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Confusion all around??
by Saima Alvi
16 June 2002 17:38 UTC
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India considers radical review of US ties 
By Sultan Shahin 

NEW DELHI - Determined and coercive US diplomacy has
helped reduce somewhat the possibility of India and
Pakistan blowing each other up. But in the process the
United States has provoked a great deal of
disappointment and anger in India, the one ally in
South Asia it could count on for unquestioning
support, perhaps even more than from its longtime
European allies. 

The result is a growing call in Indian
pro-establishment circles for a radical reassessment
of the country's ties with the US and, as Washington
moves inevitably toward mediating the Kashmir dispute,
these calls are going to grow even more strident. 

The one measure that has actually helped defuse
tensions somewhat is also what has infuriated India.
This is the travel advisory issued on May 31 to US
diplomats and tourists to leave India. Such a warning
had already been issued with respect to Pakistan after
the terrorist attacks in Karachi on May 8 in which
more than 10 French workers were killed. 

The May 31 advisory said, "This travel warning is
being issued to alert Americans to the fact that the
department has authorized the voluntary departure of
non-emergency personnel and all dependents from our
embassy and consulates in India. The Department of
State warns American citizens to defer travel to
India. Conditions along India's border with Pakistan
and in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have
deteriorated. Tensions have risen to serious levels
and the risk of intensified military hostilities
between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out." 

This resulted in an exodus of many Western diplomats
and tourists as most European governments followed
suit with similar advisories. It was forced "home
leave" for hundreds of foreigners stationed in India
and Pakistan whose governments feared that an armed
conflict, even a nuclear one, might break out any

The United Nations, too, fell in line. Some staffers
termed the orders from New York "abrupt" and
"surprising". "In a meeting of UN staff in Delhi it
was decided that dependants of international staff
will be sent on home leave," said Feodyor Starcevic,
director of the UN information center. 

Not willing to blame the United States at first,
Indian officials, analysts and business executives
blamed Pakistan and the US media. They said Pakistan
may have damaged India to the tune of hundreds of
millions of dollars with its loose talk about
initiating nuclear war in the region and that the US
administration played into the hysteria created by the
media, raising fears of a nuclear war in the
subcontinent to fever pitch. One observer noted that
Indian industry may have received a crushing blow even
before the first bullets had begun to fly. 

The US representative of the Federation of Indian
Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Prasanto
Biswal, said, "The travel advisory is terribly
damaging. It will hurt business and destroy the little
tourism we have." No immediate estimates are
available, but Biswal and others said that depending
on how things pan out over the next few days, business
travel could be severely affected and the little
tourism that comes India's way could be wiped out. The
United States is India's largest trading partner with
bilateral trade in the region of US$15 billion. 

The Times of India's Washington correspondent,
Chidanand Rajghatta, pointed out some other dimensions
of the damage caused by the advisory: "The state
department's decision to pull the plug on India will
impact directly on not just business travel but also
the increasingly inter-linked commercial transactional
activity, since the advisory urges Americans already
in India to leave. It could also hurt US businesses
since many American orders are processed in India
under a back office systems aimed at reducing
transaction costs for American consumers." 

Gradually, disappointment began to grow into anger and
Indian officials started suggesting that the travel
advisory implicitly rewards Pakistan's policy of
nuclear blackmail and brinkmanship. 

There is no acknowledgement of the fact in India that
it was almost immediately after this advisory that New
Delhi started noticing and agreeing with the US that
the level of Kashmiri infiltration across the Line of
Control (LoC) had indeed come down. Also, New Delhi
started quoting with approval Pakistani President
General Pervez Musharraf's pronouncements about
closing the training camps permanently and stopping
the flow of terrorists into Kashmir, although he has
been saying this since his famous January 12 speech to
the nation. India said that Musharraf finally seemed
to be acting on his assurances that he would put an
end to infiltration of militants across the LoC. The
Indian government said it had intercepted messages to
this effect. 

