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Pakistan's paranoia for India may be justified: Expert

October 02, 2012 09:16 IST

For years, Congressman Brad Sherman, California Democrat, a senior member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the ranking Democrat on its Subcommittee on Terrorism has enjoyed the largesse of the Indian American community that has contributed generously to his campaign coffers.

At various Indian American community events or related functions that deals with India, he has always conspicuously and smugly declared how he's a member of long-standing with the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, and then gone into the usual patronising spiel about the greatness of India and the impact that Mahatma Gandhi has had in India and worldwide, as if it's his duty to educate the audience about Indian history.

But when its come to a push, he's been quite biting in his criticism of India, like India's relations with Iran and during the run-up to the vote on the US-India civilian nuclear deal  -- although he ultimately voted for the accord -- he joined then senior colleague on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the late Congressman Tom Lantos, in warning the then Bush administration, that if it didn't  convince India to peddle back it's close relations with Teheran, Delhi could forget about the nuclear deal.

Last month, Sherman was once again engaged in some India-baiting during the hearing on 'Combating the Haqqani Terrorist Network,' when he kept needling the witnesses and arguing that Pakistan may have a point in its paranoia vis-à-vis India's role in Afghanistan, and even though the expert analysts said Islamabad's arguments had no merit, the lawmaker was insistent that it couldn't be dismissed.

Jeffrey Dressler, an expert with the Institute for the Study of War, who recently returned from an extensive research trip to eastern Afghanistan and authored the report titled, 'The Haqqani Network: A Strategic Network,' asserted that the Pakistani paranoia was "overstated to the extend that there is Indian influence in Afghanistan," although acknowledging that "certainly they have diplomatic influence."

Obviously in an effort to knock down Sherman's persistent contentions, Dressler said, "I don't expect that they will (India) will be mounting an invasion from Afghanistan into Pakistan," and added, "That's very far from reality and so that concern is unfounded."

He noted, "Certainly there is activity and (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai -- one of his strategies is to leverage all elements of regional competition against each other and that's simply what he's doing when it comes to Pakistan."

To which, Sherman said, "So, instead of assuring Pakistan that he's not an ally of India, he threatens Pakistan that maybe he will be."

Lisa Curtis, South Asia Program senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, argued that "I don't think we should look at Afghanistan as a zero sum equation between Pakistan and India. We need to be looking at Afghanistan as becoming a stable country that will not serve as a safe haven for terrorists."

But Sherman again asserted that "We need to see this through the eyes of those concerned with Pakistan's national security."

Curtis agreed that while 'we can do that', there was absolutely no 'evidence of efforts by India to directly undermine Pakistani national security'.

She said, "That is something that the Pakistanis fear, but I don't think that we should let US policy be driven by Pakistani fear."

Curtis reiterated as she had during her earlier testimony that "We should point out that if Pakistan is worried about Afghanistan getting too close to India, then it needs to take steps to build its own relationship with Afghanistan, because what Pakistan is doing by supporting militants, it's not currying favor with the Afghan people."

"So, if it wants to have a better relationship with Afghanistan, it needs to engage in normal state activities….," she said.

But Sherman cut her off saying, "You are assuming that the average Afghani is on our side and not Haqqanis and I very much like to believe that."

He said, "I am sure it is true of a large number of Afghans but to say that they are not currying favor with the Afghan people ignores just how powerful the support network the wrong side has in Afghanistan." 

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC