Indian diplomacy seems to have floundered once again. The growing popular belief that New Delhi’s foreign policy had been injected with new realism will be deeply eroded because of the latest news from Beijing and Washington, unarguably the two most important centres of power in international relations today. In Beijing, the pressure to make Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit a success seems to have forced South Block into making substantive unilateral concessions. And Islamabad seems to have outmanoeuvred New Delhi in Washington once again.
Consider first the reports from Beijing. Two agreements have emerged from the deliberations that the prime minister and his team had with their Chinese interlocutors: a declaration on principles for relations and comprehensive cooperation; and a memorandum of understanding on expanding border trade. Shorn of diplomatic gobbledegook, there is a vital concession that India makes in the declaration. It concedes that Tibet is not just a part of China, but that it would not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India. In letter, there is little to quarrel with the statement. In the past too, beginning in the Fifties, India had accepted that Tibet belongs to China. In reality, both the timing of the statement and its substance are a major victory for the Chinese. In recent years, India has been displaying a degree of ambiguity about its position on Tibet, particularly since the arrival of the National Democratic Alliance government. The defence minister, Mr George Fernandes, was an ardent supporter of the Tibetan cause. Moreover, the presence of the dalai lama and his followers in India and the huge growth in support for a free Tibet across the Western world had caused deep concern to China. Indeed, the United States of America has even appointed a special coordinator on Tibet. In short, there was an Indian “Tibet card” that could be leveraged for reciprocal concessions on vital issues of national interest. This has not happened. Indian officials claim that the opening up of border trade through Sikkim will mean a de facto acceptance of the state as part of India, and that they have been privately assured that Chinese maps, henceforth, will show Sikkim as Indian territory. The reality is that the Chinese have conceded virtually nothing. They had been willing to open up trade through the Nathula pass for some years now, and private assurances mean for little in international relations. Surely a country that experienced the betrayal of Shimla should have realized this.
In Washington, Mr Pervez Musharraf seems to have single-handedly outmanoeuvred the train of Indian visitors. While the most recent Indian leader to visit the US, the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani, was provided access and verbal assurances, Pakistan will get more than $ 3 billion in aid and this could include transfer of conventional weapons as well. Those who had begun arguing that the age of realpolitik in Indian foreign policy had arrived may now have substantial reasons to review their thesis.