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Will the subcontinent be next?
April 16, 2003
The subcontinent may well show that even a sole hyperpower cannot control all the events all over the world. Ideally, the US would want a stable and peaceful subcontinent with the Kashmir issue put on slow burner. For despite its easy conquest of Iraq, Americans are well aware that they have a huge task on their hands in the Middle East. With North Korea issuing new threats every day, the Pacific theatre will also need America's attention.
In Pakistan, the US seeks an ally to hold the eastern end of the Islamic crescent, along with Turkey and Israel. Pakistani cooperation is deemed vital to mop up the remnants of Al Qaeda and also ensure that the Taliban is kept in check in Afghanistan. The large Pakistani army is potentially seen as 'American Gorkhas' for use in doing the dirty and manpower intensive work of peace keeping in the Middle East. Over mid to long term, the US is likely to see India as the only bulwark against an expansionist China.
For the first time in the history of independent India, the US has a stake in India's development and continuing unity. In a democratic India, there is broad popular support to this perception of congruence of Indo-US interests. It has not escaped American attention that Indian popular reaction to the US invasion of Iraq was largely muted and confined to the minorities or the usual Leftist busybodies. Thus the US has interest and positive stake in both the countries. War between the two [India and Pakistan] is thus not in American interest. Continued tensions over Kashmir, therefore; 'spoils the party' for the US.
The reality, or at least its perception in India, is different. The jiahdists in Pakistan appear to be out of control of that government. America's hope and Pakistan's assurance that at worst the jihadis will confine themselves to attacking India does not seem to hold much water. Arrests of well educated sympathisers including doctors, nuclear scientists etc show what kind of hold the jihadist have in that country. To think that the jihadis would be like guns that can fire only in one direction is akin to the Cold War era American assurance that the weapons it supplied to Pakistan were only for use against the Soviet Union!
So scared is the Pakistan president of the jihadis in his midst, that the independence day parade on August 14, 2002 and the Pakistan day parade on March 23, 2003 were cancelled. Instead the flag was hoisted indoors in a small auditorium! Three years earlier Bill Clinton on his visit to Pakistan had used elaborate security precautions on his brief stopover in Pakistan. Most Delhi 'experts' have missed these tell tale signs of regime instability in Pakistan. But surely the Americans know better.
India has been and continues to be an underachiever in economic and military fields. Demographic dynamics and electoral compulsions make it difficult for India to ignore the American mollycoddling of Pakistan. India is seen by many in America as an ally of doubtful value. Yet to an increasingly friendless America, dumping India would appear suicidal.
The conclave of France, Russia and Germany in St Petersburg last week is a pointer in the direction of the emergence of a rival 'pole.' Economically bankrupt North Korea's intransigence could well be due to covert Chinese backing. In this situation the US may be forced by India to make a choice in the subcontinent between a jihadi Pakistan and a democratic and friendly India.
The recent assertion by Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, repeated on the floor of the Parliament, that Pakistan rather than Iraq, was a fit case for 'pre-emptive attack' seems obviously a deliberate ploy to raise the stakes. This may be a move to pre-empt American pressures on India to make concessions on Kashmir.
In 1962 , in the wake of military defeat at the hands of Chinese, the Indians had virtually embraced the US. Even then, as of now, the Americans put on hold any help till India made compromises on Kashmir. Despite being in dire straits, India resisted those pressures and the budding Indo-US alliance fizzled out. The situation today is quite different. There is no Soviet Union to balance the US power, but on the other hand India is in a much stronger economic and military position. The 1962 episode in a way showed the limits of America's power to pressurise India.
China that has a substantial Muslim population has been plagued by separatist insurgency in Xinjiang. There have been reports of periodic crackdowns. Two years ago, it fenced off its border with Pakistan to stop the movement of jihadis. If the US decisively tilts in favour of Pakistan, it would then no longer need the Chinese. There is some disquiet over Pakistan's moves in China. The border row with India has been dormant and is not an explosive issue. It has been kept simmering only to use it as an excuse in case of future intervention by China in Indo-Pak conflicts. In the changing situation China may think of abandoning its policy of propping up Pakistan to check India. In that case, normalisation with China would be easy for India.
A wild card here are the Pak jihadis. One more murderous attack on India and the Indo-Pak powder keg may blow up. In that scenario the US will have to make a choice between the two. The overall dynamics of events is such that one way or the other, the subcontinent would soon be in the US crosswires... it could be either India or Pakistan.