Back To the Reckoning

Back To the Reckoning
March 2002

In the aftermath of September 11, as world was waking up to the cold reality of contemporary means for savage demonstration of vulnerability – of governments, states and leaderships, there was a perception in South Asia that India has lost the game of one-upmanship to Pakistan. For Islamabad the events could not have been timed better. Almost at the verge of being categorized as a rogue state with reins of governance in the hands of the pro fundamentalist military, the country was also at the brink of economic bankruptcy and international isolation. The US led campaign against the terrorists in Afghanistan changed all that for the better for Pakistan in one stroke. Suddenly the country found itself in focus, the geo-strategic factors weighing heavily in its favor. Though the issue at stake affected New Delhi with equanimity thus giving it a moral right to expect a common cause with the international coalition and an opportunity to expose Islamabad as both a perpetrator of and sanctuary for terrorism, world was to put a blind eye due to overwhelming strategic reasons. For US a campaign in Afghanistan without Pakistan would have been very difficult though not impossible. A hostile Islamabad would have been more bothersome given the sensitivities around religion involved, which could easily have been exploited. Instead by putting Islamabad in the front, the Bush administration was seeking acquiescence to its claim that the operations in Kabul need not necessarily be seen as one against Islam. Thus after a period of splendid honeymoon with the sole Super Power and just as the country was recovering from sanctions and isolation following its nuclear adventurism, India found itself being pushed to the back. In diplomatic circles nothing could have caused more severe heartburn, frustration even hopelessness.

Not for long however. Events were to occur in quick succession to refocus world attention on New Delhi, some of which though for wrong reasons. One such event was to occur on December the thirteenth. Though there was stink in Islamabad’s remarks about the incident being stage-managed by India itself, it was enough to redirect world attention on to India and the issue that New Delhi has long been harping on- cross border terrorism. Naturally this was the time for New Delhi to talk tough as well as flex muscles at its old betenoire. The Indian Government quickly mobilized its troops, even, if reports are to be believed, deployed its missiles and placed a charter of demands on Pakistan, extradition of wanted terrorists and the closing of terrorist training camps inside Pakistan included. South Asia once again was in the brink of an escalation of hostilities and with ambiguity still surrounding the nuclear weapons program of both the warring neighbors; it became the potential hotspot for nuclear flashpoint.

Though nothing much happened in the war front, the strategic aerobics on both side of the border was enough to keep the international community on its toes for months. During the entire period however, rhetoric apart, New Delhi earned international commendation for remarkable patience and restraint while a slow but definite pressure was being built on Islamabad to initiate action to reverse its fundamentalist leanings. Saner sense informed both sides not to exceed the limits of each other’s sensitivities.

There was some inevitability to the way both countries behaved. In crisis situations, a refusal to back down exposes a government to the risk that the other will also refuse to back down; hence the one willing to accept the greater risk will prevail. Both governments thus found themselves pitted against the Hobson’s choice one of conceding to the demands or accepting an uncertain outcome – a choice between de-escalation of the crisis or a direct military conflict. Glenn Snyder has theorized that the main component of each country’s strength in this type of situation is ‘critical risk’, that is the risk of the other side standing firm, leaving the initiator of the crisis with the choice of either standing firm or accepting the demands of the other side. This is the risk that a government should be willing to accept as the consequence of standing firm. There remains a choice with the bargainer of comparing his critical risk with an estimated probability – the probability that the other side also stands firm whatever the consequences. Here the estimated probability could have been one of the other:

Pakistan decides that if it complies with any of India’s demands of stopping cross-border terrorism and handing over India’s 20 most wanted criminals, it stands to lose out with its domestic constituency, and concludes that India is unlikely to attack given (a) international pressure, and (b) India’s established norm of not crossing the Line of Control( LoC); in that case one outcome is certain. The standoff remains for a time, but international pressure slowly ensures that India withdraws its troops in a phased manner from their battle positions to peacetime locations.

The standoff continues for a while, and Pakistan does hand over some of the people named in India’s 20 most wanted list (perhaps beginning with the Punjab militants), and a process of de-escalation is initiated.

