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India slips on diplomatic stage

Washington, Oct. 1: Aiming big in foreign policy, the Manmohan Singh government has lost out on what was within its reach on the international arena.

The UPA government’s three ambitious foreign policy initiatives are now on uncertain ground: its much-trumpeted nuclear deal with the US, its high-profile bid to have an Indian as UN secretary-general and its high-stakes effort for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

While expending huge resources, political capital and international goodwill on these three initiatives, all of which are now tottering on the brink of failure, Pakistan has cleverly stolen a march over India on the world diplomatic stage.

Last month, Pakistan was unanimously elected to chair the Group of 77 (G77), the world’s largest coalition of 134 countries, even bigger than the non-aligned movement (NAM) with 118 members.

According to diplomats of Pacific group countries at the UN, India was handed the G77 chairmanship on a platter, but the UPA government turned down the offer.

Similarly, in the run-up to the Havana summit of NAM countries, India was sounded out about assuming the next chairmanship of the movement it helped found 45 years ago. That offer, too, was turned down by the Manmohan Singh government. As a result, the Havana summit chose Egypt, another co-founder of NAM, to host its next summit in Cairo in 2009.

India’s rejection of the G77 and NAM chairmanships was the result of an illusion in South Block that India was now part of the “big boys’ club” and did not need its traditional allies and partners any longer.

That illusion was reinforced by a gullible view that the US was now India’s “natural ally” and, therefore, everything else was secondary.

But when it came to the crunch, Washington did not support New Delhi’s bid either for a permanent seat in the Security Council or in electing Shashi Tharoor as the next UN secretary- general.

On the defensive against the mismanagement of Iraq, last week the Bush administration further showed its unwillingness to spend too much political capital in pushing through legislation on the Indo-US nuclear deal in the US Congress.

The Senate adjourned for mid-term elections yesterday without voting on the deal.

With Pakistan at the helm of G77 and New Delhi’s kid gloves approach to Cuba’s radical leadership of NAM, India is suddenly finding that it has no allies at the UN and no one to turn to for bloc support.

Europeans at the UN have the bloc support of the European Union, the Africans have the African Union behind them, the Southeast Asians have the ASEAN and countries like Pakistan have the solid backing of the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

India has only the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, but SAARC is often a platform for member countries to use India as their whipping boy.

The Pacific group is the biggest sub-group among Asian members of G77. So when Asia’s turn to lead G77 in 2007 came, Pacific countries approached New Delhi with a request to take over chairmanship, according to their diplomats.

But New Delhi stubbornly rejected the suggestion twice.

Similarly, a large number of NAM members were keen that India should host the 2009 NAM summit, especially to correct any radical deviation that the movement may assume under Cuba’s current chairmanship.

That too was summarily rejected by New Delhi.

For India, whose nominee to the UN Human Rights Committee, Justice P.N. Bhagwati, was re-elected for the fourth time last month with the second highest number of votes, the sudden changes represent an avoidable reversal of fortune.

But it also a reminder of the fickleness of international relationships and the constant need for diversity in networking.

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