Balance, restraint is best in our region

Political work must be done quickly to conclude land boundary and Teesta dispute

The barely one-day-old Narendra Modi government would perhaps realise, more than a hyper-ventilating media can do, that it is best to keep matters balanced — and in perspective — when dealing with other states, especially if they happen to be India’s immediate neighbours, as proximity can be high on sensitivity.

It never does to dramatise expectations about outcomes, or to over-speculate. With disproportionate television and newspaper attention being hogged by Prime Minister Modi’s anticipated talks with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday, it was left to foreign secretary Sujatha Singh in an official press conference to try and give an all-Saarc-cum-Mauritius dimension to Mr Modi’s bilateral talks with each of the visiting dignitaries, who had arrived at the Prime Minister’s request to attend his swearing-in ceremony a day prior.

The reason is plain enough. With Pakistan, it takes time to get into gear, while ongoing matters, including tricky issues or issues of substance, can be more easily conversed about with leaders of other countries. In the event, the only takeaway, in terms of steps to be taken, turned out to be the decision between Mr Modi and Mr Sharif to have their foreign secretaries meet in the near future to decide how to take forward the many contours of the bilateral relationship.

The Indian leader asserted the position that terrorism must be ended if friendly relations are to take off between the two countries. With some difficulty, a reluctant foreign secretary gave out just about this much in response to a question. In a brief media interaction before returning home, the Pakistan PM observed that “accusations and counter-accusations” could be “counter-productive”.

This can suggest that it may be some time before the India-Pakistan train begins to gather steam. Which means that the foreign secretaries have a lot of work to do, and the progress would be contingent on how good the vibes remain between the two countries in the foreseeable future.

Surprisingly, if the official Indian version holds, Prime Minister Modi’s “request” to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse to implement the 13th Amendment to his country’s Constitution (in respect of the Tamil ethnic minority), and even go beyond it, is expected to have greater traction than any words of solicitude exchanged on a personal plane with the Pakistan leader.

Mr Modi’s meetings with the leaders of Afghanistan Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives (and Mauritius) appeared to go without a hitch, with Mr Modi stressing the economic and security dimension of cooperation with each. But, if the foreign secretary’s briefing is any indication, the Bangladesh connection needs bolstering if the full potential of the relationship is to be realised.
Domestic political work must be done quickly to conclude the land boundary and the Teesta waters accord.

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