The Balancing act

The Balancing act

When Pakistan was chosen as the frontline state in international campaign against terror led by the US, the logistics, geo-politics and geography apart, a number of issues were at stake. Pakistan is an Islamic nation, though moderate at that and the campaign was being interpreted by hard line Muslims as an attack against Islam. It was Pakistan, which propped up the Taliban in Afghanistan and getting allied to the US was almost a U turn for Islamabad to make. Strange as it may sound the public opinion in Pakistan was initially supportive of the President Musharraf’s policy of unstinted cooperation with the United States. Musharraf justified this policy reversal as necessary in the national interest. A shrewd statesman, Musharraf quickly understood that the old pro-Taliban policy of the Pakistan Government lies buried in the debris of the World Trade Center and recognized the need for a dramatic shift in policy. Islamabad, faced with a growing economic crisis was also getting uncomfortable with New Delhi’s emergence as a favorite to Washington in south Asia. An alliance with the US reversed this to the extent that, Pakistan was able to extract heavy discounts both economically and strategically, the later being at a great cost to India.

India got itself a bitter pill to shallow, especially since its offer of help to the coalition was prompt and unqualified. This can be justified on the grounds that India has been dealing with terrorism for a very long time. As signs of US lack of interest began to manifest, the Indian stand started to be seen in the context of a diplomatic leg-slip. Nevertheless there were attempts to salvage from both sides with India dispatching its Foreign Minister and National Security advisor to Washington and US secretary of State holding talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi and President Bush reassuring that this is the right opportunity for India and Pakistan to work together to “to make the world a better place for generations to come.” Much expectations in terms of “receivables” and “deliverables” were also raised around Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to Washington. India needed to reiterate its unambiguous support to war against international terrorism even though the focus on Pakistan has taken away much of original Indian stand on the issue. As war enters difficult phases, India needed to argue forcefully against the growing attempts in the world to posit a “moral equivalence” between the international coalition and the Taliban, simultaneously urging the US to address the root causes of international terrorism and seek to promote political moderation and economic modernization in the region. Besides India needed to renew US commitment to the new strategic framework that the Bush administration was developing steadily prior to September 11. Seen in this context India’s expectations of intensive cooperation in counter-terrorism including that related to weapons of mass destruction and strengthening the global non- proliferation regime could not have been less justified. The U.S. Justice Department’s request to designate the Pakistan-based militant outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e- Mohammad, as foreign terrorist organizations was seen timely reiteration of US commitment to root terrorism out in larger global context.

It’s interesting as well as relevant to examine how Washington engages with both. Having pursued the cold war rivalry of subordinating every other consideration to the goal of victory, it is difficult to expect it be soft on Pakistan after this campaign. Thus there is much to be read in what Rumsfeld said about US determination to go after terrorist networks wherever they existed. “This fight is much bigger than Afghanistan. Afghanistan happens to be the first problem because of the Al-Qaeda network there” and that the US “will pursue terrorist networks wherever we find them,” once the campaign in Afghanistan ended. The same undertone was present in what US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca said, before the September 11 attacks on the US, “we were all moving forward on building a very strong, broad relationship with India. There is no change in that policy… I would say, in fact, that India’s coming out as strongly as it did in support of the coalition has strengthened the prospect for a very strong bilateral relationship between the two countries.” Similarly, the US promised to safeguard India’s security interests while pursing its tactical alliance with Pakistan particularly in the context of Indian concern about US military aid to Pakistan leading to an escalation in terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. This was the view expressed by US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill, that Washington, while building ties with Pakistan, would not take any step that may pose a threat to New Delhi’s security. He also said it was possible for the US to have good relations with both India and Pakistan. “In my view, the US should not have any difficulty” in achieving that particularly as both India and Pakistan have supported the US-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan.

US were also quick to recognize the role that New Delhi can play in Post Taliban Political structure in Afghanistan. With its centuries-old cultural and other ties, India can offer help in a big way for implementing the massive rehabilitation and reconstruction plan that the U.S. has reportedly drawn up in conjunction with the European Union. The plan, said to cover all facets of life, includes areas in which India has expertise to offer: education, health care and infrastructure. India found itself on the losing side in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan but played a quiet role in the following decade. Its support for the secular Rabbani Government in Kabul pitted it against the Taliban and Pakistan. It worked closely with the U.N. in trying to arrive at a power- sharing arrangement among the mujahideen factions in the wake of the civil war that followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Its vital stakes demand that it work actively in concert with Iran, Russia and the Central Asian republics, with which Delhi has maintained close relations, for the formation of a liberal, democratic, representative coalition to return Afghanistan to modern civilization. Thus in describing India as a natural ally and a “key partner in the global coalition” against terrorism. US were playing along the now almost discernible policy thrust of keeping both India and Pakistan happy. There was thus a public pledge to “fight terrorism together” and expression of concern and support for New Delhi’s battle against terror.

Substantive issues however, remained to resolved with US asking India and Pakistan “to engage in a peaceful dialogue, to have a peaceful resolution of any of the disputes involving Kashmir. The Indo-US joint statement decried those who equate terrorism with religion and gave a significant new dimension to their bilateral ties by agreeing to establish a “new strategic framework dialogue” to cooperate in the nuclear field for civilian purposes but did not make any reference to either cross-border terrorism on which India has concerns over the role played by Pakistan in fomenting violence in Kashmir. There was no immediate indication about how and when the two big democracies might, if at all, harmonies their separate strategic compulsions in this fight against terrorism. Thus as US started finding friends of necessity, friends of convenience and friends who share mutual long-term economic, social and political goals in South Asia, India which has emerged as a symbol of stability was bound to be taken note of. The Washington administration also ruled out any possibility of mediation much to the dislike of Pakistan on Kashmir issue as stated by Collin Powel that the US cannot become a “mediator or arbitrator or intermediatory” but can be helpful in fostering a dialogue between India and Pakistan. There was also much to be read in US rejection of Pakistan request for release of F-16 planes as it wanted to avoid destabilizing relations in South Asia. Musharraf wanted the combat aircraft as a visible sign that the USA was restoring Pakistan to the status of a “genuine” ally in gratitude for Islamabad’s strong support in the war in Afghanistan. But Washington had other ideas. “At the moment we are restarting our military-to-military relationship in a more serious way, and the planes are not an issue that we expect to be discussing in the very near future,” was what the US Secretary of State had to say about it. Similarly, nothing much could be put into speculations about the possible strategic “military alliance” which the US offered to India and the later reportedly “ruled out” at present.

From an impartial pedestal it appears that the U.S. action in Afghanistan and the constant pressure that Pakistan faced now would “prove beneficial to India” in the long run. The West could not rule India out since it was the only country in the region that could take a “positive action.” It was optimism galore for the US ambassador to India. “In months it will be apparent how important this meeting has been,” he said. “There are two types of summits, one type is rhetorical in nature. The second type saw leaders produce a substantive agenda. The meeting between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and George W. Bush was clearly in the second category.”

What about Pakistan? The US signed a billion plus budgetary package and bilateral assistance for Pakistan to help it overcome economic problems. A memorandum of agreement on $600 million in direct budget and balance of payments of support was signed by the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlin, and the Pakistan Secretary, Economic Affairs Division, Nawid Khan. The U.S. envoy outlined details of the additional $400 million bilateral assistance to Pakistan agreed to by her country. The package can very well be seen as a reward to Pakistan for joining the U.S. in its fight against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden.

It is big power politics and having no other alternative it makes sense to get the best out of the prevalent scenario. India must aspire for a long-term cooperation instead of getting worked up on issues such as what help the international coalition got in its fight against terror. In the short term, not only do interests differ but also much could go wrong. Pakistan is working to make them go wrong, and India cannot count on Washington to take its side. India needs to start thinking in terms of having a long-term solution to its Kashmir imbroglio as well as its need to start on a sustained, purposeful and efficient domestic reinvigoration especially of our economic capabilities. This is what the US meant when it outlined the major features of the expansion of the Indo-US economic dialogue, one of the main elements of the Bush administration’s policy aimed at fundamentally transforming the relations between the two countries, and it makes sense for New Delhi to capitalize on it. There were therefore a lot of diplomatic maturity in India’s display of understanding of the US’ need for Pakistan’s cooperation in against the Taliban as emerged from New Delhi’s carefully calibrated response to General Powell’s observations in Islamabad on Kashmir and Afghanistan. In the long term the US compulsions arising from the need to keep Pakistan in good humor are liable to impinge on its relations with India. The resumption of arms aid to Pakistan, for example, can be a source of perpetual concern for India as it had found Pakistan using weapons supplied by the US against it.

A quid pro quo in this balancing game has been US interest to supply special equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles, to India for increased surveillance along the Line of Control. There is in principle agreement to enhance military cooperation, which will also include exchange of military personnel for special training in each country, defence hardware transactions and high-level sharing of military intelligence, which for India will be specific to its borders. If nothing else, this can be construed as a tacit admission of Pakistan-sponsored infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir by Washington. This will also be the first instance of concrete American cooperation in countering terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides there are plans in US seeking to raise military cooperation with India, a former Soviet Cold War ally, to “unprecedented” levels. The possible scope of the new ties may as well encompass such areas as combined special operations, joint military training, small unit ground and air exercises and navy personnel exchanges as outlined by the commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command. Though the proposed cooperation falls short of a “defence treaty” this certainly include “security matters that serves the interests of both countries.”

New Weapons Of Terror

The September 11 attacks exposed the infallibility of super state power and demolished the myth of technology and intelligence preventing the ill disposed from making target practice out of hapless civilians in pursuit of distorted missions. Another frightening possibility that emerged from the debris of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was that modern day terrorism is no more confined to clandestine bombings, the indiscriminate firing of AK 47s, grenade launches or even using land mines to destroy convoys carrying security personnel. The events that followed unveiled security agencies worst nightmare – that new terror weapons, nuclear weapons included, are at hand that will throw all security precautions and planning to shambles. Expressing the concern United States, Undersecretary of State John Bolton said that with the possibility of extremists possessing weapons of mass destruction – a term that encompasses nuclear, biological and chemical arms- the use of the same becomes more real than apparent. “I’m concerned about weapons of mass destruction everywhere and my concern about weapons of mass destruction everywhere has gone up since the (US led anti-terrorism) war began.” The item of immediate concern was however, biological and chemical weapons-a concern that got justified by the series of anthrax related incidents in the US including the ones that forced the closer of the law making agency of the world’s most powerful nation. Concerns were also expressed about the possibility of nuclear arsenals falling into the hands of hardliner fundamentalists which prompted a joint exercise by US and Israel special units to take Pakistan’s nuclear weapons out of the country in case President Pervez Musharraf’s government is destabilized.

Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya