Bhutan wants to be able to play with both India and China: Saeed Naqvi

In an exclusive interview with National Herald, the foreign affairs expert talks about India, vis-à-vis China, Bhutan, Pakistan and about the international perception of the present Indian govt

PTI photo
PTI photo
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Rohit Prakash

Why is it so difficult for India and China to settle their border dispute and accept the Line of Actual Control as the international border?

There would always be a competition between two ancient civilisations that live side by side. The idea that neighbours are good friends in international affairs is a fallacy. In fact, management of neighbours is the art of diplomacy. We don’t seem to be able to manage our neighbours. The Chinese are ahead of us and they will make an assertion of this fact every now and then. How do you manage a neighbour who is financially and technologically advanced than you? You manage it with a balance of power. We are failing there. International border is a tricky issue. If you read the letters exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai, you will get a sense of it.

China has delineated its borders with most countries. Why is it that only we have a problem with them? The problem with us, I think, is that we are taking advantage of those lines that were left by the old imperial authority, by the British, in a different circumstance. In other words, a powerful British empire had forced a line, we want to keep that advantage even though we describe ourselves as having been freed from them.

What explains China's belligerence this time?

There are several issues. For instance, they have launched the One Belt, One Road initiative. It covers a large part of the world. It goes back to their old Silk Route. Because it’s a Chinese initiative, we shall not take part in it. We are a little nervous of the thing on this scale. We said that we were opposed to it because of the China-Pakistan economic corridor which we say is going through a territory which is ours. They are asking us to talk about it. They may have been thinking of some trade-off. We have some pressure points. They have a very aggressive manufacturing base, they are selling a lot to us. Our trade volumes are huge. Moreover, our informal trade with China has also increased.

We said we went in because that territory is Bhutan’s and we have a treaty with Bhutan. Eventually we are trying to protect the corridor, which connects the Northeast with the rest of the country.

India seems to be within its rights to respond to Bhutan's plea for help. Can Bhutan or India take the issue to the International Court?

I don’t think Bhutan wants to take it to the International Court. Bhutan wants to be free. You have got a clamp on them. They want to be freed from that clamp. They want to be able to play with you and China at the same time. All the permanent members of the Security Council can’t open missions in Thimpu. If any of them open a mission in Thimpu, then China will also open a mission there. So, the other four are also kept out including China.

With China seemingly getting closer to Russia and India joining hands with the US, does the future look tense?

Future is dynamic. Nothing will remain the way it is. The way the cookie has crumbled, we have never seen world affairs like this and we have placed our eggs in a basket that’s non-existent against an enemy which we can’t identify.

How do you rate this Govt's foreign policy?

This government’s foreign policy is not very different from the previous one’s foreign policy. Up to 1990, we had a different foreign policy. The two poles were there and we were non-aligned. Our non-alignment was little tilted towards the Soviet Union for the simple reason that they were near us. They had played a crucial and decisive role in creating Bangaldesh. After 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed, so we needed to readjust from non-alignment. We simply ran towards the other camp. Unseemly haste.

Now, there’s a degree of casualness in this government’s foreign policy. There’s an assumption that we are in the western camp and we are in the Israeli camp. There’s a shift in favour of the US and Israel. They have abandoned all Muslim countries. And even when we opened up to Saudi Arabia, it’s only because Saudi Arabia is very friendly with the US and Israel these days. Our navigational instruments are in Washington and that is guiding our foreign policy. It was fine until 2005 when America was the top dog. But America started to collapse in 2008.

You would be hearing from foreign scholars and journalists. What is their assessment and experience with this government. Can you share some of those perceptions with us?

They see us as a very non-modern state in our social policy, vis-à-vis our treatment of minorities and backward sections. The idea of liberal, modern India is getting diluted. They have interests in India. It’s a very big country, a big economy. It’s going to be the second largest market after China. They are hoping this government deals with things in a better way.

How do you look at Pakistan’s problem? You have discussed this issue in detail in your latest book, Being the Other, as to how this could have been solved.

If these social policies continue, there can’t be any talks with Pakistan. Ultimately, this will lead to a situation where when a cat is cornered, it will lash out. If people will be pushed into a corner, they will lash out irrationally. In international affairs, things change overnight. India needs to better its relations with Pakistan, shake hands and discuss the Kashmir issue.

Pakistan is going through one of its biggest turmoils in recent years. Do you see the ability in their leadership to have a constructive dialogue with India?

India has an Army; Pakistani Army has a country. They have to keep their position. To keep their position, they need enemies. As soon as the Afghanistan issue is slightly settled, their focus is back on India. They didn’t want to fight on two fronts. Big powers are too busy. The big power that is involved here is America but the Americans are busy elsewhere. China is taking a keen interest and we don’t want that.

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Published: 07 Aug 2017, 2:56 PM