The past few weeks have been good for inter-state relations among the otherwise quibbling South Asian states. This refers to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Heads have remained cool and borders have remained calm. This is not the norm. So how has this come about? The answer is a series of events that suddenly combined as a constellation of forces that created this favourable environment. The good news is that these do not simply constitute a ‘black-swan’ phenomenon that happened by accident. On the contrary these were the results of carefully calibrated strategies. The bad news, however, is that their sustainability is not ensured.
No major problems have been resolved. However, the past month witnessed a range of these being systematically addressed. The upshot has been a lessening of tensions between and among them. Granted peace is not the absence of war, but the absence of war is a prerequisite for peace. And admittedly the signs of war, or at least of shooting across frontiers, were ebbing along the borders. This was particularly true between India and Pakistan. The Indian side behaved most maturely in the aftermath of the second Mumbai by not pointing fingers at Pakistan immediately. The reward was ‘glam-slam’ visit to Delhi by the young lady Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, which was reminiscent of and equaled in cheer and charm Jacqueline Kennedy’s trip to a swooning India in 1962! The Khar visit was most certainly not all play either and left a sweet taste in the mouth when it was over. For over a year India and Pakistan has not had such substantive and focused discussions. Khar spoke of the changed ‘mind-set’ of a new generation on both sides of the Indo-Pakistani divide that no longer carried the baggage of past acrimony!
On the Pakistani side of the divide, however, there may be another reason altering the mind-set of all generations, young and old! It is that 69 per cent of the Pakistanis now view the US, still a technical ally, as the main threat and the West as the main enemy. These perceptions developed out of the experiences in Afghanistan, the ‘drone’ attacks in Pakistan, the attack in Abbottabad leading to Bin Laden’s death and a general sense of frustration. So to them India may have slipped from the top of the list of critical adversaries. So ironically the deterioration of the Pakistani relationship with the US may be aiding the Indo-Pak détente. Yet this is not a thesis that may yet be carried too far given the volatile history of the bilateral relations.
Between Bangladesh and India, while the nature of the animosity was not that sharp, suspicions had always persisted. In Bangladesh the non-partisan care-taker government that preceded the current Awami League led coalition perceived the ‘realpolitik’ reasons for cooperative links with India, and India responded with the intellectual acceptance of a disproportionate ‘non-reciprocal’ responsibility for improving ties. The Awami League, seen to be more understanding and certainly more tolerant of India, carried it forward. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India in 2010, and is expecting to host her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh in early September. A raft of agreements on a range of issues, including water and transit, is likely to be signed then. Meanwhile last month a parade of Indian leaders – the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, and Home, and the Congress chief Mrs. Gandhi herself made trips to Dhaka, the latter to receive an award that honoured her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi for her role in the liberation of Bangladesh. However, the main Bangladeshi opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, remains unpersuaded. Nonetheless, with increasing Bangladeshi socio-economic successes and burgeoning extra-regional linkages, political ‘Indo-centrism’ is likely to have a diminished role. In other words, the ‘India-factor’ will have lesser marshalling potentials for political parties. That could have positive ramifications for Indo-Bangladesh relations.
The current US fiscal crisis and the economic dilemmas Europe confronts could mean a lesser presence of these two major powers in the global politico-economic arena in the near future. This would almost force the rest of the world to work out their own regional and global policies. This would also provide an opportunity to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to behave like a harmonious threesome that would redound to the benefit of all. It would be a challenge to Indian diplomacy to craft such a possibility into fruition. India will need to muster the capability to take the lead, clearly possible for this large nation on the rise, but the others will also need to bear their respective share of responsibility.
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