Pakistan says it will accept $5 million in flood aid from India, a rare gesture of goodwill between the longtime rivals as Pakistan deals with one of the worst disasters in its history. In an interview with India’s NDTV television Friday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi called the aid a “very welcome initiative.” Spokesman for India’s foreign office Vishnu Prakash called the flood aid a “goodwill gesture in the spirit of solidarity” with the people of Pakistan.
Delhi’s offer has stirred up controversy in India, as Nitin Pai noted earlier this week:
‘Politics,’ some said, should be set aside in the face of the enormous tragedy that has befallen the Pakistani people. Others argued that giving aid will change the ‘politics’ itself, for when ordinary Pakistanis see India as among those who helped them during their time of need, hearts and minds will change, undermining the anti-India position of their government.
On the other side were those, like Atanu Dey, who offered the compelling logic that since money is fungible, giving money to the Pakistani government for flood relief is equivalent to giving money to that government to fund cross-border terrorism or build nuclear weapons. Moreover, another argument goes, since the wishes of the Pakistani people are weakly expressed in their government’s policies, changing hearts and minds won’t make the military establishment stop terrorism directed against India.
Nitin makes the interesting point that “wherever you stand on this issue, what you will notice is that people implicitly assume that when it comes to foreign affairs ‘India’ means only the Indian government.” He thinks that this is a mistake:
Indians should stop seeing the government has having a monopoly on foreign affairs. There is nothing to stop individuals, NGOs and media from taking an active interest in the world outside India’s borders. There is nothing to stop us from standing up for whatever cause we like. There is nothing to stop us from drawing attention to the plight of the world’s oppressed people, collect funds, mobilise volunteers, build institutions, lobby foreign governments and deliver social services beyond India’s shores.
Sure, we could also persuade the Indian government as part of our activism, but what stops us from getting on with it in spite of the Indian government? A large number of NGOs at home do valuable work despite the government. Why should it be any different abroad?
In fact, it is in India’s national interest for civil society to become a foreign policy player in its own right. Governments are constrained by realpolitik. They follow the grammar of power. Civil society does not have the same constraints. It is free to speak the language of values. The Tibetan struggle, for instance, is one area where India’s overall policy has benefited from citizen activism. Similarly, after the 2005 earthquake, Infosys announced that it would provide Rs 10 million in aid to Pakistan. Many of us donated money for Haiti’s earthquake victim through the Red Cross and through religious institutions. These are, however, isolated and sporadic instances.
We should ask ourselves why India’s civil society is not a significant international player? The primary reason, I would say, might be the mindset that sees the government as the Grand Solver of Problems. As long as this mindset is dominant, lesser hurdles like lack of financial resources, organisational capabilities and channels of action will appear insurmountable. Another reason is our tendency to contemplate our collective navels, for there are innumerable, seemingly intractable problems at home that deserve our attention.
A salutary reminder not to talk about “rising powers” as if they are monolithic entities or assume that their rise will be linear, rather than complex and multi-faceted…