New Challenges for the Region

New Challenges for the Region
January 2002

A deep sense of anxiety and unease looms over South Asian strategic and political environment. Anxiety, that is stemming from various geo-political changes. The world is relentless in its intrusion into the security politics of the Subcontinent, and external powers are drawn into the conflicts in the neighborhood. There is the strong military presence of a U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, Norway’s mediation efforts in Sri Lanka, growing Anglo-American involvement in Nepal, the defence cooperation agreement between Bangladesh and China, international diplomacy to restore democratic rule in Myanmar, and above all, the emergence of the United States as the principal interlocutor between India and Pakistan. Bhutan is at the brink of a major constitutional metamorphosis. Southern Bhutan is also being used as a haven by separatist movements of the Northeast. The disturbing presence of Indian separatist elements has been a policy dilemma for Bhutan about the demands of Indian security forces for un-restricted access to Bhutanese territory which could effect his domestic image. Bhutan would like to delineate its border with China although this is linked with the Sino-Indian discussions on the boundary which remains a distant prospect. Nepal’s King Gyanendra is taking full advantage of the militancy of the Maoist movement to consolidate his political power and its political parties beset by factionalism thus unable to give stability to governance. Countering Maoist violence has resulted in the armed forces emerging as the other centre of power in Nepal’s politics even more than before. With most of South Asian nations going through political uncertainties the external relations in the coming year will be a challenge. India’s historic and natural preeminence in the region seems to be on a down swing, a symptom of New Delhi’s own complacency and domestic political weaknesses. [i]

In this context the importance of being a “soft power” in global politics invokes interest, a theme that India’s Minister for External affairs is harping on. The influence of great powers is generally measured in indices of “hard power” such as military capability. In contrast, soft power is the ability to influence other societies through such real but intangible elements as culture. The current pre-eminence of the United States, for example, is based not just on its unrivalled military strength. It is reinforced by the American dominance of the international cultural realm through export of products ranging from Hollywood films to hamburgers. The U.S. universities draw the best and the brightest from the world, many of whom return home infected with American values. Coke and McDonald’s have become the ubiquitous symbols worldwide of the appeal of the “American way of life.” Harvard University’s Professor Joseph Nye writing for The New York Times on January 10 focused on the need to use ‘soft power’ as an instrument of American foreign policy in the US-led ‘war on terror’. He defined ‘soft power’ as ‘the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will.”

India could always count itself among the few nations with strong cards in the arena of soft power. Thanks to the spread of religion and culture from India to the neighboring regions over the millennia, India has exercised a measure of “soft power”. The spiritualism of India has attracted people from all over the world, and its Gurus have traveled around the world selling yoga and mysticism. From classical and popular music to its cuisine, from the growing impact of its writers and intellectuals, India now has begun to acquire many levers of soft power.

The biggest instrument of our soft power is the Indian Diaspora.” As Mr. Sinha pointed out, “people of Indian origin are extremely important sources of support for the Indian Government in the execution of its policies through the influence and respect they command in the countries in which they live.” [ii]Thus Sinha talked of the ‘soft power’ of culture and intellectuals, as an instrument of promoting India’sforeign policy through a better image. He urged the need to factor in ‘soft power’ as compared to the ‘hard power’ of military might, the nuclear bomb, missiles and a large standing army. [iii] Concurrently, the Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, urged Western businessmen and investors to put pressure on their governments to treat Pakistan as a ‘purveyor of terrorism’, in a bid to isolate Pakistan in the comity of nations. This came even as Pakistan was preoccupied with fending off new pressures from the United States. [iv] and in the back drop of New Delhi’s Foreign Secretary’s diatribe that India is a ‘country wounded by terrorism’, “All our neighbors have been or are involved in tolerating terrorist activities against India.” The Indian Express 3 January 2003. India faces as much an onslaught from terror forces in Pakistan in J&K as from Maoists making way into the country from Nepal, from Northeast insurgents drawing on resources from Bhutan or from ISI operatives brazenly fanning out of Bangladesh into Indian territory. India after all does not have the luxury of waging a single war against terrorism within a limited spatial framework. It has been fighting several battles against terrorism across its length and breadth over decades. These battles cannot be won through coercive diplomacy alone. They have to be concluded through a ruthless counter-terror program, which does not require the crutches of a diplomacy that lets the likes of Washington place India on a perpetual waitlist. [v]

The distinction between a “soft Power” and a “soft State” need be remain focused nonetheless. India, as its External Affairs Minister asserted is not a “soft State” that would be under U.S. pressure to resume talks with Pakistan. “We are under pressure from none. I do not accept this talk of a soft State. Was it a sign of soft State that we deployed our Army on the border and achieved what we wanted. India is under no pressure from America to talk to Pakistan. There is no policy which is being made under pressure from the U.S., whether it is strategic, foreign or economic. We have sent a clear message seriously to Pakistan and the international community that Pakistan cannot capture Jammu and Kashmir by cross-border terrorism. [vi] But it is pointless to deny the existence of this pressure or may be from a pacifist point of view a necessity. It is time India dispassionately assessed the relevance of President Musharraf for the US, and the region comprising Afghanistan, the Central Asia Republics, and Iran. Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror had distinct strategic objectives. One was to President Musharraf had supported the US-led war on terror for two strategic objectives: To reverse Talibanisation of Pakistan and to get back the strategic space in Afghanistan which was snatched by the Taliban. The second objective was to garner US’s silent endorsement that it would not push him too hard on terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, as that would make his position tenuous within the Pakistan army. Catering to tactical alterations, this was and remains the US and Pakistan understanding on J&K. Not only is President Musharraf succeeding in his initial objectives – he is fast consolidating Pakistan’s position vis-à-vis India. President Musharraf appears indispensable for the US. When President Bush called the Pakistani General a friend and a strategic ally, he was not referring to some short term relationship. What he meant was that US-Pakistan relations had strengthened after the anointment of interim President Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan, and would continue into the future. Both the US and Mr Karzai have sought close cooperation with Pakistan for bringing stability in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan, Lt General Dan McNeill, has recently asked Pakistan to put more forces on its border to tighten noose around Al Qaeda and Taliban cadres hiding in the mountainous ranges along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Based in Bagram, General McNeill commands about 8,000 US and 5,000 coalition troops. Pakistan says it can commit about 70,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan provided the US ensures that its eastern front with India remains calm and tension free. The US would take Pakistan’s offer seriously as it is under pressure to show more tangible results in its war against terror. A nagging criticism of the Bush Administration, at home and abroad, has been that it is seeking to open two new military fronts – against Iraq and maybe, North Korea at a later stage – even as the war in Afghanistan remains inconclusive.

Where does all this leave India? The coming together of the US, Pakistan, Iran and the Karzai regime for stability in Afghanistan would deny India the influence it had hoped for in the region. Once economic incentives like the gas pipeline deal show promise of fruition, the US is likely to press India to go more than half-way to settle matters with Pakistan. Moreover, the US’s pre-occupation with Iraq, North Korea and West Asia leaves it little time to focus on India-Pakistan problem. India’s continued refusal to talk with Pakistan will not find favor with the US. Russia, as a big regional player, would continue to pay some lip service to India’s cause. The non-permanent membership of the Security Council give Pakistan an added edge vis-à-vis US give it an opening to rake up the Kashmir issue at the world forum. India indeed is left with two choices in dealing with Pakistan: Either to talk soon with Islamabad or not at all. Both options need to be considered carefully. [vii]

With Operation Parakram over, and redeployment in process, diplomacy should take precedence. Even as the US and Pakistan want bilateral talks to commence, India’s predicament has been that little was achieved by flexing military muscle for 10 long months, Pakistan has emerged more belligerent, infiltration continues unabated across the LoC, and the US is more supportive of its “stalwart” ally. This was amply demonstrated when General Musharraf recently congratulated his armed forces for having “earned the distinction of defeating the enemy without fighting a war”. The US, meanwhile, recently told India to go slow with its involvement in Afghanistan as it was not being liked by Pakistan. For India, talking with Pakistan would mean conducting negotiations from a position of diplomatic and military weakness. Once talks begin, the focus would necessarily be on the Kashmir problem. Pakistan has repeatedly said that for peace in the region, a solution to the Kashmir problem would have to be found. The US’s position is similar. US Secretary of State Colin Powell on a visit to India in June last year, had emphasized that Kashmir was important if not the central issue for bilateral talks. And the Security Council resolution 1172 of June 6, 1998, states that Kashmir is the main cause of dispute between India and Pakistan.

