US Pak-India Policy Delhi & Islamabad Still Look West In Defining Their Relationship
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article,
July 27, 2007
“Balance of power” between other nations while pursuing one’s own commercial and political self-interest, was the leitmotif of British foreign policy throughout the 19th Century and up until World War I. This came to be broadly absorbed and imitated by US foreign policy-makers afterwards. It remains the clear leitmotif of US policy between and towards Pakistan and India in recent years, especially since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Pakistan’s armed forces have been induced through the usual incentives of modern weapons like F-16s, comfortable officer-visits to US military academies, and hard cash to behave cooperatively with perceived American objectives.
Osama bin Laden For some bizarre and unknown reason (though it might be as simple as ignorance and thoughtlessness), the USA has made itself believe that arch-enemy Osama bin Laden has remained in the Pashtun areas ever since the American attack took place on the-then Taliban Government in late 2001. The Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar certainly remained there or in Balochistan, but anyone who recalls the reported last conversation between Omar and Osama at the time may well have surmised that Osama was planning a long and permanent trip away from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The present author’s own speculation has been that Osama bin Laden probably moved westwards and has been in a safe and comfortable hideout somewhere in the deserts of North Africa ~ while everyone continues to frantically and ridiculously look for him very far away from where he is.
American policy towards Pakistan has been determined by the parameters of the new policy towards Afghanistan ~ which has been to prop up the Hamid Karzai Government in the hope a pro-American “moderate” “modern” Pashtun like Mr Karzai might one day become a constructive role model for all other Pashtuns, while NATO extends itself “pacifying” any new Pashtun insurgency and attacking poppy-crops on the pattern of the anti-narcotics war in Colombia, and US “Special Forces” continue to look for Osama and friends. Pakistan’s Musharraf has been expected to play along with this, and, in order for him to release and transfer some 80,000 soldiers towards that end, India has been requested not to give him a reason not to want to do so.
General Musharraf was one of the major beneficiaries of the officer-exchange programmes between the US and Pakistan militaries in the past. Like Benazir Bhutto, he is a “known” quantity, well-understood and hence rendered predictable by the American military and diplomatic establishment. Both are also explained and advocated for by their go-betweens, the extremely influential Pakistani bureaucrats within the Washington Beltway and their K-Street lobbyists. Musharraf’s departure to a nice retirement/exile in the USA helped by royalties from his book etc as well as his already-exported son, presumably constitutes a well-planned exit strategy for him personally.
The American problem is that Musharraf may be among the last if not the last of such pliable old-style Pakistani generals ~ the officer-exchange programmes came to slow down or end after the USA pulled out following the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan, and at the same time Zia ul-Haq had initiated an overt Islamisation of younger officers of the Pakistan military. With such a level of uncertainty as to where the post-Musharraf Pakistan military can or would take itself (along with the country and its nuclear weapons), the only strategy has been to buy them out.
In the current Foreign Affairs, Daniel Markey of the US State Department and Council on Foreign Relations says as much (amid the usual little rhetoric about supporting Pakistani democracy): “Washington must win the trust and confidence of Pakistan’s army. This goal can only be achieved through closer working relationships and tangible investments that lock the United States into a long-term commitment to the region” (italics added).
If American policy towards Pakistan has been to pay to pacify Pakistan’s unpredictable nuclear-armed military, the policy towards India has been one of business, business, and more business. The “US-India Business Council” is merely an official Washington lobbyist protecting American business interests in India such as getting the Governments of India and Maharashtra to pay several hundred million dollars over the Dabhol-Enron fiasco. Yet that is where senior Indian politicians, like the Finance and Commerce Ministers, feel the need to routinely visit on pilgrimage if only to be made to feel important while in the USA. Even Dr Manmohan Singh felt the need to send a personal emissary to gift Condoleeza Rice a basket of Indian mangoes not at her office in the US State Department but when she was addressing a closed-door meeting of that business-lobbyist.
Certainly in case of the so-called “nuclear deal”, there is a political motivation on the American side that India must be prevented from conducting future nuclear explosions, although this may be something mostly symbolic as US intelligence agencies had notoriously failed to predict Pokhran I and Pokhran II. And there is doubtless some reliance that the Indian side to the negotiations has not really properly understood the intricacies of the American political and administrative system, e.g. the insignificance of a Presidential “signing statement”. Hence, if the deal goes through as seems likely now, it will certainly indicate the American side is more than comfortable that if a future Indian Government does not do what the US-side has intended in the nuclear deal (whether or not the Indian negotiators have understood that now), a future US Congress and President will be able to reverse the deal without too much difficulty.
What has mainly driven the deal on the American side is the prospect of very large nuclear business ~ specifically, that India will import six to eight American lightwater reactors. As I have said before in these pages, India’s national energy outlook will barely improve through the nuclear deal (given the miniscule size of the nuclear sector compared to coal and hydro), though a few favoured metros, and Delhi for sure, may see improvement after a decade or two when and if these expensive nuclear reactors become operational.
Short-sightedness The short-sightedness and indeed sheer imbecility of Indian and Pakistani foreign policy is made clear by the fact we are unable to properly communicate with one another about our common interests as neighbouring countries with the same history and geography except through Washington. The elites of both countries have either fled already or would like to flee or at least travel to the USA to visit their exported adult children as often as possible. It is not dissimilar to our imperial relationship with Britain, where Indians had to travel to London to have their Round Table Conference, England being of course a place of national pilgrimage as the USA has now become. The result is not merely that the militaries and polities of Pakistan and India have wasted vast immeasurable resources in struggles against one another and continue to do so, but also and as importantly, have failed to define robust national identities after six decades.
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