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The invisible shadow over India, Pak

April 21, 2005 09:59 IST

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you...

Those lines are from T S Eliot's poem What The Thunder Said, inspired by a parable in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. I was reminded irresistibly of them on seeing that seemingly endless handshake between Dr Manmohan Singh and General Pervez Musharraf.

Was I the only one to sense that third party, invisible and silent yet very potent?

Ignored by the media, studiedly unmentioned by the two governments, the presence brooding over the summit was that of the United States. Was it just a coincidence that Condoleezza Rice visited India and Pakistan weeks ago, or that Natwar Singh was in Washington on the eve of General Musharraf's visit?

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The Indian Foreign Office was initially notably reluctant to describe the Pakistani leader's visit as a 'summit'; the attitude was one of 'He is welcome to watch the cricket if that is what he wants!' So what happened after that? Why did the commando of Agra come to Delhi proclaiming 'Ek naya dil laya hoon?'

To understand the change in General Musharraf's attitude, you must go back to 1998 -- the year that India and Pakistan blasted their way into the nuclear club. The United States was unhappy at the development even then but it did not venture to do much about it. The mild sanctions it imposed were shrugged off by India's liberalising economy, though it did cost Pakistan a bit more. Yet where the United States could have lived with a 'Pakistani Bomb' it could not stand the thought of an 'Al Qaeda Bomb'.

The world, as General Musharraf admits frankly, changed on September 11, 2001. The United States suddenly woke up to the dangers of Al Qaeda. But Osama bin Laden's outfit lay under the protection of the Taleban, and the Afghans in turn had been nurtured by Pakistan. Given the undeniable links between the three, American analysts feared that nuclear technology would find its way into Al Qaeda's hands. A 'Pakistani Bomb', according to the Pentagon's calculations, posed no danger to American interests, it would point just one way -- toward India.

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But an 'Al Qaeda Bomb' could well be aimed at the United States itself. To crush Al Qaeda for good, rather than win a few tactical victories, it was necessary to bring Pakistan to heel. Colin Powell, Rice's predecessor as US secretary of state, put it brutally to General Musharraf when they spoke immediately after September 11: 'You are with us, or you are against us!' The Pakistani government caved in.

But the Americans, it turned out, were not content with kicking the Taleban out of power. They sought to uproot all terrorist enclaves in that part of the world, which meant tackling Pakistan. American intelligence agents flooding into Pakistan in the wake of the Afghan war found indications that nuclear technology had been pirated to Iran and some other groups. (To put the record straight, the Americans also suspect at least two Indian scientists.)

Controlling the spread of nuclear technology and attacking terrorism are two sides of the same coin in American eyes. Washington insisted that General Musharraf crack down on the trade, even if it meant humiliating a national hero like Dr A Q Khan (father of the Pakistani nuclear initiative and a suspect in the pirate armament trade). Pakistan's generals buckled under the American pressure.

General Musharraf pleaded however that he could not take stringent action unless his hands were strengthened politically. The onus then fell on India to help him out.

Delhi applauds anything that is done to curb the terrorist camps in Pakistan, but there are limits to what it can do in Kashmir merely to save face for General Musharraf. Even converting the Line of Control into an international frontier is impossible given Parliament's resolution claiming sovereignty over all of Jammu & Kashmir. Yet it is tougher to put pressure on India than on Pakistan, not just because the Indian economy is more robust but because a democratically elected government does not fear domestic upheaval.

But if Condoleezza Rice failed to budge India on making concessions on Kashmir, she could -- and did -- persuade Delhi to make some gestures. And so it was that General Musharraf came to Ferozeshah Kotla. Nothing of any substance came of the 'summit'; the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan could have agreed to increase the frequency of the bus service in Kashmir, or to agree to talk about water-sharing. (Please note that the Baglihar Dam was not actually discussed, India merely said it could be brought up at some future date.)

Musharraf in India

So, how much faith can we put in General Musharraf's protests of peace? He is a realist, meaning he understands that Pakistan cannot withstand American pressure beyond a point. That understood, there is no harm in talking to him but without, please Lord, any outburst of mawkish sentiment! Until we are sure that this is a genuine change of heart that will stand after the Americans leave, a question mark must remain on Pakistan's intentions.

'Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata' is what the thunder sings in the poem. (Generosity. Mercy. Self-control.) The Americans have already requested 'mercy' for the general, and he himself has pleaded that India demonstrate 'generosity'. But in striving for reconciliation, let us not lose 'self-control'.

As Eliot ends his poem, 'Shantih shantih shantih.'

T V R Shenoy