The recent muscle-flexing by Maldives over the GMR issue and the endless provocation from Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik during his visit to India show how ineffective the Indian establishment is turning with regard to the foreign policy priorities. Both these episodes hint at two alarming tendencies: First, New Delhi has no stern policy in place vis-a-vis Pakistan even to this day and is unbelievably insensitive when it comes to handle issues that involve common Indians' emotions.
Second, even the smallest of her neighbours in South Asia today do not care about New Delhi's position. And this is precisely a retaliation to India's persistent lack of interest in nurturing a consistent foreign policy as far as south Asia is concerned.
Let us take the case of Rehman Malik. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) man is mocked at in his own country. He was suspended from the membership of Pakistan's parliament by the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the grounds of dual citizenship in June this year. A close aide of late Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the man has done little solid on the ground and is termed as an 'entertainer' in his country's political circles.
Whether Pakistan finds great merit in such a person to make him an important minister is its problem. But what is shocking is that India, despite knowing how much significance a country like Pakistan commands in its foreign policy priorities, decided to engage with this person to disturb the rhythm of the confidence building mechanism. The timing of Malik's visit was a complete mistiming. India had been dilly-dallying with his visit since November.
Timing went awry
It was initially said the visit should not coincide with the sensitive 26/11 although later it was said the visit was postponed more in the view of Ajmal Kasab's execution that was hurriedly carried out on Nov 21. But postponing the visit to coincide with Dec 13, the day when terrorists had attacked the Indian parliament 11 years ago, was no wise move. Calling the unreliable neighbour's home minister to chalk out a liberal visa regime at a time when it has done little to bring the 26/11 mastermind to justice is a directionless move.
After all, how many Indians, apart from passionate travellers and nostalgic old generations, will spontaneously travel to that country? Pakistan is useless as far as the economic interests of India's thriving middle-class is concerned. India's continuing soft stance will help its interest little and encourage the sponsors of terror more. A liberal visa regime can only help their sinister plans.
If Malik is not worthy, then why was he called?
What is even more pathetic is that the motormouth Rehman Malik went on speaking anything he wished and no top leader from the Indian side thought of countering him. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid gave a surprising justification. He said if the President of Pakistan had told all that Malik said, India would have taken things differently. Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde later said in the Rajya Sabha that Malik seemed to be 'misinformed'. What does that mean? If India thinks Malik is not worth it, then what was the point in inviting him and to hear things making little sense? Or whether it does not have it to counter even a minister with zero credibility in his own country? Difficult to understand really.
The BJP found a reason to attack the Congress-led Centre on Malik's controversial comments and it could give it a shot in the arm in the remaining phase of the Gujarat election. Inviting the Pakistani minister when the parliament in session also gave the Opposition an advantage and was a miscalculation on behalf of the UPA leadership.
Rehman's talks a poll stunt for his govt?
Both Maldives and Pakistan are scheduled to go to polls over the next two years and it is important to note that the more democracy makes substantial inroads in India's neighbours (not many of them were democratic till the recent past), the challenge for New Delhi will turn more difficult. For, anti-India voices in these countries will have a chance to gain legality through periodical elections and the policy of accommodating a dominant but stagnant power centre that New Delhi has been following vis-a-vis many of its south Asian neighbours is less likely to pay off any more. We have seen it in post-monarchy Nepal, post-Musharraf Pakistan and post-Gayoom Maldives.
Bangladesh's India policy changes each time the regime changes in Dhaka and New Delhi struggles to cope up with the changed ground reality. The lack of interest that India's policy makers show on the immediate neighbourhood is actually going to fuel anti-Indian sentiments and give a golden opportunity to players like China to broaden its sphere of influence.
India's shy leadership has allowed the matter to drift
The ignorance of little but crucial aspects and engagement with people of little credibility are going to cost India dearly. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is apparently making a 'positive' move by not showing interest in visiting Pakistan but such evasive action harms the national interest more. Statesmen lead from the front and don't hesitate by thinking over the fallouts. Singh had made a mess during talks with Pakistan in Egypt a few years ago and may be that is another reason which is holding him back. But unless the top leadership displays some grit and take an initiative to address crucial issues, pawns like Sushilkumar Shinde and Rehman Malik will do little favour. This is precisely what has happened with Malik's three-day tour. It earned India nothing and only worsened an already battered bilateral relation. Are we too casual?