South Asia – Quo Vadis?

South Asia – Quo Vadis?
July 2002

It’s as if US Secretary of State, Collin Powell was stating the obvious. US intends to remain engaged with the problem of peace and normalization in South Asia “for months and years ahead.” The statement underscores not only the determination of world’s sole surviving super power to keep war mongering in South Asia at bay, but also the need and necessity of the warring nations to come to terms with themselves and behave. Much to India’s dislike however, Powell was stating what now must have become obvious to the most myopic- that Kashmir is now “on the international agenda” and that his country would remain engaged in “extending a helping hand to all sides” for a solution. Suffice to say at this point that the terrorist attacks on Indian Parliament and subsequent force mobilization and war hysterics succeeded in internationalizing the Kashmir issue putting New Delhi in a sort of trap – its hoarse cry for justice following the terrorist attacks pushed the agenda from the bilateral forum to the international theatre.

What about Pakistan then on Kashmir issue? Many see Pakistan’s new policy toward Kashmir in the context of Islamabad’s trade-in with Bush Administration of Pakistani sovereignty even as part of the latest in a series of humiliations President Musharraf has endured at U.S. hands. The fact is as international observers would say that the man chosen by America to provide the local muscle in the U.S. campaign against terrorism is finding himself with hardly a friend at home, has lost considerable popular support as he has forced a series of drastic changes on this Islamic country at the behest of his foreign allies, according to recent interviews with dozens of Pakistanis. Musharraf’s hold over the army and at least the upper echelons of Pakistan’s powerful intelligence services is not in doubt, for now, and there appears to be no immediate threat to his power. But at no time since Sept. 11 has he appeared as isolated or vulnerable. What has become less palatable has been his dutiful carrying out of Washington’s demands.[1]

Curiously, Washington appear to consider Musharraf not so hot either. Musharraf is not indispensable for the conduct of US policy in South Asia, a media report on Sunday said and questioned the reliability of the military ruler. “While publicly supportive of the President, the US does not want to appear to be banking on just Musharraf. There are other people who have high skills and political savvy,” Time magazine said quoting a State Department official. Comparing Musharraf with Egypt’s’ former ruler Anwar Sadat, the official said after his assassination Hosni Mubarak successfully took over the reigns of Cairo. It doesn’t all rest on this individual. His newfound moderation in Kashmir — he has at least temporarily choked the flow of militant into India.. It has further eroded his popular support among hardliners,” the weekly said in its latest issue.[2]

New Delhi nevertheless has become wise to the developments as its new Foreign Secretary would make clear to who so ever is listening. The U.S. can help the Musharraf, implement his commitments to fight terrorism, but not act as mediator between India and Pakistan. Kanwal Sibal made it clear that India was not giving up bilateralism as a policy approach when it came to dealing with Pakistan. Speaking at a Confederation of Indian Industry panel discussion on “India and USA: Blow Hot, Blow Cold”, he said if for further results in fighting the international terrorism the U.S. presence was required in the region, then the Indian policy-makers will not object to it, and the U.S. should continue to pressure Gen. Musharraf to fight terrorism. The U.S, could not separate one segment of international terrorism, which addressed their security needs from the terrorism that affected India in Jammu & Kashmir.[3]

Washington sees its role in a different perspective. It sees no reason yet to jettison its good relations with both India and Pakistan, it is “anxious” to get through the current crisis and see a dialogue develop between the two South Asian neighbours on the Kashmir issue. “It is a very difficult issue. And what we are trying to do now is to make sure that both the Indians and the Pakistanis understand that the United States is interested in them beyond this crisis. We want a good relationship with India on every aspect of that relationship, economic, trade cooperation, military cooperation. The same thing with Pakistan. We are anxious to get through this crisis and see a dialogue begin between the two sides so that we can start to move forward to help find a solution to the problem in Kashmir ultimately.” (US Secretary of State Colin Powellsaid testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)[4] “We have worked very hard to keep this thing from blowing up, boiling over on us,” Powell said revealing his plans for the South asian visit, to keep up the pace of the diplomatic drive to cool tensions between India and Pakistan amid fears that the two neighbours could fight a nuclear war.[5] Powell intends to look beyond the red-hot issue of Kashmir to better economic and other relations that has become sine qua non of present day international politics and an issue that makes immense sense.[6] What is more, the United States finds the situation at LoC as “still tense”, and intends to stress the need for dialogue and peaceful resolution of issues Powell is “ to continue US engagement with both the government of India and the government of Pakistan, to see, “issues there resolved through dialogue, peacefully. And our engagement with both governments is part of that, part of diplomacy.”[7] These initiatives are on the top of what Washington has been pursuing with individual countries as part of its efforts against international terror. In the fifth meeting of the US-India joint working group on counter-terrorism, the two sides highlighted their bid to deepen intelligence cooperation, which has accelerated since the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The two sides agreed to further intensify intelligence sharing and coordinate action in pursuit of the remains of al-Qaeda members and associated terrorist groups. The delegations also discussed the nexus between weapons of mass destruction, proliferation and terrorism. The past year has been a watershed for the two democracies in confronting the challenge of terrorism.”[8] “India and the U.S. unequivocally condemn all acts of terrorism, whatever the supposed justification, and reaffirm their…commitments to cooperate in preventing acts of terrorism and neutralising terrorist organisations which are a threat to international peace and security.”[9]

