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October 23, 2001

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Arvind Lavakare

Na´ve and namby-pamby

Poor dear Uncle Sam! He's currently so obsessed with getting Osama bin Laden "dead or alive" that he's not only doling out dollars galore to Pakistan, but also willing to sell his soul for its help in aiding that mission of his. Note, for instance, in Islamabad the other day, how Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly "thanked" Pervez Musharraf for condemning the October 1 act of terrorism that killed 40-odd innocents outside the Jammu & Kashmir assembly complex. "Thanks" for condemning terrorism -- how much lower, really, can the mighty USA descend?

For that matter, how much more na´ve can our media and our BJP-led government become in even expecting the USA to verbally assure us about tackling Pakistan's terrorism in J&K? For a full 54 years America hasn't backed any Indian stand on J&K. How then, in Ram's name, can India nurture the hope that September 11 will have made America do a volte-face so long as Pakistan exists on the world map?

Somehow, however, that child-like hope was, in fact, kindled after Terror Tuesday. Jaswant Singh, our foreign minister, flew hither and thither, almost non-stop and frantic. Brajesh Mishra and L K Advani joined in "secret talks" and Advani was also "24 hours in touch" with the American ambassador. The outcome of it all? A duck's egg on the nation's face last week as Powell left our soil after nonchalantly refusing to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question of an Indian journalist (bless his soul): whether, like America's action in Afghanistan, India would be justified in attacking Pakistan for its ceaseless terrorism in J&K.

It was a rotten egg, moreover. For 20 months after President Bill Clinton's visit to India last year, the Vajpayee government crowed about how it had taken Indo-American relations to a never-before peak, exhibiting this agreement or that convention as proof. A recently expressed orgasm of this relationship was that President Bush had interrupted Jaswant Singh's discussion with a State Department official and escorted our man to the Oval Office for an unprecedented one-to-one. And now there's the egg of having those post-Pokhran sanctions removed against us at long last for no other reason than that they had to be removed against Pakistan as its immediate reward for agreeing to get at Laden.

For those who know history, it is an indisputable fact that, whatever be the reason, Uncle Sam has always at best flirted with India but never consummated that affair. On the other hand, he has, whatever be the reason, bedded Pakistan often enough despite occasional periods of separation. So has it been with the United Kingdom. But the Vajpayee government has just refused to learn from history, just as it has not learnt from Pakistan's demonic duplicity and evil designs against us all these years from 1947.

In the present matter of America's obsession to get Laden in his hideout in Afghanistan, the Vajpayee government seemed to have totally overlooked that Pakistan was geographically at a critical vantage point to go after Al Qaeda, whatever its past record as a rogue state, a military state, a war-mongering state, and a state about to fail. As B Raman, a redoubtable scholar, pointed out in his recent policy paper:

"For Washington, DC, American lives are more precious than non-American lives and American interests have to prevail over those of others. Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the other Islamic countries of the world have naturally come to occupy a greater importance in the eyes of the US than India for the following reasons:

  • Only Pakistan and Uzbekistan would be in a position to provide the kind of logistics and emergency facilities that the US forces would require.
  • Between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, Pakistan's co-operation would be more important because the kind of hard intelligence, which its military-intelligence establishment already has and would have access to in future, would not be available with any other country. Moreover, the ground operations would be largely in Pashtun territory and the US would require Pashtun surrogates for their successful execution. Only Pakistan would be in a position to organise them."
The above analysis should have been old hat to Jaswant Singh since he was wearing the two caps of foreign and defence ministries. But he, the PM and, therefore, the people of India, went about almost immediately after September 11 as though the mighty USA was about to lean on our shoulders for fixing Laden and, as a bonus, fix Pakistan's cross-border terrorism in J&K.

Raman's analysis should really have made us realise that, while joining the USA's so-called "war on terrorism", India's opportunity lay in:

  1. exposing, worldwide, Pakistan's diabolical u-turn from a long-time sponsor of terrorism to an overnight American ally against terrorism, and
  2. publicly lamenting the irony that America was using the back of a mud horse to cross a river.
That posture would not have brought us any greater agony than what both Pakistan and America had already caused us. Instead, we opted for all that frenetic diplomacy in Washington, London and elsewhere in order to secure substantial support against Pakistan's terrorism in J&K and elsewhere in our land.

