Will Krishna’s southern charm work in Pak?
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna, who is now in Pakistan, is from this pragmatic region of India, which is why he will be looking to ensure that tangible achievements and not just an exchange of toasts at dinners come from his visit. As chief minister of Karnataka during 1999-2004, Krishna supervised the growth of the IT sector and used his diplomatic skills to ensure that the state was not neglected by the BJP-controlled central government despite being ruled by the (then) opposition Congress Party. Bangalore in particular witnessed a significant increase in urban infrastructure during his tenure. A votary of modernisation, Krishna appointed a modern Muslim lady politician, Nafees Fazal, to the post of Medical Education Minister, even though conservatives within the community frowned on the fact that she refused to wear the Hijab, and refused to stop her two daughters going about publicly in denims. During his 49 years in electoral politics, Krishna has always sought conciliation rather than confrontation, in the process building up relationships across political and social divides. In this task, he has been helped by his wife Prema, who throughout her 46 years of married life has refused to accept any post except that of housewife and mother to two daughters, both of whom are married to successful businessmen and who have followed their mother’s example in staying away from the temptations of political office to which so many siblings of the powerful have succumbed. However, his present assignment - of seeking a working relationship between India and Pakistan - will test all the skills he has acquired in his 78 years.
What Krishna is hoping is that his southern pragmatism will get reciprocated by his hosts in Pakistan, so that together they can work out a road map whereby India and Pakistan become pluses rather than minuses for each other. If Union Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram is the “hard” face of the Manmohan Singh government, S M Krishna is the concilatory one, but he will need to always look across his shoulder at the hardliners, even though his focus will be on forging a practical arrangement that can take forward cooperation between both sides, a task in which his political seniority can help.
Because then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao chose (present Union Law Minister) M Veerappa Moily in 1992 to be the chief minister of Karnataka rather then himself, Krishna became a strong supporter of Rao’s bete noire, Sonia Gandhi, who he used to regularly and ostentatiously to visit even during Rao’s tenure as 1992-96 PM. Krishna’s loyalty to Sonia Gandhi paid off in 1998,when she removed him from six years of obscurity and made him the Karnataka Congress Party President. In that capacity, Krishna secured an impressive victory for his party in the 1999 state assembly polls, and was appointed chief minister by Sonia, who backed him throughout his five years in office, despite several efforts by colleagues in the state Congress Party to weaken and if possible depose him. Krishna also remained in touch with Manmohan Singh, who chose him as External Affairs Minister last year, confident that he would follow the guidelines mapped out for him by the PMO rather than seek to promote his own policy prescriptions. With Krishna as Minister and Nirupama Rao as Foreign Secretary, the External Affairs Ministry has come under the sway of the Prime Minister’s Office to a degree not seen since the period when Indira Gandhi was the PM.
In the past, the Pakistan establishment was seen by South Block as a monolith similar to the Chinese Communist Party, except that here the power was seen as concentrated not in Party HQ but in GHQ. With all his drawbacks, it is a fact that the period under Pervez Musharraf saw a flowering of civil society and its institutions in Pakistan. Indeed, Musharraf seems to have gone the way of India’s Narasimha Rao: leaders who implemented transformational reforms but who were subsequently reviled by the media and by the political class. However, the Indian establishment has been slow to change its policies to adapt to such a change, and many elements within it still see the military and its associate institutions as being the only significant players in Pakistan (thereby causing a feeling of hopelessness at the prospect of a rapprochement, it being an article of faith that GHQ seeks nothing less than the fracturing of India into multiple weak entities). These days, an increasing number of analysts in India say that the GHQ in Rawalpindi is supported more by the Pentagon and the PLA than by its own people, although many in Pakistan point with pride to their armed forces.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has gone against the many hardliners in his own team by seeking a politically viable - repeat, politically viable - understanding with Pakistan establishment. He would like to once again promote commercial, cultural and other links between two peoples who get on famously with each other in a private setting, after such cooperation was interrupted by the 26-28/11 Mumbai attacks. The task before Krishna is to use his considerable charm and friendly nature to convince the non-military segment of the Pakistan establishment that geopolitical currents make it self-defeating for the two countries to remain hostile to each other. His effort has been to seek out areas of congruence, even while accepting that differences of opinion exist on selected key issues. Prime Minister Singh is working equally hard on another front, the consolidation of relations with China, the way he succeeded in doing with the US. Over the past year, contacts between China and India have multiplied. and the two sides are reaching a point where the atmospherics are finally turning positive again, for the first time since 1956.
This columnist calculates that Sino-Indian trade will cross $100 billion in three years, thereby making the PRC the largest trading partner of India. As China can be expected to have a positive trade balance of about $40 billiion, this will act as a powerful incentive not to “rock the boat” with India. It is a fact that in China, as in Pakistan, the military takes a much more hardline view on India than the civilian establishment. The problem with such a negative perspective is that it may become self-actualizing . If there is a hostile Chinese policy towards India, the certain reaction from South Block would be to put in place policies that are negative to Chinese interests, such as the recent blocking of multibillion dollar orders for Huawei. The visit last week of National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Beijing was to impress upon his Chinese hosts that a mutual escalation of negative actions does not take place, so that India and China become allies rather than rivals.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is looking to ensure his place in Indian history as one of the great PMs of the country. This he seeks to achieve by putting in place - even if at temporary political cost – a framework for double-digit growth of the economy. In foreign policy, his objective is to warm up relations with China, and to normalize them with Pakistan. It is a difficult task, but one that S M Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi will need to tackle.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.