Enjoyed moderating this conversation:
Enjoyed moderating this conversation:
Interestingly, David Cameron’s visiting Pakistan to re-set relations with them. There was a time when political leaders would say one thing to India and an altogether different story to the Pakistani establishment, which, thankfully, has become increasingly difficult to do as a result of the birth of organisations like Wikileaks, and with the growth in citizen journalism.
If Cameron wants to start afresh with Pakistan, he may be advised that in addition to talking about security, terrorism, aid, and trade, he ought to offer our help in capacity building initiatives that strengthen their civic institutions – much like a certain other former British Prime Minister is doing in Palestine.
Most Pakistani people, at least the ones I know, are no different to you & me, who I suspect constitute the majority. We should invest wisely in giving them a voice. By doing so, you stand to expose the duplicity of the leadership provided by various quarters in a country that is incredibly important and central to our safety & prosperity back in the UK.
Having just visited Beijing, I’m astounded with what they achieved as a result of the Olympics. In the same breath, I’m equally astounded with the manner in which the Indian Government has handled the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, which are due to open in the first week of October.
There’s been public outrage in Delhi with politicians being accused of corrupt practices, bad administration, and ultimately with squandering the great image it’s built up globally on the back of her economic prowess.
I’m told that Delhi still resembles a construction site, with massive traffic problems, and air pollution that’d make you want to be elsewhere, no surprise that some of the world’s biggest athletes, like Usain Bolt, have decided to stay away.
Indians are trying to salvage the situation, but I fear the damage has already been done. Suresh Kalmadi, the main organizer is reported to have said that “it’ll be alright on the night”. But really, is this the attitude to take when you’ve used hundreds of millions to deliver an event that we’ll most probably want to forget. Wouldn’t it have been better just to commit the money to tackling poverty, which blights India so badly?
If you look at this politically, cast your minds to the building of our Millennium Dome, in which Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson came under major criticism for what as described as a ‘white elephant’. Despite the monetary figure being so much lesser than what’s being spent on these Games in Delhi, they nearly lost their jobs.
If political conventions straddled continents, I’m sure Manmohan Singh’s head would ultimately roll, but as we’re taking about India, I can’t think of a more appropriate phrase than that devised by her tourism department for promote India – the Commonwealth Games are taking definitely taking place in“Incredible India’.
ADVICE TO DAVID CAMERON FOR HIS FORTHCOMING PRIME MINISTERIAL VISIT TO INDIA
Accompanied with the increasing level of media interest in the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to India, it’s heartening that my recent posts on the bilateral relationship have also stirred some interest.
Regardless of the substantive points that result from this visit, it’s obvious that this opportunity will be used to affirm the new Government’s desire to bring a step change to the relationship.
There’s been speculation as to the shape and size of the accompanying delegation, and the only difference from the past, as far as I’m concerned is that David Cameron’s taking almost a third of his Cabinet with him, I assume, to underscore the emphasis on building a wide ranging, cross departmental, relationship. So, I’m lead to believe Messrs Hague, Willets, Cable, Osborne, are definitely on, as are blue chip CEOs like Stuart Rose of M&S.
Such a symbolic act serves to assure Indian counterparts of Team GBs’ seriousness, which I’m sure will be warmly received and all goodwill credited & reciprocated over the term of this parliament.
Apart from the presentational aspects of the visit, which I accept are fairly important, my thinking on the substantive points that may emerge and set the path for an enhanced relationship have also been in development.
In previous posts, I realise that there’s been a far too great an emphasis on the trade & investment relationship. Actually, when I sat down to think about the real game-changers in the relationship during the Blair era, the vast majority came as a result of a change in thinking in our Foreign Office.
So, it’s no surprise that William Hague, during his years in wilderness, has cultivated a fairly strong understanding on India, and that he should realise that the following two aspects are critical to the step-change that the coalition govt aspires to:
Not that I see this as too much of a problem, but there is a tendency to link the two neighbours. This hyphenation creates unnecessary tension, as the past ten years clearly demonstrate, India’s charted a very different path to Pakistan, there’s definitely a sense that the world needs to treat both countries on their own merits and not as a hyphenated couple.
