Straw In The Wind

Updated: May 31 2002, 05:30am hrs
The United Kingdom was arguably the first to respond to the latest phase of the India-Pakistan stand-off. Indeed, it could even be accused of going into overdrive as media workers and government spokespersons vied with one another to draw up doomsday scenarios of every kind for the region. Whether this was a consequence of General Pervez Musharrafs belligerent rhetoric or Indias coercive diplomacy is difficult to say, but our ministry of external affairs can draw some satisfaction from the fact that the visiting UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, seems to have been convinced about the genuineness of its stance.

Straw used emphatic language when he said in New Delhi on Wednesday that the UK stood four square behind India in its fight against terrorism. But what was perhaps even more significant was what he pronounced on Pakistani soil a day earlier. Trading directness for diplomacy, he made two important observations. One, that there can be no doubt that Pakistan has in the past assisted people it described as freedom fighters and whom the world described as terrorists. Two, that the test of assurances (read, the Generals assurances) is how they work on the ground. The import of these words could not have been lost on the Pakistan president, since it was nothing short of putting him on notice. If there was any confusion on two other extremely important aspects of the current face-off, Straw came up with some more clarifications while briefing the Indian media that Kashmir, despite its international implications, had to be resolved bilaterally and that the definition of terrorism, as laid down in UN Security Council resolution 1373, includes crossborder terrorism. As if to underline all this, Straw reiterated that his country and government stood with all civilised governments particularly India.

This clarity on issues which have brought two of South Asias largest nations on the brink of war, may just be a straw in the wind at the moment, but it is nevertheless a significant straw. All the more so given the commonality of perception between Washington and London. What this signifies, in fact, is that patient but tough diplomacy and a reiteration of well-argued stances can work much more effectively for India than any premature action that could lead to a long and bloody engagement with Pakistan. The returns of the first approach may be slow in coming but they have the advantage of yielding lasting benefits in buttressing Indias cause globally. The other approach of direct action, in contrast, may end up losing for this country the goodwill and credibility it has built for itself over decades and still not throw up a lasting solution. The significance of Straws visit is that it underlined the efficacy of waging war through intelligent diplomacy.

Editorial from The Indian Express