Friday, November 11, 2011

Turn the other cheek diplomacy

The recently concluded 17th summit meeting of SAARC leaders at Addu city has come in for criticism on the "appeasement" policy followed by the Indian PM, Shri. Manmohan Singh. Specifically, one commentator states that: Linky 1

However, the Addu Declaration has failed to address India's concern on terrorism.
Given the fact that India has been a victim of cross-border terrorism for more than three decades now, and by the admission of Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik that "incidents like 26/11 happen every day in Pakistan," the Addu Declaration has clubbed terrorism, transnational organised crimes, illegal trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances, illegal human trafficking, piracy and smuggling of small arms together, albeit briefly.

One certainly cannot be in an eternal state of aggressive diplomacy (aka) jingoistic fervor to make a point. Given the enormity of challenges in ensuring connectivity to the Northeast of India, and securing energy resources from Nepal and Bhutan in a grid that spans India and Bangladesh, it would have been suicidal to score an own goal of further persisting with an India-Pakistan equal-equal. India needs to handle Pakistan and vice versa, but these are bilateral issues that need not stalemate a multilateral initiative such as SAARC. In fact, given the Indian reluctance to make J&K, crossborder terrorism as de jure multilateral initiatives, it has been a big surprise that a forum such as SAARC has been hijacked by the India-Pakistan status quo. Divorcing Indian problems with cross-border terror emanating from Pakistan in a multilateral setting that allows the leeway to speak broadly and widely and cutting across many boundaries can at best be termed "Turn the other cheek" diplomacy, at worst as sell-out. I would rather have it the former than the latter. At the very least, it behooves to understand the Prime Minister's logic before mounting noisy protestations at his supposed "sell-outs."

1) From his inaugural address at the summit: Linky 2
On cutting down the sensitive list:

I am happy to announce that, in a major trade liberalization effort, the Government of India has issued a notification to reduce the Sensitive List for the Least Developed Countries under the South Asian Free Trade Area Agreement from 480 tariff lines to 25 tariff lines. Zero basic customs duty access will be given for all items removed with immediate effect. I recognize that non-tariff barriers are an area of concern. India is committed to the idea of free and balanced growth of trade in South Asia. Competition begins at home. Our industries have to learn to compete if our economies are to have a future in this globalised world that we live in. We can all benefit from our respective comparative advantages. These include our hydropower and natural resource endowments, possibilities of earnings from transit, marine resources, our scientific and technological base and above all our young population which will drive consumption and investment in the years ahead.

On connectivity issues:

The theme of this year’s Summit is “Building Bridges”. This eloquently summarizes the imperative of greater regional integration, and is an objective to which India is fully committed. One such initiative taken last year was the launch of the South Asia Forum that has brought eminent South Asians from different walks of life together. In our Summit in Dhaka in 2005, I had suggested a reciprocal initiative to provide unrestricted access to airlines from SAARC States to our four metropolitan cities, and to 18 other destinations in India. Connectivity has partially improved since then. We must take this further. We should aim to conclude a regional Air Services Agreement, for which India would be happy to host a meeting of officials next year.

We have been talking of a Regional Railway Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement for a long time. Let us agree to conclude these agreements as a matter of priority. India, Maldives and Sri Lanka are in the process of developing regional ferry services. We should replicate many more such connectivity arrangements in other parts of our sub-continent.

I commend the Postal Administrations of SAARC for agreeing to establish a South Asian Postal Union. India is happy to host the ad hoc Secretariat for the Union, and to sponsor training courses at our Postal Staff College to train upto ten SAARC officials per year, belonging to interested Member States. We should follow up this agreement by improving our telecommunication linkages to reduce call rates and telecommunication tariffs and interconnection termination charges. India will be ready to facilitate the development of a regional telecommunications infrastructure to improve the quality of connectivity. We should encourage greater broadcasting, television and film exchanges among our countries. It is time that we overcome the information deficit among the SAARC countries. We should encourage our people to know more about each other.

In this spirit, I wish to announce the following initiatives that India will take.

We will host a conclave of the top dozen tour operators from the SAARC region to boost tourism exchanges. We will take the initiative to establish a travelling exhibition on the ancient history of South Asia. This could comprise of a hundred archeologically-significant pieces per country to be selected by member States. The exhibition can be hosted in each of our national museums in turn for three months. Post-graduate courses in the South Asian University have started in July 2010. India will increase the number of SAARC Silver Jubilee Scholarships for the South Asian University from 50 to 100. 75 of these will be at the Masters level and 25 at the doctoral level.

On environmental matters:

Protecting our environment even as we pursue rapid growth is essential. The India Endowment for Climate Change which I had announced last year has been established. We look forward to receiving project proposals from our SAARC partners. We will provide a total of ten scholarships per year to SAARC Member States for post-graduate and doctoral studies in forestry courses at the Forestry Research Institute of India, Dehradun.

2) As a consequence of the push: Linky 3

In his address during the inauguration of the summit on Thursday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called for full implementation of his six-year-old proposal for unrestricted access to airlines from SAARC states. He had also suggested giving priority to a Regional Railway Agreement and a Motor Vehicle Agreement. The declaration made no mention of an air services agreement but met Dr. Singh's desire for SAARC-wide ferry and rail services. In the absence of seamless air, rail and sea connections among SAARC member-countries due to traditional animosities, unsettled conditions and apprehension about the other country's designs, the common man travelling between some SAARC countries is forced to take circuitous routes. In this respect, the eight leaders at the summit decided to finalise a Regional Railways Agreement and complete the preparatory work on an Indian Ocean Cargo and Passenger Ferry Service by the end of this year.

3) From the Addu declaration, some points that need highlighting: Linky 4

7. To direct the conclusion of the Inter-governmental Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the Study on the Regional Power Exchange Concept as also the work related to SAARC Market for Electricity.
11. To initiate work towards combating maritime piracy in the region.
19. To undertake a comprehensive review of all matters relating to SAARC’s engagement with Observers, including the question of dialogue partnership, before the next Session of the Council of Ministers in 2012.

4) More on the observer issue: Linky

India today persuaded other Saarc member-countries to undertake a comprehensive review of the association’s guidelines for granting observer status to other nations.
A three-year moratorium on admitting new observers ended this year. New Delhi believes the existing nine observers is one too many for the eight-member Saarc. The observers are the US, Australia, China, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Mauritius, Myanmar and the European Union. India’s concerns stem from member-countries, particularly Pakistan, pushing for China to become a more involved partner. New Delhi does not want Saarc to become Beijing’s playground. It also has reservations about Pakistan support for Turkey’s bid to become an observer.

5) Four agreements were signed at Addu city:

a) SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters
b) SAARC Agreement on Multilateral Arrangement on Recognition of Conformity Assessment
c) SAARC Agreement on Implementation of Regional Standards
d) SAARC Seed Bank Agreement

As I point out elsewhere, the primacy of an Indian-centred electricity grid that is shared with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and that is supplied by the massive hydro potential of Bhutan, Nepal and surplus power states of the Indian Northeast such as Arunachal Pradesh can go a long way to address the burgeoning demand for electricity in India and its neighborhood. Nuclear power can only go so far, and there is a need to diversify the sources of cheap and sustainable power. That does not make renewable power an alternative model for electricity generation discourse in India. Nor does it condone the criminality of transmission, distribution and pilferage losses.

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