Prof. M.L. Sondhi

Forum on current affairs, Round Table (Weekly)
 April 7, 1974

Ten years ago the then President of Pakistan, Mohammed Ayub Khan, wrote: “Pakistan virtually constitutes a defensive shield for India.  It constitutes also the gateway to South Asia.  It should therefore, be in the interest of world peace, particularly of India’s security, that Pakistan remains strong and stable.”  At that time a strong lobby operated in India which stressed that the aims of Pakistan policy had changed and there was no clash of interests between India and Pakistan.  A year later a full-fledged state of war existed between the two countries.  Today those who are overly optimistic about Mr. Bhutto tend to contribute neither firmness nor clarity towards a balanced assessment of the power relationships affecting India and Pakistan.  It is curious that a group of officials and non-officials, who constitute the “new” Pakistan lobby in New Delhi have become a singularly fertile source of ideas for strengthening Mr. Bhutto’s sacro egoismo.  It is this group which sees the Islamic Summit at Lahore as an extraordinary achievement for Mr. Bhutto.  This group also seeks to instill fear and respect in the Indian mind for the Islamic colossus and interpret the overtones of assertiveness heard at Lahore as a historical evolution, which carries the message that India has hardly any leverage on the course of developments in the Third World.

Mr. Bhutto’s primary aim has been to overcome the grave tensions which exist within Pakistan after the great trauma of 1971.  He finds himself face to face with the bitterly controversial issues of linguistic differences and civil rights.  He has neither courage nor imagination to deal with the innumerable tensions and conflicts which plague Pakistani politics.  His expertise for rescuing himself out of chaos is to use an insidious kind of propaganda, which helps him to present Pakistan’s obscurantist ideological positions as a new path to social advancement.  His efficient decision-making and diplomatic thrusts are marked by a calculating discretion,which enables him to present Pakistan’s parochial interest in concert with Peking’s militancy, at one time, or as the mirror-replica of United States “Western policy” at other times.  The spectacular moves of the Arab oil-producing countries to use oil as a political weapon gave Mr. Bhutto a unique and highly profitable opportunity to construct a catalogue of priorities in which collaboration with the “Muslim world” was given the highest place.  The Pakistanis are fully aware of the inconsistencies which characterize the treatment of the subject of Islamic unity by the different Muslim majority states, but the idea of the Islamic Summit as a magic cure-all fitted neatly into Mr. Bhutto’s operative code.  It is an illusion to believe that Pakistan can recreate the “two-nation theory”, which has been destroyed by the emergence of Bangladesh, or that Pakistan can take political steps forward to the creation of confederal institutions in the Islamic world.  Mr. Bhutto knows too well that such a “grand design” would collapse for sheer lack of enthusiasm in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Some commentators have seen in the Lahore Summit the vast potential for a leadership role by Islamabad, large enough to match the capability and influence of India.  Unfortunately, such conclusions are based on the fallacy of seeing the Islamic world as a distinct element in the world power system.  Both rivalry and cooperation mark the behaviour of countries which participated in the Lahore summit.  The fundamentalist Islamic theory and practice of Colonel Gaddafy has not overcome the divergent perceptions of the Arab States.  There is no obvious identity of interest between these states purely on the grounds of their being Islamic states, unless a degree of confidence has been built up through convergent political approaches.

The temptation to formulate an “Islamic policy” for India is the product of strong emotional overtones, with which the communal question is discussed in Indian politics.  As far as foreign policy is concerned, it was catastrophic for India to attempt to secure a presence for this country at the Rabat conference of Islamic states.  The events on the Indian sub-continent in 1971 resulted in a marked increase of Indian credibility and demonstrated the fragility of relations based on the religious bond.  The “Rabat idea” was discredited as a strategy of diplomatic brinkmanship and Indian decision-makers were compelled to look at strategic and political-realities with a readjusted vision.  In order to convert Indian military success into diplomatic success it was incumbent upon Indian decision-makers to remember that India has a distinctive role with regard to both the Middle East and South East Asia.  As a cohesive political entity and as a potential nuclear power, India can develop working relationships with states of the Third World on the basis of its political strength and stability, without paying much heed to the discriminatory aspects of religious ideologies.  The most attractive trait of Indian foreign policy is derived from our anti-colonial record and our determination to help political communities to defend their legitimate interests as, was demonstrated in the case of Bangladesh.

