By Vijay Darda | 13-07-2015
It has been a week of quiet diplomacy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spent days with the leaders of five Central Asian countries – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as compared to the few hours he devoted with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) multi-lateral summit at Ufa in Russia. Well, understandably it was the Modi-Sharif ice breaker that grabbed media attention, but the subtle message that India let out within this week can be missed by Islamabad at its own peril- you either mend your ways and be the part of the global mainstream or stew in your juice, we have to do business in Central Asia and we cannot be waiting for you to mature.
Modi’s Central Asian agenda has two core elements that are the key to an evolving global strategy- terrorism and economy. All these five Central Asian countries are Islamic and resource rich. The growing power of the violent Islamic States which refuses to bow down to the bombing strategy of the American forces poses a major challenge to these five states, and they too are vulnerable to the terror threat. If the American bombing tactics have failed to control the militancy, India has the experience of insulating its huge minority Muslim population from the forces and temptations of Islamic fundamentalist and radicalism. These experiences and lessons are crucial for these five states, so India is a welcome partner in the interest of peace and stability. By talking separately to the leaderships in each of these countries, over the week Modi has quietly opened the doors for this cooperation. The benefits at the outset may appear intangible, but they have an immense durable quality.
None of the other two countries- Russia and China that are competing for influence in this region can offer this experience. Besides, one- Russia is a fading power, and the other- China is an emerging power having set their sights on different goals. All these countries were once a part of the USSR, so Russia wants to retain its old influence. But seeing a Russia on the decline, with virtually no limits on its resources, China seeks complete economic domination. Whereas the Central Asian states may not be able to refuse the overtures from Beijing as it comes with assurances of development of the infrastructure, the sense of unease is unmissable. By contrast, India may have the limitations of investible resources, yet its technical prowess and business skills that come without the limitations of authoritarian regimes makes it a much preferred business and strategic partner. The fuel and mining resources of the region make eminent sense for the Indian economy to develop sound business interests in these countries.
In the strategic equation of a Russia versus China contest, India as the third contestant has another traditional advantage. This is the long standing India-Russia friendship that goes back to the 1970s when under Indira Gandhi’s stewardship we forged a cooperation treaty that has stood the test of time. In fact, it was Russia’s mediation that saw us becoming members of the SCO at Ufa. We did get entry into this club, but not without China playing the old balancing game of parity between Islamabad and Delhi and thus allowing Pakistan an entry into the SCO as well. But this deal is not without its advantages. In a multi-lateral forum like the SCO, it becomes imperative that member countries act in the overall collective interests, rather than let their acrimonious hangovers of bilateral conflicts impede growth. So, if Pakistan continues to play the same negative role of the spoilsport in SCO, that it has perfected in the regional outfit SAARC, then it risks further isolation. Given China’s deep business interests in SCO, it is unlikely that it would allow its friends in Islamabad to play the same kind of havoc and this gives reasons for hope.
This is one of the reasons that makes us believe that the TAPI pipelines (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) via Iran to get natural gas from Central Asia to South Asia can now work. This is the region that has one-fourth of the global reserves for fuel resources and offer a cheap and viable alternative.
So, by diverting attention from the conventional places and looking up to the Central Asian region Prime Minister Modi has corrected an imbalance in our foreign policy approaches. However, it would require much more than one visit to develop the kind of relations that really offer tangible benefits to nations. With the opening achieved, it would be the bricks and mortar diplomacy that would have to get into play and carry forward the task launched by the Prime Minister.
In so far as Pakistan is concerned, the only thing that needs to be noted with satisfaction is that the talks have been held. We do not put any hopes in the Pakistani basket. We should accept that they are going to be the bad boys of the class. But we cannot expel them out of the class, so we have to keep talking without any expectations. Let them break the promises and let them keep firing across the border. We should respond to those elements with the best counter-strategies to make them realise that these are costly mistakes for them. To expect that Pakistan would cooperate in ending terror, is to believe that the neighbourhood ganglord would rein in the local thugs and pickpockets. After all they are all his boys, and he profits from their pickings. We can only hope that our security forces have an effective counter-strategy that sooner rather than later makes Pakistani ISI bosses realise that it is better to cooperate with India than engage in a continuously losing bloody struggle. The politicians in Islamabad seem to be coming round to this view point but the military bosses still have other ideas.
Before I conclude…
It was a great moment of joy to watch Sania Mirza win the Wimbledon Ladies Doubles final along with the Swiss star Martina Hingis. It is a high point for women’s tennis in India and shows the potential for greater achievements in the field of sports. Both Sania and Martina held their nerves even after losing several games and showed an excellent combination of court craft, power tennis and mental tenacity to lay their hands on the crown.