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Pakistan loses its veto vote on India’s bilateral relations

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-07-2017 Anil Padmanabhan

Last week, addressing the US-India Business Council, Mike Pence, the vice-president of the US, shared an interesting anecdote on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s just-concluded visit: Noting that Pence had represented Indiana, the PM said the name of the state could be pronounced as India aana (which in Hindi translates into come to India). 

It captures the near bromance generated by Modi in his first official meeting with President Donald Trump. The Indian side is heaving a sigh of relief that the dialogue escaped becoming victim to the customary unpredictability of President Trump in dealing with global leaders.

There was another sub-text however, which was clearly apparent in the joint statement and the public utterances of the two leaders: The omission of direct references to Pakistan in the conversations; at best, India’s troublesome neighbour figured indirectly in the context of China. Effectively the hyphenation had been formally severed. This is welcome relief and it has been long in coming.

With the US state department previously manned by Cold War era officials, India, given its history of strained relations with the US, found itself at the receiving end. Often this manifested in hyphenating India and Pakistan (like how parents of two siblings would go the extra mile to preclude any bias). This severely restricted the spheres of engagement (For a more detailed understanding of the challenge this hyphenation posed, read a previous column).

It is also a fact that the Indian foreign establishment was too preoccupied with Pakistan. As a result, often the outcome of a bilateral meeting between India and the US ended up being weighed on how unfavourable it was to Pakistan. And very often the same metric came to be employed in dealing with other nations too.

However the scenario started to alter after 9/11. Overnight, the US was sensitized to India’s perennial problem: cross-border terror.

Consequently, the scrutiny of Pakistan increased, especially its use of home-trained terrorists to leverage its strategic interests.

The second big turning point was the inking of the civil nuclear agreement between the two countries in 2005. Actually it took more than four years to clinch; it was initiated in the regime of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and closed out in the tenure of prime minister Manmohan Singh.

While the delay may have been frustrating, the endless rounds of talks actually wore down prejudices on either side. Though 12 years later a project is still to be initiated, there is no denying the fact that by signing the pact the bilateral dialogue between India and the US has been fundamentally altered.

Looking back, it is a tribute to several administrations on either side for not dropping the ball. Yes, the relationship may have not grown at the desired pace, but at no stage did it reverse. A fallout of this maturing of the relationship between both sides has been the delinking of Pakistan from the dialogue.

Moreover, Modi’s foreign policy overtures, especially the out-of-the-box idea to invite all South Asian neighbours to the swearing in of his government, have unequivocally demonstrated India’s good intent to the world. The spreading threat of global terror has only increased the scrutiny of terror factories across the world, including Pakistan.

Tragically Pakistan has embarked on an even more dangerous path—willingly becoming a pawn in a larger China plan to dominate Asia. Not only does it risk destabilizing the region afresh, it could potentially also compromise its own sovereignty as submitting to Chinese hegemony will come with a bill—including intangible costs, some of which will be humiliating for the otherwise proud Pakistanis to accept. It is, as the idiom states, an instance of cutting of your nose to spite your face.

Anil Padmanabhan is executive editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus.

Respond to this column at anil.p@livemint.com.

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