By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The Raisina Dialogue is a joint initiative by the Government of India and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), an independent think tank based in New Delhi. India has strived to organize the conference in the lines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. It is designed to be India’s primary conference on geo-politics and geo-economics.
Its inaugural edition was held in March 2016 and was inaugurated by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj. The theme was ‘Connecting Asia’. The second edition, with participants from 69 countries was concluded last week in Delhi and the theme was “The New Normal: Multilateralism with Multi-Polarity”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the second edition.
Being an Indian initiative, discussions over two and half days laid emphasis on the issue if today’s world was a multi-polar world and if India was one of the poles of the world. Three dominant questions which arose were;
- India’s capability of being a pole
- India’s readiness to be a pole
- India’s right to be a pole
A pole may be one or a group of countries with a group leader and other countries aligned behind the group leader. Therefore, it may be argued, a multi-polar world is one with several group leaders who obviously would be economically and militarily powerful with the remaining not so powerful and powerless countries aligned behind one of the several group leaders.
Until January 20, it was a given, the block leaders were US and Russia with China a group leader in waiting. Not to be forgotten are the sub group leaders Britain and France who still wield influence over former colonies. France and some of its former African colonies is a good example. India, judging by its conduct towards it neighbors since 1970 has been striving hard to portray the image of a sub group leader, which it now wishes to expand to that of a block leader.
The keynote speaker at the 2017 edition was India’s Foreign Secretary, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. Some parts of his address are best described as perfidious, at least from a Sri Lankan perspective. There could be similar perspectives notably from Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan to name a few.
The Foreign Secretary requested China to be “sensitive to its sovereignty” and not to see India’s rise as a threat to China. Claiming China has till now, not shown any consideration for India’s sovereignty, he further stated, “China is a country which is very sensitive on matters concerning its sovereignty. So, we would expect that they would have some understanding of other people’s sensitivity on their sovereignty.” According to Jaishankar, ties between China and India, developed through trade and people-to-people contacts have been diminished due to differences on political issues. Describing terrorism as a “pervasive and serious” threat to global security, the Foreign Secretary lamented of the deficit in efforts by major powers in dealing with terrorism. He also referred to the decision making body of the UN as an ‘absurdity’ and touched on the need to reform the world body to enable the organization to deal with contentious issues confronting the world today. India’s quest for a permanent seat at the Security Council could not have been far away in the Foreign Secretary’s mind. Referring to the regional grouping SAARC, he stated, “Regional groupings are today one of the building blocks of the global order. Their driving force and commonality are perhaps the most obvious of all. India is a founder member of SAARC, an organization that has been made ineffective due to insecurity of one member. We hope to partially remedy this through the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) sub-regional grouping. It is also our expectation that the current level of enthusiasm among members of BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, Nepal) can be channeled towards far reaching initiatives.”
It is believed, a move is being promoted by a group of persons in the Indian establishment to jettison Pakistan from the SAARC regional group due to objections raised by Pakistan to some Indian initiatives. It has also been reported of moves to isolate and ignore Pakistan. The theory may have some substance in view of comments during interviews given by a Maldivian Minister and Nepalese Ambassador to India during the Raisina Dialouge to an India journalist. It may be recalled, the last SAARC summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in 2016 was cancelled due to India pulling out from the summit, citing Pakistan’s involvement in terror attacks in India.
Some of the statements by Foreign Secretary Jaishankar need to be examined with special emphasis on India’s conduct towards Sri Lanka during the past 36 years. It is not only China that needs to be sensitive to India’s sovereignty. India too needs to be sensitive to the sovereignty of other nations, especially Sri Lanka and other neighboring countries. At the Raisina Dialouge, ‘Born Again’ India in its new Avatar has completely overlooked India’s involvement in nurturing, training, arming and providing safe havens to LTTE terrorists for decades. Support reduced but did not cease completely even after the assassination of one of India’s former Prime Ministers in 1991. Compelling Sri Lanka to call off the successful Vadamarachchi campaign which would have finished off the LTTE group, under threat of an Indian invasion was a violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in every sense of the word. The forced air drop of food supplies by India transporters accompanied by Indian Air Force Mirage fighter jets, after informing Sri Lanka of dire consequences in case she attempted to intervene with the air drop, was a violation of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty in every sense of the word. Even as the Indian Foreign Secretary was pleading for Chinese sensitivity to India’s sovereignty, South Indian fishing trawlers were poaching in Sri Lankan waters with impunity, using destructive methods such as bottom trawling banned the world over, with total disregard of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. No attempts are made by Indian the Coast Guard to keep Indian fishing trawlers in Indian waters. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government, has ordered its navy to muffle its cannon and prohibited firing at poaching Indian fishing trawlers even as a warning, as demanded by India. It is such a country that pleads with the Chinese to be “sensitive to its sovereignty”
India, whilst expecting China to play by the rules when dealing with her, regularly plays with the rules when dealing with powerless countries such as Sri Lanka.
Regional groupings, despite being building blocks of the global order till recently, can no longer be taken for granted. Cracks in such groupings have begun to emerge with Brexit, the advent of the Trump presidency and American withdrawal from Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). More clarity could be expected once national elections have been concluded in the Netherlands, France and Germany later in 2017. Regional groupings could also pose a serious threat to less powerful and powerless countries. They are at the mercy of the diktats of Regional groupings. This point was highlighted recently by the conditions stipulated by the European Union for the restoration of GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka.
A few lines need be devoted to the second SAARC summit held in Bengaluru, India in November 1986. In view of India’s involvement with the LTTE terrorists, the then President of Sri Lanka initially decided to boycott the summit. However, in view of appeals by other members, he agreed to attend. The original plan was to raise India’s involvement with LTTE terrorists during the summit. India promptly blocked the move on the basis, it was a bi-lateral issue whereas SAARC was a forum for multi-lateral issues, and therefore it’s involvement with LTTE terrorists could not be raised. India’s act needs to be understood in the context of Indian supported terrorism in Sri Lanka being a bi-lateral issue unsuitable for discussion during a SAARC summit. However, terrorism in India, rightly or wrongly attributed to Pakistan which too by Indian definition is a bi-lateral issue prevented India from fielding a delegation to the SAARC summit a few months ago, leading to its indefinite postponement.
The move to jettison Pakistan from SAARC, if correct, needs to be resisted by right thinking member -states, especially Sri Lanka. SAARC is an example of the Raisina Dialogue theme of a multi-polar world. India with its economic and military power considers itself the group leader within the SAARC community and its pole. She would like the remaining member states to be aligned behind her. Being a nuclear power. Pakistan is the only member state in a position to withstand Indian pressure and maintain some kind of balance of power within SAARC.
Even though the present Sri Lankan government tends to under value the role played by Pakistan during thirty years of terrorism, the unwavering, unstinted and unconditional support extended by Pakistan during the LTTE insurrection helped Sri Lanka in no small measure to maintain its unitary status. Pakistan was the first nation to supply urgently needed Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRL) from its own stocks with payment to be made later thus preventing the fall of Jaffna in May 2000. It would be an ungrateful and unforgivable act on the part of Sri Lanka to remain silent in the event of an Indian project to jettison Pakistan from the SAARC community.
To conclude, despite deliberations at the Raisina Dialogue, India besides UK, France, Germany and EU as a block of nations would do well to take heed of a particular part in President Donald Trump’s inaugural address which stated “We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world – but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on any one, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow”.