The most obvious example of such a change in thinking i.e. one based on merit, is that of the US – India Civil Nuclear Agreement, which broke the mould and provided a much needed step change to the US – India relationship. Despite both India & Pakistan being nuclear armed nations, it was made clear that no such deal could be done with India’s neighbour as a result of her poor proliferation record.
We really don’t need to balance what we do with India in Pakistan. Both countries are separate entities, with their own prospects and challenges. So let’s treat them as such.
The added advantage the Tories have is that they don’t need to be worried about the Pakistani vote bank in constituencies across Britain, which to a degree resulted in Labour’s need to perform a finely balanced act in the way it treated India & Pakistan. It was felt that the impact in Labour seats of any divergence in treatment could have a material impact in local & general elections.
That India wants what we and the Americans do is not in doubt. A stable Afghanistan is the aim that the international community rightly aspires to. However, the big difference is in approach.
Also, there’s a school of thinking that promotes that India has a limited role and view to offer, which couldn’t be further from the truth. India has a vested interest in the region, and used to share a border with Afghanistan pre 1947, so to argue otherwise shows a shallow understanding of the region.
The difference in approach I refer to is that of engaging the enemy, which in this case is the Taliban… which we seem to favour. For India, this is a total show-stopper. Given that the last time the Taliban got involved in running Afghanistan, India suffered badly.
We’d do well in remembering the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 184 in 1999 where the Taliban regime provided safe passage to the Pakistani hijackers who took control of the plane, which was forced to land in Kandahar. On the airstrip, the Taliban even moved its well armed fighters near the aircraft in an attempt to prevent Indian Special Forces from storming the aircraft! This flash-point was a massively significant event for India, which played out on national TV for days and is etched permanently in their national psyche. So to ask them to cast it aside as an extreme, sole example shows our total insensitivity.
Furthermore, it transpired in later investigations that one of the Pakistani militants who was released by the Indian authorities in the barter deal for the return of hostages, went onto form a terrorist group called Jaish-e-Muhammed, which received extensive aid from the Taliban and pro – Taliban groups in Pakistan for attacks in India.
To say that the approach to bringing an enduring stability to Afghanistan matters is important, would be a major understatement and show a major disregard to a country that Cameron is trying to forge a “strategic partnership” with.
A “strategic partnership” necessitates the convergence of views on domestic, regional, and global issues, where you try and understand each other’s sensitivities in order to work more effectively to achieve mutual goals. In 2004, Blair ensured there was a convergence of views on foreign policy – by stating our support for India’s seat on the UN Security Council; by calling a spade a spade when it came to condemning Pakistan for supporting cross border terrorism in Kashmir; and finally by ensuring India was invited to G8 meetings, albeit as an observer.
We may have our political pressures in wanting to bring our troops back home, but if this means that we’d have to engage the Taliban in discussions, India’s track record with them and their obvious discomfort need to be taken into consideration, as once we’ve left we’re going to have to rely on regional partners (read: India) in ensuring Afghanistan’s stability.
Prime Minister Cameron needs to work towards assuring India that our approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan would have their interest at heart. Without this, I fear the “strategic partnership” that we’re all looking for remains an aspiration.
If there’s a game-changer, then this is it.
If you recollect the 90s, any mention of India in the West used to be hyphenated with the word Pakistan following it. It was at the end of one of the most gruesome and violent periods in the recent history of India that the Blair Government swept to victory. India had a nationalist coalition government at its helm for the very first time, who flexed their muscles on issues concerning national security. In 1998, they broke the moratorium on nuclear testing and suffered global sanctions, which are now defunct and removed.
Recognising the need to hedge its bets, Blair embraced India as a counterbalance to China, despite it not having the promise that we see today; and in all fairness stuck at it despite disastrous visits by the Queen and also by Robin Cook, the then foreign secretary. Little did he know at that time the Y2K bug would actually prove to be a major boon for bilateral relations as it was around this time that Indian IT firms started winning global IT contracts as a result of their price advantage, heralding a promising trade & investment partnership.
