Wooing the Global Hegemon?

Wooing the Global Hegemon
September 2002


Recent spate of South Asian sojourns by Washington’s top administrators is based on some assessments which is also shared by its important allies. Though the prospect of an imminent military conflict between India and Pakistan has receded, India-Pakistan tensions remain a matter of high priority concern. To keep these tensions on lease, diplomatic and political pressure need to continue to be exerted on Pakistan and India, and particularly on India, because its restraint is reaching the limits of its tolerance threshold. There is a more recent context as well to the latest visit by US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Asia in August. The management of the situation in Afghanistan, which involves a fair amount of cooperation between India and the US, is descending into a pattern of uncertainty with the Karzai government remaining isolated in the ethnic and regional cross-currents of Afghan politics. The intensity of the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan is abating. Even the anti-Taliban and anti-Al Qaeda campaign in the North-western areas of Pakistan is tapering off. The focus of US attention has now shifted to the preparations for ousting Saddam Hussain. Despite the importance India attaches to cooperation with the US in countering terrorism, it is opposed to a military campaign against Iraq, particularly a unilateral one led by the US.[i]

The anniversary of the terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was recalled with complex emotional motives in different parts of the world. On the surface rites of recall would be to grieve for the losses, human and material, and to reaffirm the determination to fight fanatical violence which disrupts not only State structures but also the civil society. At the more fundamental level, the commemoration would mark an internationally shared conviction that violence aimed at representative governments and civil societies aimed at transforming patterns of governance, economic arrangements and socio-cultural diversities cannot be accepted. This unacceptability would be specially emphatic where such violence is rooted in religious, communal or ethno-linguistic fanaticism….Indeed, the US-led coalition’s method of countering terrorism is selective. Terrorism affecting the US and its vital interests seems more important than terrorism affecting other countries, specially India. India would have to carry on its struggle against Al-Qaeda etc., on its own, with the additional complication of dealing with US reservations. India has to resolve this contradiction between having close equations with the US and the need to take decisive action against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The most important lesson learnt by India is the abiding truth that each State fashions its policies focused on its own interests. As Lord Palmerston remarked: “Countries do not have permanent friends, they only have permanent interests.” [ii]

In a significant departure from its usual stand US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Kashmir is on international agenda like never before and there is a lot of concern in the world community to resolve the issue. In an exclusive talk with a team of editors and senior correspondents of Pakistan’s national dailies visiting the United States on the invitation of the State Department, Armitage said that other great powers of the world as Russia, Great Britain, Sweden, China and Germany had joined hands with the US to create “congenial atmosphere” for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He, however, said: “We still believe that the solution has to be reached between the two parties together.” Asked if the US supports the election in held Kashmir, he said: “The US feels that free and fair election in the Valley would be an expression of the will of people and may help a movement forward. It has to be seen whether it gets broader participation.” “Our concern is (that) the election are free of violence,” he said, perhaps indicating to Pakistan to keep off so that the process moves forward. He said that he was very pleased when President Musharraf said in his last meeting with him in Islamabad that as a general proposition any election should be free of violence.[iii]

There are indications that United States no longer views its relations with Pakistan as a ‘marriage of convenience’ and wants to re-define the bilateral ties without any “third-party strings” in the post September 11 scenario, as Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage has said. “The post Sept 11 scenario in Afghanistan has given both the countries an opportunity to try to re-define the relationship without any third party involvement. It’s going to be a long-term relations free of third country strings. We are working hard to make sure that this relationship works,” Armitage told a group of visiting Pakistani veteran journalists in Washington on Wednesday. “We realise the mistakes that we made in the past but Pakistan also made some mistakes. There is, however, now a qualitative difference as reflected from the words of President Musharraf and his colleagues. “That relationship is still new and needs to be integrated.” [iv]

Earlier, Washington supported Pakistan, while India was in the Soviet camp. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Indian policy-makers were perceived as being rudderless and having supported the wrong superpower. The US continued to remain cold, and Pakistan remained a favoured ally. However, after September 11, the tables were reversed. India came to be seen as fighting a war against terror, just like the US. Earlier cries of “cross-border terrorism”, which had fallen on deaf ears, became a legitimate concern for the US and the international community. The US began to see India as an ally and victim of terror just like itself. Relations between the two thawed, and became one of entreaty by the US to remain calm in the face of increasing attacks by Pakistan-sponsored militants, while the Indian administration took the high road…However, the downside of US dominance is that it could overreach and fritter away its gains so far. An attack on Iraq is one such action that could see the rest of the world ranged against the US. The backlash from Islamic elements has stark and dangerous implications for American security and it could find itself a prisoner of its own web. [v]

There was no ambiguity about U.S. President, George W. Bush’s condemnation of terrorism. Significantly he dismissed the distinction between terrorism and freedom struggle to justify acts of violence. Briefing reporters on a 35-minute-long bilateral meeting between Mr. Bush and the Indian Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, said that the U.S. President was emphatic on not finding alibis for terrorism. There was, he said, no justification for acts of terrorism. Mr. Bush condemned the acts of violence in Jammu and Kashmir, specifically the killings of candidates contesting the polls there. He said that the U.S. would continue to use its leverage to push for peaceful elections in Jammu and Kashmir. [vi]

Amid high-flying rhetoric on Iraq from the Americans, on India from the Pakistanis, and on Pakistan from the Indians, Indo-US bilateralism turned out to be the outstanding flavour of the season here with Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee and US President George W Bush resolving to walk the long-term path of a “strategic relationship.” In a crucial bilateral meeting on the sidelines of an overburdened UN General Assembly, the two leaders took 35 minutes away to establish the foundation of a “broad strategic relationship.” The US President wanted New Delhi “to have a sense of what he feels are the prospects of improved relations between India and the United States.” American desire to state an unambiguous commitment to a strategic relationship; focus on bilateral relationship was evident from the President’s emphatic rejection of the search for any alibis for terrorism including terrorism and continuing US efforts to put pressure on India’s neighbour to desist from terrorism. With reference to Iraq, where India has obvious concerns over a military action against that country, India sees Washington’s assurance to work within the UN Security Council’s mandate as the central message in Mr Bush’s address to the UNGA.[vii]

A long term strategic relationship with the United States is a sound idea in principle but for India it would assume significance only in its implementation. Rounding off his US visit in visible good humour, Indian Prime Minister indicated that India-US relations must break free of the India-US-Pakistan hyphenation, not just in rhetoric but in real political terms. “Whenever there is diplomatic interaction between India and the United States it remains confined to India-Pakistan-US relations. Indo-US relations have their own importance. They should not be seen in the context of Pakistan alone. We (India and the US) have planned to have a long term cooperation. But the difficulty lies in implementing those decisions,” said Mr Vajpayee….India is unwilling to throw its weight completely behind the US assessment of the Saddam Hussein regime, firmly indicating that any positive step from Iraq along the UNSC requirements must be reciprocated. The Indian Prime Minister nevertheless reiterated New Delhi’s confidence in President Bush’s observation that he would want to lay such a strong foundation for Indo-US relationship that would sustain itself even if neither he nor Mr Vajpayee are around to steer their respective country’s foreign policy. [viii]

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s meeting with US President George W. Bush clearly built further on their very successful meeting November last year. As the US sources described it, the meeting this time symbolized the qualitative transformation that is taking place in bilateral relations between the most powerful democracy, on the one hand, and the largest democracy, on the other. The signals clearly imply that in spite of the US need for co-operation with Pakistan, relations between the US and India would continue to grow independent of such factors. Both countries agreed to explore the possibilities of expanding cooperation in new areas, especially in space, diverse forms of energy, high technology areas and commerce. Besides agreeing to strengthen counter-terrorism, measures to augment defence co-operation and promote high-level dialogue on economic issues, were agreed upon. Strong foundations for long-term bilateral relations steadily being built up augurs well for the future.[ix]

