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Rediff.com  » News » India's destiny and the US-Pakistan embrace

India's destiny and the US-Pakistan embrace

September 01, 2017 11:49 IST

'There appears to be greater convergence of interests between China and the US in the Afghan-Pakistan theatre than between India and the US. This is hardly a recipe for a super-alliance,' says former foreign secretary Ambassador Shyam Saran.

Prime Minister Narendra D Modi chats with US President Donald J Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May At the G-20 summit in Hamburg. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

Larry Pressler's book, Neighbours in Arms, is pitched to an Indian readership who really do not need to be convinced of his central thesis, that is, successive US administrations 'effectively looked the other way when it came to Pakistan's nuclear programme and the assistance it obtained from China for its missile and nuclear programmes.'

Pressler claims that it was the piece of legislation carrying his name, the 'Pressler Amendment' that may have at least slowed down and put some constraints on Pakistan's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.

That is not really borne out by the historical evidence available and even his own telling of the tale.

 

Nevertheless, the Pressler Amendment won him friends and admirers in India for its intent if not its outcome and for that he deserves some place in the sun.

Pressler blames it all on the US military industrial complex, what he calls the Octopus, for its pervasive reach into all the nooks and crannies of the US establishment and its ability to 'suck out' as the octopus does, tasty morsels for itself from the rich gravy train which circulates around the corridors of power in Washington.

But this is only part of the story. Pressler's book also makes it clear that there were geopolitical factors at work -- in a sense still at work -- that explain the US-Pakistan enduring embrace.

It was, to begin with, an alliance which made sense in the Cold War context culminating in the proxy war against Soviet forces in Afghanistan throughout the decade of the 1980s.

Then, more recently it has been the war against terror in which Pakistan is both friend and enemy.

India has been and continues to be collateral damage.

Pressler is unequivocal in his support for closer India-US relations and advocates a 'super alliance' based not only on a strategic convergence to constrain China but also because these are two vibrant democracies with shared values.

However, shared values have not counted for much when and where interests of the two countries have diverged.

While there is more visible commonality of interests in the Indo-Pacific, there are conflicting compulsions on India's western flank.

In fact, there appears to be greater convergence of interests between China and the US in the Afghan-Pakistan theatre than between India and the US. This is hardly a recipe for a super-alliance.

There are two intriguing assertions that Pressler makes, one for which there is no corroboration and the other which is illogical.

In the section related to the proposed India-US 'super alliance', Pressler claims that in 'discussions with current and former senior navy officials, I have learnt that the United States is on the verge of a massive effort to help build up the Indian Navy and outfit its navy ships with nuclear weapons.'

I would doubt very much that any such bilateral initiative is on the cards. If indeed being contemplated, it would mean a very significant departure from well-entrenched positions of both countries and could have major geopolitical consequences particularly in respect of their relations with China.

As the author observes, 'An Indian Navy that has the capability of delivering nuclear weapons would cause China great concern.' Indeed. But the Indian Navy already has that capability though of a limited scope.

At another point Pressler tries to explain why the US has done little to restrain Pakistan from developing its nuclear weapon capability; indeed why it may have even encouraged its acquisition of such capability.

He claims that the infamous Octopus or the military industrial complex 'wanted Pakistan to have a nuclear weapon to counterbalance China's power.'

While the US often pursues mutually contradictory policies, this particular claim is surely far-fetched.

China has been instrumental in assisting Pakistan acquire nuclear weapons capability and may have even conducted an explosive nuclear test on its behalf probably as early as 1987. It could hardly become a target of the capability it had itself helped develop in Pakistan.

It is India that has been the target of this capability and the US has known this all along, but this has counted for less than Pakistan's transactional value for the US in its pursuit of its geopolitical objectives.

Pressler's book is also part memoir, tracing his career from a provincial backwater to the sanctums of power and privilege in Washington.

There is no surfeit of modesty in his account about his own role as a legislator but for Indian readers this is a good primer on how the US political system works, the relations between the legislature and the administration, the role of the intelligence agencies and the defence establishment and the insidious influence of lobbying firms and ostensibly independent think-tanks and civil society organisations on policy.

One may find faint echoes of these disturbing phenomena in our own country and Pressler rightly warns us of their dangers to democracy.

Ambassador Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary, is currently Senior Fellow and member of the governing board of Centre for Policy Research.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi chats with US President Donald J Trump and Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May At the G-20 summit in Hamburg. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

Shyam Saran