There would be no compliance, no bargaining, no punishment – the US ensures that the standoff ends peacefully.1

In any case Indian demands if ever conceded can only be in parts, with a certain expectation from Pakistan that it can get away after testing India’s patience at a threshold that is substantially higher than before and New Delhi coming to terms with cold reality that a military build-up and a demand list does not deliver. Soon therefore New Delhi has to find ways of asserting its regional preeminence by other means.

Things however have not been happening well for New Delhi. A nation that earned encomiums across the world for its religious and cultural diversity and its steady if unspectacular resurgence has now started to reap universal infamy on account of its communal bloodletting. The world media is splattering India’s Hindu-Muslim blood feud on its broadcasts and news pages amid questions about its political and social stability. Suddenly, India looks like an overblown version of the many violence-wracked small states of Asia and Africa.2

Concern was worldwide with US condemning “the attacks on innocent civilians and the senseless violence that resulted in the deaths of so many innocent people” and caused large-scale damage to property.3 United States has said it was “very concerned” over the violence in Gujarat but stated that it was up to India to decide how to deal with it. The United States is “very concerned” but “it is mostly up to them (Indian authorities) to see what kind of steps should be taken,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.4 In a shotgun discussion, shortly after much hyped “shila daan”, by BBC on whether “moderate” voices really prevailed and, more important, what was the future of secularism in India in the light of recent developments, the commentators were to emphasize strongly the fundamentalist leanings of Bharatiya Janata Party – the majority coalition partner of the Vajpayee Government. There has been an view that while in his best moments Indian Prime Minister can rise to the occasion and be even statesmanlike as, for instance, when he traveled to Lahore in search of peace with Pakistan, in situations where the larger Parivar is in full cry he is not always his own man. Both during the Gujarat riots and on Ajodhya issue he is seen to have been overwhelmed by his loyalty to the Parivar. “Did the Vajpayee Government go too far to appease the Hindu nationalists” was what a broadcaster wondered echoing the sentiment all-round.5 Similar sentiments were echoed elsewhere with the New York Times writing “it has lately become fashionable to characterize India as an artificial creation, a relic of the British empire that is so balkanized by myriad religious, linguistic, caste, ethnic and racial groups that only a breakup of the country can bring peace. That is a misinformed view. Most of India’s one billion citizens reside in nearly 600,000 villages across the country — almost all of which are divided along the same sectarian lines that divide the country. Indians cannot be uprooted and reassembled by ethnic group. They have to live together in a nation that respects diversity, democracy and secularism in government. The riots of the last week have set back that cause.”6

New Delhi’s growing eminence is evident from US recognition of India as a frontline state in the war against terrorism, thus qualifying for increased democracy and governance funds. “Events since September 11 attacks have naturally given new emphasis to our relations with Central and South Asia, especially with frontline countries like India….” (Roger Winter, administrator for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, deposing before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Foreign Operations.) “In response to these events, we have begun to shift resources towards the region, increasing our funding for democracy and governance programmes in… India.” 7

New Delhi was also quick to sense an opportunity to build close ties with prominent Arab States, which are in look out for new partnerships overseas in the context of the war against terrorism. September 11 attacks induced a clear realization that the presence of “sanctuaries of terrorism” in their heartland can destabilize Governments. With the threat to their internal security visible, most of them are realizing that only building close partnerships with key regional players across the globe can fight terrorism. India, no longer on the wrong side of the U.S. can become a South Asian hub in the anti-terror network. 8

Another significant development has been the unanimous recommendation of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet (CHOGM) at Coolum in Australia, to invite India to join the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) along with Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Botswana, Malta, Nigeria and Samoa.9 Commenting on this External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said that India’s membership of CMAG over the next four years reinforces its strong position within the Commonwealth. ” The Coolum Declaration will help advance the development agenda, while its robust stand on terrorism entirely takes into account our concerns.”10 Besides direct air links between New Delhi and Beijing are being unveiled more than 50 years after the world’s two largest nations and neighbors established diplomatic relations! (More than 50 years ago, at one of their earliest meetings, premiers Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru discussed the prospect of establishing direct air links between the two countries.11 The decision to start direct flights between India and China was taken during the recent visit to India by the Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji and can be seen as a preparation for the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing later this year. 12

Rallying around India’s concerns about terrorism, US finally made a common cause with New Delhi when Ambassador Backwill said that acts of terrorism against India was no different from acts of terrorism against the USA ant that US condemns “terrorism wherever it occurs”. Washington committed its resources for the cause with prospects of closest possible cooperation with respect to both our Intelligence and law enforcing agencies to identify terrorists and prevent them from carrying out their acts of terrorism and bring them to justice.” 13

Meantime the US-Pakistan relations seemed to have approached, what a leading Pakistani think tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies described, “a bumpy patch” where Washington needs to find the right balance between encouraging Musharraf’’s “best instincts” and pressing firmly for full implementation of the anti-terrorist agenda. The study was to identify two issues that can potentially deal a setback to US-Pakistani ties: Kashmir and Afghanistan. Massive troop deployments on the Indo-Pak border hold the unpleasant prospect for the situation to escalate very fast. “Ending Pakistan-based support for the armed militancy in Kashmir is ultimately the key to reducing this danger. This will be a more painful process for Musharraf than confronting the militants domestically, but in practice de-linking these theatres of operation may have become impossible. The limits of Pakistan’s new policy towards the militants and towards Kashmir will not be clear until winter ends and the passes into Kashmir open.” 14

Besides overall US attitude towards India and Pakistan that does not appear to match their respective pulses induced new introspection that the U.S. is no longer playing a zero-sum game in South Asia. It is beginning to appear as if Washington now seems to be asking for strategic assistance, not political alliances, in South Asia. This possibly explains current Washington-Islamabad equations as well as US expectations of a greater Indian role in maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region. In the context that US as the sole super power has started marginalizing other major players on the strength of its “futuristic” military prowess, this may impinge on India’s overall strategic autonomy even as the U.S. itself “helps” New Delhi address “cross-border terrorism.” 15

During Musharraf’s recent visit to the US, the Bush administration sounded a special note of cordiality and promised a long-term relationship. Analysts ascribe this to convergence in the interests and goals of the two sides and US commitment for maintaining a presence in the region. If India is being cultivated as a major partner on account of its size and political and military potential, Pakistan retained its own importance on account of its critical geo-strategic location, both in the context of the war against terrorism and as an access to Central Asia and its potential to influence the Islamic world.16 As a balancing act therefore, Washington has linked its arms and other logistical supports to Islamabad taking steps to end cross-border terrorism against India with President Bush making it clear that “US has no interest in trying to increase the supply of arms right now while India and Pakistan are still too close to war.” The President also emphatically asked Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism against India and create conditions for “meaningful dialogue between both the countries.” A senior US official said, “We are in a new day. Pakistan has to make strategic changes, not tactical one. There is no place for cross-border terrorism and even Musharraf had agreed to that.” Asked if Musharraf does not heed US advice and continues with terrorism, the official said “we take him at his word. He is an important ally. We will be with him if he acts, if he plays games, then there will be a problem.”17 All these should make good listening for New Delhi as Washington is finally doing what it always wanted.

Commenting on the possible scenario emerging out of President Bush’s China visit, former Indian Foreign Secretary would say that despite differences, the challenge for India is to expand its new relations with the US. President Bush’s visit to Beijing should put to rest unrealistic speculations about a likely strategic consensus between China, the Russian Federation and India to counter the dominant influence of the United States in world affairs. Bush and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin agreed that US and China have a shared responsibility to maintain world peace and stability, particularly in the Asian region. Expressing their views on Indo-Pakistan relations, Jiang and Bush affirmed that they would encourage India and Pakistan to enter into a dialogue and resolve the Kashmir problem, which they consider a factor of continuing tension in South Asia. 18