The Indian Prime Minister, whose meeting with the United States President, George W. Bush, was his most important bilateral interaction during his six-day visit, seemed pleased with the meeting but did speak about the delays in implementing decisions on bilateral cooperation between the two countries. It is also clear that India has not relented on Iraq; the Prime Minister was quite clear that New Delhi was not about to issue a carte blanche to the U.S. on Iraq. The unflinching support extended to the U.S. plans for a national missile defence system was significantly missing this time round. While India rightly holds that Indo-U.S. relations should not be held hostage to ties with Pakistan, there is little doubt that the growing “strategic cooperation” between the U.S. and Pakistan has impacted the ascending curve of Washington’s relationship with New Delhi. The U.S. may make the right noises about delivering a “hard message” to Pakistan on the issue of cross-border terrorism but American and Pakistani cooperation against the Al-Qaeda seems to be growing by the day. The latest arrests in Karachi only go to confirm this trend.[x]

According to reports, Bush told Vajpayee that he intends to exert more pressure on Pakistan to fall in line with the international anti-terrorist campaign, particularly in relation to India. This has been conveyed to India by the US over the last six months. The question is whether Bush mentioned the specifics about the pressure he intends to generate on Musharraf. There have been reports of Bush and Vajpayee agreeing on expanding defence and technological cooperation. It is pertinent for the people of India to know whether this expanded cooperation is going to be substantive or cosmetic. It is also necessary that the Indian people know what its conditions and terms of reference are. Another important issue discussed by Vajpayee at the UN is the reported US plan to launch military operations against Iraq. One hopes that the Government of India has conveyed its firm opposition to any unilateral action by the US. That the Government of India plans to be more active on this issue is indicated by the reported discussions between External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha with his Russian and Chinese counterparts. [xi]

India had reasons to be pleased with the statements emanating from the U.S. State Department on the conduct of the first phase of the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir even as officials are keeping their fingers crossed till October 8, the last date of polling. It would then be possible for India to calibrate a possible response on the dialogue front. Highly-placed sources in the Government, asked about negative comments in the British press about the conduct of the elections, immediately pointed to the remarks made by the U.S. State Department officials. “There will be differing reports. But we are on the right track.” According to them, the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, told the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, that there was “still time” for the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, to stop interfering in the electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir. Clearly, the idea behind Mishra’s comments was for them to be passed on to the Pakistan side. And, if New Delhi finds there is some kind of response from the Pakistani side, then India is not opposed to finding a via media to resume talks with Pakistan. Almost in the same breath, the sources said that dialogue with Pakistan would not be possible till there was a permanent end to cross-border terrorism. But the dialogue route was not completely ruled out, the sources stressed. All this, it was made clear, was “contingent” on the good behaviour of Pakistan. [xii]

The statement by US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that President Bush has made clear his objections known over President Musharraf’s moves to bolster his power, needs to be read as a postscript to an earlier statement by a State Department official. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca had said on Thursday US refused to “prejudge” Pakistan elections. Her comment came after she was asked to assess whether President Musharraf’s moves to secure his power base and sidelining two political opponents undercut the promise to restore democracy. Rice was doing no more than diluting the impact of Rocca’s remark which correctly reflected American position on the revival of democracy in Pakistan….Democracy, therefore, would most likely be tucked somewhere at the dreary end of the agenda for the Bush-Musharraf talks to keep up appearances of American commitment over democracy everywhere. But it is difficult to see the American leader making a fetish of democracy, elections, human rights, et al. These things can wait for a time when Pakistan’s arms could be twisted when it has no further use. George W Bush Sr acted with alacrity years earlier in imposing various sanctions on Pakistan over its nuclear programme just as the last Soviet soldier crossed the Oxus river into USSR in mid-1988. [xiii]

If America were to build a heroes’ gallery of those who had distinguished themselves in its global war against terror, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan would surely figure in the front ranks. And yet, the General seemed to be looking over his shoulder as he left Islamabad for the US. Still, by many accounts emanating both from Pakistan and its chief patron, the US, the once-intimate relationship between Musharraf and the Bush administration—re-established in the shadow of the September 11 attacks and Washington’s decision to hunt down the Taliban and Al Qaeda—has in recent times become a trifle stiff, even prickly. With “the enemy” having moved out of Afghanistan and into the frontier provinces of Pakistan as well as the more settled Punjab—Osama bin Laden, if not dead, is said to be hiding in the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan overlap which disdains lines on the map—the first questions about Islamabad’s real assistance in the anti-terror war are beginning to be raised in many capitals of the world.[xiv]

Pakistan’s concerns regarding India’s access to hi-tech items aimed at increasing its conventional military potential was conveyed to Washington while seeking a fresh arms package, including f-16s, to enable Islamabad maintain deterrent capability. Musharraf told the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor in Boston that conventional parity – and not nuclear deterrence – was what forestalled a possible attack by India earlier this year. This parity was now in jeopardy because of arms purchases by India that he estimated at $4.5 billion this year. “India has increased its budget by 50 per cent in the past three years,” Musharraf said, presumably referring to the defence outlay. “They are going to be the highest arms importers in the world. So gradually we are seeing a definite tilt in the conventional balance of forces. This is dangerous.” [xv]

The recent capture of the Qaeda leader Ramzi Binalshibh in a shoot-out in Karachi has dramatized the critical choices that face the United States in dealing with Pakistan’s military ruler. As evidence mounts that Pakistan is now the global hub of Qaeda operations, Musharraf is raising his price for cooperation with Washington, demanding large-scale military aid, including F-16 fighter jets, on top of the bonanza of economic aid already showered on Islamabad since Sept. 11.
Equally important, as he made clear during his U.S. visit last week that he plans to perpetuate his military regime indefinitely. So far the Bush administration has allowed Musharraf to call the tune. The Pentagon has just approved $230 million in subsidized military sales to Pakistan and has opened a dialogue with Islamabad on its military needs in a newly reactivated Defense Consultative Committee. At the same time, the White House has been craven in its tacit approval of Musharraf’s steady assumption of dictatorial powers during recent months, climaxed by his promulgation of 29 constitutional amendments that allow him to dissolve an elected National Assembly at will and to make all important appointments to the armed forces, the judiciary and provincial governorships without legislative approval. Selig S. Harrison) The International Herald Tribune 23 September 2002

Significantly, officials from three Pakistani militant groups said in interviews this week that the government of Pakistan has allowed Islamic guerrillas to resume small-scale infiltrations into Indian-controlled Kashmir. India has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan halt the practice, which brought the two nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of war. Under intense pressure from the United States, Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, promised in May that his government would do all it could to stop the infiltrations. General Musharraf repeated that promise. “I want to categorically state that the government of Pakistan is neither allowing, nor sponsoring, nor encouraging, any kind of movement across the Line of Control,” he said, referring to the boundary between the portions of Kashmir controlled by India and Pakistan. He added that any claim to the contrary was “motivated and false.” In an interview in New Delhi, the United States ambassador to India told Indian journalists that American officials believed infiltrations into Indian-controlled Kashmir had increased recently. “Infiltration is certainly still going on, and our judgment is it is up in August and up in September,” Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill said, adding that raids had decreased in June and July. Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, a spokesman for Pakistan’s government, denied the claims of the militants and the American ambassador. He suggested that unknown persons in Pakistan could be posing as militants to undermine the government and insisted that Pakistan was neither aiding, nor even tacitly encouraging, border crossings. But members of the three militant groups said in separate interviews that while the government had halted all infiltrations in May, it had signaled in late July that small-scale infiltrations could resume. They said Pakistan continued to finance their groups and allowed them to buy weapons. [xvi]

Mr Blackwill completely rejected Pakistan’s claim of the Assembly elections in the state being a sham, saying, “I will tell what we think, and we do not think it is a sham.” Echoing Washington’s immediate reaction, he said that the first round of the polls had got off to a good start. He went on to express the hope that a positive four rounds of the election will lead to the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. In Washington US state department spokesperson Richard Boucher applauded the “courage of the voters who have chosen to participate in the voting” despite the threats and the violence. The categorical endorsement of the election process by the United States comes on the heels of a meeting in New York between the leaders of PoK and separatist leaders from Jammu and Kashmir, at which they rejected the elections as a “drama.” A joint declaration was issued by the leaders, including the All Parties Hurriyat Conference’s Mirwaiz Maulvi Omar Farooq, describing the elections as being against the spirit of the 1951 and 1957 UN resolutions. Seema Mustafa) The Asian Age 20 September 2002

The United States Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, said that the first phase of elections in Jammu and Kashmir had been “very positive” and the 48 per cent turnout was “remarkable”. He was quoted as telling television channels that infiltration across the Line of Control had “gone up” since the end of July and that he condemned the acts of violence, which impacted the results of the Assembly elections. “Infiltration across the LoC was down in June and July but since the end of July it has gone up and has been up in August and in September,” Mr. Blackwill said. “This (the voter turnout in Kashmir) is remarkable. We hope it (the trend) continues. If there is less violence, there will be more turnout,” he said describing press reports about rigging as “exaggerated”. “It will be an exaggeration to say there was a lot of hue and cry (about rigging). There may have been isolated incidents,” he said. “I would like to salute the individual voters in J&K who came out to exercise their democratic rights despite threat from terrorists,” he was quoted as saying. Asked about Pakistan’s claims that the elections were a “sham”, Mr. Blackwill took the view that the polls were not a sham. “We think India is committed to holding free, fair and inclusive elections in J&K without violence. This is exactly right.” He was hopeful that the elections would lead to the resumption of a dialogue between India and Pakistan. Asked whether the U.S. had given any deadline to put an end to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, Mr. Blackwill said diplomacy was a matter of urging, persuading, enticing and giving incentives. “It is outrageous that India has to suffer from terrorism from outside,” he said, adding that infiltration should end.[xvii]

The Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister, Sushma Swaraj, said that the U.S. had, for the first time, translated into action its concern over terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir by pressuring Pakistan to allow the smooth conduct of elections in the State. This was an important step towards the strengthening of the Indo-American ties. Until now the U.S. had not viewed the Kashmir problem from an Indian perspective and that the Indian leaders, including the Prime Minister, had made their resentment to Washington’s stand known. “However, the statement made by the American Ambassador in India, Robert Blackwill, yesterday that elections in the State were off to a positive start despite the fact that infiltration across the Line of Control had gone up since July indicated a shift in the American stand on the issue.” The outcome of the elections in the State was not the issue. The Government’s concern was only to hold credible, free and fair and participatory elections. “This has been proved beyond doubt at the conclusion of the first round of polling.” India would never support the demand for the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir. A demand for separate statehood within the country was not unconstitutional. “If the people feel that Jammu and Ladakh have been neglected and a separate economic, political and administrative identity can help in overcoming their grouse, there is nothing wrong in such a demand.” The Jammu State Morcha, demanding a statutory regional council, was not a communal front but an organisation of Hindus, Muslims and all those who wanted the neglect of Jammu to end.[xviii]

The United States also condemned in strongest terms the attack on the Swaminarayan temple in Gujarat, calling it a “horrific” and a “terrorist” attack. “The President condemns all terrorist attacks, and this was a particularly deadly attack, and the President condemns it”, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said. The State Department condemned the attack as “senseless violence” and conveyed its condolences to the families of the victims. “We are shocked by the horrific attack. We condemn the senseless violence. We have seen no claim at this point of any responsibility. And, of course, we send our condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and the Government of India,” the department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said at a regular briefing.[xix]

