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Davos Fallout: SAARC

editFor the knowledgeable, Nepali sovereignty had traversed much from the early fifties when India could suggest their advice in Nepal seeking third country Colombo Plan advisors to the mid-seventies when Nepal on her own could host the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee Meeting. The country’s growing role in the non-aligned movement may not have been allowed to make further assertions in hosting the meet in Kathmandu; the venue said to have been prepared by King Birendra has been occupied since the decade by Nepal’s politicians as legislature. Nepal’s assertion as an active member of the international committee saw positive response from that community on her Zone of Peace proposal and although ‘everybody who was nobody’ may have attended king Birendra’s coronation, the media splash the attendance gave Nepal internationally was yet another demonstration of defeat for isolationists giving the country the confidence to partner neighbor Bangladesh to float and give fruition to the regional SAARC proposal. Indeed, the sagacity of Nepali foreign policy at that time bears relevance even today in king Birendra’s vision seeing the region’s water problems effectively being solved with South Asian cooperation with China.
Indian media coverage on the international economic summit at Davos last week suggests a serious soul searching in that country on what evidently emerged as a growing international opinion that India was loosing grounds in South Asia vis a vis China and what should be done to reverse the tide. Such a soul searching would be blessed if common sense would allow Indian decision makers to focus on SAARC and what impedes Indian genuine aspirations of a regional role to allow her the pursuit of longstanding aspirations for a global presence vis a vis China. It turns out that China has a more successful South Asia policy when it comes to confidence building in this region and has gained grounds simply because its bilateralism is aimed at confidence building. Indian bilateralism on the other hand has meant micro-management to extents provoking abhorrence in the neighborhood. Many an Indian decision maker would bask at this achievement of traditional Indian foreign policy no doubt. But a conceptual approach to cooperation would mean partnership, voluntary partnership for betterment and not subservience and coercion for which much Indian energy has been wasted in coping with the inevitable reaction. SAARC’s failure to take-off on this account cannot be offset by the formation and machinations of alignments for cooperation elsewhere. For India and other South Asian countries South Asia is a reality that is better if coped with as a reality. If the Chinese can do so by recognizing each independent country and their aspirations, an Indian overhaul would have to take this into account. South Asian countries are independent sovereign countries such as is India and the Indian position in the region would have demanded from this country its recognition of the aspirations of its neighbors. Strengthening such would have inspired confidence of regional neighbors and removed longstanding threat perceptions enabling tangible benefits from cooperation towards meeting such aspirations. As much as we would tend to veer away from sensitive political issues imbibed in bilateralism, the case for urgent economic cooperation ultimately overlapping into political change is redundant when one refuses to recognize real political impediments at the very outset. The Indian system as such would seem to need perceptional change, political, media and all. It is only then that genuine correction is possible. In so far as China is concerned, wisdom lies in the historical necessity of cooperation and the Western inspired gung-ho competition to catch up with China must be exposed for what it is; namely, strategic political alignment to match a competitor that does not exist.

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