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January 1, 2000
Europe still views India through blinkers
Ranvir Nayar in Paris
One of the major handicaps suffered by India in the recent hostage crisis was that not many Western countries are willing to believe the Indian allegations that the entire plot had been hatched by Pakistan and was being stage-managed from Islamabad.
The Indian failure to bring these countries around to this point of view stems from a total lack of appreciation of the Indian security concerns and the ground reality in South Asia by the Western nations. And this ignorance exists not just at the government level, but also amongst the influential security and international affairs experts and think-tanks in these countries.
However, this situation is likely to change as India and the European Union plan to bring together nearly 100 influential people from both sides for their first ever face-to-face meeting in New Delhi early this year. The two sides have also agreed to hold an annual round table meeting of government and non-governmental representatives to exchange views on a wide range of issues, including security concerns.
While the idea of such a gathering originated from the European Commission, the round table was proposed by External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh at his recent meeting with EC Commissioner Chris Patten at Helsinki.
Global and regional security issues and nuclear disarmament and proliferation are likely to dominate the agenda when the two sides meet. Observers say the gathering is a major opportunity for India to convince the Europeans that it is not simply crying wolf about Pakistan's continuous intervention in its internal affairs and the cross border terrorism being sponsored by the Pakistan government.
''This will present a tremendous opportunity for the Indians to sensitise their European counterparts about the real issues between India and Pakistan and also make them aware of the situation on the ground. That will go a long way in removing the doubts that some of the Western experts have about the exact role being played by Pakistan in Kashmir,'' remarks a Paris-based international affairs expert.
He added that the European experts who will participate in the round table have a great deal of influence with their respective governments. In fact some of them help their governments formulate policies on certain issues. ''So, once you have won over the think-tanks, you can count upon a significant change in the attitude of several European Union governments about Indo-Pak disputes. You have almost won the battle, if you can bring about a change in the mindset of most of the think-tanks,'' the expert told rediff.com
The EU's basic idea is to create awareness amongst security experts and non-governmental organisations in India and Europe. ''The biggest problem is a total lack of communication and information. There are thousands of NGOs on both sides that have a lot to learn and a lot to offer to their respective partners. But they have absolutely no idea where to begin,'' an EC official says.
It was with this aim of creating a regular information flow between EU and India on a non-governmental level that the European Commission recently despatched a senior official to India in order to do some spadework. The official met with over two dozen NGOs and experts to work out a structure for the exchange that could place between Indian and the European groups.
The EU will provide funding for a secretariat to start functioning and organise some seminars. But after some time, the EC hopes the secretariat will become self-sustaining and will not need any long-term support.
At his meetings in India recently, the EC official learnt a few things about what exactly is needed. ''A few topics have already been identified where both sides can learn a lot from each other. Europe is now in the process of enlargement and deeper integration between member states. It means governance is changing with people demanding more and more. There are the security, trade and economy issues in view of the changing global scenarios. And some soft issues like environment and biotechnology where the Indians can teach a thing or two to the EU,'' the official said.
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