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Commentary/Varsha Bhosle

Theories are just ideals blowing in the wind; but a patch of earth, even if frozen and of no strategic value, can set ablaze the mind

From 1960 to 1984, this war-like columnist was fortunate enough to spend every summer and many an autumn and winter in Srinagar. Thatís only a quarter of a century, but a lifetime of memories. For Indians of my age, Kashmir is an emotional thing: We arenít wistful over an Akhand Bharat -Ė we never knew a Sindh or an undivided Punjab. But KashmirÖ thatís another kettle of fish.

The official US line on the Kashmir issue, as enunciated by the departing US ambassador to India, Mr Frank Wisner, is sane and irrefutable. As sane and irrefutable as the bare essence of Marxís communism, Ayn Randís capitalism or the Prophetís Islam. But thatís not how it all works in existence, does it? Theories are just ideals blowing in the wind; but a patch of earth, even if frozen and of no strategic value, can set ablaze the mind. Therefore, I canít help but react with: You finished? Now, git.

We Indians tend to take the West at face value when it makes these clucking noises about Other Peopleís Messes. We are reluctant to boo even when it reaches right across the globe to manifest its might. But do you really believe that altruistic principles got the US and West Europe the ascendancy they enjoy? In fact, though it may seem like a persecution complex in the face of American hegemony, I squint suspiciously at everything they advocate.

For instance, I donít, even for a minute, consider as true that the West desires 'real peace and long-term stability' in the subcontinent Ė or, indeed, in any Third World region. For, just as the prosperity of the Middle East rests on a natural phenomenon (oil), so does that of the West (human bellicosity). It isnít detergents and burgers that make the international market ticker: Itís arms, plain and simple.

Itís no secret that after the Cold War, the world arms market, already crowded with new and eager players, crashed resoundingly. Whereas in 1988, arms exports worldwide were $ 67.9 billion, in 1993, they plunged to $ 31.9 billion. As a result, arms industry jobs fell from 16.5 million to 11.5 million, with Russia suffering the most losses. And yet, in that time, US arms exports more than doubledÖ

Right. The Gulf War. Which provided neighbouring Asian countries with the impetus for building up their defences. Thus, while US companies totaled $10.1 billion from sales abroad in 1989, they accrued $22.3 billion in 1993. Last year, a spokesman for the congressional research service admitted that arms spending had risen by 8% in West Asia and by 12% in South East Asia. Now tell me, why would the US possibly want peace in this region? What do arms have to do with entente and stability?

In February 1995, President Clintonís administration issued a policy statement stating that the government would provide 'support for arms exports, actively involving senior government officials in promoting sales of particular importance to the United States.' According to an analyst for the London-based Janeís, top US officials pushing arms expected to sell at least $10 billion worth of weapons by 2000. Now tell me, is there some other peacenik Democrat at the US helm this year? And who is he going to sell arms to if not Pakistan, India and the nations which equip terrorists? Americaís 'wealth of equities' in South Asia isnít restricted to property and business: it includes human propensity for territory-staking.

And no, I donít want Mr Wisner to advise India on the nuclear option, either. His country is kept informed by the likes of Dr Henry Kissinger who told the deliberating Senate committee that:

  • Russia is turning imperialistic;
  • Japan would soon build an atom bomb;
  • India could be 'expected to return to the policies of the British Raj which were, after all, conceived by the Indian Civil Service under the viceroys'; and,
  • China (the worldís largest dictatorship) needed US 'help to checkmate these three countries.'

    If that werenít enough, the mooters of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (France, US, UK and Russia) coolly declared in the World Court that they do not consider themselves bound by any judgement on Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Ė which Article calls for cessation of the nuclear arms race and complete nuclear disarmament Ė with the US also asserting its 'need' to maintain nuclear weapons for an indefinite period well over 50 years. And all this while bullying us into signing the CTBT under the implied threat of trade embargoes, pressure by the IMF, pariah status etc. As they say, sau choohe maar ke, billi Haj ko chali.

    Honestly, I have no idea how any American official can talk so sanctimoniously to us about the stupidity in 'sterile historical debates': Just a week ago, the US government warned its (Hollywood) citizens from accepting Havanaís invitation to Cohiba-cigar-devotees to attend, guess what, a fiesta celebrating 30 years of the stogie. Sheesh. The day I see Bill hugging Fidel, I may rethink the impotence of bygone history.

    The US has always had a strange way of maintaining its distance from the internal matters of India: In August 1995, 53 members of the US Congress, in an open letter to (the then) Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, criticised the Indian government for denying a passport to Simranjeet Singh Mann. Apparently, quote, 'Mannís only crime is speaking out for a free and sovereign Khalistan, the independent Sikh homeland declared on October 7, 1987'. (Please note that this comes from members of the US government and not a loony tunes org.) Now tell me, arenít these Mr Wisnerís masters?

    US foreign policy is surreal, all right: While (transgressing protocol) in Jammu, Mr Wisner told reporters that his country did not have any clear evidence of Pakistani involvement in Kashmir Ė in spite of the confirmation from a task force set up by the US House Republican Research Committee on the direct involvement of Pakistan's ISI in sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir. The report says that in 1986, Pakistan expanded its operations in Kashmir as a strategic long-term programme with activities including the propagation of Islamic fundamentalism, indoctrination of selected leaders, issuing of arms and training of militants. But says Mr Wisner, 'Whenever we get any such evidence, we will proceed accordingly.' Yeah, right.

    So call me trigger-happy, but Iím delighted with the aggressive nationalism flashed by J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah Ė I simply love his sabre-rattling: Like, if Pakistan did not stop meddling, it may 'cease to exist on the map'. Like, 'if (terrorists) think that they are not Indians, I will open a way for them to go to that country (Pakistan)'. Naturally, this stance has befuddled our secularists, for how can they call Dr Abdullah a 'fundamentalist, divisive force'? (The right-wing, too, has its own agenda. Iím not very sure, but I think it would like to win back PoK. And this, before we know that what we barely have, will stay with us. But then, India is a mystical Wonderland, not without its Cheshire Cats.)

    The thing is, just as pliability vis-ŗ-vis Kashmiri separatism can ensure a Balkanisation of India, the denial of populist Kashmiri sentiments can ensure seething unrest. Thus, I see the point in Dr Abdullahís demand for extending to all states Article 370 of the Constitution, that horror which confers a special status on Kashmir. It is so convenient, practical and placatory a solution that it seems to be almost tongue-in-cheek! I may be terribly naÔve, but instead of this fumbling patchwork of leftists and reservationists, Iíd rather have this linear-thinking, gung-ho guy in New Delhi.

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  • Varsha Bhosle
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