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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 48

Lessons from Pakistan

Sunday 25 November 2007, by M K Bhadrakumar


These are early days in Pakistan. But the unfolding developments in that country already offer some very serious lessons for India about the realities of the contemporary world order.

First and foremost, we now know that being the biggest functioning democracy in the world is hardly the reason behind the U-turn in the United States’ policy toward India since the latter half of the 1990s.

If India happens to be an engaging partner for the US today, that is because through a self-reliant path through the half century of its independence, India, despite heavy odds stacked against it, doggedly ploughed its lone furrow and still managed to reach such a point of development that ignoring it anymore will be a folly on the part of Washington.

Indeed the turnaround by the ace realist, Henry Kissinger, about Indians (no matter their dubious parentage), bears a fantastic testimony to where our country has reached. Indians who lack self-confidence eagerly lapped up Kissinger’s encomiums while on a visit to Delhi last week.
The Pakistan developments once again underline what the world community suspected, namely, that the democracy project of the present US Administration smacks of rank opportunism and political cynicism.

In turn, this would, hopefully, make us in India do some genuine rethink about the need of forging a concert of democracies with the US—along with Japan and Australia—in the Asian region. As in the US policy towards South Asia, the leitmotif of the US strategy in the Asia-Pacific essentially revolves around the pursuit of hardcore American interests. Delhi must carefully weigh whether the US interests and Indian interests converge within the framework of its “Look East” policy.

Limits to Partnership with US

DESPITE the sustained attempts at obfuscation by the mandarins in South Block, it is becoming increasingly apparent that our new propensity to hitch our foreign policy wagons to the US global strategy in the Asia-Pacific has begun to put strains on India’s traditional friendship and cooperation with Russia.

Equally, the fact remains that two fine legacies of the previous National Democratic Alliance Government—India’s relations with China and Iran—are in serious jeopardy. The optimism over Sino-Indian relations evident during the 2000-05 period has largely vanished. The strategic relations with Iran lie in tatters today.

The failings of the UPA Government stand out in comparison.
Second, we must purge ourselves of the notion that the US requires India as a “balancer” in world affairs. Big powers do not subcontract their vital interests and core concerns. That is a lesson from history. The US will adopt a hands-on approach in safeguarding its interests, especially in the present-day world of unprecedented fluidity. Let us not foolishly beat our wings in a world of fancy.

The spectacle of the US Administration justifying the need for Pervez Musharraf to remain in power come what may, goes to show that Washington has identified what its core interests are and that it shall not be distracted from the pursuit of such interests.

US’ “De-hyphenated” Policy

THIS brings us to the “de-hyphenated” policies toward India and Pakistan pursued by the US in the recent years. The events in Pakistan demonstrate that the policy works admirably for the US. Its brilliance lies in that the policy enables the US to optimally pursue its interests with the two South Asian rivals without either of them getting in Washington’s way. Actually, things are working better than originally anticipated by Washington.

For example, the current events have brought to the fore a discussion in Washington that the US must develop more “leverage” on Musharraf and the Pakistani armed forces. It is being mentioned that the best pressure point could be to somehow slow down the continued delivery of the 36 advanced F-16 fighter aircraft for Pakistan, which the US Congress has already approved. Protagonists in Washington pointed out that by doing so, the “war on terror” wouldn’t suffer, as F-16 aircraft are of little use for Musharraf in any case in the lawless tribal agencies of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region where the Al-Qaeda and Taliban are asserting their presence.

How nice to hear the Americans admitting the F-16 aircraft have no real role to play in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism! If so, why should the F-16 have been given to Pakistan at all when the US is awash with speculation that Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a “failed state”?

The nearest we get as an explanation is from the former Assistant Secretary of State in the Bill Clinton Administration, Karl Inderfurth. He said: “To cut off that [sale] might seem like a logical place to show our displeasure—until you consider that such a move would do more to jeopardise the broad Pakistani public’s estimation of the US than to undermine the Pakistani military.”

Inderfurth noted that the long-sought F-16s have become a public symbol of how “the US is not a true friend of Pakistan. It’s just another example of how complicated this crucial relationship is, and how much attention it’s going to require over the coming months.”

Inderfurth, in essence, rationalised the decades-old US policy of pampering the Pakistani generals so that they play ball with the US regional policies. The US policy during the Cold War era continues. Nothing changed.
Yet, something profoundly changed—in the Indian attitude. There was a time when India raised objections to such wanton militarisation of the region by the US. India had good enough reason for doing so since American weapons were invariably used by Pakistan against India.

The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Washington-based think tank, in a report in August substantiated that out of the staggering US $ 11 billion American assistance to the Musharraf regime over the past six-year period, hardly 15 per cent was spent on Pakistan’s economic development as such, while the bulk of the aid ended up as military assistance, including as weapon supplies.