Even while asking India to observe restraint despite Pakistan continuing cross border terrorism, US said any sovereign state can resort to pre-emptive or preventive strikes to avert an imminent danger. “The right to resort to pre-emptive or preventive strikes is inherent in the sovereignty of a nation to protect itself,” US Secretary of State Colin Powell said speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The concept of pre-emptive strikes has been included in this year’s Strategy Report to alert the public to the fact that terrorist threat is different from other threats. It could be applied to terrorists or to a country”, Powell said. Powell, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and others also asserted that recent disclosures by captured Al-Qaeda prisoners show that the terror network was active in Baghdad. [xx]

The United States has proposed to sell four Fire Finder counter-battery radar sets and associated equipment and services to India, the Pentagon has notified the US Congress on the proposed sale of $100 million radar systems, 13 Sincgar radios and associated equipment to India and the move “will not affect the basic military balance in the region.” The sale “will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US by helping to improve the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in South Asia,” These radar sets will provide increased counter-battery artillery capability consistent with India’s force planning and defence strategy.[xxi]

Indo-US military-to-military dialogue is “developing day by day” and both sides are now gearing up for the largest ever joint naval exercises scheduled to begin later this month, according to India’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh.
Addressing a press conference Admiral Singh said the chapter of US sanctions was over with the release last month of spare parts for the Indian Navy’s Sea King helicopters, and both sides are now preparing for joint naval exercises, likely to be participated by four to five thousand personnel, off Cochin from September 28. He however, clearly stated that he saw no role for the Indian Navy, which is jointly patrolling the Straits of Malacca as part of the joint operations against piracy, in the wake of a possible US attack on Iraq. He also said that the Indian Navy is not involved in intercepting any ships carrying al-Qaeda suspects. However, when asked whether India would be ready if Pakistan launches an attack on India, Admiral Singh said, “We are always ready.” [xxii]

The US has cleared all procedural formalities for supplying India some critical spares for its Sea King helicopters and Sea Harrier maritime fighter aircraft, an issue that had been hanging fire for long. Even after US’s decision to lift the restriction early last year, the issue remained caught up in a host of formalities. Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Madhvendra Singh, during his official visit to the US, confirmed that the Sea King issue has been sorted out with the US side communicated the action earlier. Singh, after his visit to US naval bases and facilities in Norfolk, Newport, Seattle, Hawaii and San Diego, spoke of enhanced cooperation between Indian and American navies in the coming months and years, notably in the Indian Ocean. All eyes are now on the upcoming Indo-US joint naval exercise off Kochi, which will effectively revive the ‘Malabar’ series that had been discontinued with the US sanctions in 1998. The exercise, in which 4,000 personnel will participate, is the biggest in the series.[xxiii]

[i] J. N. Dixit The Indian Express 5 September 2002
[ii] J.N. Dixit Hindustan Times 12 September 2002
[iii] The News 5 September 2002
[iv] Richard Armitage quoted in The Pioneer 6 September 2002
[v] Kalyani Shanker The Pioneer 13 September 2002
[vi] Amit Baruah The Hindu 13 September 2002
[vii] Shobori Ganguli The Pioneer 14 September 2002
[viii] Shobori Ganguli The Pioneer 17 September 2002
[ix] editorial The Indian Express 18 September 2002
[x] Amit Baruah The Hindu 18 September 2002
[xi] J. N. Dixit The Indian Express 19 September 2002
[xii] India on the `right track’ Amit Baruah The Hindu 19 September 2002
[xiii] editorial The News 9 September 2002
[xiv] The Indian Express 10 September 2002
[xv] Chidanand Rajghatta The Times of India 12 September 2002
[xvi] David Rohde The New York Times 20 September 2002
[xvii] The Hindu 20 September 2002
[xviii] The Hindu 21 September 2002
[xix] The Hindu 26 September 2002
[xx] PTI Hindustan Times 27 September 2002
[xxi] Dawn 7 September 2002
[xxii] PTI The Times of India 18 September 2002
[xxiii] S. Rajagopalan Hindustan Times 19 September 2002

Compiled from Media Sources


Arabinda Acharya