West Asian Initiatives

West Asian Initiatives
April 2002


On West Asia crisis, India has been treading the tightrope that has satisfied neither Tel Aviv nor the Palestinians. This was evident when Hani al Hasan, Special envoy of Yasser Arafat called on New Delhi with a set of proposals suggesting actions New Delhi can initiate. “We are hoping that India will take a stronger position and react immediately in a manner that helps stop and halt this aggression.” Hassan reterited Palestine Liberation Organization’s appeal to India to intervene in defusing the deteriorating security situation in West Asia in the wake of the siege of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah. Describing relations between Indians and Palestinians as brotherly, the envoy said the expectation from countries like India was “always more,” and “We want India to play a role in the Middle East.”1 But New Delhi had reasons to be cautious in this imbroglio given the sensitivities of the issues raised by both Israel and Palestine and India’s known stand for Palestinian homeland getting diluted by upsurge of terrorist violence that got attached to the cause, a phenomenon which bothers New Delhi no less. Besides, New Delhi has come to talk cooperation with Tel Aviv on many vital issues including collaborating on counter insurgency operations, intelligence and other strategic matters. Thus beyond voicing its concern at the deteriorating situation in West Asia, New Delhi seemed to have maintained a sort of diplomatic neutrality about the incidents though much aggressive postures in favor of the Palestinian cause would have been seen to be in tune with known stand. “I continue to feel that President Yasser Arafat represents the authority of the Palestinian people and to subject him to such treatment leaves an impact on him and also the Palestinian people” India’s Minister of External Affairs would have to say adding that “Violence perpetuating more violence must be avoided, this must stop. What must stop is also acts of terror.”2 For many of the foreign policy observers, this even was a break from New Delhi’s known pattern of reactions to events in West Asia. New Delhi has usually been coy about criticizing Israel’s high-handedness vis-à-vis the Palestinians, even when it is egregious, as it surely is now. For several decades, it’s West Asia policy had been not only over-exuberant in its support to Palestine’s legitimate cause but also gratuitously offensive to Israel. To restore a balance to it was therefore necessary and desirable. The current round of crisis gives the government of the day an opportunity to be heard on the most reprehensible and ominous situation in a region of vital interest to India more loudly and clearly than has been the case so far. There are many in the civilized world who do not see sense in Prime Minister Sharon’s counter terrorist strategy which has an apparent US endorsement – publicly regretting that he did not kill Arafat in 1982, threatening to “exile” the Palestinian leader from the country of which he is the elected head and invading Bethlehem besides Ramallah. As a country which enjoys friendly access to both Israel and America, it now devolves upon New Delhi to tell them unambiguously that any illusion Sharon may have of finding an alternative Palestinian leadership, after destroying Arafat, that would meekly accept peace on Israeli terms is a dangerous delusion and that there are other even better ways (comprehensive “land for peace” proposal of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah) out of the cruel impasse West Asia is caught in.3 India deplored the confinement of Arafat while expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. In a telephonic conversation with Mr. Arafat on Tuesday, the External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh, reiterated that India saw him as the symbol of the Palestinian Authority and was concerned about his safety and well-being. The Indian Minister also spoke to Israeli Deputy Premier Shimon Peres to convey the concern that by “incarcerating” Mr. Arafat by “virtually imprisoning him”, Israel was compounding difficulties rather than lessening them.( Mr. Peres, on his part, told Mr. Singh that Israel would want Mr. Arafat to declare that terrorist violence was unacceptable and take action against those responsible for it.)4

Even with friendly disposition, commonality of interest and common enemy, there is a fundamental reason why India and Israel cannot operate on the same wavelength. A comparison of Israel’s problem with Palestine and India’s in Kashmir is quite untenable. Besides the fact that India is a pluralist secular democracy while Israel prides itself on being an exclusivist and ethnically homogenous Jewish state ensures that there can not be a common cause in the anti-terror campaign. India’s stake in Palestine cause.5

Deposing before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States has “reshaped a good part of South Asia” as a result of the “quiet, steady course of diplomacy” behind the war on terrorism during the past seven months. “The us has reshaped a good part of South Asia – a new US-Pakistan relationship, a reinvigorated US-India relationship, a new interim authority in Kabul, and the Taliban and the terrorists dead, in jail or on the run.”6 This, coming in the wake of President Bush’s state of the union address makes interesting reading for strategic scenario in South Asia. In his address Bush has said that in fight against terrorism “America is working with India, Russia and China, in ways we never have before, to achieve peace and prosperity.” Further, there was an assertion that “Some governments will be timid in the face of terror, and make mistakes, if they do not act, America will.” Taken together with the remarks of the US Deputy Defence Secretary that US needs no UN mandate to act, the assertions make Washington as brazen as it can get willing and prepared to do what it perceives is in its interest even going as far as overriding international opinion, riding roughshod over other nation’s sovereignty. The implications for South Asia is more than obvious. With an impressive catalogue that lists US propensity of creating monsters only to bump them off after its interests are served, as with South Vietnam and Philippines and Central and South America and from its one time friend and protégé Saddam Hussein to even Bin Laden himself, New Delhi and Islamabad would do better than falling into its familiar pattern of alliances of convenience. It will be naïve to expect that US will act against Pakistan because of the inconveniences Musharraf and company are creating for India.7

1 The Times of India 3 April 2002
2 At the Shanghai Institute of International Studies; reported in The Hindu 2 April 2002.
3 Palestine: India must speak out ; Inder Malhotra The Hindu 3 April 2002
4 Atul Aneja The Hindu 4 April 2002
5 Editorial: The Hindu 5 April 2002
6 The Pioneer 26 April 2002
7 Sumer Kaul; The Pioneer 2 April 2002

Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya