Rewriting South Asian geopolitics
The days of ‘non-alignment’, it seems, are over. The time instead has come for strategic realignments, indeed bolstering of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the subcontinent and its adjoining areas, indeed the turmoil-infested neighbourhood. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intelligent move, that of throwing the gauntlet of good diplomacy and semiotic candy of welcome gesture towards the fellow premiers, has kickstarted a cycle of reciprocity, which has the power to redraw the contours of South Asian history, politics and economics. The jewel among all the soft diplomatic parleys which PM Modi had with all the other SAARC country heads or representatives was the meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a rendezvous that had been looked forward to by eager eyes of people from both sides of the border. That Modi’s oath-taking ceremony was broadcast live in Pakistan, with newspapers and channels dissecting the new cross-border gamble with gusto, signals indeed the possibility of a new era in Indo-Pak relations, which would be forged over pragmatics instead of posturings. With issues like terrorism, 26/11 attacks, bilateral trade, prospect of granting India the ‘most favoured nation’ tag, ruling the roost, Sharif and Modi exuded a positivism unseen for a long time in the body language of politicians, diplomats and other emissaries negotiating peace and more such elusive goals. The firm handshake notwithstanding, Modi and Sharif have a long and bumpy road ahead before any semblance of a pacific new normal can be established and before better governance can be translated into a changed and reconfigured discourse of amity.
However, while betterment of Indo-Pak relations is integral to it, under no circumstances is it the whole story of reworking South Asian geopolitics. Hence, the bilateral ties with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal assume as much of importance as any other, and Modi’s well-thought move to give every nation its due by meeting them all individually would go down in history as a brilliant, even if symbolic, tactic that pleased all. The specific problems and the rough edges of the particular relationships could only be removed or at least minimised through long-term and dedicated diplomacy aimed at mutual benefit, prosperity and development, with greater integration of cultural and economic activities and aspirations of the bloc. South Asia, after the Nehru-Indira years, had been reduced to a territorial equivalent of Bollywood, compensating through cinemascope what it lacked in hard power or economic muscle. Actual battles and the long proxy war with Kashmir-obsessed and terrorism-instigating Pakistan, witnessing Afghanistan’s transmogrification into a ‘graveyard of foreign policy’, genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka, persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, the troubled waters of River Teesta – had all contributed in weakening, indeed annihilation, of the idea of South Asia as a geostrategic powerhouse. It’s time to reconsolidate that flagging ideal.