Friday, January 08, 2010

Of elephants and journalists . . .


Cousin Ashutosh brought an interesting piece on Indian foreign policy, by Barbara Crossette in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Foreign Policy, to my notice. Ashu, and some others have written their own responses to this article. But the Gobi has to add its two pennies worth doesn’t it?

Most reasonable readers would agree that Ms Crossette has gone out on the limb a little with that one. But then does it really matter what one journalist who should have known better writes as long as serious and responsible businessmen, bankers, bulls & bears are willing to put their money where their respective mouths are (figuratively). The proof of the pudding is in the eating and many around the world are eager to dine at the splendid banquet India has to offer these days – so eager as to be willing to gate-crash!

That being said, the thesis and arguments in the article are sloppy at best.

Take India’s non participation in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), for instance. If the blatant and obviously state-sponsored proliferation of A Q Khan goes un-investigated and unpunished, if North Korea and Iran can merrily cock a snook at them while US Marines go chasing after non-existent WMDs in Iraq, these treaties, (the CTBT and NPT), are not only discriminatory, they are utterly impotent. No reason for our policy makers to waste time over them. We never needed to sign to have a spotless proliferation record.

As to Doha - it was as much US intransigence as India & China's that led to the talks failure. If the US can splurge billions and rewrite the rule-books to protect their unscrupulous and filthy rich financiers, India has every right, nay, a sacred obligation, to safeguard the interests of its 200 million impoverished farmers!

So much for being a headache in international negotiations - probably for the first time since independence India has a large enough say in international forums to make a stand against international treaties that may not be in the best interests of a large number of its citizens. It is gratifying to see policy makers and politicians having the moral fibre to finally take that stand!

So yes, the evidence presented and inference drawn in this article is full of holes.

Yet of one thing we must be mindful of - decades after independence, India has the heft to impact global policy negotiations. It is natural that such clout will be accompanied by increased media glare, not always for the right reasons nor always proportional to the issues at hand. The intense discourse in the international media on US and Chinese policy issues is an apt example. We must therefore learn to take criticism in stride and not go over-board in critiquing the critiques! The Indian media would need to be especially wary of going on a jingoistic defensive-offense!!

And more to the point, the worst 'critiques' may have a grain of truth. For instance the allusions to corruption among Indian officials leading to diversion of World Bank funds are very much in the range of possibility. These should be examined and investigated, and the guilty, if they be so, brought to book. This we would be wise to do even if we consign the rest of the article to be ignored to the oblivion it deserves.

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