SIX weeks before leaving for Mumbai, President Barack Obama appointed a Kashmiri furniture dealer from New York, Farook Kathwari, as a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander affairs Kathwari is a generous financial backer of groups that have sought to integrate Kashmir with Pakistan. His own son left for Pakistan during the Clinton presidency to train as a jihadist. After developing expertise in the handling of AK-47s and the use of grenades, Kathwari Junior was inserted into the Kashmir valley by the ISI (an organisation that has had close and open links to Kathwari Senior since the 1970s), only to fall to an Indian bullet. On getting news of this, Kathwari held a get-together in his New York apartment to celebrate the young man’s martyrdom. All this, of course,was before 9/11 made jihad unfashionable for New Yorkers.
Kathwari’s embrace of jihad and collaboration with the ISI’s schemes for acts of violence in India have not stood in the way of this backer of violence in Kashmir developing a close personal bond with Bill Clinton’s team, a warmth that endures to the present. He has repeatedly peppered both the US Congress as well as the US Administration with tracts explaining why the full might of the US ought to be deployed to secure “azaadi” for the Kashmiri people”. Of course, to Kathwari, the “people of Kashmir” comprise only the 780,000 Valley inhabitants who are Wahabbis, rather than the other six million Kashmiris, who are content to remain within India, and who include the state’s Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, besides the Muslim Shia, Gujjas, Sufi and Bakkerwal community.
In the international media and western chancelleries, the implicit assumption made while discussing Kashmir is that the state is comprised only of its Wahabbi minority, a view that geopolitical links between the West and the biggest financial backer of Kashmiri Wahabbis-Saudi Arabia -have only reinforced. Looking through the columns of the New York Times, The Washington Post or the Guardian, one may be forgiven for believing that Kashmir is exclusively Wahabbi,for it is only the views of that minority that get represented in these columns as “Kashmiri” opinion.Our own copycat media follows this trend faithfully.
The sharp spike in terrorist incidents in Kashmir during the 2000 visit of (then) President Clinton to India was because it had been the Arkansan’s administration that had pushed and pummelled India for eight years in an effort to force it to surrender control over Kashmir. The jihadis had hoped that the innocent blood that they spilled in grisly terrorist incidents would strengthen their friend Clinton in forcing concessions from the Vajpayee government (which incidentally was nudged by the Clinton team into accepting Farook Kathwari as an “interlocuter” in its Kashmir dialogue, a shameful decision).
President Clinton had linked a “solution of the Kashmir problem” to Pakistan’s satisfaction as proof that India was a “mature nation”. Mature enough, that is, to commit suicide. While a US Senator, Hillary Clinton continued her husband’s cosy links to Kathwari and other pro-Pakistan lobbyists in DC, New York, Chicago and elsewhere,and has been known to favour the continuance of the harsh Clinton policy of placing India in the same basket as Iran and North Korea, when it comes to the question of access to US “dual use” ( or hi-tech) items.
The presence of a very influential pro-Pakistan group within the Pentagon and a pro-China lobby within the Department of Commerce during the Clinton, Bush and now Obama periods have ensured that this blacklisting of India has endured to the present. It was with surprise, therefore, that the Pakistan and China lobbies in the US reacted to President Obama’s promise (made before the Indian parliament on November 9) to remove India from the so-called “Entity Lists”, and to give the world’s most populous democracy the same status as Germany and Japan. Obama further sweetened his message by placing the US behind India’s bid to become a permament member of the UN Security Council, a policy already accepted by Russia, France and the UK, thereby leaving only China out as the only P-5 (Permanent Five) member not to back India as a permanent member of the UNSC.
The powerful trio of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been sceptical of what may be termed the “George W Bush line” (or, indeed, the Franklin Roosevelt line) of treating India on par with key US allies. The three have repeatedly pointed to the lack of tact and transparency in India as reasons why the policy concessions announced by President Obama ought to have been denied till “the Indians make substantive concessions”. Robert Gates has followed the advice of key assistants in insisting on Delhi accepting the same conditions for transfer of US equipment that Islamabad does. The difference-besides the ones obvious to all except Gates and his team-is that the Pakistan side routinely signs agreements that it has no intention of ever keeping, while in India, a nervous bureacracy (eager for its prized UN and World Bank assignments,all of which depend on goodwill from both the US as well as China) ensures that commitments are kept.
Had the US Defense Secretary shown a modicum of flexibility in his dealings with India, by now at least two of the three agreements that he has been pressing the Manmohan Singh government to sign since 2005 would have been inked: that on the provision of logistical support,and the other on communications security.
