Engage neighbours, Not talking indefinitely to a neighbour, or neighbours, howsoever difficult, even perennially hostile, cannot be an option in diplomacy for any nation.
Not talking indefinitely to a neighbour, or neighbours, howsoever difficult, even perennially hostile, cannot be an option in diplomacy for any nation. This point has been underscored by Pranab Mukherjee, who has had one of the longest records in government, twice as the external affairs minister, before he became the Head of the State.
Addressing Indian envoys, the President has asked the government to “follow through” on its unprecedented initiative of inviting the entire SAARC leadership at the swearing-in ceremony last May. What began then should be taken to “its logical conclusion,” he said, stressing the need to keep up the dialogue and take “concrete steps to consolidate and make permanent the advances we make in our relations”.
Without mentioning any country, he gave a clear signal to the government to resume dialogue with Pakistan and keep its commitments with other neighbours, befitting its status of the biggest South Asian nation.
The dialogue with Pakistan has been stalled since India called off the Foreign Secretary-level talks last August.
Mukherjee cited an old saying that one can choose friends, but one cannot choose neighbours, to implicitly stress that India cannot be seen as recalcitrant if it wanted to be the regional leader and seek to sit on the global high table. Among the neighbours, Modi has hosted the Chinese President and will visit Beijing shortly, and he has visited Nepal. But his government has avoided all vibes with Pakistan, save the angry ones, whenever there is a border skirmish. There was speculation that the talks with Islamabad were called off because Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) envisaged a big role for itself in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly polls. It can be argued that since they are over, New Delhi should find a way of resuming talks with Islamabad. Visiting US President Barack Obama, going by his State Department, had strongly pitched for resuming the Indo-Pak dialogue.
Neither president is unaware of the ground reality. Mukherjee, on his part, while urging a dialogue, is certainly not overlooking the obstacles in the way placed by Pakistan’s non-state actors engaged in terrorism. Visiting Sweden last year, Mukherjee had pointedly asked that assuming that they are non-state actors, not sponsored by, or under the control of, the Pakistan Government, “where do they come from?” Emphasising that there are “no good or bad terrorists,” he has observed that “the region must decide whether to live in perpetual tension or understanding”. This is a universal message, not just to the region. Not going into specifics, Mukherjee seems to have hinted that the government keep its promises with regards to Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan as well. One of them is the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, actually a legacy of the government of which Mukherjee was himself a key member.Despite a commitment to have the pact ratified by India’s Parliament during the Winter Session, the government could not bring it to vote because of repeated disruptions in Parliament.