And it was only after the advisory and the news of
thousands of foreign nationals leaving, tourist and
hotel bookings being canceled, business contracts
being put on hold, and the economy being badly hit
that New Delhi became amenable to pressure from US
officials, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
first and now Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to
start taking measures to ease the tensions somewhat.
These measures still do not include bringing back the
army from the international borders and the LoC, as
India would like to see more progress in the ground
situation in Kashmir, but even the diplomatic and
other measures taken have somewhat reduced the

Intense shelling across the LoC in Kashmir, however,
continues, killing scores of civilians and soldiers,
mostly on the Pakistani side, according to Indian news
media reports. The prime minister of Azad (Free)
Kashmir (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for India), Sardar
Sikandar Hayat Khan, has put the entire blame on
India. The fact is that Pakistan, too, is continuing
with heavy shelling. If the number of Indian civilians
killed is minimal, that is largely because most of
them have migrated from the border areas to safer
places. Both countries claim that the shelling is

The travel advisory has not been withdrawn so far.
Indeed US President George W Bush said on the eve of
the Rumsfeld visit that the situation is worrying and
precarious, meaning that the advisory cannot be
withdrawn. The greatest worry for India, however, is
that now US officials, Armitage in particular, are
saying that with the specter of nuclear war hovering
over the world, the Kashmir dispute has reached the
top of the international agenda. 

This means that Pakistan has succeeded in
internationalizing the dispute, and if that is the
case, even without any further US pressure Pakistan
would not need to continue with its ruinous policies
of the past two decades - after all, training and
sending terrorists across the LoC was taking a heavy
toll on Pakistan's economy and disturbing Pakistani
social life as well. 

India now seems to have agreed to what was anathema to
it until recently. It is now officially considering
Rumsfeld's proposal for the ambit of Indian-US
military cooperation to be expanded to allow US
Special Forces to operate in Jammu and Kashmir. This
is part of a plan to de-escalate tension between India
and Pakistan and monitor the LoC. But in view of
Indian sensitivities, US military deployment is
officially being described by both India and the
United States as part of the continuing war against

There will be no reference to the LoC or to the need
to verify on the ground the extent of Pakistani
compliance with Musharraf's assurances on ending
cross-border infiltration, as a speculative report in
the Times of India pointed out before the Rumsfeld
visit. The excuse of war against al-Qaeda's network
can provide a politically safe rationale for the Hindu
fundamentalist Bhartiya Janata Party-led government to
allow US troops in, something that the BJP
constituency has been particularly averse to. Both
sides are evaluating the legal implications - such as
rules of engagement, immunity and sovereignty issues -
of US forces operating alongside the Indian military. 

There is media speculation "that recent official
Indian claims of al-Qaeda being active in the Valley
and of 'Arab-looking terrorists' being shot dead by
the security forces in Kashmir are part of the
government's efforts to prepare the ground for joint
Indo-US military action". In the days and weeks to
come, anonymous official sources told the Times of
India, India could very well declare that al-Qaeda and
other "bad guys" are operating in Kashmir and thus the
government had invited the US to help deal with them.
A section of Indian officials has already started
speaking of the possibility of some recent incidents,
such as the massacre at Jammu, as being the handiwork
of al-Qaeda militants. India has very conveniently
claimed in recent days that about 3,000 al-Qaeda
militants were waiting on the Pakistani side of the
LoC to cross over into the Indian side. The idea of
joint Indian-US forces deployed to check this kind of
terrorist infiltration will probably not raise the ire
of ruling Hindu fundamentalists. Rumsfeld did indeed
give currency to the al-Qaeda camouflage for
international patrolling of the LoC, but he also
pointed out that he had no evidence for same. 

An editorial in Wednesday's Times of India brings out
the somber and reflective Indian mood at the present
juncture and the popular view of the US intervention.
Titled "Coercive mediation", it says, "The Americans
are here. And by this we don't mean Team Rumsfeld, now
on another of its familiar visits to the region. As
George W would no doubt drawl: 'Make no mistake, the
US is here to mediate.' Of course, the Americans will
say, as will the Indians, that this is only to ensure
the subcontinent doesn't turn into a nuclear hellhole.
And yet, there are enough signals that the US is
slowly, but surely, enlarging its role. If in 1999
president Clinton intervened to roll back Kargil,
today Bush and Co are frenetically toing and froing
between India and Pakistan, setting out a step-by-step
mechanism for restoring peace. 