This is what Thomas P. Thornton has to say about rediscovery of India. For the past several years, Americans returning from India have recounted with wonder the changes in attitudes toward the United States. Equally surprising and gratifying has been the growth of interest in this country concerning India. Bill Clinton ultimately discovered India with a vengeance, culminating in his highly successful visit in March, 2000, and few Presidents — certainly none since Jimmy Carter — have started off in office with such enthusiasm for Indo-U.S. relations as did George W. Bush. This enthusiasm has also infected Congress, the Pentagon, and the American business community. Indo-U.S. relations have seen moments of enthusiasm, but these were episodic at best. The U.S. was preoccupied with its global role, especially the contest with the Soviet Union; bilateral or regional interests in India were simply never sufficient to override its global concerns, whether anti-communism, non-proliferation, or IMF lending policy. In response, New Delhi incorrectly interpreted American insensitivity as part of a dark plot to limit India’s international role. The situation was made worse in that India’s forays onto the global scene tended to be more on the side of the Soviet Union, while U.S. intrusions into South Asia were more in the interest of Pakistan. Americans and Indians have an exceptional opportunity to shape a new relationship. 19

Nevertheless there was no dearth of recognition for the importance of getting South Asian imbroglio sorted out between India and Pakistan. “Working for peace in the region is a part of US policy for which it is trying to bring Pakistan and India across the table.” (US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca) She said that the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington “thrust the struggle against terrorism to the very top of the foreign policy agenda of many countries.” A central theatre of this war is South Asia. For leaders in the region, and in the United States, this is a time of opportunity.” 20

Thus India now sits in an extraordinary international context. How much of the unfolding opportunities are converted into advantage depends on the kinds of signals New Delhi puts out. The bold and the unexpected overtures that India handed out to the international coalition in its war against terrorism in the region and which surprised many at home and abroad turned out to be extraordinarily rewarding. As the second phase of anti-terror campaign unfolds India finds itself hobbled by one of the most dangerous internal crisis the Republic has ever confronted. The leadership skills are put to test to uphold the core principles of India’s nationhood that are at stake today. If the government stays true to the political vision on which the Republic was founded or at least to the agenda on which the present coalition Government has been constituted, it sends out a strong message to the international community and thus reaps the full political benefits of the emerging global environment. On the other hand a policy of least resistance would most certainly deepen the current crisis and castigate India to the category of failed states. 21

In the overall context of triangular relations involving India, Pakistan and US, the views expressed by Teresita C. Schaffer makes interesting reading. She saw a strong relationship with a strong aid component emerging between Islamabad and Washington, with a significant military relationship and from the Pakistani point of view, a larger military supply. This comes with Pakistan’s expectations of a stronger political role in South Asia. Not unnaturally though this possibility is linked to the perception that Musharraf retains control as long as US aid keeps pouring in to retain the impression that his policies are paying off. At the same time ‘the US would not get into a relationship with Pakistan that makes Indo-US relations difficult to manage.’ Arms supply issues can be cited as examples. Any significant arms agreement between US and Pakistan is sure to upset India even as Pakistan sees military supply as an important indicator of improving relations, almost the way India sees removal of export curbs on transfer of technology. The fact remains that Indo-Pakistan relations monopolizes the attention of all three governments. The unsettled relations between India and Pakistan still inhibit US-India relations. As long as there is instability, the Indians will focus their attention on regional issues and this makes a heavy toll on their (India’s) global potential. Despite September 11 with all the old rhetoric back on Pakistan, there are an awful lot of subjects on which the future of Indo-US relations will depend that have nothing to do with Pakistan. Such as private sector economic relations, trade, international oil markets, a security dialogue and a mutual understanding on where the world is going. Nuclear technology is another area; both countries have a common interest in seeing that it does not go to a third country, besides anti-terrorism. As Beijing has long been demonstrating responsibility at least in the regional context – from Kargil to Afghanistan, and the fact that there are no takers for the talk of New Delhi playing a US card or that Washington playing an India card, the US will remain the stabilizing factor in South Asia. 22

Dennis Kux’s new volume The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies (Johns Hopkins University Press) tracks down the changes in Indo-US relations since 1991. From estranged democracies of the yesteryear, Washington and India are inching toward meaningful partnerships. He says that Bush, almost like Chester Bowles, discovered India — a billion people, enormous diversity, shared democratic values with America and took a strategic decision to build a relationship with India. The Republicans’ now see India as a rising great power, a partner in Asia. They also took upon themselves the task of unhooking India and Pakistan. Significantly the BJP government reciprocated this. Having not been in office during the Cold War era, it didn’t share the Cold War anti-American feelings and thought good relations with the US were in India’s interests. When for instance Bush put out the missile defence plan, India gave it a better reception than almost any other major country. Then again, after 9/11 India immediately signed up in the war against terrorism. Came December 13, India threatened war against Pakistan, and America stepped in-in a replay of Kargil – leaning on Pakistan to do what India was asking. In a sense India was putting the US to the test, and the US responded. US see India as a global partner, Pakistan as a regional country. India views American statements on cross-border terrorism as a litmus test of US appreciation of its concerns.

Pakistan and the US have a common interest in banning terrorism, but the concern is that Islamabad has also been part of the problem. Besides, the US is very unpopular in Pakistan. There is not just the feeling that the US is against Islam but also that the US has done in Pakistan — in the ’65 war we betrayed them, in ’90 we discarded them when we no longer needed them like a piece of ‘‘used Kleenex’’. The main US interest in Pakistan is a negative one, in the sense to prevent them from failing. During the Cold War it had a strategic relationship with Pakistan; this time there is very little military aid, more economic. There is no reason why the India should be uncomfortable with that.23

Regional Engagements:

India’s regional standing witnessed positive upswings in the first quarter of the year. Changes in Sri Lanka with LTTE displaying an encouraging tendency to be back on the negotiation track with a popular administration in Colombo responding positively. Sanctions are being eased with a ceasefire in force and resumption of transport of essential commodities to the troubled northern province. Both sides are working on a vigorous program of confidence building that includes inter-alia, setting up of an international monitoring committee, conversion of temporary cease fire into a permanent one on agreed terms, a framework, agenda and itinerary for direct talks etc. Quite naturally there have been a fair expectation as well as speculation of New Delhi’s involvement, albeit indirectly in the emerging peace initiative. For pure logistic reasons at-least LTTE requires Indian assistance – to facilitate communication between LTTE Supremo Pravakaran and Its political advisor and chief negotiator, Anton Balasingham, who currently stays in London undergoing treatment. LTTE requested New Delhi’s permission for Balasingham and his wife to come and reside in Chennai in order to facilitate his easy journey to and from Wanni that is required for regular consultations. The second aspect, which follows the first, has been a permission and arrangements from the Indian government for talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to be held in India, preferably in Chennai, Thiruvananthapuram or Bangalore. This could facilitate LTTE representative’s easier interaction with its leadership and would not put them at any risk, which would obviously be there in the Sri Lankan mainland. Though at the moment there is no expectation of any direct Indian participation in the talks LTTE saw nothing wrong in having Indian observers if negotiations are held in India. There has also been an expectation that the LTTE and its supporters in India would keep making efforts to get the ban on LTTE by India reviewed. Thus security concerns, convenience and proximity to the homeland has forced LTTE to look India-ward though Indian response would certainly be factored by what New Delhi considers its “enlightened self-interest.” D.B.S. Jeyraj; Frontline, February 1,2000, p-52 Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s visit to New Delhi got him a reiteration of India’s support for the Norwegian role in the peace process. More important, it conveyed the message back home that India was not taking sides in the delicate political situation prevailing in Sri Lanka post December 2001 elections.24

India’s affairs with Myanmar also was in focus with the Ambassador of Myanmar in India, Kyaw Thuhas, urging greater investments by Indian entrepreneurs in his country. Addressing members of the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BNCCI) here on Monday, Kyaw regretted that out of the 23 major countries that have invested in Myanmar, India had only a single enterprise with an investment of $4.5 million, while China had $8 million, Singapore $23 million, Thailand $24 million, UK $26million and Malaysia $21 million. Commenting on the bright prospects of tourism in both countries, the envoy said that a Myanmar Consulate General office would be opened in Kolkata in a few months to encourage trade, investment and tourism in Myanmar from the eastern region of India.25