While Pakistan wants to discuss the Kashmir issue, India wishes to focus on peace and security on the Line of Control. These two issues constitute the “two” as part of the two-plus-six formula which was agreed as the composite dialogue by the two nations in the 1990s. It is understood that during the failed July 2001 Agra summit, both sides had agreed to elevate these two matters to political level discussion from the earlier foreign secretary level meets. Understandably, Pakistan would insist that threads be picked up from the Agra summit, implying that pressure to show results would be enormous especially after India has accepted a facilitator role for the US. India clearly wants to avoid the difficult situation. Yet, India must talk with Pakistan at the earliest. The singular important lesson of Operation Parakram for India was the need to have a credible nuclear deterrence, and to establish an understanding with Pakistan on nuclear and missile matters. After the 1998 nuclear tests, it was evident that India and Pakistan would need to evolve Confidence Building Measures to tide over the destabilising factors; one created by the imminent nuclear weaponisation, and the second pertaining to ballistic missiles. The process was started with the signing of the Lahore declaration on February 21, 1999, between Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif and now need to be carried forward. [viii]

While several interlocutors have repeatedly urged New Delhi to look beyond the one-point focus of its Pakistan policy, there has as yet been no sign that the country’s foreign policy establishment has recognised that its argument, that infiltration from across the western border must be ended before a dialogue is initiated, is not appreciated by the larger part of the global community. Any hope that New Delhi might have entertained — that it would eventually succeed in isolating Pakistan from the rest of the global community and thereby pressure Islamabad to crack down more effectively on cross-border terror — has been struck a fresh blow by the latest message from the U.S. State Department delivered through its Director, Policy Planning Staff, Richard N. Haass. The message was that India and Pakistan should realise that their interests would be better served if they would remove the pre-conditions for a dialogue. While the statement was directed at both New Delhi and Islamabad, it is not possible to miss the underlying message that India should no longer expect Washington to throw its weight behind the proposition that an end to cross-border infiltration is a non-negotiable pre-condition.[ix]

Pakistan’s already fragile relationship with the US is, however, constantly under threat by the Indians, Israelis and Zionists within the US, who represent the strongest lobbies in that country. Their attempts to have Pakistan labeled as a country that is unstable, pro-Islamic fundamentalist, pro Al-Qaeda and pro-terrorist, armed with devastating nuclear capability, are incessant and held at bay only by the “needs” of the coalition against terror. Recent election results have somewhat confirmed this perception. In fact, adding to American fears are statements issued by victorious representatives in their show of bravado. [x]

Washington’s war on terror may have taken an unscripted turn in the New Year. Washington’s flirtation with Islamabad went sour when United States troops clashed with men of the Pakistan Scouts near a village on the Pakistan-Afghan border last weekend. The skirmishes left an American soldier injured. In retaliation, the US Air Force dropped a 500-pound bomb on a madrasa in the southern Waziristan area of Pakistan, killing two Pakistan Scouts soldiers. Within hours, religious zealots in Pakistan began baying for American blood. The six-party alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), called a nationwide pro-test on Friday. The MMA has the third largest representation in the recently-constituted National Assembly besides being the ruling party in the North-West Frontier Province, a vast, ungovernable arid zone lying next to Afghanistan. It has been a swamp of terrorism for over two decades. The MMA leader is not just any Maulana. He is a founding member of the Taliban and organiser of terrorist training camps, an ideologue of terror groups like the Harkat ul-Ansar, and an occasional advisor to President Musharraf. [xi] Also Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat challenged a US military statement that it is allowed to pursue attackers of its forces in Afghanistan into Pakistan. “There is no room or legal sanctions for any cross-border operation by US forces to pursue fugitives into Pakistani territory. We have no such policy,” Hayat said. “There is no question of allowing any hot pursuit into our territory.” For the US too, there are worrying signs that their plans for Afghanistan have not quite succeeded. Official America has already described as a serious security threat the regrouping of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan and their forays into Afghan territory. That Pakistan’s NWFP government is sympathetic to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda only makes matters worse. One year after the Karzai government was installed, its writ does not appear to run beyond Kabul. Add to this the re-emergence in Pakistan of religious parties with sympathies for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and the fact that the two organisations have regrouped in the tribal territories, and the prospects seem truly dismal for a country the US just recently liberated from the Taliban. The US’s biggest problem may well be to safeguard Afghanistan from renewed Talibanisation. [xii]

