There was a time when big powers sought not only India's support but also its opinion on the world problems. It was then less viable economically or militarily than today. But it enjoyed the prestige – and place – that mattered. That role has got reversed now. New Delhi is itself chasing big powers to offer support and even opinion without their asking. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is currently abroad on a mission to acquaint the world leaders with what India has to say on Afghanistan and the related problems. First Moscow, then Washington and finally London – to ensure that India does not go out of their radar screen. Although New Delhi gave Washington its full support on the day the terrorists stuck at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, there is nothing to suggest that India counts more with America than before. If New Delhi has at all acquired any status, it is that of "also-ran." It is not that India would have been misunderstood if it had taken the initiative of seeking the opinion of Afro-Asian countries before announcing its support.
After having been a victim of terrorism for more than a decade, no country would have doubted where its support lay. We, who have led the non-aligned movement, have an obligation to small, independent countries. They look towards us. After the end of the cold war, the non-aligned movement has no doubt lost its sheen. Yet, the importance of third world countries has not diminished to the extent that they do not count.
What I had in mind was a conference of Afro-Asian countries to discuss terrorism and the Taliban's support of it. It is possible that Pakistan and one or two more countries would have stayed away from the conference. Still we would have provided a platform to most nations in the region to air their views. They would have supported the 'coalition' as they have done now. But after the conference they would have felt that they had not been taken for granted or bulldozed into doing something. Washington may not have liked the move for a conference in the beginning but would have come to appreciate it because the message would have spread that the Afro-Asian countries had joined the 'coalition,' we would have had the satisfaction of playing some role. We would have had probably some say in the conduct of warfare, which is becoming increasingly unpopular in Afro-Asian countries.
The proposal for a broad-based government at Kabul could have been discussed at the conference itself. All countries in the region wanted such an arrangement and now when Pakistan has veered round to the same point of view, there would have been no difficulty in implementing it. The real gain would have been the recognition – and assertion – of the region which is presently the theatre of war. We would have been in the picture.
True, India and Pakistan stand apart on Afghanistan, whether one thinks of the past or the future. But the difference between the two would have merged in the broader picture. After all, whatever the route they have taken they have ended up as allies of the 'coalition.' Maybe, the Afro-Asian conference would have spurred them to talk to each other.
How long can the two remain distant?
But the government, which does not want to take its own people into confidence, cannot be expected to think of convening an Afro-Asian conference. Even the opposition parties have been 'consulted' after the lapse of three weeks of bombing on Afghanistan. I wrote to the PM in mid-September to have a special session of parliament to discuss terrorism so as to give the nation a focus and a sense of unity. But I did not get even an acknowledgement. The foreign minister has held a meeting of the consultative committee of parliament on external affairs.
New Delhi is still at a loss to determine its role. That it does not want any part of the Taliban in the next government is understandable. After all, they are the ones who have nurtured terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. But toeing the line of Washington, which tends to take the fundamentalists as moderate Taliban so as to foist a new government on Kabul, India is not serving its interests. The Taliban is the problem; they cannot be part of solution. One hopes that Vajpayee will make things clearer to President Bush if Secretary of State Colin Powell has carried some other impression from the conversation he had had during his visit to New Delhi last month.
The biggest impediment to normalcy in the region is the enmity between India and Pakistan. This has also created a situation where the world powers are able to play one against the other. How to stop the exploitation of the region is a serious challenge. Both governments are oblivious to this fact.
Some 800 activists from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and India are assembling in New Delhi on November 10 and 11 to discuss peace and measures for saving the region from the holocaust of war, already threatening ominously. Un Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen are addressing the conference. The activists, who have organised themselves as the South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) propose to wrest through public opinion the initiative from the hands of western powers which have their own definition of terrorism and which have their own agenda for peace.
There is a great danger of war taking religious proportions. South Asians are ideally suited to play a positive role in the circumstances and to suggest a way to the west which has forgotten the ethical and spiritual aspects of life which are basic to culture and civilisation and which have given some meaning to life. Great religions are represented in this part of the world. There is a confluence of many civilisations. People have fought wars of liberation and they have liberal and democratic ideas. Even where dictatorship has taken over, there are stirrings of democracy.
All of them, whether from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh or Bhutan, have an entity of their own: South Asian. This identity transcends borders and communities. It gives them strength as people. They realise this. More than a year ago, they made a beginning when 100 South Asian activists met at Neemrana, near New Delhi, and adopted a declaration to reaffirm their belief in the unalienable human rights and dignity of every individual in the region. They promised to foster the concept of South Asian identity "by enabling people to realise their ideals and aspirations for peace, democracy, secularism and human security, while promoting pluralism in approaches towards social, political, economic and cultural developments of different communities, ethnic, linguistic, religious and other groups."
Whether they succeed or fail in their endeavour will depend on their capacity to arouse people to their way of thinking. Time is a mute witness. The touchstone to assess their progress will be how far they make the public rise above political and social theories or its petty self.
Published in FrontierPost, Pakistan. May be because India lacks leaders like Nehru or Indira now, it is losing that respect and popularity among world Nations.