Friday, 31 August 2012

Cold War Hangover

The 16th Non-Aligned Movement summit underway in the Iranian capital Tehran offers a mixed bag for India. India’s large delegation, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sends out a signal that we still hold a lot of brief for a multilateral institution that has long outlived its purpose of creation. This is evident from the fact that for the Tehran meet the prime minister is accompanied by the external affairs minister, the national security adviser, and foreign secretary among other delegates. Giving such importance to a Cold War relic is a reflection of the flawed foreign policy approach of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

While the meeting between Manmohan Singh and his Bangladeshi counterpart Shiekh Hasina is a positive, it would have had a better effect if the leaders met in either New Delhi or Dhaka. Singh meeting Pakistan President Zardari or any other Pakistan leader — and such meetings on the ‘sidelines’ of important summits have become nauseating frequent — will have little of the desired effect. Manmohan Singh and his government must realise that we have done enough of talking with our neighbour and now the message should be that unless there is tangible action from Islamabad normalcy in ties cannot be restored.
For Iran the NAM summit is an important event and it will be Tehran’s answer to Washington, and other Western powers, which has been exerting pressure to make it an international pariah. The presence of Latin American leaders, rulers from Oman and Kuwait, leaders from the subcontinent, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the attendance of UN general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, is definitely a show of strength by Iran.
While it goes without saying that India has to have good ties with Iran on its own terms and not take instructions from the United States, it is important that we not strain our relations with Israel at the cost of extending a hand to Iran. This diplomatic tightrope walk is the challenge the Singh government will have to face.
(This appeared as an edit in The New Indian Express on August 31)