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In Havana there was more give than take

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Last updated on: September 20, 2006 11:55 IST
The dynamics of multilateral diplomacy are complex. The diplomats begin with clear bottom lines and end up with formulations far below them on one side to make gains on their major concerns elsewhere. They then selectively quote from declarations and interpret them to declare victory to their principals and the press.

Elsewhere in the declarations will remain other formulations, which other parties will spin to their own advantage. Since the declarations will not be read in their entirety by anyone other than researchers, the little secrets of our diplomatic victories will not be revealed.

Indian diplomats in the Havana NAM summit were in double jeopardy, the Indo-Pak summit was supposed to be on the sidelines of NAM, but at least for the Indian media, it was the other way around.

Initially, a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf was billed as a possibility in view of the freeze in the peace process, but then it grew into the main game in town.

Two distinct teams, one under National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and another under Ambassador Nirupam Sen must have worked on the same issue bilaterally and multilaterally, with Foreign Secretary-designate Shiv Shankar Menon keeping an eye on both the processes.

Inevitably, the bilateral agenda got the better of our multilateral concerns and we came out of Havana with much of our position on terrorism diluted.

On the bilateral front, Pakistan's objective was to resume the composite dialogue, which was interrupted by India on account of our conviction that Pakistan was behind the Mumbai blasts.

The Joint Declaration resumes the dialogue unconditionally, letting Pakistan totally off the hook. The quid pro quo comes elsewhere when an 'India-Pakistan anti-terrorism institutional mechanism' is set up. But this is hardly a quid pro quo as the joint condemnation of the Mumbai blasts and the mechanism itself fly in the face of our assertions so far that the fountain of terrorism is in Pakistan.

By its wellknown salami tactics, Pakistan has sliced away from our diplomatic stance on terrorism. Since Pakistan attributes terrorism on its own territory to India, our common status as victims of terrorism strikes at the roots of our policy and logic.

For those of us, who were surprised when the United States declared the biggest perpetrator of terrorism as a partner in the global war on terror, the joint mechanism gives no cause for comfort. Pakistan has only obstructed the war on terror by harbouring terrorists in its own territory.

India cannot get greater cooperation from Pakistan than what the US has obtained. We have formally demanded that Pakistan should hand over known terrorists. Moreover, the mechanism is just an idea so far and there is no guarantee that it will even take off eventually.

The joint mechanisms we have with other countries are very different as they are not perpetrators and victims at the same time. Two countries together cannot fight the trouble one of them foments.

We have been told that Pakistan assured us that it had no hand in perpetrating the terror acts in India. But have we decided to believe them and accept their assurance that they will do all they can to prevent such attacks?

Unless we had some compulsion to resume the dialogue under some pretext or another, justification is hard to find for taking the risk of taking on an adversary as a partner. The dialogue has also been skewed by the excessive emphasis on pursuing the dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir 'in a sincere and profound manner', a phrase clearly inserted by Pakistan.

The pre-eminence of Jammu and Kashmir in the composite dialogue comes out loud and clear in the latest joint statement. Observers will see the latest formulation a diplomatic victory for Pakistani diplomacy.

By going to Havana before a change of regime there, which the United States openly advocates and by describing Fidel Castro as 'one of the greatest men of all times', our prime minister has sent an unequivocal message to the world.

India has not, after all, abandoned its old constituency and friends even while working with the United States on the most pressing problems of the world. He took the risk of incurring the wrath of several US Congressmen, who would resent a good word about Castro even in an after dinner conversation. Some of them may raise the cordial meeting between Prime Minister Singh and President Castro in the forthcoming discussions on the nuclear deal in the US Senate. But for our own reasons, India raised the same point that the United States raises in every international forum, namely, terrorism.

The reports we have on the formulations on terrorism in the final declaration of the summit show that we have made some advances on the issue in a manner, which should embarrass Pakistan, particularly the mention of the Taliban and the area from where terrorism is exported far and wide.

But while we quote those sections and claim victory, Pakistan and many of the countries in West Asia will quote those portions which support the view that the struggle for self-determination should be exempted from the definition of terrorism. This old debate, which seemed to disappear at the time of 9/11, has once again come in the way of the adoption of the comprehensive convention against terrorism.

In other words, there is no consensus for the NAM countries to work together in the General Assembly on a definition of terrorism.

The reform of the Security Council is another issue on which no advance has been made. The NAM countries have no difficulty in demanding democratisation of the UN, but when it comes to the modalities of it, there are very divergent views. NAM cannot agree even to demand new permanent members from among themselves. Any effort at designating its own candidates for permanent membership will result in a revolt within the NAM fold. To claim victory on account of some general formulations is to delude ourselves.

Diplomacy is the art of the possible and in multilateral diplomacy, it is impossible to find our own point of view reflected fully in any document. Our diplomats are adept in influencing decisions, just as the others are able to do. Consensus decisions have to be necessarily compromise formulations, which involve give and take. When we have to give more than we take, we should realise that we have more work to do.

T P Sreenivasan, who recently retired from the Indian Foreign Service, was India's former ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, and former governor for India, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

For more articles by Ambassador Sreenivasan, click here.

T P Sreenivasan