Taking CBMs a little further, US offered to provide sophisticated sensors to monitor the 742-km LoC when Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited New Delhi last month to defuse tensions between nuclear rivals. Sources in the Indian defence ministry said Sandia National Laboratories, a key defence research organisation that ensures the safety of the US nuclear weapons stockpile, has been given the responsibility of creating the project. The Cabinet Committee on Security, India’s highest decision-making body on security-related issues, has also agreed to consider the US offer signaling an Indian team comprising experts from armed forces and the Border Security Force and senior officials from the defence and home ministries will soon visit Sandia’s laboratories to evaluate the project.[10]

The Jammu massacre was to give New Delhi food for thought. Over the past few months, India has used soldiers and diplomats to put a hammerlock on Pakistan. In New Delhi’s view the weakest link is the wandering attention of the US. India committed itself to not attacking Pakistan in return for US assurances that Islamabad would cut loose the jihadis in Kashmir. But with war clouds having dissipated, New Delhi wonders whether Washington will be ready to apply sufficient pressure on President Musharraf. As a reaction to the attacks US Secretary of State Colin Powell told Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha that Pakistan would be asked to act against those “organizations”which “perpetrated” the Jammu massacre (it was still uncertain which group was responsible for the killings.) He also said Musharraf would be held to the promises he made to the US about terrorism. Colin Powell called Saturday’s massacre in Jammu as a “vicious killing committed by terrorist thugs” and an act that undermines efforts to ease tensions in South Asia.[11] State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said thatUS have been very clear that the terrorism and killing of innocents needs to stop. Though US views that the infiltrations across the LoC are down significantly, “we are continuing to look for ways to continue the momentum so that the Pakistanis carry out the pledge to make that permanent and to eliminate camps and things like that,” [12]

However, this expression of empathy only partly abated New Delhi’s concerns. Diplomatic sources in Washington say Indo-Pakistan tensions have lost their “immediacy” with US policymakers. The loss of White House interest, where pro-Indian sentiment is strongest, is seen as potentially damaging to a strategy that depends mostly on the US putting pressure on Pakistan.[13] This is evident from a number of issues, not the least important being the issue of cross border infiltrations. The United States feels that infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) is “down significantly.” India, however, insists Pakistan is yet to deliver on its promise to check the same. While official sources assert that New Delhi and Washington are not talking at variance, the view that the US can go only this far and no further with its pressure on Pakistan is gradually gaining ground.[14]

The verdict in Daniel Pearl case also holds significance of its own in the on going quagmire. What looks like decisive action against a group of terrorists may turn out to be a half-step, and reversible — even as it deepens popular resentment of the United States and its ally, President Pervez Musharraf…..Mr. Musharraf says his actions are necessary to correct the corruption and weaknesses that afflicted past civilian governments. Yet the principal effect of his actions has been to alienate his administration from the very forces in Pakistan most capable of supporting a secular government against religious extremism. Without such allies, he becomes ever more dependent on the military, which, in turn, makes it harder for him to make the concessions in Kashmir needed for peace with India, or even to pursue terrorists inside Pakistan without compromise. The Bush administration has largely overlooked Mr. Musharraf’s political maneuvering, but it should be pressing him to seek accommodation with the civilian leadership. The general may have been an important U.S. ally over the past 10 months, but unless he is willing to accept that he cannot rule Pakistan by himself, he will not be able to deliver the results that are needed in his country. [15]

In the context of fresh terror attacks in Kashmir in which 28 people were massacred, there was turn up of the rhetorical heat urging international community to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, if it fails to close training camps for terrorists in the part of Kashmir it controls which was promptly and predictably turned down by US. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to directly address the demand, but dished out another dose of praise for Pakistan’s role since the September 11 attacks. “As far as putting Pakistan on the terrorism list, just to point out again Pakistan has been a very stalwart ally in the fight against terrorism…President Musharraf has announced some fairly bold measures within his own society to try to move Pakistan on a more moderate course, and our interest is in helping Pakistan move in that direction.”[16] This rejection nonetheless, betrays the Bush Administration’s moral ambivalence with regard to its continuing support to a military regime that has made a mockery of the very democratic values ostensibly cherished by the US. Washington may be impressed by President Pervez Musharraf’s immaculate servility vis-a-vis American geo-political interests in the region. But neither Mr George W Bush nor his advisors can justifiably blink at the General’s patronising the Taliban and the Al Qaeda, as revealed by the Central Intelligence Agency, even after Operation Enduring Freedom failed to vaporise Osama bin Laden or his key associates.[17]Significantly at the same time another US official was pointing out how India’s inefficient banking system was letting funds leak through to international terror networks. US Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Randal Quarles said India’s banks leave scope for illegal money transfers, a loophole inevitably exploited by terrorists. “We think it is most important for India to focus on improving the efficiency of official and regular payment systems so that alternative systems become unnecessary.” His reference was to the hawala practice, a widely used method of illegally transferring money into and out of India tax-free. The Indian government estimates billions of dollars are moved by hawala every year.[18] Washington moreover rejected Pakistan’s demand for a plebiscite in Jammu & Kashmir in accordance to the UN resolution, stating that it favoured the settlement of the problem bilaterally between India and Pakistan in accordance with the Shimla accord and hoped the coming assembly elections in the state would lead to the resolution of the issue. “In 1972, India and Pakistan reached an agreement that it would be a bilateral issue. We support India and Pakistan (for settling the issue bilaterally).”[19] Washington nevertheless intends keeping both countries engaged. “ Our relationships with South Asian states have been central to our successful prosecution of the war on terrorism. All have been fully supportive, and their support in this war has been, and will continue to be absolutely crucial,” Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca told the House of Representatives International Relations Sub-Committee on the Middle East and South Asia.[20]

Interestingly, the amendments proposed by President Musharraf have come under serious scrutiny by US law makers, especially from the Democrats who see changes having nothing to do with democratization but the strategy underlying his ‘transitioning to democracy’ is in fact to restructure the Pakistani Government to protect his leadership,” as Democratic Congressman, Frank Pallone was telling, introducing legislation to reinstate democracy sanctions against Pakistan. The State department agrees “We have made it clear that the full restoration of democratic civilian rule in Pakistan is very important to us.”[21] In the meantime, the terror threat still remained real in Kashmir as admitted by Secretary of State Colin Powell a day before an Asian tour. “There has been some reduction in infiltrations across the Line of Control, but it is still unfortunately the case that there is violence, there is terrorist violence that takes place. In my conversations with the Indians and the Pakistanis, I will see if there are any other actions that can be taken that will reduce the level of violence or the potential for violence.”[22] Leading Congressmen, Republican Benjamin Gilman, Chairman of south Asia relations committee and Democratic Gary Ackerman requested Powell to ensure that Musharraf keeps his “commitment to abandon terrorism which he has made to our Government, to the international community and to the Pakistani people….permanently and in a manner visible to India.”[23] New Delhi also expected US to “independently assess” the implementation of Musharraf pledge on an “immediate, visible and permanent end” to cross-border infiltration.[24]

The US predicament:

Powell’s visit was also and significantly linked to ensuring that the US war against terrorism picks up some momentum again as it finds serious problems in getting a grip on terrorism. It appears that the credibility of US power, policy and diplomacy is being tested, not in the wild mountains of Afghanistan, but in its re-discovered friend and one-time ally, Pakistan where most of Al Qaeda leadership are believed to have dispersed- in the mountain regions of Pakistan’s north and northwest, or in the towns and cities of Pakistan.[25] There are evident possibilities that fundamentalist elements in Pakistan’s armed forces may oust him-his intricate balancing act notwithstanding-and refuse to participate in the US-led war against terrorism. The US will then have to militarily intervene to prevent irresponsible use of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile arsenal, directly continue the war with the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Even if Musharraf retains power, it will be impossible to crush the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as long as the new incarnations of the LeT, JeM and HuM, flourish and shelter them. Rather, they will continue to grow and perhaps succeed in keeping their publicly-stated promise of striking devastating blows at the US-compelling the latter to retaliate against them and the Pakistani fundamentalist militia, which harbour them. This will mean significant military operations within Pakistan-in other words, war.[26]

Sekhar Gupta argued that Powell may find New Delhi a pricklier place than on his last visit. at the tip of this new prickliness is an old problem called “hyphenation” though the Americans now prefer to call it “choreography.” It means that Washington believes the progress in the India-Pakistan relationship will be incremental. It will also entail visible and predictable steps from each side responding to the other. So if Pakistan greatly reduces (but doesn’t end) infiltration, India needs to respond with a de-escalatory step as well, more substantive than a mere offer to open up the air space. Then Washington can lean on Pakistan to deliver a bit more on its promise to end terrorism permanently and, further, in response India should take another matching step. Powell visit is to further his own country’s national interest. He needs to search for areas where his country’s and those of India converge and build on them. (It’s important, Sekhar argues that how New Delhi uses the visit to carry its diplomatic success forward would depend entirely on how well it reasons, negotiates and builds on the architecture of what’s been growing into a fine relationship. It must not put the future of its engagement with the US and the other big powers in a black hole called Pakistan or the Kashmir problem. It does not pay any more now to reduce New Delhi’s relationship with Washington to a zero sum game, howsoever justified the anger, irritation and disappointment might be.[27] Thus, where does India stand when it conveyed to Powell that the necessary conditions for a dialogue with Pakistan did not exist?

Powell’s observations on Kashmir elections were bothersome for India. While acknowledging the fact that further de-escalation and dialogue between India and Pakistan depended on steps to end cross-border terrorism and the conduct of free and fair elections, he made a case for India to free ‘‘political prisoners’’ in Kashmir and allow independent observers to travel to Jammu and Kashmir ahead of the Assembly elections there. India consistent with its known stand disagreed with the comments on ‘‘political prisoners’’, rejected the call for designated observers though it does not object to “diplomatic or media representatives wishing to go to the state but not to investigate or certify the elections.”[28]“We don’t need prescriptions and advice from self-styled monitors on how to conduct free and fair elections. We have been conducting such elections for the last 50 years,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs was to say.[29]

Nevertheless as Powell remarked quite unequivocally Kashmir has now come to be “on the international agenda.” Quo vadis India?

[1] Dexter Filkins The New York Times The International Herald Tribune 7 July 2002

[2] PTI The Times of India 15 July 2002

[3] The Hindu 9 July 2002

[4] PTI The Times of India 10 July 2002

[5] AFP The Hindu 10 July 2002

[6] Looking beyond Kashmir tops Powell’s agenda AP The Times of India 11 July 2002

[7] State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker PTI Hindustan Times 12 July 2002

[8] AFP The Times of India 13 July 2002

[9] Sridhar Krishnaswami The Hindu 14 July 2002

[10] IANS The Times of India 13 July 2002

[11] Sridhar Krishnaswami The Hindu 16 July 2002

[12] PTI Hindustan Times 16 July 2002

[13] Pramit Pal Chaudhuri Hindustan Times 16 July 2002

[14] Shobori Ganguli The Pioneer 17 July 2002

[15] Editorial The Washington Post 17 July 2002

[16] AFP The Hindu 18 July 2002

[17] Editorial The Pioneer 20 July 2002

[18] Dawn 19 July 2002

[19] US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca Hindustan Times 19 July 2002

[20] The Hindu 20 July 2002

[21] The Hindu 21 July 2002

[22] The Times of India 26 July 2002

[23] The Times of India 26 July 2002

[24] The Hindu 26 July 2002

[25] The Indian Express 26 July 2002

[26] Hiranmay Karlekar The Pioneer 26 July 2002

[27] Our Pak’s Americana: The Indian Express 27 July 2002

[28] Hindustan Times 29 July 2002.

[29] The Pioneer 30 July 2002

Compiled from Media Sources


Arabinda Acharya