The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi flexes economic muscle
Come with us, neighbours'

New Delhi, Feb. 14: Wrapped in a velvet glove, India has extended an iron fist to its neighbours.

Delhi today offered to make its neighbours ' most of which are caught in domestic firefights ' 'stakeholders in its economic destiny' but made it clear that they should 'demonstrate sensitivity' to Delhi's security concerns.

'We are prepared to make our neighbours full stakeholders in India's growing economy and economic destiny,' foreign secretary Shyam Saran told an audience of diplomats, foreign-policy analysts and academics on the eve of external affairs minister Natwar Singh's visit to Pakistan.

The comments ' rarely have such candid words been spoken so bluntly ' come in the backdrop of criticism in the neighbourhood of India's decision not to attend the Saarc summit in Dhaka after the killing of a senior opposition leader in Bangladesh and the royal coup in Nepal.

'Through such (economic) cooperation,' Saran said, India is ready to help create 'a truly vibrant and globally competitive South Asian economic community'.

This cooperation cannot take place if some of the neighbours continue to encourage insurgent groups in India, he added. Though Saran did not name any country, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been accused by India in the past of harbouring militants.

'We do expect they demonstrate sensitivity to our vital concerns. We need to create a positive and constructive environment by avoiding hostile propaganda and intemperate statements.'

'India cannot and will not ignore such conduct and will take whatever steps necessary to safeguard its interests.'

In the gathering of a large number of serving and former diplomats, Pakistan's deputy high commissioner Munawar Bhatti was also present.

Lurking in the statement is also the hint of an emerging economic powerhouse asserting its strength. Although the forthright manner in which India expressed its position is unusual, it is of a piece with its recent decision to help victims of the tsunami, such as Sri Lanka in the Saarc region and Indonesia outside.

That gesture was meant to tell the world, which has duly taken note, that India can not only take care of itself in such an emergency but is also prepared to help neighbours out.

Seen in that context, Saran's statement today that 'India is an opportunity and not a threat' should not cause surprise. But the significant element in his comments is the economic underpinning India is seeking to give to relations with neighbours.

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