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The Rediff Special/ Anupam Srivastava

How fallible Washington's South Asia policy is to Islamabad's fears and foibles

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As the endgame of President Clinton's impending visit to South Asia draws near, the political chessboard of Washington witnesses rapid moves and countermoves without any apparent overarching strategy. The political capital of the "free world" is awash with sweeping statements and audacious plans, with nary a thought to the resilient problems that underlie the South Asian imbroglio.

Both India and Pakistan intensified their efforts to convince the US administration on whether the presidential trip should include a brief stopover in Pakistan. In addition to its diplomatic staff, India requisitioned the services of an influential lobby (Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand), and individual heavyweights such as Stephen Solarz, George Mitchell and Bob Dole. Not to be outdone, Pakistan contracted the lobbying firm Patton, Boggs and Blow, while also retaining the services of former Democratic Congressman Charlie Wilson.

The Pakistani effort is undergirded by a curious logic. If the US president does not include a stopover in Pakistan, then the clear signal would be that Washington has severed ties with Islamabad, further constraining the ability of the Musharraf administration to reign in the forces of separatism and religious fundamentalism. Is that possible? Under what circumstances should Washington distance itself from a non-representative set up in Pakistan?

What has the United States received from engaging the Musharraf administration since it took over the reigns of power last October? Halt to cross-border terrorism in India? Co-operation in apprehending the hijackers of the Indian Airlines craft? Cessation of material and diplomatic support to separatist groups in Central Asia? Covert nuclear and missile co-operation with North Korea and China? A timetable for restoration of democracy in Pakistan?

This strange Pakistani logic is matched by equally pretentious statements from the White House. In the past few months, statements by President Clinton have included: "Before I end my term, I would like to have a crack at the Indo-Pak dispute;" or "I would like to solve the Kashmir dispute before my term is over." How so? By ordering the combatants to drop their arms, so that the process of healing and reconciliation can begin?

It is high time Washington recognized that it takes two to make peace but it takes one to make war. Pakistan is in the firm grip of a mindset wherein the success of its foreign policy, even the raison d' etre of its existence, is predicated upon a solution to the Kashmir problem. And this solution does not entail a pragmatic assessment of the historical record or ground realities, or even a frank negotiation with India on the practical modalities of a durable solution that involves give and take on each side.

The sad reality is that notwithstanding Washington's energetic intentions to "intercede on behalf of peace," the South Asian strategic environment will get much worse before it can get any better. The bitter truth is that the Kargil conflict, the shooting down of the Atlantique surveillance aircraft, the hijacking drama, the incessant cross-border terrorism, and the increased intensity and scope of terrorism on Indian soil, are mere symptomatic incursions of a much deeper malady.

This malady is founded upon the very formulation of the Pakistani national identity in the past two decades. Its attempt to forge a "pro-Islamic" identity has met with limited success, while the "anti-India" identity can only deliver negative outcomes if it succeeds. Pakistan has never truly invested in crafting a "pro-Pakistani" identity, one that harmoniously reconciles its ethnic-religious cleavages with the immutable geographical mooring of being a South Asian entity.

The result is that Pakistan's national identity, and the concomitant foreign-security policy, is dangerously flawed. Jinnah's "Two Nation Theory" justified the creation of Pakistan by arguing that Muslims would not be safe in a Hindu-dominated India. And yet, compared to Pakistan, an equal or higher number of Muslims live in India and Bangladesh (and Indonesia), both of which states, coincidentally, are included in the US president's trip. And in each case, Muslims enjoy at least an equal Constitutional status with all other religious groups, and particularly so in India.

Pakistani leaders also state that relations with India will improve drastically once the "core" issue of Kashmir is resolved. What about Siachen, Sir Creek, Wular Barrage/Tulbul Navigational Project, and other disputes? Are they all amenable to solutions within the auspices of the bilateral Joint Working Groups? Why is there not much evidence of progress on them? Further, India lifted quantitative restrictions on 48 commodities to be imported from Pakistan, and continues to accord it the "most favoured nation" status as required by the World Trade Organization.

Now that Pakistan has been admitted to the WTO, why does it hold back granting this non-discriminatory MFN status to India? Why does India not petition the WTO to order Pakistan to comply with its obligations? And how would this "core" problem of Kashmir be eventually solved? Pakistani leadership routinely requisitions the services of the international community to intercede on its behalf.

On the other hand, the Simla accord explicitly stipulates that India and Pakistan will solve "all outstanding bilateral disputes …without outside interference." Where then is the locus standi of this Pakistani demand? Or indeed the status of possible US mediation efforts? India should educate global and US public opinion that the Simla accord was not a dictated peace treaty. Rather, it followed the most convincing Indian victory over Pakistan, after which it unilaterally released vast tracts of captured territory and about 93,000 prisoners of war, the highest POW release since World War II.

Further, while it was in a position to dictate the terms of settlement of all disputes, including on Kashmir, it chose to pursue them in a bilateral framework.

Pakistan also raises the issue of the UN-supervised plebiscite to settle the dispute. But is it prepared to create the antecedent conditions for the plebiscite, which includes preserving the ethnic and demographic profile of 1948 on its part of the disputed territory? If not, then the plebiscite demand is scarcely more than a ploy to perpetuate the crisis.

The real losers in this interminable battle are the Kashmiri residents on both sides of the border, to which each side owes an apology and an expeditious end to the conflict. After 52 years, the only feasible solution is to make the LOC as the de jure boundary. Re-drawing of international boundaries to accommodate the right of self-determination, as it obtains in such fluid circumstances, will result in more cases like Kosovo, the Czech republic, or Eritrea. Similarly, since the UN-authorized British Mandates Commission created Israel in 1948, should the Palestinians have the right to demand the abolition of Israel and to re-examine the entire issue afresh?

In light of the above, Washington needs to fundamentally rethink the effectiveness of its South Asia policy. It is strange how fallible it is to Islamabad's fears and foibles. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan used its "front line" status as a "strength" to force the United States to equate it with India. This included efforts to develop nuclear weapons as the "Great Equaliser" to the obvious conventional weapons superiority of India.

This was supposed to enhance strategic stability in the region but did not happen despite the overt nuclearisation of the subcontinent and Pakistan possessing the "Great Equaliser." And now, it is able to use its internal instability as the "weakness" to justify receiving Washington's policy attention!

Exactly what strategic role can Pakistan play within the US calculus? A moderating influence on the Muslim republics of Central Asia? The ISI's support to the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China, military training and arming of Uzbek rebels, and the recent hosting of the Chechen rebels, have not qualified Pakistan as the ideal candidate for such a role. There are far more direct and productive channels for the United States to engage with the respective states in the region.

Can Pakistan deliver bin Laden or bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table? Not likely, because it has lost effective control over the jehadi outfits. It has gradually become a vortex of bilious religious irredentism in the region, creating a "Frankenstein" it cannot control.

What does Washington hope to achieve by Clinton's visit?

Dr Anupam Srivastava is director of the South Asia Program at the Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia, USA.

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