In the aftermath of Bangladesh, India is in a position to give diplomatic help to countries in the Middle East, which wish to play a wider international role.  The basic aim of Indian diplomacy should be to reduce super-power involvement in the Middle East.  This requires a direct relationship of “national interest” and going beyond the official rhetoric, which often exaggerates political or religious ideology.

India enjoyed a special “relationship” with Nasser’s Egypt, based upon both sharing a nonaligned outlook.  A realistic appraisal of the changing power position in the Arab world would have suggested that India should not let go opportunities in other Arab countries by default.  India’s influence in the Magreb can be easily enhanced if Indian policy-makes stop using the expression “counter-revolution”, which they have freely borrowed from doctrinaire Arab leaders.  Similarly, India has failed to move close to Turkey, which occupies a commanding height in Middle Eastern politics, because some policy makers in New Delhi did not wish to give diplomatic affirmation to a NATO member.  Similarly India’s political and economic links with Saudi Arabia could be strengthened, if New Delhi made it clear that it would not yield to pressures or threats, which are aimed at extending Communist influence in the Middle East.  The utilization of highly personalized relations with King Faisal could help New Delhi to achieve more substantial results than would be possible if only “Arab socialism” were made to symbolize the projection and development of Indo-Arab relations.  With Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, similarly, it is not religious, or political ideology that will yield diplomatic results but a relationship based on real confidence in which India acts with the firmness and assurance which its political and economic strength entitles it to. 

Some Indian actions during the Lahore summit did not meet the requirements of a sound Middle Eastern policy.  In place of a firm and unequivocal policy, based on the experience of Rabat the Ministry of External Affairs created some prickly controversies.  Suddenly inspired comment appeared that India was the third largest Muslim country and some of the statements of the External Affairs Minister Mr. Swaran Singh, had neither meaning nor purpose and ran counter to the main trend of opinion in India.  Why have Indian decision-makers refused once again to head the warnings from Rabat?  In the context of domestic Indian politics, there is a failure to make a sensible appraisal of facts relating to the formal agenda of the Lahore summit.  Even seasoned officials in the Ministry of External Affairs are thrown off balance by social and political tensions within the country, which have a minor significance when seen in the context of Indian long-term foreign policy interests.

Indian policies should not be inhibited by the melodramatic intervention of the Islamic summit team, which helped in the conciliation between Dacca and Islamabad.  The payoff for Pakistan is strictly limited and Mr. Bhutto’s possibilities in the future are marginal.  What India needs is long-range planning for the future of the sub-continent.  The democratic aspirations of the people of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan require a re-involvement in the mainstream of sub-continental politics.  India need not get into the uneasy position of being dependent on “Islamic goodwill” if the psychological dimension in its relationship with both Bangladesh and Pakistan is related to the real and pressing imperative of broad-based cooperation between the people of the three states.  A relevant example would be the creation of Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation between the elected bodies in the three states, which would hopefully produce both clarity and coordination, vitally necessary for a viable future for the sub-continent.

If India is to attract the aspirations and hopes of the Third World, it should give up its fundamental policies for the sake of temporary political gains.  Even on the oil question there is no proof that a mendicant mentality will help India.  The real challenge for India is to formulate and develop a “common resources policy”.  In spite of attempts by Pakistan to enlarge its area of influence in other countries under the programme of Islamic unity, the political-military relations will be generally recognized in India’s favour.  The military victory in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 helped the Middle Eastern states to form a more realistic idea of India’s capabilities.  Those who have been waxing eloquent about Mr. Bhutto’s success in the use of Islam as a political weapon have used a perspective which is based on a few isolated factors.  It can be admitted that Mr. Bhutto has a knack for the spectacular, but it is very doubtful if he will be able to strengthen Pakistan’s bargaining powers unless he can directly lessen the instability in its north western flank.

Instead of prying loose from the new strategic and political realities created in 1971 on the pretext of a better understanding of Islamic summitry, India should devote serious and urgent efforts to clarify its position to individual countries of the Third World, be they Muslim or non-Muslim.  India must resist the temptation of either exaggerating or underestimating the importance of Islam as a factor in both global and inter-Muslim state politics.

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