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What's the fuss about Pak's new status?
April 12, 2004
Sometimes, Indian foreign policy can leave a person dumbfounded, especially when it concerns Pakistan.
For years now, we have been hearing the mandarins of our foreign service establishment repeat ad nauseum that India must not be equated with Pakistan, that the two are as different as chalk and cheese. And why not? We are a successful democracy, they are at best a struggling democracy; we are a pluralist society, they have a state religion; we are fighting against terrorists, they were, till recently, supporting them…
Pakistan is India's largest neighbour, but even then, it is much smaller. Its population is a less than a seventh than our, its landmass a fifth, its economy a seventh... so why compare us, why equate us in the same bracket?
But the problem is that it isn't the US and the West that does that all the time: We in India keep doing so too.
Recently, the US conferred Major Non-NATO Ally status upon Pakistan. This was done by Secretary of State Colin Powell while on a visit to Islamabad, after he had visited New Delhi. It was reminiscent of Henry Kissinger's secret trip to Beijing from Islamabad after his visit to New Delhi at the height of the Cold War and when India and Pakistan were inching towards war. This perceived breach of faith had India frothing and flustered and pushed New Delhi into Moscow's waiting arms.
But beyond that breach of faith, India really has little to be upset about. Tragically, India has reacted in predictable fashion: behaving like a child that did not get the candy, like as though being denied membership to the same club was an insult. A hurt New Delhi flayed the US, hurling accusations of the US cozying up to Pakistan (but weren't they always friends?); complaining that Pakistan did not deserve such status (in our opinion perhaps, but not in Washington's); and warning that transfer of weapons to Islamabad (as an ally) would fuel an arms race (true, but it need not unless we choose to react to every sale).
By complaining so about Pakistan, New Delhi has just re-entered the quagmire of India-Pakistan as equals that so bothers us. What is the purpose of crying ourselves hoarse about how India is superior and different when every US-Pakistan collaborative move gets New Delhi hot under the collar? Surely the US and Pakistan as sovereign countries are entitled to a relation independent of India just as we firmly, and rightly, believe that New Delhi's ties to Washington should never be tied to Islamabad.
Not only was the complaining in poor taste, it was uncalled for. Being a part of NATO or even a Major Non-NATO Ally today is more political than strategic. NATO was set up to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Today, its very reason to exist is in doubt. It exists as a legacy of the past and to give comfort to the new members of Eastern Europe, which is why it has expanded right up to the border of Russia.
The Major Non-NATO Allies lie outside Europe. Some, like Japan and Australia have close trade ties while others, like Israel, receive billions of dollars in aid. Then there are countries like Egypt and Philippines, who seem none the better for being MNNA members. Clearly, being an MNNA is only one part of the picture. Japan is not important to the US because it has an MNNA status but because of the massive trade and economic ties. Let us in India never forget that.
One must also give Pakistan credit where it is due. Islamabad is in the forefront of the war against Al Qaeda, and the battlefield is west and northwest Pakistan. To keep Islamabad on its side, Washington necessarily needs to keep giving it sops one after the other, and the MNNA status was one such pacifier. Islamabad is today fighting the very forces it had nurtured, an act of desperation and courage.
Indians are right in saying that Pakistan is a reluctant partner in this war on terrorism, but whether reluctant or not, Islamabad's victory in this war benefits India. New Delhi must, silently, encourage Islamabad in its war, and Washington in its effort to support Pakistan. It is a long war.
A comparable situation is 1991-92, when India's economic policies took a 180-degree turn. In the early days, it was rightly believed that most Indians -- whether in the government, bureaucracy, or even in the private sector -- were reluctant liberalisers; that New Delhi was simply being pushed around by the IMF and the World Bank against her will. But the fact is that this IMF/World Bank pushing around has today helped India achieve 10 percent growth (in the last quarter of 2003). It took 12 years of reforms to create India Shining.
Pakistan made its about turn only two years ago; on the same time scale, it is still 10 years away from reaching 'Pakistan Shining'. Let us give it that time.
And in the meantime, let us develop our relationship with the rest of the world independent of Pakistan and our relationship with Pakistan independent of the rest of the world, and forever end the pernicious India-Pakistan equation. We can start by not over-reacting to what Pakistan does.
Amberish K Diwanji