Does our government know something which people don’t? Or has it simply gone stark staring bonkers? Last week, Union defence minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Beijing to meet with leaders of the Peoples’ Liberation Army
(PLA). He ended up by signing India’s first defence memorandum of understanding with China’s
PLA. India will have joint military exercises with China. Mukherjee said this would lead to a further expansion of ties.
This has happened while China has the most enduring and deep defence ties with Pakistan; while it currently upgrades defence and nuclear energy supplies to Pakistan; while China has deep defence ties with Bangladesh; while Bangladesh still remains the latest hub of anti-Indian terrorism; while no concrete evidence has emerged yet of PLA stopping material and moral aid to terrorists extending from Indonesia across Sri Lanka to India’s Northeast and Kashmir—which it has done for years.
This has happened also when our government is attempting to normalise with both Pakistan and Bangladesh. Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia recently held talks with our PM in Delhi. They agreed to explore joint efforts against terrorism. Nothing concrete has emerged. But it is a start. This has happened also when some faint hope is emerging in peace talks with Pakistan. Our PM will visit Pakistan in August to confer with President Musharraf.
In this tenuous, delicate stage, when a breakthrough is being attempted with our South Asian neighbours, our Bull from Bengal has chosen to barge into the China shop. What on earth is our government thinking of? Has it no sense of priorities? Years ago on September 22, 1999, this column predicted: "China will try settling with India on its own terms before Delhi can befriend Pakistan. That would make it the Big Brother friendly to two mutually hostile nations."
On June 16, 2003, it cautioned: "If India settles with China before settling with Pakistan, it would freeze the former’s present status in the subcontinent. More crucial than India’s border dispute with China is the latter’s role in destabilising India through its proxies in South Asia, primarily Pakistan."
But unthinkingly, our government goes ahead merrily. Perhaps it knows something we don’t. If so, it should tell us. We need transparency, particularly from this government after its track record with China. Is China’s attitude changing? If so, should we not have concrete proof before lowering our guard? Going by experience India cannot blindly trust China. Nor can people blindly trust our government.
(Puri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)