Sunday, April 11, 2010




    'Identification, Friend or Foe' is a command and control system that helps armies to prevent casualties from 'friendly fire' in the fog of war. Perhaps diplomacy and foreign policy too needs a similar system to clearly identify and distinguish between friend and foe. There is often greater 'fog' in diplomacy than there is in war, something which makes the task of identifying friend and foe far more complicated than it appears to be. For any country, 'friendly fire' from an unreliable ally is often far more devastating and destructive than anything that an identifiable foe can throw. Indeed, India today is facing exactly such a situation from its 'natural ally', the US, which is increasingly tilting in favour of Pakistan and pulling out all stops in appeasing the Pakistanis even if this is at the expense of India.

The pressure that the Obama administration was putting on India in order to appease the Pakistan army and get its assistance for an honourable exit from Afghanistan was always one of the worst kept secrets. The Sharm-el-Sheikh fiasco, where the Indian Prime Minister signed on the dotted line without getting any quid pro quo from the Pakistani side, followed by the equally disastrous invitation to the Pakistani foreign secretary for talks in New Delhi, were just two manifestations of India buckling under US pressure. The Foreign Secretary level talks, which surprised even the Indian foreign office, were so badly timed (coming as they did after the exclusion of India from the Istanbul conference on Afghanistan and the deliberate marginalisation, if not slight, of India by the US and UK in the London conference) that it only fuelled the sense of triumphalism inside Pakistan. The behaviour of the Pakistani foreign secretary in New Delhi was therefore true to form and nothing better should or could have been expected of him.

If despite Sharm-el-Sheikh and the New Delhi parleys between the two foreign secretaries, there was still any doubt over American intentions then this was cleared by a report in the Wall Street Journal that mentions a secret directive that Obama has issued "to intensify American diplomacy" to ensure that "India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region". The tone and tenor of this secret directive clearly indicates that the US has put the onus on India for resolving matters with Pakistan. After all, according to Obama, it is India, and not Pakistan, that must make it a priority to sort issues out. Even more galling, if not demeaning, is the proposition that India must do the needful, not because it is in India's interest (which it clearly is not), but because it will allow "progress on US goals in the region".

It goes without saying that implicit in the entire US policy formulation is the expectation that India must sacrifice its core national interests in order to satisfy Pakistan. What is being expected of India is that India should reduce its presence and involvement in Afghanistan, leave its borders with Pakistan unguarded so that Pakistan can divert troops to the Western border, satisfy Pakistan's irredentist, if illegal, claims on Jammu and Kashmir, stop all hydro-power projects on the Western rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab – and their tributaries even though India is within its rights under the Indus Waters treaty to build these projects, and do whatever else Pakistan demands of India.

Pakistan, emboldened by the increasing US dependence on it in Afghanistan, will of course continue to merrily sponsor jihad against India, and murder Indian citizens with complete impunity. This is something that will become crystal clear when the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, certifies that Pakistan qualifies for aid under the Kerry-Lugar bill because it has taken measures to close down activities of terror groups like LeT. Appallingly, she will do this in the face of hate-filled public speeches and TV interviews of the Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed and the threat of jihad that the Lashkar commander, Abdul Wahid Kashmiri, held out in a public rally in Kotli, PoK.

Quite aside the fact that the Americans are rewarding Pakistan for having successfully played a double-game – acting as a 'frontline' ally of the US in the War on Terror even as they continued to support, sponsor and provide sanctuary to the Taliban leadership – for eight long years, there is as yet no cogent explanation as to why India must sacrifice its national interests for the sake of Pakistan, or for that matter, for the sake of the US. The Taliban are either a strategic ally of Pakistan or they are a threat to Pakistan. If it is the former, then no matter what India does, Pakistan will continue with its double-game and never forsake the Taliban. On the other hand, if Pakistan considers the Taliban a threat, then Pakistan must eliminate them in its own interest. However, the fact that Pakistan has used various excuses to desist from acting against the Taliban, leads to the inference that the Taliban are not a threat but a strategic ally of Pakistan. In any case, if Pakistan is in trouble because of the activities of the Islamists then shouldn't it be a priority for Pakistan to resolve issues with India rather than the other way round?

Even otherwise, there is really no incentive for India in dancing to the American tune just so that Pakistan is able to gain its strategic objectives in the region, in a word 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan. Regardless of the public statements of US officials, the US regional game-plan, or lack of it, hinges on giving primacy to Pakistan in Afghanistan. And, the Pakistanis will use this to bring their proxies, the Taliban, back in power in Kabul. Given the dialectics of the situation, it is utterly unrealistic for anyone to think that India will agree to roll over and play dead and allow Pakistan to walk all over it only because this will allow the US an honourable exit from Afghanistan.

The US has been always notorious for taking an extremely short-term view of things, something it is doing once again in South Asia. In the process, it is building up a country – Pakistan – in which an overwhelming majority of people are implacably opposed to and harbour a visceral hatred for America, and alienating the public opinion of the one country – India – in which the public opinion is extremely well-disposed towards America. The Indian prime minister has already expended a lot of his political capital – in the public as well as within his party – in trying to reach out to Pakistan. Pushing him any further along this path will only isolate him further. What is worse, the reaction that is building up in India to US policy of flooding the Pakistan army with modern weapons is going to create a deep schism in Indo-US relations, something that will come to haunt the US in the not too distant a future when it needs to fall-back on Indian support to contain the fallout of an imploding, Jihadist Pakistan.

India too is not entirely blameless as far as the emerging cleavage in its relations with the US is concerned. The problem with India was that despite the caution sounded by many people that the US was an 'unreliable' partner and ally, the Indian leadership took the US at face value, and imagined that the interests of the two biggest democracies converged on the issue of terrorism. It is time for India to take off its rose-tinted glasses, as also many of the eggs it has placed in the US basket, and start dealing with the US and other countries like Iran, Russia and China, on terms that advance India's and not the US' interests. Otherwise, India will be left holding the can for American follies in the region.


    <1317 Words>                    12th April, 2010



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