Terrorism was the predictable focus of discussions between visiting Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Indian leadership in New Delhi during the later part of March 2002. There was a shared perception that Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence’s (ISI) activities in India and the Maoists in Nepal were serious enough reasons for the two countries to step up mutual cooperation in earnest. New Delhi, since the 1999 IC-814 hijack, has been sensitizing the Nepalese leadership to the serious threat India faced from ISI operatives across a porous Indo-Nepal border. Both countries moreover made clear the fact that they do not want to see each other’s territories being used for terrorism against either country.26 Besides India and Nepal agreed to prevent misuse of borders.27 The visit also saw efforts at increasing economic cooperation between India and Nepal with conclusion of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Trade that as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry saw it addresses the concerns of Indian industry while maintaining the zero duty access to Nepalese goods, thereby reiterating India’s commitment to Nepal’s economic development.28

Southeast Asia:

Extending its sphere of influence eastward, New Delhi had interactions with Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia. Thailand sought India’s guidance for building a small-scale satellite. It signed an agreement on space surveys and usage with India covering variety of cooperative deals, including surveys of outer space, space science, the use of space technology and the monitoring of space debris in the earth’s atmosphere.29 Malaysia has shown keen interest to attract more Indian tourists with a plan “visa on arrival” that would enable tourists to get instant entry permissions. The move was considered, as there had been a 100 per cent rise in tourist arrivals from India last year compared to 2000.30

As a result of talks between the visiting Cambodian Foreign Minister, Hor Namhong and Indian leaders India and Cambodia agreed to explore new avenues to diversify further bilateral cooperation in areas including agriculture, irrigation, water resources and sustainable forest management. The Cambodian Minister handed over the Cambodian premier, Hun Sen.’s invitation to the Indian Prime Minister, to visit his country for the ASEAN-India Summit in November this year besides briefing Vajpayee on the agenda for the summit.31

1Bargaining in Crisis: Arpit Rajain Research Officer, IPCS Article No: 695 Date: 7 February 2002
2Chidanand Rajghatta The Times of India 2 March 2002
3PTI Hindustan Times 1 March 2002
4PTI Hindustan Times 10 March 2002
5A view of India from Britain Hasan Suroor The Hindu 23 March 2002
6Instability in India The New York Times 7 March 2002
7PTI The Times of India 7 March 2002
8Atul Aneja The Hindu 12 March 2002
9The Pioneer 19 March 2002
10PTI The Times of India 23 March 2002
11C. Raja Mohan The Hindu 30 March 2002
12The Hindu 27 March 2002
13The Statesman 2 March 2002
14As reported in the Dawn 3 March 2002
15The U.S.’ agenda in South Asia P. S. Suryanarayana The Hindu 4 March 2002
16Post-September ties with Washington Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty Dawn 5 March 2002
17PTI Hindustan Times 8 March 2002
18JN Dixit The Indian Express 10 March 2002
19The U.S. and India: setting the focus Thomas P. Thornton The Hindu 13 March 2002
20Reuters The Times of India 13 March 2002
21C. Raja Mohan The Hindu 14 March 2002
22Excerpts from an interview with SONIA TRIKHA Director of the South Asia Program at the Centre for Strategic & International Studies in Washington: The Indian Express 16 March 2002
23Speaking to MINI KAPOOR on a trip to New Delhi; The Indian Express 16 March 2002
24On the road to Peace; Nirupama Subramanian, Frontline, February 1,2000, p-51
25Business Line 12 March 2002
26Shobori Ganguli The Pioneer 22 March 2002.
27Hindustan Times 25 March 2002
28Business Line 13 March 2002
29TNA Hindustan Times 16 March 2002
30AFP Hindustan Times 16 March 2002
31India, Cambodia to diversify ties The Hindu 16 March 2002

Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya