Addressing Indian concerns

Published : Aug 17, 2002 00:00 IST

WHY should Pakistan, which is not a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), cast a shadow over the international concerns that India expresses within the confines of the association? A politico-philosophical answer can be traced to the sense of affinity that a few among the ASEAN members feel towards Pakistan which, like them, was once a member of the United States-engineered South East Asian Treaty Organisation of the Cold War era. At a more intimate political level of the present, some South East Asian states find themselves in the same league as Pakistan under the auspices of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

In contrast, India has no comparable affinities with any of the ASEAN member-states, the old bond forged in the Non-Aligned Movement with Indonesia being a link with no overtones of a political kinship. Viewed differently, New Delhi too does not always help its cause in the ARF or even in the overall South East Asian framework by underlining its special ties, which stretch back to the Cold War period, with some of the relatively new ASEAN member-states. Yet, if New Delhi has found a place in the ARF for the past several years, the pragmatic reason is to be found in India's increasing relevance to the international system. As an aspect of games theory of international relations, India's presence in the ARF is also, if only arguably, indicative of the general desire of the ASEAN states to remind China, their most proximate neighbour, of the limits to its enormous geostrategic presence in the East Asian region. However, on the whole, all these factors do not count for very much when the U.S. wishes to set the ARF agenda, either through back-seat driving or even an upfront role.

The ARF's latest formulation on India-Pakistan ties, a statement that pleased New Delhi, was the result of diplomatic interventions by the U.S. and the European Union, both of which looked at India as a victim of international terrorism. The ARF chairman's statement called upon Pakistan to intensify efforts to implement its own commendable commitment to counter terrorism that is of direct concern to India. The statement was in stark contrast to the earlier communique of ASEAN that called for a resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue without any reference to the issue of terrorism.

Japan, Singapore and China played critical roles by lending support to New Delhi's views or by merely refraining from opposing a certain negative reference to Pakistan. As a traditional nuclear pacifist, Japan was aghast at the ease with which Pakistan and some Indian policy planners (in that order) spoke of their nuclear weapons as some diplomatic cards with more significance than mere military deterrence. China, on its part, made a pragmatic assessment of India's sensitivities in a forum where Pakistan was not present. Interestingly, it was the U.S. which really set the tone for a situation in which India scored a point or two.

Why did U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell take such a stance after having earlier ruffled India's feathers by placing Kashmir on the international agenda? Was it Washington's way of keeping its anti-terror allies guessing so that they cannot take the U.S. support for granted?

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