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Between the line

Unequal positions
July 22, 2009


NO DOUBT, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come to have a voice at the G8, a forum of leading world powers. The very fact that India is invited to such meetings indicates the importance the country has assumed. His words that the financial meltdown was the doing of the developed nations and that the developing world had borne the burden most hit the headlines. But none of the world leaders lost their sleep over it.

The outcome of yet another G8 meeting is that the carbon emission, mainly responsible for climate change, will continue to be discharged by the industry in the West and to the detriment of the world. The attack was on the developing world which had a share but very small. It is the same old story of exploitation. To sustain their standards of living, the developed countries are still impervious to the needs of the developing world.

However, the G8 threw some crumbs of farm aid at poor nations. But it has not struck them that the deadlock at WTO is because of the farm policies they pursue. They subsidize farmers and the inputs and insist on the developing countries opening their markets. Local agriculture produce is at a disadvantage because it does not get even a fraction of subsidy which is enjoyed by the farmers in France and America. Needless to say, the developing world’s population is that of agriculturists.

It is a pity that New Delhi is beginning to wilt under the pressure of the developed world. The deadlock at Doha is on the agriculture produce. Former Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, however wanting in many ways, was at least firm about not giving into the unequal position prevailing between the developed and undeveloped worlds. India would let down the developing countries if it were to allow subsided farm products from the West to flood markets in South Asia and Africa.

The problem with the third world is that all the levers of financial power are with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are dominated by the developed world. The same is the case with political forums like the UN Security Council. However liberal some among them are—such as US President Obama and French President Sarkozy—they are on the same side when the chips are down.

The way in which G8 passed a resolution in the presence of Manmohan Singh that India would have to sign the unequal NPT if it wanted nuclear energy unfettered was an insult to the country’s dignity and self respect. Obviously, America is at the back of the resolution. This means that President Obama has different ideas about the Indo-US nuclear treaty and is not bound by what President Bush’s administration had undertaken to accomplish.

But the record of cooperation among the developing countries is also not impressive. It was with great fanfare that the idea of South-South took shape in the 1980s. Even a report was prepared by a person no less than Manmohan Singh. But nothing moved forward. The report remained on the shelf, un-discussed and unimplemented

The NAM, the non-aligned movement, lost its raison d’etre once the cold war was over and the clash between the two blocs, Western and Soviet, was averted. Its meetings still convey the message that the third world has a platform which gives them an opportunity to raise their voice. That say may not have much impact but it has its own influence. India’s vast pool of expert manpower should come in handy if it does not mix economics with politics.

New Delhi has to prove its bona fides. It is the developed country in the region. But it is distant from all its neighbours. Understandably, its differences with Pakistan are political and have crusted into a relationship of enmity. But India is not seen as a friend either in Nepal or in Bangladesh. Our size may be foreboding. But there may also be something in our attitude or behaviour which deters the countries around us.

General Ashfaque Kayani, chief of Pakistan’s Army Staff, has said that he still fears an attack by India, although President Zardari was of the opposite view. But since the army counts the most in Pakistan its fears have to be allayed. How can Pakistan or, for that matter, all neighbours feel comfortable when our defence budget has gone up by some 38 per cent? True, it is only 2.6 per cent of the GDP, but that is a lot in the context of our neighbours’ economies.

In any case, no power in the developed world will take us seriously if we have not the confidence of our neighbours. Self-righteousness is not a good trait. When some of our neighbours contend that New Delhi has hegemonistic tendencies, they may have something real about which to complain. We should introspect with all the humility, Gandhi’s approach which we gave up soon after his assassination.

Take the case of river waters over which both Pakistan and Bangladesh have a right as riparian states. The Baghlihar power project in Kashmir was a point of controversy with Pakistan. We stuck to our design of the project till a World Bank expert told us to revise it. We could have agreed to the same points raised earlier by Pakistan. A similar problem has risen between India and Bangladesh. Dhaka has objected to the construction of the Tipaimukh dam in Manipur. I hope New Delhi will pay heed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s words: “We have signed the historic Ganges Waters Treaty, ensuring fair share of its water. We will be able to resolve the Tipaimukh issue also.”

However, it is also incumbent on our neighbours to cooperate with India and not create situations to which New Delhi may react adversely. Take the statement by Pakistan military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas who has told the Americans, “You deliver on India and we will deliver on the Taliban.” New Delhi is already unhappy that Islamabad has not done enough on the 26/11 attack on Mumbai and has taken up the action against Hafiz Mohammad Sayeed, the Laskhar-e-Toibba chief, as a test case. Pakistan should not let him go unpunished. Statements like the one by military spokesman on top of slow progress elsewhere do not help. Even if the military commander was hinting at Kashmir, how can Washington be of any help when it’s a bilateral issue?

Still if New Delhi were to adopt steps to accommodate the neighbours and revive the SAARC, sagging at this time, Manmohan Singh’s voice at G8 would be more powerful than today. He would not have to hawk for the membership in the Security Council. Imagine India’s strength if all countries in South Asia were to back it.

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