OTHERS

A voyage of renewal

The Australia-India equation can really have two sides, without Canberra being seen in New Delhi as a somewhat avaricious party in a hurry to capitalise on India's status as an emerging market economy. New Delhi will stand to gain by Australia's political presence in the wider Asia-Pacific zone, especially when Canberra itself has no pretensions to being Washington's alter-ego in the region. With the point also being abundantly clear that it was Mr. Howard who took the initiative for the latest dialogue with India and that the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, reciprocated with a willingness to let Canberra's angry denunciation of New Delhi's nuclear tests recede as an unfortunate phase despite Australia's strident justification of its CTBT-related activism, the new bilateral atmospherics must now be taken beyond outward bonhomie. Any hesitation to do so on the part of either side can only have the unintended effect of allowing Pakistan the last laugh even if it cannot on its own sabotage this process. Now, with Mr. Howard having stated to this newspaper categorically, ahead of his visit to New Delhi, that his present overture to India was not aimed at striking a ``negative posture'' towards Pakistan, he has already, as if in anticipation, discounted the latest reports that its Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, sees a deleterious impact on the prospects of ``peace'' in South Asia.

With the futility of zero-sum games on the India-Pakistan front needing no exaggeration, it stands to reason that New Delhi and Canberra will ignore Pakistan's diversionary tactics. The latest dangerously fluid situation in Fiji is of more immediate political concern to India as also Australia, and the two should engage each other so as to ensure that the ``smart sanctions'', which Canberra has envisioned for the eventuality of a decisive lurch to racist politics in Suva, will bite the powers-that-be there without actually hurting the ethnic Indians who largely control the Fijian economy. As for a new dynamism on the India- Australia economic front per se, the not-incompatible concerns of the two about certain global trade barriers can serve as a starting point.