The Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to India, which has created quite a stir in India and within the diaspora in the UK, reinforces, at least for me, the need for better inter-cultural understanding from both sides. Yes, he could’ve avoided connecting the recent Mumbai attacks with the bilateral dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir; yes, he could’ve avoided coming across as arrogant and forceful; yes, he could’ve adhered to formal titles when addressing senior ministers in Delhi; and of course, yes, he shouldn’t have visited Rahul Gandhi’s constituency so close to the upcoming general election.
We’ll do well to remember that Indian politics is complex and the subtext of what you say is probably more important that the actual words you finally use, we’ll also benefit if we understand that in most cases, Indian politicians come into the front line after they hit a half century – let’s not forget Manmohan Singh is in his 70s and Mr Advani is in his 80s. With Miliband barely into his 40s, it must come as a huge surprise to the Indians when the “young man” started flexing his muscles.
David’s visit to Pakistan is being hailed a huge success as my sources tell me that he got them to agree to move a lot further than expected on key issues including curtailing their terror infested networks, which is the right place to flex his muscles. In my opinion, India deserves a little more respect given our alignment of many, many strategic & substantive issues.
Now that the visit is consigned to history, if I were David Miliband, I’d ask myself what I could improve on and work towards that goal. No Foreign Secretary is going to be able to avoid India, so you might as well acknowledge that you may have got your messaging wrong and that future visits and speeches will be planned with an extra helping of intercultural awareness.