Strangely, even one reputed defence analyst of ours predicted that Colin Powell would get a earful on his Delhi visit for the USA's unwillingness to heed India's plaint about Pakistan. Powell didn't show the slightest trace of having received that earful when he addressed a media conference in the capital before scooting off to Shanghai.

Hence, the Indian public is once again in despair over America giving the coldest possible shoulder to our concerns on terrorism. The sop is that invitation from President Bush to Vajpayee to meet him next month. It's a sop that you can trust Jaswant Singh to gloat over in his patented diplomatic demeanour when he next meets the media, Indian, British or US.

This excessive diplomatic demeanour is precisely what India should have tucked away for another time. The Terror Tuesday-Al Qaeda-Musharraf-Afghanistan quartet presented a splendid opportunity for us to show the world how skin-deep Pakistan's concern is and how the whole world, including the USA, has meted our cause anything but infinite justice or enduring freedom from terrorism.

Instead, what the Indian nation has got so far has been an extended re-run of the media tragedy of Agra, July 2001.

Musharraf told India to "lay off"; he told America to keep India away from its move in Afghanistan; he reiterated that what J&K was witnessing was a "freedom struggle" [which he would continue to support] and not "terrorism" [which he would stop]; he told the USA that the next government in Afghanistan should be friendly to Pakistan [and inimical to India by implication]; he told the USA that its war in Afghanistan should be short. This entire earful was given publicly, mind you, not behind closed doors. This was not the stealthy dare-devilry of a commando; it was, rather, a field marshal, leading his troops to battle despite being beleaguered at home. His various spokesmen have worn the same bold, brand image.

In contrast, our PM chose to be silent. And when he did write an angry letter over Pakistan's oral threats, he sent it to President Bush -- like a child complaining to his mother about the bully next door.

And, ah, there's Jaswant Singh! He went on inventing sarcastic sound-bytes. "Our support to the war against terrorism is not for rewards," he said. "Our battle against terrorism began well before 11th September," he said. "It's the world that has joined our battle, " he said. "Our relationship with the USA is not hyphenated," he said. "We don't look at America through the prism of Pakistan," he said. "The phrase 'moderate Taleban' is an oxymoron," he said. And the man is so surfeit with Indian courtesy and culture that he just cannot stop referring to mush Musharraf as "His Excellency, the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf Sa'ab." That and more was what the world heard. We don't know whether what he said privately was at all heard.

Our foreign ministry's spokesperson lends credence to the view that "an intrepid Indian" is itself an oxymoron. Nirupama Rao is elegant and coy and soft-spoken, so meticulous that she does not disclose more than five words at a time to the media without referring to the piece of paper in front of her. And she's so diffident that she does not insist that a questioner use the microphone and announce his credentials. The Pakistani spokesmen are in stark contrast -- confident, assertive, homework fully done.

India's media showing has been so unimaginative that it could not even conceive of winning over a journalist to ask Powell the one question that would have embarrassed him no end: "Mr Powell, have you not been convinced yet that America's blue-eyed ally in its current war on terror is itself an exporter of terrorism?"

India's namby-pamby behaviour in the aftermath of Terror Tuesday is best exemplified by the government's reaction to what our army did on October 15 by busting a dozen Pakistani posts that were aiding terrorists from across the Line of Control infiltrate into the Mendhar and Akhnoor sectors of J&K. Instead of just keeping mum on the retaliatory action taken by Brigadier P Das's unit, what actually transpired was

  1. a flurry of telephone calls between South Block and the US embassy to explain what had happened
  2. a message conveyed to Powell in Islamabad that the gunfire across the LoC was not part of the Indian strategy to flush out terrorists in J&K and,
  3. a rap on the brigadier's knuckles for informing the media.
Perhaps the self-respecting Indian should be thankful that Jaswant Singh did not tender a public apology for the incident to "The United States of America's Secretary of State, my distinguished friend, Colin Powell" and to "His Excellency, the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf Sa'ab."

Tailpiece: It was left to a former foreign secretary to show that there was at least one Indian public figure around who is man enough to spit the fire of truth about Pakistan. In a very short stint on CNN on October 17, S K Singh told the world that "They took money to create the Taleban, and now they are taking money to destroy it." Bravo!

Arvind Lavakare

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