IN the context of the security dialogue held between India and the United States in Washington in the first week of June, a warning needs to be issued to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh: Sir, beware of American offer of friendship: It could turn out to be snare. The more the US government pretends to be close, try to maintain your distance with it. Learn from history. What the United States now, in its desperation, wants is to have a “strategic partnership” with a nation in Asia. Right now it has a slowly diminishing partnership with Pakistan which, Washington is slowly realising, is no longer going to be effective.
In the first couple of decades after 1947, the United States happily embraced Pakistan as a useful and willing “strategic partner” against the Soviet Union during the prevailing Cold War and gave Islamabad whatever it asked for. It strengthened Pakistan’s defence capabilities to a point that Pakistan’s military rulers felt they could attack India with impunity. When India’s protests led President Eisenhower to say that the military equipment provided to Pakistan was not intended to be used against India, it was VK Krishna Menon who was provoked to say that the world has yet to produce a weapon that could be aimed only in one direction. Pakistan was willing to be a dog, willing to do anything that the US asked for.
The aim was to dismember if not destroy the Soviet Union. The latter might have disintegrated largely because of its inner contradictions, but Moscow’s incursions into Afghanistan gave Pakistan a good excuse-under pressure from the United States-to help build Islamic terrorism to fight communist ideology in its western neighbour. That might have helped drive away Soviet forces but it has, as we have seen, led to severe consequences and both the US and Pakistan are paying for their folly. It was a question of Ends and Means.
The US and Pakistan used wrong means to achieve what they considered right ends, with inevitable consequence. The US is now hated in Pakistan and Washington has realised it only too well. Do we remember the kind of attention the Shah of Iran received in the heyday of his power? He was invited to Washington and given the same kind of treatment given in early June to India’s External Affairs Minister SM Krishna. But when the Shah was deposed, the United States would not even allow him to enter New York to get medical treatment and had to be taken to Cairo where he died an unmourned death. American “friendship” is a noose round the neck. After the World War-II Japan was treated as a “strategic partner” in East Asia and Washigton insisted that it should be allowed to have a substantial military presence in Okinawa. Japan thrived because it no longer had to spend money on a powerful armed force. Since 1990 Japan has been stagnating economically and has lost its importance as a “strategic partner”.
Meanwhile Japan wants the US to withdraw its military presence from the land. The US has plainly refused. Ergo, the Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama has been forced to resign. Is the UPA government willing to allow the US to have a substantial military presence in India for “strategic” reasons? Is India wishing to be subservient to the US? All that glib talk that President Obama indulged in must be taken with a fistful of salt. Let us not be fooled by words. Let us not be taken in with all the praise showered on India with Obama saying that India is a “rising and responsible power, relationship with which “will be a defining partnership with the US in the 21st century”. They may be true. Also true may be Obama’s remark that India is indispensable to the future that the US seeks, a future of security and prosperity to all nations.
Britain and France have realised their limitations as their hesitancy in sending troops to Iraq has shown. The restlessness in European Union on stationing troops in Afghanistan is another pointer. Japan is a spent force. Pakistan is increasingly becoming a burden, a liability and not an asset. So it is on India that the United States wishes to depend, and this is where India needs to be warned. It should not just decline but must sternly send word that it has no desire to be a lapdog as Pakistan and Britain have been. Under no circumstances-if India has any sense of self-respect-should it play second fiddle to the US. It must be India’s prerogative to lay down what is permissable and necessary in forming foreign policy.
The US is a selfish nation. What it is concerned about is its own prosperity, which is fair enough. But that does not mean that India has to play the US game in any field, whether towards China, Russia and most importantly in South Asia, the Middle East and especially towards nations in the Indian Ocean periphery. India must have its own foreign policy towards, for instance, Iraq and Iran independent of US plans and intentions. After the Second World War, as a former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov has brilliantly analysed in his work Russia and the Arabs. America’s chief objective in the Middle East “was to maintain control of the region’s vast petroleum resources. In this and other matters, the flow of policy, in the larger interests of international peace and security must be laid down by India. All that fake professions of friendship towards India, cleverly stage-managed at the party given to SM Krishna at the State Department premises should be taken as a pre-planned and cleverly executed drama of little import.
India is not all that naïve. India is – and will continue to be – a power because of the inevitable process of history and its place on the map, Obama’s views not withstanding. If the United States wants to court India, it is welcome to do so, but it does not have to resort to cheap spin, to achieve major ends. Washington must be told in clear and precise terms that India has its own clear vision of what is right and will follow it with dignity, humility and with the knowledge of the role which history is bestowing on its shoulders. The United States should be treated as a historic adjunct, nothing more, nothing less. For far too long has the United States enforced its will on nations big and small, mostly to their detriment. India should serve both as a necessary brake and a wise guide, so that together with the United States, the purposeful relationship could be used to establish peace in an increasingly turbulent world. India’s role, in the circumstances, should be peace-specific with the US helping India to get Permanent Membership of the Security Council.