In the case of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, he has developed a fixation with China, an attitude that has led him to neglect the potential for US businesses in India. In common with his Bush-era predecessor, Locke has been pushing India for concessions that would amount to political suicide for Manmohan Singh, such as opening up the retail trade to foreign brands without placing restrictions that protect the 28 million jobs that “kirana” (or small) retail trade provides in India. The US Commerce Secretary has become accustomed to doing business with China, a country where there is no need to consult public opinion before taking a decision. In this irritation with the admittedly more roundabout procedures of a democracy, and in his reluctance to take India off the list of countries that US companies face major hurdles in doing business with, Locke has been on the same page of Hillary Clinton, who has thus far followed the Bill Clinton line on foreign policy, including on relations with India, China and Pakistan.
That President Obama did not bring along the Secretary of State on his India tour was an early indication that he was planning to jettison the Clinton policy of giving only minor concessions in exchange for substantive and significant changes in Indian policies.
Instead, he has adopted a bold policy of accepting India’s case that this democracy of 1.2 billion people deserves at the least the same treatment as is given to Germany, France and Japan.
If the 2008 India-specific waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group indicated the beginning of the end of the US policy of boxing India into a lesser category than its main NATO allies, the November 9,2010 Obama speech before the Indian parliament seems to have signalled the start of a “Relationship of Equals” between the US and India. As “equal”, that is, as Japan or Germany are with the US. Two years into his Presidency, Barack Obama seems to be freeing himself of the Clinton fetters that ensured his humiliation in the just-concluded Congressional polls. In his India policy, he has certainly shown that he favours change, and that he has the fire within him to force through that change over the wishes of his India-sceptic troika, Gates, Locke and Clinton. However, if the US-and the entire international community-is to get the benefit of such a re-assertion of Obama over Clinton, President Obama needs to break away from the Afghanistan-Pakistan policy that he has inherited from Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, that of relying on the Pakistan army to take down the Taliban. That so many in the US cling to such a delusion is not surprising in a country where more than half the population believes that Saddam Hussein was the head of Al Qaeda, when in fact that mishmash of relics spent years seeking to murder him, a task successfully carried out by George W Bush,who thereupon avenged the attempted assassination of Bush Senior by Saddam a decade before he occupied Iraq.
Unless the US and other NATO forces remove the imaginary distinction between the Pakistan and Afghanistan Pashtun belt,and treat the entire territory as a single military zone, they will continue to find the Taliban regrouping. The Pakistan army lacks the resilience and the training to take on the Taliban, no matter the extent to which they are stuffed with US weapons. NATO troops need to remove the safe havens from Pakistan by a judicious use of land,air and sea-power. Although this may be opposed initially by Pakistan (especially its military), the positive results within Pakistan society of the elimination of the Taliban will more than compensate for such temporary discord. There is nothing that India can do to make Pakistan more stable, unless Islamabad first allows free trade between the two countries, and opens up hitherto-blocked transit routes.The Obama administration needs to ensure such outcomes
The Pakistan army is aware that there can be no solution to Kashmir for decades to come, which is why they seek to blackmail NATO by demanding Indian concessions that this alliance is in no condition to enforce. Instead, those Pakistani generals, brigadiers and colonels who assist the Taliban and other terror groups (including the JeM and the LeT) should be subject to the same sanctions as are being applied to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. They should be arrested if travelling abroad, and their dependents ought to be prevented from foreign travel, as it is more than likely that these may be acting as carriers of instructions and money to terror groups. Unless the Pakistan army feels the pain of backing the terror groups, they will continue to do so. Unfortunately, both the Vajpayee as well as the Manmohan Singh governments have dealt with Pakistan in a very Mahatma Gandhi fashion, with India making all the sacrifices. NATO is going down the same path. Unless it be understood that Pakistan can be saved from implosion only if the military is prevented from backing terror groups, the descent of that country towards extreme chaos will continue. It is not India that can ensure a stable Pakistan but NATO, by enforcing accountability on a military that has been surviving on handouts from the US, China and Saudi Arabia.
And what about a stable India? The only way to ensure this is to take ruthless action against the corruption that has pervaded every aspect of governmental operations. The US has excellent ways of tracking money flows. Manmohan Singh needs to ask President Obama to forge a partnership with India that would give access to the results of US monitoring of illegal money flows from India into safe havens such as London, Dubai, Singapore and Macau. These days, too many politicians are escaping the attention of Indian agencies, rendered toothless by the over-tasking that has been a feature of the Chidambaram period in the Union Finance Ministry. The current Home Minister brought in numerous new restrictions and powers “to fight Black Money”. However, he knew full well that each such tightening of the regulatory screw would lead to massive increases in bribes, the reason why Palaniappan Chidambaram is a hero to legions of corrupt officials. Instead, what needs to be enforced is better monitoring, and because so much of the cash is going abroad (often in lorryloads of currency via the Nepal border), the help of the US needs to be taken to identify the major perpetrators. Such help can uncover the fresh deposits being made from India, so that those responsible can be exposed to public scrutiny. A stable Pakistan needs a military removed from jihad. A stable India needs to see its VVIP corrupt in jail.