Positive unilateralism, India's new style

NEW DELHI, JULY 7. In announcing a slew of unilateral actions and outlining some serious proposals for negotiation just days before summit-level talks with Pakistan, India is unveiling a new diplomatic style. It could well be called ``positive unilateralism''.

The determination to unilaterally force the pace of Indo-Pak. dialogue, interestingly, is being clothed for the first time in what may be called ``public diplomacy''. In another major departure, India is taking a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to relations with Pakistan.

After surprising the world and Gen. Pervez Musharraf with the invitation to visit India last month, the Government is now trying to define the agenda for the unstructured talks at Agra.

In coming up with positive proposals and unilateral gestures on a range of issues, India is signaling that it will not let Gen. Musharraf limit the agenda of the Agra summit to a discussion of Kashmir. Nor would it want the diplomatic duel with Islamabad on letting the Hurriyat leaders meet the Pakistani President dominate the proceedings.

Positive unilateralism and public diplomacy are relatively new in India's dealings with Pakistan. Although the former Prime Minister, Mr. Inder Kumar Gujral, emphasised the importance of unilateral actions in India's policy towards its neighbours, he was careful enough to exclude Pakistan from the ambit of that policy.

In the past India used to insist on ponderous talks with Pakistan in the name of ``bilateralism'' to achieve even the simplest objectives. Now New Delhi is saying it is ready to move unilaterally without waiting for the other side. In short, the message from New Delhi is that it will take the lead in reshaping bilateral relations with Islamabad.

Equally important, India is now publicising its proposals before the negotiations even begin. In the past, India would come up with useful suggestions in official talks but would not go public with them unless they were agreed to by Pakistan.

In demanding publicly today immediate talks on nuclear and military confidence building measures (CBMs), the Government is trying to reach out to the people of the sub-continent and influence their perceptions of Indo-Pak. negotiations in its favour.

In focusing on nuclear and military stability, India is also trying to influence the international community and let it bring its weight to bear on Pakistan in defining the agenda for the Agra summit.

In offering unilateral humanitarian gestures such as the release of Pakistani civilian prisoners in India, facilitating more imports from Pakistan, and now calling for talks on nuclear and military CBMs, India is pointing to the much wider canvas that awaits Gen. Musharraf.

Gen. Musharraf, to be sure, will continue to proclaim that the principal focus must remain on Kashmir and other subjects can wait. While refusing to shy away from discussing Kashmir, India will insist that other subjects cannot be put on the back burner.

The international community, for example, is very keen on seeing the implementation of CBMs between India and Pakistan that will reduce the nuclear danger and the threat of a war in the sub- continent.

Pakistan will find it very difficult to reject India's offer to negotiate CBMs in the name of greater priority for Kashmir. Many of the very simple CBM ideas agreed to at Lahore are still waiting to be implemented. And they can easily be built upon.