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India in a changing world

Print edition : Aug 09, 1997

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I.K. GUJRAL says that we have succeeded in correlating foreign policy to post-Cold War realities.

THE PRINCIPLE OF NON-RECIPROCITY: In the matter of relations with other countries, the previous perceptions have always been that there should be a quid pro quo and that is why to a large extent we were not making headway among our neighbours. What is the first compulsion of neighbourly relations? India is the biggest country in the region, occupying 85 per cent of the land mass in South Asia. Our economy would also be around 85 per cent. Our population is also the biggest. Demanding reciprocity with countries like Bhutan or the Maldives is an unfortunate way of looking at things.

What we want from our neighbours is confidence and trust. We have now achieved this and it was visible in the December 1996 meeting of SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). For the first time in the history of SAARC, India was not isolated. Every Minister, except Pakistan's, was with us. But even the then Pakistan Foreign Minister, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan, on record appreciated the doctrine. He said that this is the basis on which trust can be built.

Non-reciprocity does not mean compromising our sovereignty. We expect others also to respect our sovereignty. We do not encourage militancy, we do not encourage others to usurp our land. On economic issues there is reciprocity. With Bangladesh, on water and trade, we have given concessions.

With Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, we have given concessions. India does not lose much. Let me give you one example. With Bangladesh, the balance of trade is overwhelmingly in our favour. Likewise with Nepal and Bhutan. If this is allowed to continue, then in a way you are seeing that their economic development does not take place. We have a vested interest in their economic development, not in their non-development.

REGIONALISM AND GLOBALISM: Two things are being talked about the world over in the context of globalisation. All over there is a regional component in globalisation, whether we talk of Europe, North America or Latin America.

Every worthwhile foreign policy is focussing on regionalism. Therefore we are focussing on concentric circles. In the inner circle, the core is of course SAARC. Then there is another circle, which we dealt with when we joined the Indian Ocean Rim. We are also full dialogue partners of ASEAN (the Association of South-East Asian Nations). We have made a new entry into Central Asia via Iran and Turkmenistan. Indian diplomacy and foreign policy are making an entry into world politics through these concentric circles. That is how we are expanding. That does not mean that we are ignoring our traditional relationships with countries like the U.S. and Russia.

SUB-REGIONAL COOPERATION: Sub-regional cooperation in this region is being coordinated by Nepal. Similarly, Sri Lanka will coordinate the meeting of the southern grouping. Southern India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives were always a unit. Sri Lanka is rubber-surplus. Our transport needs are increasing. We can set up units in Sri Lanka. Outside investment is available. It will ensure prosperity for everyone. That is how I perceive the concept of sub-regional cooperation. The day our relations with Pakistan improve, the traditional sub-regional grouping there can come into being. It will consist of our part of Punjab and their part of Sindh and a part of Rajasthan. This will be an economic unit. This again will help everybody. We are already trying this in SAARC, where we are talking of free trade, but sub-regional cooperation will be the turning point.

RELATIONS WITH PAKISTAN: In relations with Pakistan, our focus is on cooperation. The issue of trade is much talked about. My position on this is very simple: let them trade with us if it suits them. Nobody trades with anybody if it is not profitable. Informal trade between India and Pakistan is of the order of around Rs. 2,000 crores. Only the consumer in Pakistan gains, the Pakistan Government's revenue suffers. India will never demand any trade concessions from Pakistan.

India's outlook is very simple, that is with respect to all neighbours, including Pakistan: trade with us if it suits you, don't trade with us if it does not. Pakistan has bought 50,000 tonnes of sugar from us and they bought that after they called international tenders and found that our bid was the lowest. Taking sugar by rail across Punjab is easy and time-saving. We did it last year as well. Last year they wanted to buy wheat. For their steel plant they will always need raw material, which they are now buying from Australia. Ultimately, the laws of economics prevail.

President Rajendra Prasad with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (centre) at Rashtrapati Bhavan in June 1955.

BREAKTHROUGH IN RELATIONS WITH CHINA: Talking about the neighbourhood, China is also an important factor. New confidence-building measures (CBMs) that have been initiated with China have given us a breakthrough.

We have put our foreign policy on firm ground. We have not formulated our foreign policy from preconceived notions. No policy decision has been taken off-the-cuff. We have an idea of what we are doing. Of course, one does not succeed all the time. Diplomacy is always full of pitfalls. But until now we have seen success.

INTERNAL CONSENSUS ON CTBT: We have taken care to see that there is a consensus. I have always kept my colleagues in the Opposition informed. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), for instance, was a major test but every major political party supported us. Credit should therefore go to this tradition of consensus. On the CTBT I used to have detailed discussions and share government documents with the Opposition, so that there was sustained interest.

THE KASHMIR ISSUE: As far as Kashmir is concerned, the issue is based on the Shimla Agreement. But the Shimla Agreement is not one issue but has several clauses. In totality, it spells good-neighbourliness. Don't carry on propaganda against each other, don't throw stones at each other. Naturally, Indian sovereignty is not negotiable. Unless both of us understand this, difficulties will continue. We have given them several concessions, like travel, unilaterally. We plan to expand these further.

When President Jiang Zemin (of China) went to Pakistan, he told them that now a model is available, that of the Sino-Indian border. The Sino-Indian border is a contentious issue and it is being discussed by the Joint Working Groups and we are moving towards a solution. The CBMs we signed with the Chinese last time were a major step forward for the eventual settlement of the issue. But what has brought this about? It was because we had cooperation in other areas, and regular meetings helped.

The result is that even solution of contentious issues becomes easier because sentiments change. If 20 years ago somebody had asked us to have CBMs with China, many in India would have reacted with a great deal of emotion. The same situation prevails with Pakistan. I had personally suggested that we put the issue of Kashmir on the backburner. We did not mean that they should forget about it.

Two years ago, in a Track Two meeting in Pakistan, I suggested to the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, that there is a Sino-Indian border agreement and that she should look at it. She was not responsive. Ultimately when a contentious issue which has so much historical and emotional baggage has to be solved, this model is a very relevant one.

HARMONISING INTERESTS: The challenge before diplomacy is to try to harmonise all our varied interests. We have our interests in SAARC, in the Indian Ocean Rim and in various other groupings. If at any stage aberrations come in, it is our job to remove them.

I think we have succeeded in really correlating foreign policy to, and interpreting it and implementing it for, post-Cold War realities. The central issues of Indian foreign policy remain intact. I think if you were to ask me what is the central point of Indian foreign policy, it is that once again we have stood on our feet and asserted our independence. The CTBT was our most pronounced test and I think we have come through it with success.

Excerpts from an interview Prime Minister Gujral gave Frontline on March 11, when he was External Affairs Minister in the first United Front Government, led by H.D. Deve Gowda.

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