Peanuts For the Indian Elephant

Article published on March 1, 2004
community published
Article published on March 1, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

EU aid is proving ineffective in diffusing the tensions in India and Pakistan. Europe has its eyes firmly shut and its words are meaningless.

There are two possible approaches to getting involved in the advancement of a society with a view to constructing firm links between two regions of the planet. The first consists of merely easing your conscience with subsidies, cooperation in matters of commerce and development, the exchange of useless know-how. Peanuts, as the Anglo-Saxons would say. A second approach would consist of supplementing this last method with a long-term in-depth study of the society we intend to help and collaborate with.

India and Pakistan are, demographically, culturally and militarily speaking, powers to be reckoned with. Their expanding horizons are terrifying: they have nuclear weapons; they both act as catalysts for a religious fervour not confined to within their own borders; and they have populations of 1,030 million and 150 million respectively. As possible members and something more than friends of the European Union we still don’t know who they are. Our actions fall outside of the framework set by regional agreements, outside of agreements involving Maghreb or Mashred; we’re not involved in international treaties ratified by the various parliaments, with the result that a methodical political dialogue - like that which has been in place for decades with the countries in the Lome/Cotonu agreement - has only existed since 2002.

Staying out of it

The dynamics of the relationship between Europe and the countries of the Indian subcontinent are clear: Europe has decided to ‘stay out of it’. Since the EU began tentative efforts at collaboration with India in 1973, their agreements have been successively updated: 1981, 1994 and 2000. But the ineffectuality of relations between them is a disgrace. The last chapter in the story came in December 2003 with the signing of a commercial and investment development agreement worth €14 million: a mere drop in the ocean for one of the world’s most populated countries. In return India has had to participate in the Galileo project and cooperate in the fight against customs fraud.

European policy towards Pakistan has been even more inconsistent and unplanned. Cooperation having been established back in 1976 and re-established in 1986, it was suspended immediately following the coup d’etat in 1999 which saw Pervez Musharraf catapulted into the position of head of state. Nevertheless, contact has again been resumed in the wake of 9/11, taking the form of a series of ad-hoc committees, which are yet to come up with any coherent plan for bringing Pakistan over to the side of developed and democratic societies.

Not for nothing are the agreements with India and Pakistan declared ‘non-preferential’ by the EU. Schemes such as the economic and cultural cooperation agreement between India and the EU, 1997 and 2000, budgeted for a sum - €27.6 million - that can hardly be called substantial in a country where, out of a total population of 1,000 million, 48% are illiterate (58% in Pakistan), only 1.5% have access to the internet (0.3% in Pakistan), and 56% of its land is arable. The aforementioned EU-India agreement was renewed in September 2003, though the modest sum of €12 million is all that has been set aside.

A lack of commitment

SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) was set up in 1985 as the first step towards the creation of a common market between Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. So far the EU – that proffers its common market model as part of the process – has yet to establish contractual relations with the Association. In relation to the region, we have become used to reading statements from the EU authorities filled with empty words: ‘The EU congratulates SAARC on the success of their summit and the important developments…’ or ‘The EU praises the commitment of the two countries…’. In this sea of words we are left with the following disheartening statement from the European Commission from 2001: ‘the commission considers that the Union’s involvement in the solving of the problem over Kashmir would be appropriate and possible only if India and Pakistan called for it; the Union didn’t intend to intervene in this matter’.

At least the declaration doesn’t hide the undeniable truth: Europe doesn’t have a clear sense of the challenges facing the region. And so of course it is unable to forge a coherent and long-term aid plan, based on mutual understanding and the exchange of members of the real Intelligentsia. And it doesn’t look as though it will have one anytime soon; behind the masquerade that is Berlusconi’s presidency – the central tenet of which is, in his own words, a dialogue between cultures – it seems nobody has felt the need to react against the stubborn monologue that every culture maintains with itself.