Suspended belief

M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur
The Telegraph, January 21, 2002 

India should not be misled by the US into believing that Pakistan is

now embarking on principled action  –  ML Sondhi  &  Ashok Kapur

September 11 and December 13 were major setbacks to American and Indian interests in relation to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But they also gave India the opportunity to shape a new strategic, long term military relationship with the United States of America, and Pakistan the chance to build the foundation of a new and stable society and polity.  One must think constructively on a continental and a global basis.  However, as recent developments show, it pays India to think smart rather than to act big.

President Pervez Musharraf has cracked down on Islamic extremism in Pakistan and appears to have rejected jihad in Kashmir, arguing instead for a jihad against poverty and backwardness in the country.  These are positive first steps.  They are real steps.  Musharraf was not personally involved in the decision to attack the Indian parliament on December 13.  This was an old plan.  But as head of Pakistan, he has to take responsibility for what happens inside Pakistan.  He needed an escape clause for December 13, and his recent public broadcast of a crackdown on Islamic extremism must be appreciated.  But the appreciation must be measured because Musharraf owed it to himself and to Pakistan and Islam to clean the stables.

However, by maintaining his public support for the struggle for Kashmiri independence, Musharraf is boxing himself in when he should be looking for a way to develop an exit strategy on Kashmir and a strategy to build a new Pakistan.  Just as the political structure and the external policies of Germany and Japan were radically reformed after World War II, a way must be found to scale down the size of the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services Intelligence.  Together with this, international aid, including significant Indian aid, should be linked to the development of a new political class in Pakistan which is interested in internal development rather than insurgency.  A stable, growing economy and a democratic polity are a must for Pakistan if it is to live in peace with India.

Too much should not be expected of Colin Powell’s India policy because Powell’s state department is part of the problem.  The Cold War is over but the state department’s warriors have difficulties with clearing their minds of the Cold War legacy, just as the British political establishment has difficult forgetting that it is no longer running an empire.  Powell and officials like the assistant secretary of state for policy planning carry the Cold War as well as a Clintonesque baggage in relation to India-Pakistan affairs.  They speak in terms which suggest that India could be treated as a defeated third world state or country which could be intimidated by state department demarches.

The reality is that the state department has been the author of several major failed policies for over 50 years.  The policy of building Indo-Pak military and diplomatic parity was pursued relentlessly and it failed because America’s horse in the field – the much touted Pakistan army, and later the ISI, has never won a war – not 1965, not 1971, not Khalistan, not Kargil, not Kashmir and not even the talibanized Afghanistan.

Then for years the state department tried to secure India’s nuclear disarmament.  One of the stalwarts of the department, Thomas Pickering, was bold enough to declare that the US wanted to see a freeze, rollback and elimination of Indian nuclear arms and missiles.  The exact opposite happened.  During the Clinton era, the US state department unleashed Madeleine Albright to promote US mediation in Kashmir.  It also gave cover to China’s opportunistic policy in Pakistan.

This was to promote Pakistani nuclear and missile proliferation despite the disquiet about mounting Central Intelligence Agency evidence, to strengthen Pakistan’s position as a line of military and diplomatic pressure against India, to encourage Pakistan’s policy to bleed India in Kashmir, prevent Indo-Pak reconciliation which would degrade China’s special position in Pakistan, and to build China’s military and naval presence in Pakistan and Myanmar – two major flanks of India.  China is not a factor for peace in the Indian subcontinent, but the Clinton administration acted as if it were, despite evidence to the contrary.  During this time, Washington and Beijing tried to build a system of US-China condominium over India.

The odour of Clintonism still exists in the state department.  Powell and his policy planners such as Richard Haas, do not have a problem with military dictators who are friendly to the US.  That was why Haas was asking Indians in December 2001, to reward Musharraf.  So the basis of the deepening Indo-US military relationship lies not only in the state department, but also in the White House, the vice-president’s office, the Pentagon and the US Congress.

In considering new and bold policies, Indian strategists need to reflect on the reasons why India is no longer an intimidated and a confused country.  It is only by discarding Nehruvianism that India has effectively increased its diplomatic and strategic space in the international arena.  Many doors opened after Pokhran II which made nonsense of Pickering's imperial declaration about rolling back India's nuclear programme.  In Kargil, Atal Bihari Vajpayee showed that unprovoked aggression would be fought back, but that there was also restraint in not crossing the line of control, as it was being advocated by some members of the Indian cabinet.

Firmness and restraint were again evident in Vajpayee’s actions after December 13.  Powell was moved to action not because he was concerned about Pakistani terrorism in India.  He cut short his Christmas vacation because the Indian army moved into forward positions.  A situation had to be created, messages had to be sent about what actions Musharraf and the West needed to take before the Musharraf crackdown came.  The lesson is that coercive diplomacy works when it is accompanied by carefully orchestrated messages which the Colin Powells, the Tony Blairs and the Richard Haases cannot challenge.

India should not close its option with Musharraf because he has shown the willingness to think.  But it should not buy the Powell line that Pakistani actions are now principled.  The crackdown will last as long as the pressure is there.  India needs to develop a line of thinking that would make sense of India’s embarking on a partnership with Israel just the way it makes sense for the US to extend its hand to Russia as a strategic partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

This assumes that terrorism is not finished. Pakistan needs international help to transform its war economy and war establishment into a peace economy and a democratic polity, and with the flight of Osama bin Laden and his able deputy, the Egyptian doctor, Zawahiri, the fight will now move outside Afghanistan.  The US, Russia, Israel and India can form the hub of a mini-NATO that could prove effective in major conflict situations.

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