Blair’s New Labour Government followed this up by a phenomenal visit to India in 2001, where he signed the New Delhi declaration, which he broke the mould. Simply put, he turned the way the world thought about India, and India knew his endorsement really mattered. For the first time, the UK stated that India was a deserving member to the top table of the international community – he committed to campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This was ground-breaking on any terms.
He followed up by ensuring that India became Britain’s largest bilateral aid & development recipient. His logic was simple: to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the UK taxpayer needed to assist India in eradicating poverty, after all to make an impact on the global scale, India was critical as a third of the world’s poor live in India.
Like this, whether we talk about improving defence ties, promoting education exchanges, increasing trade & investment, Blair pushed the boat out. Every single government department had to have an India champion within it.
In later years, Brown as PM continued on the same trajectory. By this time, India was a permanent fixture at G8 meetings – which would’ve been inconceivable even a few years before, and a true partnership emerged between Manmohan Singh – an economist and former Finance Minister of India & Gordon Brown – an academic and long time Chancellor of the Exchequer.
In later years, the wheels may have come off slightly (read my post on David Miliband’s visit to India as Foreign Secretary, click here), but it’s important to recognise that the Labour government was radical in its approach to India. Like I said before, they truly broke the mould.
Given all the rhetoric on the Conservative Government’s desire to build an “enhanced partnership” with India (the Queen singled out India in this year’s Queen’s Speech), I’m scratching my head as to how they’re going to differentiate themselves from New Labour’s record on India – which incidentally could’ve alienated a massive anti Indian support base that exists within the Party, which almost makes Blair’s support for India even more praiseworthy.
Here are my suggestions as to what the Conservative Government could do to deepen relations with India:
1. Build on the foundations of the UK – India Education & Research Initiative, by promising more funding to promote institutional linkage that can take advantage of the new Indian laws allowing foreign universities to set up there.
2. Take stock of the trade & investment relationship. Why is it that despite so many independent agencies and taxpayer funded promotion bodies our trade support system struggles to excite SMEs to seek partnerships in India. The legend that is Alpesh B. Patel, again reinforced the view that we (read ‘he’) do well in attracting Indian investors to the UK, but struggle in the opposite direction.
3. Don’t cut aid to India. When Andrew Mitchell visits India, he’ll be surrounded with millions of reasons of why we should continue. My friend – Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP, who at the time was a Shadow International Development Minister, visited India last year as part of the IPT delegation and recounted his experience which supported and recommended continued support & aid.
4. Engage the diaspora, for example invite prominent members of the thriving business community to join business & political delegations to India. One of our biggest assets is our diversity. With so many people of Indian origin in this country, make the most of it.
Maybe like George Osborne’s efforts to crowd-source views and suggestions, Prime Minister Cameron may wish to throw a life-line to the civil servants whose job is to put some meaningful suggestions on what an enhanced partnership could look like before his widely expected first visit to India.
Incidentally, another friend – Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, who’s a leading policy expert on strategic & security issues at the IISS wrote the following piece, which proves to be a good read: http://www.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/june-2010/uk-india-a-special-relationship-for-the-21st-century/?vAction=fntUp
I wanted to thank you for your kind invitation to the multi-faith breakfast meeting held this morning in London. I enjoyed exchanging ideas and hearing about perspectives that were new to me and my way of life.
Running a growing business communications firm in London, opportunities to view things from a faith perspective are few and far between. In actuality, it’s only when things start going wrong that we remember the big man (or woman). I would guess that if you asked, you’d find that a lot of people actually have religious views and believe in the middle path that you espouse, but its also a ‘truism’ that religion remains an intensely private affair for most of us. One where the mention of a ‘God’ makes us cringe with embarrasment.
That’s why my travels to other parts of this world are so fascinating. Take India for example, faith plays a central role for a huge number of people. From temples and mosques in the middle of busy road junctions, to spiritual blessings for every stage of human development, faith informs and determines behaviour and is a very open subject for everyone to observe – how so different to our experiences in Britain!
