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Uncle Sam's game

Last updated on: February 28, 2005 17:16 IST

Indo-Pak negotiations are progressing rapidly, with Indian concessions, in the main, flowing thick and fast.

India has conceded vital issues of national sovereignty like border controls without debate and also agreed to import Iranian natural gas through Pakistan. The expeditious abandonment of long-held certainties and carefully crafted principles on Jammu and Kashmir in an ad hoc manner appear cavalier.

However, not all branches of the Indian government are apparently equally enthused with the zealous concessions on soft borders and allied administrative arrangements.

A soft State, offering soft targets to a terrorist enemy might logically also possess soft borders.

The ill-concealed consensus among national parties, politically at loggerheads over all else, is a cause for anxiety too.

A new attitude of conceding primacy to US views on the sub-continent now seems to be shared by both the new and old political dispensations in New Delhi.

Leftist silence also makes transparent the hollowness of their claims to being defenders of Indian national sovereignty. Issues they believe appease minorities fail to awaken their bartered consciences.

Considered reflection and historically informed judgement are urgently required to comprehend underlying US-Pakistani (and Chinese) political interests in the current Indo-Pak negotiations and their potentially dramatic consequences for India itself.

India-Pakistan Peace Process: Complete coverage

The Indian motivation

India's abandonment of its passport and visa control regime is based on the idea that since the Pakistanis were effectively refusing to engage in serious discussion on any issue other than the sovereignty of J&K, weaning them away is already a diplomatic triumph.

There is also an Indian impulse, much practised within India by its politicians, which is to absorb the dissatisfied by tempting them with a share of the proceeds of managing India Inc, bribery in other words.

Hence, the desire to ensnare Pakistanis in profitable interaction with India.

The next logical step would be to engage Pakistan in other areas, which would make the attempt to dislodge India from J&K violently appear anomalous. This Indian reverie lacks cynicism as well as firm anchoring in historical knowledge, even recent Indian history.

But what is this transient earthly moment in the cycle of life, death and re-birth of the Hindu cosmos?

Yet, though it is doomed to fail, this fanciful diplomacy with Pakistan is neither intrinsically unworthy, nor does it lack intellectual foundations.

Goodbye, Kashmir!

Indian economic and political concessions to Pakistan harken back to the nineteenth century belief of Manchester liberals that free international commerce would bind the world together peacefully.

There is also a burgeoning literature called constructivism which asserts that a peaceful world can be ushered in through a form of dialogue, called communicative action. This was advocated by the once peace-loving German social philosopher Jurgen Habermas, who has since mournfully revelled in the aerial bombardment of Serbia, to punish its transgressions and impose political order.

Indian diplomacy is a case study in this intellectual romance that flourishes in contemporary Anglo-Saxon international relations thinking, though policy makers nowhere else have, alas, adopted its injunctions.

US preferences

The real reason for the current Indo-Pak engagement has primarily been determined diplomatic pressure from the US, which is showing its belligerently unilateralist sharp fangs, as the sole global super-power.

But the US is not a disinterested, honest broker in the Indian sub-continent, merely wishing to bring about a happy end to a grim impasse. The US has its own interests to look after in the region and they are the sole guide to US preferences and its actions. Their paramount immediate goal in South Asia is to secure their nominees in Pakistan, a country whose people are known to be bitterly hostile to the US.

The blurring of the LoC

The US cannot walk away from a nuclear-armed Pakistan, already in some danger of take-over by Jihadis, who have a strong presence in the armed forces as well as society more generally. There is no room for sentimentality, however much Indians might wish.

Nor does the US decidedly want a situation in Pakistan that would require costly military intervention to install the equivalent

of an Iraqi Allawi in power.

They have taken-over Pakistan peacefully, establishing scores of FBI offices around the country, for example, without paying much of a price. The US now runs Pakistan in the way they would have preferred to control Iraq, without military intervention, telling a robust Pakistani military exactly what to do next and interrogating whomsoever its security agencies wished.

Pakistan's nuclear weapons are also under US effective control, which is why the discovery of so many extraordinary transgressions by its leadership has been forgiven with alacrity.

Israel, the principal potential victim of Pakistani nuclear sales to the Middle East, has been unusually reticent, which is not their normal style when action is required. This is because the danger to Israel from Pakistan's Islamic nuclear arsenal passed after the US secured it.

Pakistan is already where the US would like Iraq to be a few years down the road, under the secure control of its local surrogates, led by someone like Musharaff and his immediate circle of the irredeemably compromised.

The idea that the US administration wants peace in the Indian sub-continent because of the dangers of an Indo-Pakistan nuclear war is also false.

Hamid Mir on the US Pak Alliance 

On the contrary, the joint US-Pakistan strategy has been talk up the dangers of nuclear war to stop India punishing Pakistan militarily for terrorist acts and force it to begin meaningful negotiations with Islamabad, both of which have succeeded spectacularly.

A setback for the Pakistan's armed forces, US surrogates in Pakistan, because of Indian conventional military intervention could set off a chain of events with incalculable consequences. The US has managed to head it off by threatening India with dire consequences (stymieing operation Parakram after the Pakistani attack on the Indian parliament) and occasionally cooing at it cynically.

It needs to be remembered that the US connived in 1989 to allow Pakistan and its jihadi metallurgist, A Q Khan, to acquire and, in effect, sell nuclear weapons, as US public records confirm.

Instead it sacked the outstanding young Pentagon analyst Richard Barlow (who subsequently won a legal action against the US government) for insisting on bringing it to the attention of his superiors, including Dick Cheney, now US vice-president.

Pakistan's nuclear bazaar

They feared automatic Congressional sanctions against Pakistan in the midst of the Afghan campaign against the Soviets.

Furthermore, it can be safely predicted that the US will also hand Afghanistan over to their Pakistani surrogates, after a decent interval, because stability there will prove utterly elusive and the US is quite unlikely to stay on indefinitely and take casualties, while holding the proverbial ring.

A victory in J&K would provide their Pakistani surrogates, regarded with profound distaste at home, with a political triumph that just might provide the domestic political credibility that they sorely lack today.

It would secure them politically in a way that no other political action conceivably could. Victory in J&K would also undercut the Islamic militants, who worked with the US in Afghanistan, but have now lost favour.

For India, the departure of jihadists from the scene would be an absurdly illusory gain if it entailed serious political setback in J&K, since victory there is what the jihadists, exclusively controlled by the Pakistani government, most aspire to anyway.

Such a triumphant scenario would indeed mean its time for them to go home, for the immediate future at any rate.

Thus, an Indian retreat in J&K emphatically kills two birds with one stone for the US: it helps secure its nominees in Pakistan and simultaneously curtails Islamic militants, who are a source of post-9/11 US angst, by giving them what they wanted in the first place.

Issues of justice, legitimate Indian national interests, its software genius, sitar music, Aishwarya Rai in Hollywood, etc, do not enter into the equation at all.

These events only effervesce as signs of India's non-existent world stature in the minds of Indian newspaper columnists and a starry-eyed middle class, with more money than brains.

Next: Why these concessions to Pakistan?

Gautam Sen is Director, Gandhi-Einstein Foundation, London and India.

Gautam Sen