorial claims on the passports issued by it. Besides parts of South China sea, these maps also show large parts of the Indian territory as belonging to it.
But it is not China alone that pursues aggressively what it perceives to be its national interests. Sri Lanka went about decimating the LTTE clinically. If children and women got butchered in the process, it didn’t care. Sadly, India too didn’t care that people of Indian origin were victims of brutal human rights violations. Since then, Indian fishermen too have been attacked by the Sri Lankan forces; some have been killed too.
With Maldives also we have bitten the dust in a recent diplomatic spat. Whatever be the merits or otherwise of the case, we haven’t come out shining in public perception.
If we staggered under multiple punches in 2012, the tests this year are going to be far tougher and the punches much more lethal.
There is a storm brewing in Afghanistan. It is hard to guess the dimensions of it, but it might be prudent to assume that it could affect many countries in its swirl. Are we prepared to absorb the ripples that will inevitably reach us? More importantly, do we know if Pakistan knows what it will do when it attains the strategic depth in Afghanistan after the American withdrawal? And that could happen in 2013 itself, rather that the announced 2014. The denouement therefore might be closer than we think.
A former Ambassador, the writer is a novelist and an artist