Your work on using faith (www.faithsacttogether.org) to eradicate global poverty and meet other millenium development goals (MDGs) is praise-worthy. Like you, I agree that if we were to focus our energies, I’m confident that illnesses like Malaria can be wiped off the face of our planet within our lifetimes. My own experience of leading a campaign on the MDGs that targeted the Hindu & Jain communities last summer, shows that despite a decline in attendance of churches and temples, religious identities still play a central role in our daily lives.
However, what I found of most interest was your Foundation’s work on faith & globalisation. Frankly speaking, I don’t think you’ll find many people objecting to your view that we need to inject the global financial services industry with and extra dose of morals and values. In my view, leadership from industry figures is at the heart of this debate. With media hype as it is in advance of the Treasury Select Committee’s face-off with the banking world this week, it’s important that the opportunity is provided for those in leadership positions to reflect on the need for values driven behaviour, at all levels in their organisations. A sensible suggestion was that each bank’s graduate recruitment programme, should encompass a module on ethics and values as part of their induction into these hallowed institutions. Only then, may we witness a shift in behaviour from the future leaders of these organisations.
Bringing the focus back to how religion is viewed as a private matter, later in the day I was invited for a meeting at the House of Lords, where I was reminded that we live in a Christian state in which the Archibishop of Canterbury and other senior Bishops sit in the House of Lords casting their eyes and commenting on Bills going through the second chamber.
It seems odd to me that at one hand we view religion as a private matter and on the other we’re ready to accept the undue and open influence of the Church on the laws of our country. At one time, I would have argued that the Bishops should be removed from the second chamber, but today, I argue the exact opposite – let’s have religious leaders from every faith in the Lords. After all, we both agree that diversity is a strength of this country, let’s follow this up by injecting a multi faith perspective to parliamentary debate which ultimately leads to the formulation of laws that provide the framework for our daily lives.
In summary, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to meet a wider group of people who share some of my values despite representing different faiths. With the challenging times we live in, I’m confident that some of the teachings handed down through our scriptures are not only relevant but can offer solutions and choices to resolve many of the issues we watch on our news channels on a daily basis.
Quite a week in India as far as the interplay of politics and business are concerned. Let me explain:
LK ADVANI & INDIA INC
With a number of state elections taking place as we speak, and the prospect of a general election within the next six months, LK Advani, Prime Ministerial candidate, brought business leaders together, on Thursday, to advise him on the options available to take control the impact of the financial crisis in India.
It’s been reported that the good and great of Indian commerce advised him to work with the Congress to help India weather the storm, knowing fully well that with elections pending, it was a tough commitment for Mr Advani to make. The BJP have been quick to point out that comments such as those of Mr Chidambaram, equating Mr Advani to John McCain, have made it impossible for the two sides to work together in a bipartisan manner.
SONIA GANDHI – BANK NATIONALISATION IS GOOD
Reacting to the press coverage of Mr Advani meeting the ambassadors of India Inc, UPA Chairman, Sonia Gandhi’s gone out and made remarks of her own that support her mother in-law, Indira Gandhi’s decision to nationalise banks four decades ago.
Sure, India’s prudence and protectionist attitude may shield her from some of the turmoil being witnessed today, but I believe that India stands to gain from a more open economy. I’m not just talking about the burgeoning middle class, but also of the most vunerable sections of society.
Mr Blair’s delivered a speech at the Hindustan Times leadership Summit and and excerpt from his speech struck me as being spot on. He said:
On India’s role, he said, “India has to decide its future path. One thing is for sure, India will demand its rightful place in the councils of the world…no wonder it was the G-20 that met in Washington and will meet in London, not the G-8. A UNSC without India as a permanent member is an anachronism. An IMF or a World Bank without a proper role for India, will no longer do. Across the world’s agenda, India will demand and will receive the position due to one of the world’s major powers.”
But, he cautioned: “Beware one thing: with the power will come the responsibility. All of a sudden, you will find the expectation that, just as you will, in partnership with others, lead the world, so you will be able to solve the problems. People will knock on your door not to give opinions, but to hear answers. It is an exciting prospect but also a daunting one.”