Pakistan has begun 2003 on a difficult and dangerous note with increasing doubts about the direction of the special relationship with the United States and its own role in the US-led ‘war on terror’. Pakistan’s status veers between a publicly professed friend, which is privately being perceived as a potential foe. A year ago, Pakistan was being lionised as a ‘strategic partner in the war on terror’, and General Musharraf was topping the list of ‘moderate and modern Muslims’. This turnaround should be a wake-up call to the Pakistan Establishment that had become complacent that the American Connection was both solid and strategic, and hence, a revival of the ‘good old days’ of the Cold War. Facts have demonstrated that such optimism was misplaced. Even if the maiden military clash between the Pakistan and US forces was ‘accidental’, the fact remains that it sends a larger message, which should provide ample room for discomfort for the Pakistan Establishment. The message is three-pronged: First, the US military seems to be blaming the Pakistan Army for its own failings in Afghanistan, notably the failure to stabilise the situation there or achieve the primary mission objective: getting ‘Osama dead or alive’. The constant refrain heard from American military commanders is that ‘Pakistan could, and should, do more’. For instance, The Washington Post reported on January 4 that ‘while US officials stress in public that Pakistan has taken steps to control Islamic militants from al Qaeda and the Taliban, some say privately that the Musharraf government could do more to combat them in the border areas but has chosen not to’. Second, there is an increasing lack of trust in Pakistan’s Establishment – the leadership, armed forces and intelligence services – regarding their capacity to deliver, implying that earlier expectations have not been met. This despite the fact that Pakistan has sent troops into the tribal areas for the first time in its 55-year history. A step taken at the risk of ignoring local sensibilities that could provoke a destabilising backlash. Third, regarding the conflicting versions of what is actual policy regarding American troops crossing over into Pakistan, clearly one of the governments is not telling the truth. The Americans have publicly stated that their troops have the right to cross into Pakistan, and, according to the January 4 edition of The Washington Post, “this is done with the express consent of the Pakistani government”. Conversely, Pakistani spokesmen convey a contrary view. This is similar to the earlier controversy over the arrest of the Lahore doctors, where the FBI role was being condemned by one official quarter while another was concurrently denying it. [xiii]

The need of the time is to have a balancing act for long-term stability of South Asia. “America must decidedly change its India-Pakistan policy, in particular, to side with democracy and human rights – invite strategically located India to join US at the foreign policy altar. President Bush should acknowledge India as “America’s foremost friend in this corner of the world, also reduce military aid to Pakistan and demand that Pakistan stop terrorist activities against India. “Embracing India… could perhaps push China towards democracy and a new respect for human rights. A political alliance with India, in addition to a synergetic economic relationship, would stimulate trade and boost America’s economy. And in the war on terrorism, this new partnership would prove America values a country that treats its Muslim minority well. It is time for Bush to embrace India as a key ally, democratic torchbearer and trading partner for the sake of security in a postwar world,” as said by Former US senator Larry Pressler in an article in US daily Washington Times penned in Bangalore. [xiv].
[i] C. Raja Mohan, Beyond India’s Monroe Doctrine The Hindu 2 January 2003, J. N. Dixit, Not a nice neighbourhood: Challenges for India as South Asia slides into ferment , The Indian Express 9 January 2003

[ii] From being once known as ‘the other India’, the Indian diaspora has come into its own. It is now a part of the ‘Global Indian Family’. Silicon Valley millionaires, IT and financial whiz kids have given the diaspora a new aura- the image of a newly prosperous non-resident Indian. But the 22 million strong diaspora is not a monolithic group and the recent migrant is not the archetype of the pravasi. The overseas community is formed of numerous layers that correspond to the waves of migration, place of origin in India and the country where they settled in. Educational levels, class background, age and gender go to make the other differences. They range from those whose ancestors went to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other South East Asian countries, descendants of Indian workers who went to the colonies to work in Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, Suriname, South Africa, Kenya and Fiji. There are also descendants of intrepid Gujarati and Sindhi traders as well as first generation migrants who went to Britain in the Fifties and later to the US for better paying jobs. Indian expatriates — professionals, skilled and semi-skilled workers who work in the Gulf — form another section. Finally, there are the secondary migrants — people of Indian origin who migrated from Guyana, Trinidad and Kenya to the US and Britain, and from Suriname to the Netherlands Shubha Singh, Homeward abound, Hindustan Times 9 January 2003

[iii] C. Raja Mohan, Indian diaspora and `soft power’ The Hindu 6 January 2003.

[iv] Mushahid Hussain The impact of ‘Soft Power’ The Nation 14 January 2002

[v] Shobori Ganguli, The Pioneer 4 January 2002

[vi] ” The Hindu 14 January 2002

[vii] Pravin Sawhney, Speaking with the enemy The Pioneer 16 January 2002

[viii] Pravin Sawhney, The two-plus-six formula, The Pioneer 17 January 2003

[ix] Editorial, Recast the policy , The Hindu 10 January 2003

[x] Imran Husain, Drawing the line, The Nation 3 January 2003

[xi] Editorial, Honeymoon over? The Pioneer 4 January 2002.

[xii] Editorial, Uneasy Musharraf The Times of India 4 January 2002

[xiii] Mushahid Hussain, Pakistan: Friend or Foe? The Nation 7 January 2002

[xiv] The Times of India 28 January 2003
Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya