Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
In the U.S.-Pakistan fight, India an anxious spectator
Pakistan and the United States are in the middle of such a public and bruising fight that Islamabad’s other pet hate, India, has receded into the background. A Pakistani banker friend, only half in jest, said his country had bigger fish to fry than to worry about India, now that it had locked horns with the superpower.
But more seriously, India itself has kept a low profile, resisting the temptation to twist the knife deeper into its neighbour when it faces the risk of isolation. Much of what Pakistan stands accused of, including the main charge of using violent extremism as an instrument of foreign policy, is an echo of what New Delhi has been blaming Pakistan for, for two decades now. Even the language that America’s military officials led by Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, and diplomats have employed such as “proxy wars” , “cross border raids” or terrorism central to describe Pakistan is a throwback to the 1990s and later when India and Pakistan were dueling over Kashmir.
“What Mullen has said with regard to the role of certain forces in Pakistan, is also something which is nothing new to us. In fact when we were the first to flag this issue earlier, the world didn’t believe us,” the Press Trust of India quoted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as telling reporters on board his plane on the way home from the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
But the tone and tenor of the Indian response to Pakistan’s predicament, including on the Hindu right, has been remarkably restrained. This, as former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran wrote in The Indian Express on Thursday, is hardly the time to gloat over Pakistan’s situation.
If anything, India and Pakistan this week agreed to overhaul trade ties that everyone recognizes can strengthen the peace constituency in both countries as they develop stakes in each other’s economies. Pakistan is moving towards granting India Most Favoured Nation status – the very word used to be anathema to the Pakistani right even if it doesn’t really mean a great deal — while India may lift a veto on lifting all tariffs on Pakistan textile exports to Europe as a step toward helping the neighbour climb out of a deep economic downturn.
Actually this might be a time for India to deepen engagement with its neighbour in other areas too, Saran argues, saying Pakistan’s western borders were so hot that it had a greater stake in stabilising ties with India than before, even if it was purely tactical. Pakistan’s “meddling” in Kashmir, where cross-border violence is already down to its lowest level, may become even less, he says. Given the heat over the security establishment’s links to the Haqqani network, it may even tell other militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, to further lower their profile.
For India, it creates an opportunity to test Pakistan’s willingness to enter into negotiations on some of the less contentious issues such as a military standoff on the remote Siachen glacier and a dispute over Sir Creek in the Arabian Sea. In New York this week, Pakistani Foreign Minister Hin Rabbani Khar offered uninterrupted dialogue with India.
But the worry lines remain on Afghanistan where the assassination of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani has robbed India of a leader of the old Northern Alliance, which New Delhi supported during the civil war. It could be well be the start of a campaign by Taliban militants and their supporters in Pakistan to finish off Afghan leaders seen to be well disposed to India, B.Raman, the former head of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, wrote on his blog. As Western forces thin out, the battle for influence will only intensify.
India, which went on a diplomatic overdrive following the ouster of the Taliban and the installation of the India-friendly Hamid Karzai administration, pouring millions of dollars in aid, faces its toughest challenges yet if the United States sticks to its plan to withdraw forces. One option is to revive the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban, but quite apart from the fact that members of the alliance have gone into government or splintered away, it is no longer certain that the old regional players such as Russia and Iran would line up behind. Raman said it was doubtful that India could strike the same level of cooperation with Russia as in the past, while an alliance with Iran, the other backer was virtually ruled out because of America’s hostility.