The 16th NAM summit in Tehran last week was touted as a diplomatic
coup by a sanctions-hit Iran to fight back its international
isolation. But amid all that Iranian public relations hoopla and
high-voltage photo-ops, India managed to inject some economic and
strategic content into a movement scorned by many as a relic of
the Cold War era.
The 120-nation NAM summit generated more buzz and stole
international headlines than the last few summits for the simple
reason that Tehran, a pariah regime for the West, was hosting the
summit. Despite threatening noises emanating from Washington,
around 30 heads of state and government managed to make it to
Clearly, the host Iran was the star of the show, but there were
competing attractions as well. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh and the newly-elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the
leaders of the two founding members of the NAM, shared the dais
with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdijehad, a photo-op that the
Iranian PR machinery milched to the hilt to tell the world it
still has a few powerful friends.
But PR tricks apart and high rhetoric that resonates in the NAM
summit, Manmohan Singh, who is often accused of drifting into the
Washington camp on the back of a landmark nuclear deal, unveiled a
new vision of a reinvigorated NAM amid a shift of power from "the
West to the rest."
India's effort, said a senior official closely involved with the
summit, was to revive the NAM as a preeminent forum to project the
developing world's collective stand on international issues and to
enable the movement to map out new pathways of collaboration on
issues like food security that impinges directly on the lives of
millions in these countries.
Manmohan Singh's address at the Tehran summit Aug 30 reflected
this new emphasis to elevate the NAM's global profile amid the
emergence of new power groupings like the BRICS and the G20 which
have diminished the importance of the grouping.
India's focus, said the official, was to rally the 120-nation
grouping around issues that unite and cement new bonds of
solidarity among countries of the global south, and not divide the
Compared to that, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
inaugurated the summit with a diatribe against the West for
persecuting Iran for its nuclear programme and the Egyptian
president, the outgoing chair of the NAM, spoke about Syria and
backed the opposition in the violence-torn West Asian nation. Both
the Iranian nuclear programme and the Syria crisis are deeply
divisive and contentious issues.
Manmohan Singh instead focussed on cross-cutting issues like
terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the
menace of maritime piracy, the growing threat to cyber security.
He chose the deficit in global governance as a key theme and plank
for a rejuvenated NAM which comprises two-third members of the UN
"Our movement should take the lead in building global governance
structures that are representative, credible and effective," he
said while pushing for reform of institutions such as the United
Nations Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF.
High rhetoric apart, India sought to put issues of sustainable
development and kindred issues such as food security and energy
security at the heart of the NAM agenda which were reflected in
the Tehran Declaration, said an official.
But it wasn't just high-sounding diplomatese that emanated from
Tehran. From the Iranian capital, Manmohan Singh, for one, sent a
subtle but clear message to Washington that it can't be bullied
into abandoning a friendly country which is not only important for
India's energy security but also for its civilisational links as
well as its strategic interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The assertion of India's strategic autonomy, a core principle of
non-alignment, was not lost on anyone after the Indian prime
minister spent an hour and 40 minutes talking separately with
Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Unlike the last two NAM summits in Havana (2006) and Sharm
el-Sheikh (2009), the Tehran summit was refreshingly not hijacked
by the leaders of the two prickly neighbours generating heated
controversies back home.
The leaders of India and Pakistan met on the sidelines of the
summit in a business-like manner, shunning grand rhetoric and
painfully aware of the long journey they still have to traverse to
bridge trust deficit that lies at the heart of an accident-prone
(Manish Chand can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)