When Bilateralism Means Unilateralism
English Essay on “When Bilateralism Means Unilateralism”
In the sixties “bilateralism” became a buzzword in Pakistani diplomatic circles. It stood for a policy to introduce some daylight between Islamabad and Washington. Before that Pakistan had been the most “alIied ally” of the United States, implacably opposed to all communist regimes, member of not one but two regional alliances, host to an American surveillance base from where the infamous U2 spy plane took off, prompting the Kremlin to threaten total destruction of Peshawar. Pakistani policy makers had thought that the country’s relationship with the United States was like a fundamentalist tribal marriage. You were, not even allowed to look at someone else, let, alone have any kind of relationship with those that America disapproved of. Bilateralism was meant to introduce an element of rationality in state policy. Henceforth Pakistan would be friends with all and relations with one state would not beat the expense of another.
This transformation was not undertaken without trepidation. Pakistani ruling circles had always treated the United States with the greatest circumspection, even in those days when a bipolar world afforded the country sufficient political space to maximize its national interest. Nor was it realized that what was being touted as an innovation was the norm in most countries of the world, the only rational approach to foreign relations. The two superpowers obviously wanted exclusive influence on their client states but could do little to prevent them from looking for ways to benefit from whatever blandishments the opposite camp had to offer.educationsight.blogspot.com And the superpowers themselves were constantly recruiting new camp followers, even among enemies of existing allies, while assuaging worries by invoking the doctrine f bilateralism. Relations with countries were not, it was said, a zero-sum game and increased interaction with one country did not mean a diminution of interest in another.
Nowadays, the word has a different connotation; not new because that is a sense the word has always had, but one that is limited to the relationship between two countries and is meant to exclude others. That is the sense in which India has dusted off the old proposal for joint patrolling of the line of Control in order to check whether infiltration takes place there By rejecting the possibility of determining the correctness of Indian accusations by an international team, the India ns are continuing to reject involvement of the international community by invoking the concept of bilateralism. As Mr. Vajpayee used to say while dismissing third party mediation, “We don’t need mediators. We speak the same language.” (Listening to Indian news in Hindi, it is doubtful if we do; and even if we do, we seem t mean different things; and even if we didn’t, we don’t seem able to talk to each other coherently and about the same things in any case).
A Daily Times editorial of few days ago has looked at some of the consequences of accepting the Indian proposal. It may, at least in theory, be possible to sidestep some of the legal consequences like the legitimacy that would be conferred, at least by implication, -on the LoC as a permanent border. That would involve some agreements prior to instituting the joint patrolling. And that would, once again, founder on the rock of India’s obdurate refusal to have any neutral party at least facilitate the exchange. Back to square one.
Suppose, however, that hurdles were overcome and joint patrolling started. It does not take much imagination to envisage disagreements between the two sides on matters of fact. Whose word would be considered authentic? Would India not insist then, as it does now, that its version of events be taken as the truth and anything that the Pakistani side says be rejected? Having gone through an extended exercise, we would be no better off except that our people would have lived a few more days shaded from the summer sun by a looming mushroom cloud. Guilt, according to Delhi’s logic, is for India to determine. In terms of this logic, the institution of courts is redundant, impartiality inapplicable when India is a disputant.
The international community, it seems, is desperately clutching at straws when it characterizes Mr. Vajpayee’s propagandist ploy as a hopeful “initiative”. The Indians claim that it is a. serious offer, dismissing their Defence Minister’s denial by resorting to a non sequitur-there is no disagreement in the cabinet. Secondly, having always insisted that it cannot consider any Pakistani offer unless it is officially communicated, it now says that their Prime Minister made the proposal publicly so why should Islamabad insist on diplomatic channels. The Indian Foreign Minister has further clouded the matter by characterizing the proposal as “evolutionary”. What, one wonders, is an evolutionary proposal, how does it evolve, and are evolutionary time scales involved? Finally, joint patrolling will start only when intrusions have ceased. Quick, bolt the stable door! India’s bilateralism is not a concept of relationship between two sovereigns. It is unilateralism based on arrogance. For this policy to succeed, the other side has to acquiesce. And if that does not happen.