Both our big enemies, Pakistan and China, have a new leadership at the helm and both chose to send India the first signals of cordiality after coming to power. While Nawaz Sharif didn't waste a moment in inviting his Indian counterpart to be present at his swearing-in, Li Keqiang, the new Chinese Premier came to India on his first foreign trip in his official capacity.
These signals are important for India and should be assessed in a well-balanced manner. Neither should New Delhi feel carried away by these gestures, nor should it don a cynic's hat while weighing them.
New leadership in Pak and China wooing India: Not without a reason
Let's first concentrate on the positives. Both Sharif and Li, despite all odds, know very well that mindless hostility will not do good to either of the three nations. Sharif has taken over in Pakistan at a time when the country is nearing an economic collapse. The man has been seen wooing the Indian establishment like by assuring probe into the 26/11 attacks because he knows that Islamabad requires an economic cooperation from India if the democratic credentials of the country has to survive.
Dictators and fundamentalist elements can afford to sacrifice basics of statecraft and escalate irresponsible hostility but for a democratically elected leader, the challenge is immense. Sharif, not known to be friendly towards the US, is also likely to be seen mending ties with the west for economic returns. That's the key for him at the moment.
Li Keqiang speaks with pragmatism
Speaking about Li, the man is known to be an open thinker, which has not been the case with the Chinese political tradition. The man is considered to be one who doesn't conform to stereotypical Chinese leaders and might turn out to be a reformer. A couple of days before his arrival in India, Li said he fondly remembers his visit to India as a youth delegation leader 27 years ago and it influenced him to choose India as the first destination as the Premier of his country.
He said India and China to shake hands to make Asia the engine of world economy. Here again, despite the recent border stand-off and the Indian media's memorable contribution in creating a panic, there is no denying that Beijing has a bigger interest in mind, and that is to cement the economic relations with the southern neighbour for mutual benefit.
The Chinese have shown an urgency to improve bilateral relations by settling the border issue, which often creates friction between the two countries. Li's modest estimation of his own country's economy makes the new Chinese leadership all the more eager to get near to the attractive Indian market.
Irritants will always be there but they need to settled
Both the new Pakistani and Chinese leadership are dealing with India with a sense of pragmatism for their own national interest. But national interest is not a monolithic concept and there are bound to be irritants which are beyond any individual to successfully curb.
Sharif, despite his initial positive gestures, won't find them easy to maintain, thanks to challenges from fundamentalists and the army. We have seen in the past as well as how Pakistan betrayed the spirit of good neighbourhood even while engaging with India. There is no guarantee that it won't be repeated.
As far as China is concerned, Li's first visit to India as the Premier shows how much importance Beijing has attached to India but at the same time, the recent Ladakh incursion just after he took over shows that we are yet to shed the baggage of history.
Co-operation required between all three states for common interest
Co-operation between India, Pakistan and China is extremely important for all three parties in days to come for the south and south-east Asian ambience is turning more volatile with each passing day. If Asia is considered the emerging engine of the world, it is also the same Asia which poses the maximum threat to world peace. The situation in Afghanistan is likely to pose serious challenges to her neighbours once the US pulls out in a year's time and the need of co-operation will be felt all the more. Similarly, a concerted effort is required to de-escalate the tension in the Korean peninsula.
Regional integrity has so far failed in our part of the world but now it seems it is important to promote it. The Indian leadership has a big task to nurture a balanced dealing with both the neighbours which have a fresh leadership and try to undo whatever damage history has done to us. There should be a committed effort to settle bilateral irritants so that multilateral interests are duly served in the near future. More engagement is the call of the day and not boycotting over temporary friction.
Can our lame-duck establishment make the good opportunity count?
But can the current Indian ruling coalition, which has remained lame-duck for most part of its tenure since 2009 can implement a balanced policy? Can we allow a good opportunity to engage with two fresh regimes go waste?