People generally assumed that India was seeking a global role. It now seems that the global community seeks an India role. In a perceptive newspaper article foreign affairs analyst Raja Mohan has pointed out how obsolete New Delhi’s myths about conducting foreign policy appear to be in today’s real world. India’s commitment to avoid interference in the internal affairs of other nations is not only hypocritical in the light of several of its own previous actions. It is also self defeating given the emerging world order. The fact is that there already exists a global order even though it has not been sufficiently institutionalized. However, the human rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter do commit nations to bear responsibility for events occurring even in other countries. As a recent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) New Delhi is painfully coming to grips with this reality.
Beyond the responsibilities that devolve on New Delhi on account of its UNSC membership, India’s growth in recent years compels a fresh appraisal of the emerging world order and the role India can play in it. It was possible in the past to take shelter behind the principle of non-interference to betray Tibet and democracy in Myanmar. It will be no longer possible to ignore India’s participation in the affairs of the emerging Arab world. New Delhi does not have to seek a West Asia role. Events are sucking India into the unfolding drama of the Arab world. Two recent incidents indicate this.
After Foreign Minister SM Krishna rightly said that India will not intervene in Arab affairs unless invited to, the Muslim Brotherhood requested India to help Egypt conduct the forthcoming elections slated for June. Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Qureshi should start assembling a team comprising if necessary even retired Election Commissioners (ECs) to perform the task. Even though the CEC’s hands will be full with next month’s assembly elections in India, attending to the Egyptian invitation will be of paramount importance.
Conducting the election would inevitably require the EC to determine what electoral norms must be observed by Egypt’s political parties. Thereby a subtle influence on the very nature of Egyptian democracy would be exerted. Indo-Egyptian ties were further strengthened by Cairo’s cooperation in helping India evacuate trapped Indians in Libya. The Indian embassy has posted a delegation at Egypt’s border with Libya to issue new traveling papers for those whose documents were lost in Libya. Indian ambassador in Egypt R Swaminathan declared that the exercise will continue until all Indians in Libya are safely evacuated.
Meanwhile, former Libyan Ambassador to India Ali Al-Essawi supported the rebels against President Gaddafi and resigned his post. The pro-democracy National Libyan Council (NLC) has approached Al-Essawi to head the foreign affairs department of NLC. Al-Essawi is functioning from an undisclosed location in New Delhi coordinating efforts to garner international support for NLC and the democratic movement in Libya. India in spite of itself has got drawn into the Libyan democratic movement. If at any stage President Gaddafi seeks the extradition of Al-Essawi would the Indian government oblige? Not a chance in a million. Indian public opinion would never allow it.
For years to come, West Asia and South Asia will continue to be the focus of global attention. India is at the heart of South Asia. Regretfully it has until now abdicated its responsibility to initiate measures that defuse tensions. New Delhi rests content with the big powers taking care of the situation. Despite better empathy with the peoples of the region and greater stake in the region’s future the government has taken no worthwhile initiative to break deadlocks. This scribe over the years has suggested concrete policy initiatives to defuse tension in Afghanistan, establish accord with Pakistan and resolve the nuclear crisis in Iran. Possibly the suggestions were not feasible. But should not the Ministry of External Affairs have supplanted those proposals with better initiatives formulated by its policy makers? Can the need for India to take the initiative be denied?
Even after former President Musharraf tried to break fresh ground with peace proposals, New Delhi offered no counter suggestions or response. This scribe had repeatedly urged New Delhi to seek a dialogue with the Afghanistan Taliban because it could be separated from Al Qaeda. The opportunity to use Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Pakistani politician closest to the Afghanistan Taliban, as a conduit had presented itself. New Delhi remained inactive, urging the US not to withdraw its military from Afghanistan in order to resolve the crisis! Now the US itself has concluded that the Taliban cannot be equated with Al Qaeda and a tentative effort to initiate peace talks with it has commenced. How long will New Delhi continue to respond like a bystander in the affairs of its own neighbourhood? Events in West Asia are now compelling India to wake up. New Delhi needs to formulate a vision agenda about the kind of nation, neighbourhood and world that it wants to create. The Indian economy in recent years has shown growth. But New Delhi has yet to act fully grown up.
By Rajinder Puri