But Delhi’s response is a deafening silence. That is to say, the “de-hyphenated” US policy works in a way that Delhi can buy weapons from the US, but should not poke its nose into the US’ equipping Pakistan via subsidised arms deals— even when the transfer involves F-16 aircraft, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

Indian Strategists’ Amnesia

DELHI is arguably being tactful or diplomatic, but what is appalling is the silence on the part of our strategic community. When it comes to the US regional policies, our strategic thinkers lapse into a state of nirvana. Why are they so afraid?

Influential people in Washington (including the powerful chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee) have considered choking off the supply of the aircraft to Pakistan mid-way as a measure of displeasure over Musharraf’s truculent behaviour in Islamabad.

This is happening at a time when the US is seriously bidding for India’s mega deal for fighter aircraft, estimated to number close to 200 aircraft worth US$ 16 billion. Washington has been claiming that in the full spirit of its strategic partnership with India, and in keeping with the imperative of developing “interoperability” of the US armed forces with India’s, it is determined to become a reliable supplier of weapons for India.

But how can we possibly take the American pledge? India is only a strategic partner, whereas Musharraf’s Pakistan is the US’ “non-NATO” ally. Our elected leaders can never hope to sub-serve the US regional policies as blatantly as Musharraf does.

If Washington can go to the extent of arm-twisting a loyal ally like Musharraf simply because he doesn’t play the democracy rules (in his own country), then it can go to any extent in asserting its global strategies—say, over the Iran issue or the new cold war with Russia. We would do well to remember that.

There is another big lesson here for the Indian strategic thinkers, too. The unfolding events in Pakistan must shake them out of the fantasy that Washington is bent upon making India a great power.

Beware of Foreign Interference

UNFORTUNATELY, the Bush Administration’s peregrinations over Pakistan’s political future are taking place at the same time that the US has waded into India’s domestic politics.

The Congress party must do serious introspection whether involving the US diplomats and high-ranking officials in bridging its differences with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the 123 Agreement was the right thing to do. It is a different matter that the BJP leadership dissociated from the sub-soil manoeuvrings.

The quintessence of the tragedy of Pakistan lies in the US’ constant interference in that country’s internal affairs. Ever since the early years of its independence, the US had a need for Pakistan as a pawn in its global strategies. The result has been that Pakistan was never really allowed to complete the process of formation of statehood. To be sure, it is pathetic to see top Pakistani politicians keeping their eyes trained on Washington to guide them into new trajectories in their country’s national life.

Islamic Radicalism

AT the end of the day, there is no way that Washington can absolve itself of the responsibility for injecting the virus of Islamic radicalism into the region as an instrument of its global strategies against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Pakistan’s salvation today lies in the US desisting from interfering in that country’s internal affairs. The paradox is that no regime in Islamabad, perceived as Washington’s cat’s paw, can hope to enjoy legitimacy within Pakistan, let alone effectively tackle militancy. Plainly speaking, Washington is equated with ‘Islamophobia’.

The Musharraf regime underscores the consequences of cutting Faustian deals with Washington. Isn’t it better to be headless chicken?

That is why we must rethink before involving Israel any further in J&K. Our experts must take a perspective on national security that goes beyond intelligence and muscle power. Ironically, the person whom Musharraf phoned up to do some fire-fighting for him in Washington was none other than Congressman Tom Lantos, the tireless campaigner for Israeli interests on the Hill, who constantly berates us for being friendly toward Tehran.
Finally, India must look ahead and see the grave danger to regional stability emanating out of the US’ “war on terror” in our region. Defeat stares in the face of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. What happens next?

The debris threatens to fall all over the adjoining regions. Nonetheless, an exclusive condominium still continues to monopolise the Afghan settlement—Washington, London and the Generals in Rawalpindi. The US’ “de-hyphena-ted” policy dictates that Afghanistan is a turf where Washington shall exclusively mate with Pakistan, while India should focus on the containment of China.

The UPA Government must realise the need of regional participation in Afghan settlement. The fallout from terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan directly affects India’s “homeland security”. Delhi must enter into consultations with countries like Russia and Iran or the Central Asian states and China that are equally worried about the directions that the Afghan-Pakistan crisis is taking. Would the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, with which Afghanistan and Pakistan have formal association, play a role?

A good starting point, of course, will be for Delhi to delink its perspectives on the Pakistan developments from Washington’s priorities as a global power in our region.

(Courtesy : India Abroad)

The author, a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for three decades and a former ambassador, headed the Pakistan Division in the Ministry of External Affairs and served as Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad

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