With neighbourhood on boil, Manmohan worries about future

May 14th, 2009 - 6:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Tarun Basu
New Delhi, May 14 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed concern to his officials and aides that if an inward-looking, weak and unstable government is formed after the Lok Sabha elections, it may not be able to immediately grasp the seriousness of the situation in India’s immediate neighourhood and this could impact on the country’s security in the long term.

With exit polls indicating that no single formation was likely to get a majority on its own, the nation is bracing for days of horse-trading that could end in the possibility of a ideologically disparate group of parties coming to power.

And with the situation in Sri Lanka heading for a final denouement, Nepal embroiled in internal conflict and Pakistan in an existential crisis, the outgoing government is worried that unless New Delhi sees a strong government in charge by next week, the neighbourhood situation could witness cataclysmic or strategic shifts with grave implications for India.

The prime minister confided his worries to senior officials who he met Wednesday to review the post-election situation.

With the situation in Sri Lanka at a flashpoint, New Delhi has cautioned Colombo not to be blood-thirsty even as it has militarily cornered Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and his cadres with whom the state has been at war for over a quarter of a century.

Well informed sources told IANS that Colombo has been told not to defy international opinion and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the north where tens of thousands of helpless civilians are caught in the crossfire and are faced with a heart-rending situation.

Colombo was also told to put the brakes on a final assault against Prabhakaran till after the Indian elections as its ramifications could spill into neighbouring Tamil Nadu and inflame public opinion in the state.

India is worried that if the next government does not address Sri Lanka’s economic and strategic concerns in the immediate aftermath of the war, lurking neighbours like China and even Pakistan could “step in to help” to fill a strategic vacuum.

“There is a lot of international interest in the Trincomalee oil farms. If India does not look out, we’ll soon have China soon nesting there,” a senior official told IANS, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

China has demonstrated growing interest in the South Asian region (it has sought observer status in SAARC), not just in Pakistan, with whom it has close ties, but in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives as well.

With Nepal’s Maoist leader and just-resigned prime minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal aka Prachanda saying that Kathmandu wanted balance in its ties between China and India, Manmohan Singh is understandably worried that lack of strategic vision in a future government in New Delhi could result in a “strategic encircling” of India with long-term consequences.

Even though Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has made friendly overtures towards India during his visit to the US, Indian officials are doubtful about his grip on power and his ability to control the onslaught of the Taliban. If Pakistan were to implode, India would be the first to feel its consequences, say officials.

“A weak government will be a recipe of disaster,” G. Parthasarathy, a former envoy to Pakistan who has also worked as an aide of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, told IANS. He said the “highest priority” will have to be given by the new government to the situation in the neighbourhood, especially the “pernicious role (in it) of an assertive China”.

He said while he would not worry if either of the two national parties, the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to power, a Third Front government, with their radical policies, could spell trouble for India’s strategic and foreign policy interests.

“India needs a strong government at the moment with experience and ability to respond to the difficult situation in the neighbouthood,” said Anand Sharma, the minister of state for external affairs.

And he added for good measure that in the outside possibility of the Congress not being in a position to form the government, “we’ll not support any government that would be weak or spell political anarchy”.

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