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|July 26, 2002|
The Rediff Special/ Colonel (retired) Anil Athale
As United States Secretary of State Collin Powell reaches India on July 27, the bilateral relation between the two appears set to move from 'lukewarm' to 'cold'. There are growing signs of the cooling relationship for last month or so.
The US has apparently turned down an Indian request to hold joint naval exercise in the Persian Gulf and instead plans are afoot to hold an exercise with the Pakistani Navy. Unconfirmed reports say that the US is opposed to the sale of 'Arrow' missile defence system by Israel to India. The US has just cleared sale of six Hercules C-130 transport aircraft to Pakistan and a joint meeting in Islamabad resolved to resume military supplies and re-establish military ties between the two countries.
India, on its part, has been hobnobbing with Iran and Iraq (Petroleum Minister Ram Naik visited Baghdad recently), described as part of the 'Axis of Evil' by US President George W Bush.
Largely ignored by the Indian media last month, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan inked a deal to lay an overland pipeline to carry Central Asian gas and oil. The same Unicol Company that had earlier struck a deal with the genocidal Taliban regime in Afghanistan was behind the deal.
The most visible sign of the cooling of relations has been the inability of Western visitors to meet Indian Prime Minister A B Vajpayee and instead end up meeting the hard-line Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani. The shifting of a visibly pro-American External Affairs Minister can now be seen in new light.
To a large extent, Indians are to be blamed for nurturing excessive expectations from the Americans. It was na´ve to believe that the US would remain focused on the war on terrorism at the cost of its other agenda: getting the oil in Central Asia. The value of Pakistan in the Islamic world was not fully understood nor did the Indians grasp the fact that Pakistan is an ideal client state that has nurtured personal relationships within the American bureaucracy for over six decades - yes, the relationship began even before Independence through the contacts that the Office of Strategic Services, a predecessor of the CIA, had built with Muslim officers during World War II.
All through the turmoil of post-9/11 events, the US has remained steadfast in its support to the military dictatorship in Pakistan. Over $8 billion economic aid has been poured into Pakistan during this period and the US seems on the verge of resuming the old game of giving Pakistan a technological edge over India in the field of defence.
What has gone wrong?
It appears that both India and US agree that a moderate and modern Pakistan is in the best interest of South Asia and the world. Yet, while the US believes that Pakistan is moving in that direction, India is sceptical. India feels that greater pressure will force Pakistan to turn away from Talibanisation while the US believes that more concessions, aid and releasing Indian military pressure would do the trick.
While both agree that cross-border infiltration has come down, India sees this only as a 'tactical' move. The reason for this view is not difficult to see. While Pakistan has indeed made some efforts to control the jihadis, the vicious and round the clock anti-Indian (and anti-Hindu) propaganda continues unabated. Thus while Musharraf claims to have clamped down on jihadis, his government controlled media and Islamic fundamentalists continue to spew venom that results in more and more unemployed, illiterate youth converting to the jihadi mindset. It is this Pakistani unwillingness to give up its anti-India mindset that is the core issue in the subcontinent. The Americans see the Indian point but seem unable to see beyond Musharraf and also seem clueless about long-term strategy to deal with the radical Islam.
The recent issue of curbing travel to India by the West was rightly seen as an attempt to impose economic pain on India for its belligerence on the border.
Students of history of Indo-US relations feel a sense of deja vu at the turn of events. Like in 1947, 1965, and again in 2001, the West has again equated the victim and aggressor! Despite the fact that every time US gave arms to Pakistan, that country instead of feeling secure has indulged in aggression, history appears to be repeating itself. The only period of peace in the subcontinent in recent times was between 1972-1979, a period when Pakistan was militarily weak.
It is difficult to predict the future in times of such major turbulence, but a major rethink by India on its ties with China and Russia may well be on. Thus it may still happen that despite the lessons of history and common long-term interests, the US and India may yet revert to being the 'estranged democracies'.
Design: Lynette Menezes
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