India’s foreign policy dilemma
By MV Kamath
Of late three issues have suddenly come out in the open: US-Pakistan ties, US-India ties and Sino-Indian ties. All three are plainly inter-related and have become more inseparable than ever. To start with US-Pakistan relations: The US-Pak spat over the Haqqani Network has long been overdue, with the Network’s attack on the US Embassy in Kabul, opening long-felt anger in US policy-making circles against Pakistan. All these years, the US has troated Pakistan – no matter what anybody said – as a subordinate nation to be adopted for strategic reasons as an additional help in the pursuit of its Cold War politics. Islamabad thought that it was smart to accept that role on the grounds that such assistance the US gave could profitably be used against its self-appointed ‘enemy’ – India.
The US was aware of Pak duplicity, but it chose to look the other way round. Pakistan was accommodative to the US to the extent the latter served its purpose. But there came a time when Washington began to demand more from Pakistan in the quelling of terrorism than Islamabad was willing to oblige. A break-up of US-Pakistan ties was only to be expected. That came when Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani said it in so many words that “enough is enough” and it cannot any longer take orders from the US. Indeed, the ISI told the CIA that Pakistan will be forced to retaliate if the US forces launched a strike on its tribal belt.
One understands that once, earlier in 2007, Pakistan had reportedly attacked US forces that had gone berserk, but the news was kept a secret. Now the US has three choices: One is to soften its stance and give Pakistan enough elbow room for manipulating its approach to fighting terrorism. The second is to ignore Pakistan’s plea and treat it as a hostile nation. The third is to cease all aid, military and economic, and let Pakistan collapse on its own. This last would be in China’s interests, which will explain Beijing’s pledge to give Pakistan its full support in its desire to retain its sovereignty and ultimate security. That pledge was conveyed to Pakistan in late September by the Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhi.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gilani was so taken in by this open support that he told Meng: “Your friends are our friends, your enemies are our enemies and your security is our security”. One can’t expect Washington to be pleased with this. Nor can India. Indeed, only recently India and Pakistan had agreed to work jointly to more than double bilateral trade within three years from current $ 2.7 billion per annum to about $ six billion. But what can India do with a neighbour which speaks in many voices? On the one hand, there are reports that the Pakistan business world wants closer ties with India and that more and more Pakistanis are wishing to travel to India. Only the other day, FICCI’s Secretary General Rajiv Kumar was quoted as saying that there is “a new optimism in Indo-Pak ties”.
At the same time, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been quoted as saying that terrorist camps are being re-activated along the Indo-Pak border in Jammu & Kashmir and that fresh batches of militants are waiting to infiltrate into the country. What it suggests is that no one knows who is in power in Pakistan. Idealism suggests that India must do everything possible to establish good relations with its immediate western neighbour while realism demands that India had better watch out for more militant activities against it. It was that very point that was raised by the US House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Steve Chabot at a recent meeting in Washington, when he said that despite efforts, “the fact remains that Pakistan and US strategic interests diverge on certain issues – especially those concerning Islamic terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba which the Pakistani ISI continues to view as a strategic asset vis-à-vis India.” Just as relevantly are Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks that Pakistan is erring by supporting terror groups against India. That, said Mrs Clinton, “is making a serious grievous strategic error”. In such circumstances how can we ever trust Pakistan, also considering its relations with its “all-weather friend”, China?
It is difficult to understand China which is behaving like a feudal overlord and which wants to treat all its neighbours (including India) as “small countries” whose independence can only be tolerated, provided they concede that China is the “centre of the world” and is great beyond compare? It seems determined to undermine India in fora like the Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) and is actually colluding with Pakistan in blocking international efforts to get the Jaish-e-Mohammad which masterminded the attack on the Indian Parliament, as an international terrorist organisation. What is evident is that India cannot afford to take Chinese protestations of friendship for granted. All this makes one wonder how US-India relations should be fashioned. One thing India must make it clear to Pakistan, namely, that it has no territorial ambitions and would not like to capture any part of our neighbour’s land mass. So it need not entertain any fear of attack, unless it deliberately provoked India to do so. Two, Pakistan must realise that neither the United States nor China can ever be its true friend. Both countries only want to use it for their own ends. There never can be a greater friend to Pakistan apart from India because India seeks peace, not conflict.
A Pakistan working in harmony with India can make all of South Asia the most powerful entity in the world beating every other power, including the US, EU and China. In the circumstances India would be wise not to exploit the current situation in Pakistan, though the temptation to do so is strong, but to take a long term view and help its neighbour to emerge out of its self-imposed estrangement. In this India does not need to alienate the US which is beginning to see us in a new light, as a power capable of dealing effectively with global challenges. We must live us to such expectations for our own good and for the good of the world. Hopefully those making policy in Pakistan will come to realise, sooner than later, that India is indestructable and its own future lies in engaging its neighbour in trade and commerce, and civilised conduct. Amassing nuclear weapons is no guarantor of peace; on the contrary, it is sure invitation to disaster. But who can convince an army steeped in hatred?