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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 22, May 21, 2011

Osama, Obama and India’s Foreign Policy

Tuesday 24 May 2011, by P R Dubhashi


Indian reactions to the cold blooded assassination of unarmed Osama Bin Laden by American commandos in a quick, 40-minute operation in a three-storied mansion surrounded by a high wall in the garrison town Abbottabad not far away from Pakistan’s Military Academy, reflected the confusion and pusillanimity of the Indian foreign policy and continuous decline in its robust independence and moral stature which characterised the foreign policy in the earlier years of Jawaharlal Nehru and which were maintained to an extent by his successor Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. The high point of India’s independent foreign policy was reached when Indira Gandhi stood up to the abuses and threats of US President Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kisinger and the Indian Army won the war to liberate East Pakistan from the tyranny of Islamabad and gave birth to a new nation—a several times more spectacular achievement than the US commandos’ operation in Abbottabad.

India did not speak with once voice. The PMO (not PM himself) issued a delayed statement, weak in content, which hardly made any mark and which was followed by an even weaker statement by the Minister for External Affairs. However, Chidambaram, the Home Minister, was quicker and more pointed in his response demanding Pakistan to hand over the notorious terrorist leaders like Hafeez Mohammad Saeed, the head of Jamat-ud-Dawa, Maulana Masood Azhar, who formed a new terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad soon after India was forced to release him from prison in exchange of the lives of the passengers of the hijacked Indian plane from Kathmandu to Delhi, the notorious gangster Daud Ibrahim responsible for the serial bombings in Mumbai, and Lakhvi, the master-mind of the 26/11 horrific carnage in Mumbai which took many innocent lives including those of foreign tourists. But even more remarkable were the statements of Army and Air Force chiefs who asserted that Indian forces were capable of launching a commondo attack of the type made by US commandos.

Already deeply embarrassed by the successful US operation carried out without a whisper to the Pakistan authorities, both because it showed eloquently either the deception in hiding the presence of Osama whom the US was in search of for several years and whose presence in Pakistan was denied by the Pakistan civil and military authorities despite doubts expressed by no less a person than the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, or sheer incompetence of Pakistan’s security agencies, the ISI and the Army, and more importantly the manner in which the US trampled upon the fact of Pakistan’s sovereignty as an independent nation, the US President rubbed salt in the wounds when he said that it would not hesitate to conduct a similar operation, if and when needed. Pakistan gave a prickly response to the statements of Chidambaram and the Army and Air Force Chiefs. The Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Salman Bashir, brazenly characterised Chidambaram’s demand for return of the 26/11 carnage plotters as ‘out of date’ and warned our Army and Air force chiefs not to indulge in any ‘misadventure’. The Army Chief, Ashfaq Kayani, threatened a fitting reply in case India indulged in any misadventure such as America’s recent commando operation.

THE Prime Minister’s convivality with the Pakistan Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, at Thimphu and the Mohali ‘cricket diplomacy’ seemed to have almost been washed out by these acrimonious statements from Pakistan. That the Pakistan Secretary for Foreign Affairs and not Chidambaram’s counterpart, Rehman Malik, responded to Chidambaram was itself an affront. But he and the Army and Air Force Chiefs chose to keep quiet, since the Prime Minister had committed India to keep on ‘talking’ with Pakistan, no matter with what results! On the other hand the US leaders were forthright. Both President Obama and CIA Chief Leon Penatta not only justified the commando operation without giving any prior intimation to Pakistan but also added that the US would not hesitate to take similar action if the need arose.

At the same time, they asserted that what the US could do to avenge 9/11 by finishing its chief perpetrator, Osama Bin Laden, India could not and should not do to punish the terrorists who plotted 26/11 in Mumbai in which more than 200 innocent people lost lives, many more badly injured and incapacitated and valuable property destroyed. The US continued to indulge in the double-talk of a highly self-centred nation which is concerned only about its own interest and has no concern for the woes of others, however insufferable they may be. To mollify the ruffled feelings of Pakistan, Obama thanked it for ‘co-operation’ in the war against terrorism and promised continued economic and military assistance despite misgivings of the US Senate Members. Obama had also a telephonic conversation with the Indian Prime Minister; what transpired is not known.

But what is becoming more and more apparent is that thanks to the Nuclear Treaty and so-called ‘strategic alliance’, India is coming under the US influence and submits to its will, agrees to play the role of a junior partner in US efforts to maintain its supremacy and hegemony while losing its ‘independence’ which was at the core of Nehru’s policy of non-alignment. Our foreign policy is seen more and more as spineless and ineffective and without any sense of direction. This has created empty spaces in the Indian subcontinent which are filled by the two superpowers—the USA and emerging China. Pakistan, on seeing India’s weakness, has success-fully sought the help of both the superpowers to act as a counterweight to India and deal with it on ‘equal’ terms, spurn India’s offers and keep the Kashmir ‘dispute’ alive by continuing to send in infiltrators.

The hope that some of us entertained—that the bitterness of the partition would be forgotten in course of time, the folly of the ‘two-nation’ theory would be realised and tied by the bonds of language, culture, music, food and ways of life, the two nations would come closer and live like brothers—has been belied. However, brotherly feelings do exist in the ordinary people of Pakistan as is reported by many Indian visitors to Pakistan. The ancient university of Taxila, of which we Indians are proud, is now in Pakistan. The great Sanskrit grammarian, Panini, belonged to that region. Both the current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and the Opposition leader, L.K. Advani, had spent their boyhood days in Pakistan. The author of ‘Saare Jahan Se Acchaa’, the song we love, belonged to that region. The author of both our national song and the Bangladeshi national song ‘Sonar Bangla’ was the great Rabindranath Tagore. Pakistanis visit the Ajmer Dargah which for them is a holy shrine of worship. The Sikhs go for pilgrimage to Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of the founder of their faith, which is located in Pakistan. The Sri Lankans have their places of pilgrimage, Bodh Gaya and Saarnath, in India. The great Buddha was born and lived in India.

When such is our common heritage—indeed we are the same people though politically divided—why should we create spaces for the USA and China to interfere? Both of them cannot speak our languages or savour our food. One of the central goals of our foreign policy should be to achieve solidarity amongst all the countries of the subcontinent through cultural exchange and economic co-operation for mutual benefit, share educational and other facilities and emerge as a single entity. If the European Union could be formed in spite of greater differences between countries of the Union, why cannot SARC achieve the birth of a single entity on the subcontinent?

Formerly Secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor of Goa University, Dr Dubhashi is currently the Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra. His e-mail is dubhashi@giaspn01.

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