Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trust deficit a mere political balderdash?

Diplomacy has always been either a game of betrayal, a game of trust, or a game of trust with a hidden agenda of betrayal.

In 21st century, “building trust” sounds like just one of the many political rants that are being let off as media bytes after bilateral meetings between countries, especially in the South Asian context.

It has become customary to talk of “bridging the trust deficit” especially when it comes to relations between India-Pakistan, India-China or US-Pakistan, US-China and US-Afghanistan.

The media -- quoting analysts and political pundits -- portray it as the impending solution to all major problems. More bilateral meetings, more cultural exchanges, encouraging trade and business have definitely eased up the pressure, but they have largely remained futile in tackling issues that need immediate redressal.

The Indo-China border talks over Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh remain deadlocked and the status quo on Kashmir continues.

Can we actually believe Pakistan that on one hand overtly conducts composite dialogues, confidence-building measures and cultural exchanges with India and covertly stokes cross border terror?

What has India got after all these years of facing terror and going back to the table? No Masood Azhar. No Dawood Ibrahim. No action against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or Hafiz Saeed.

Or do we trust China that assures us every now and then of deepening trade ties and improving foreign relations and in the same breath continues with its clandestine activities in the North-Eastern and Tibetan region.

The high-level political deliberations talk of bridging the trust deficit as if it is an easy kill. According to security expert B. Raman, “large sections of the civil societies in India and Pakistan are well disposed towards each other and want close relations. This is particularly true of the younger generation in India and Pakistan. This enables the political leaders of the two countries to make political gestures to each other.”

But good people-to-people contacts don’t necessarily mean healthy political relations as well.

At the recently-concluded BRIC Summit, India and China spoke of eliminating the trust deficit. But despite the increasing comfort level, the stance of the two nations would remain hawkish primarily because of China's military and nuclear-related relationship with Pakistan and India's strategic relationship with the US and Japan.

Also, China continued to deny the existence of any river project on the Brahmaputra, despite satellite images showing construction of a dam in Zhangmu, in the Lhokha prefecture of Tibet.

It is trust at one moment and at other instance there is something as embarrassing as the hacking episode to take the relationship further downhill.

So what exactly are these leaders hinting at when they talk of building trust? In realpolitik, trust is merely used as an instrument of power.

An ambitious Beijing wants to court New Delhi probably because it wants to manipulate the much touted US containment of China policy via India.

As regards India, it needs China’s backing to win a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.

The US needs Pakistan for logistics for the 130,000-plus US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Experts in Pakistan believe that US is just using Pakistan as a proxy in the war on terror and Pakistan allowed itself to be used because it is in dire need of aid.

“Once Afghanistan is pacified, Al-Qaeda eliminated from this area and the US forces out of Afghanistan; Pakistan will remain in the US calculation only as a nuclear armed country capable of considerable mischief,” says a report in Pakistan’s Daily Times.

This increasing “call for bonhomie” is a direct reflection of a rapidly shifting economic balance of power. Each country has tied its economy to the other. The US has been a source of billions of dollars in direct investment in China, from thousands of American companies big and small.

Low politics has taken over high politics which precisely explains why political leaders of India and China have shown wisdom in not allowing the border dispute to affect bilateral relations in other fields.

What these nations call trust is merely, as most experts would agree to, a marriage of convenience, a political balderdash and nothing else.