TWO separate but intriguing developments in recent times have brought out the deep fissures in the politics of South Asia into the open. One is a quadripartite meeting held in August this year in Sochi, a Black Sea resort attended by Soviet President Dimitry Medvedev, Pakistan President Asaf Ali Zardari and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, not to speak of the President of Tajikistan. The focus of the Sochi meeting was on the situation in Afghanistan but it also provided an opportunity for Moscow to turn a new page on its relations with Islamabad. The initiative for holding the meeting was apparently taken by Moscow. It is puzzling that Russia should have invited Zardari to attend the meeting and it is even more puzzling that the latter should have complied, considering that it was Pakistan, acting as America’s stooge, which schemed to throw out the then Soviet forces out of Afghanistan with the help of the Taliban and other jihadi elements financed by the US.
The then Soviet Union paid a heavy price by sacrificing some 14,000 lives. Reports suggest that Zardari would not have attended the Sochi meeting without the prior consent of Washington and the approval of his own Army Commander, General Pervez Kayani. The ink had barely dried up on reports of the Sochi Summit when one learns that in September 20, just a month after the Sochi gathering “for the first time in the 60-year post-colonial history of our region, the political and military leadership of the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan sat together under a chandelier in Islamabd to choreograph a new security architecture for the region and it was a dazzling display of American influence in our part of the world”. The words are from a former Indian diplomate, MK Bhadrakumar, writing in The Hindu (September 21) who obviously wants to frighten India by his rhetoric.
It is not that the US, all of a sudden, had decided to work hand-in-hand with Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has been doing so all these years. But our retired diplomats seem to have an agenda of their own, to frighten Delhi on every occasion. The point is made that “India can no more stall the Pakistan demand for the closure of our Consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar” and that the US will not plead India’s case. Why? Because “much depends on whether Delhi is prepared to walk with Washington’s Asia-Pacific enterprise”.
The belief is that when President Obama comes to India in November, he will demand that New Delhi should embrace “all-round military cooperation with the US and work with the American global strategies”. What if India declines the dubious honour? Will the US under Pakistani pressure, get Kabul to demand closure of India’s two strategic consulates? And what if India refuses to oblige? Or will India oblige Kabul and close down all its economic and developmental links with Afghanistan as well? That would be a self-defeating exercise.
More importantly, what has the tripartite meeting between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan decided on? That Indian activities in Afghanistan must cease? That ISI can permit Taliban-held regions as sanctuaries and training camps for terrorists operating against India? Has the Islamabad meeting come to any decision on the extent of the role permissible to China to play in South Asia? Has Washington objected to Chinese troops operating in Gilgit-Baltistan? Incidentally, did Pakistan raise the Kashmir issue at the Tripartite meeting ? We do not know. What we know is that Pakistan has injected a lot of poison into Kashmiri politics by fomenting religious strife and egging on the Geelanis to demand azaadi.
What is America’s stand on the issue? If the US wants to establish a strategic partnership with India, will it tell Pakistan to go slow on its relationship with China? China is actively engaged in nuclear cooperation with Pakistan and wants to set up one gigawatt nuclear power plant in Pakistan, regardless of renewed international concern over non-proliferation. Qui Jiangang, Vice President of the China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC) is presently holding talks to build the plant which would be the biggest event operation in Pakistan. The CNNC has already set up two power plants at Chashma in Pakistan. According to reports the CNNC wants to set up two additional 300 MW power plants, Chashma-3 and Chashma-4.
Will the US sit back and let China have a free hand in the nuclear market? All these issues leave one gasping. Is it in US interests to let Russia get a foothold in Afghanistan? Similarly, is it in US interests to let Pakistan get too close to China? With Russia and China both hankering for Pakistan’s friendship for their strategic reasons, where will that leave the US? More importantly, with Russia, China and the US all courting Pakistan, where will that leave India?
To what extent will these three countries let Pakistan prey on India to suit their purpose? If, out of sheer, desperation, India feels compelled to wage a quick and decisive war against Pakistan what would be their individual or united stand? Russia’s stand vis-à-vis Pakistan looks curiouser and curiouser. It will be remembered that following an official visit to Moscow by Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani last summer, Russia lifted its objections to the supply to Pakistan of Chinese JF-17 fighter planes powered by Russia RD-93 engines. Some years ago, Russia had sold Pakistan over 40 MI-171 transport helicopters allegedly of a non-military version. Are these steps an indication of worse things to follow? Is Russia telling India that if intends to get closer to the US at the strategic level, it should learn to live with Moscow’s new bonhomie with Pakistan? Is getting too close to Washington a good thing for Delhi? What if the Central Asian republics decide to limit their relations with India at Moscow’s instance?
According to a Soviet media expert, “the Sochi summit dimmed India hopes of gaining a strategic foothold in Tajikistan” and the “Indian presence there looks doubtful now in the context of the emerging Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan axis”. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is warned. America has never been a good friend and now, it seems, India is beginning to lose its long-time friendship with Russia as well. Prime Minister Singh’s tilt towards the United States is all too well known. It spells danger for India, in the long run. The Sochi quadripartite summit should be taken as a warning: we cannot afford to lose Soviet friendship now or ever.