"Add to this hectic two-way counseling the presence of
American troops in Pakistan and a significant joint
US-UK proposal to patrol the Line of Control, and the
future begins to look distinctly triangular in that
most sacred of all lands: Kashmir. After all, from the
LoC to Kashmir is but a short step. And yet,
'mediation' has barely to be mentioned, for official
India to go into denial mode." 

India's peace constituency is, however, not unduly
worried. Indeed it is happy that Bush is playing the
peacemaker. In one typical comment, Vinod Mehta, the
editor of Outlook newsmagazine, advised the Indian
government to take US pressure and mediation with
grace. He said, "One loss has to be conceded to this
month-long pseudo-nuclear crisis. There will
henceforth be much greater international focus on
Kashmir and much greater pressure on India to begin a
sustained and substantial dialogue with Pakistan. Till
now, the pace and nature of this dialogue has been
determined by New Delhi. That will no longer be
possible. We will be pushed, prodded, jostled,
threatened, blackmailed into speeding up the process.
Come to think of it, that may not be such a bad

But this is not the establishment view. While official
India is doing things under economic and political
pressure, the establishment is seething. No one has
expressed this anger better than K Subrahmanyam, the
former chief of the National Security Advisory Board.
In two articles titled "Superpower retreat" and
"Supine superpower", he accuses the US of succumbing
to Pakistan's nuclear blackmail and thus allowing what
he calls "the nuclearization of terrorism". "Whether
this was a momentary loss of nerve on the part of
Washington or a permanent cerebral stroke
incapacitating the superpower, the next few weeks will
tell," he says. 

A livid Subrahmanyam is reduced to working out
conspiracy theories involving the US and Pakistan. He
says, "It is possible that the Pakistani nuclear
threat was an elaborate charade to which the US was
privy and which was intended to stop India from any
adventurist action. This supine behavior on the part
of the sole superpower does not reinforce credibility
in its much proclaimed counter-proliferation strategy.
This could only strengthen the opinion among some
sections in Japan or Iran which are neighbors of
potential rogue states that they would have to go in
for their own nuclear deterrence." 

His prescription: "In these circumstances, the world
as well as India may have to adjust themselves to a
new international security paradigm in which the sole
superpower does not have the will to commit itself to
a war against terrorism or towards effective
countering of nuclear blackmail. The present Indian
strategy is based on certain assumptions of superpower
behavior. The May 31 events [the issue of the travel
advisory] call for a radical reassessment of our
assumptions of superpower behavior. The possibility of
the US not pursuing the war against terrorism or
countering nuclear blackmail has to be factored in our

Indian anger is not just caused by the issue of the
travel advisories on May 31 and consequent loss of
face, not to speak of the economic loss. It has been
building up since mid-April when the US and European
countries started expressing concern at the genocide
of Muslim minorities in the BJP-ruled western Indian
state of Gujarat that had been continuing then for
about six weeks. (It has not completely stopped, even
now after three months, though the level of violence
is much reduced.) India simply could not understand
why the world bothered, after all, 15,000 massacres
like this had been perpetrated in the half-century
since independence, as Defense Minister George
Fernandes pointed out in parliament, expressing
India's surprise at the inexplicable hue and cry. 

Gujarat, though, was the first major massacre of the
electronic-media age. As pictures of unspeakable
brutality and unimaginable depravity were beamed
across the globe, civilized governments felt obliged,
sometimes by their own laws, to express concern. The
US expressed the mildest possible concern, for which
it is being criticized now by its own official
Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

The commissioner, Felice Gaer, who chaired the
hearings on "Recent Communal Violence in Gujarat,
India, and the US Response", said in her opening
remarks on Tuesday, "The commission believes that it
is important for the US government, in its work with
the Indian government, to help foster a climate of
greater religious tolerance. The commission is thus
very concerned that the US government had not spoken
out forcefully against the attacks on Muslims in
Gujarat. And we hope to look more closely into the US
response and develop recommendations to our government
on these matters in accord with our own legislative

Another longtime observer of India, Robert Hathaway of
the Wilson Center, was also critical of the role of
the US in this tragedy. He told the commission, "The
US must take care not to convey the impression that a
moderate response to the horror that has unfolded in
Gujarat indicates a failure of compassion, a willful
decision to turn a blind eye to the tragedy." 

But unaware of the ways and compulsions of the
civilized world, India couldn't understand this. It
felt angry at what it thought was the US betrayal and
unwarranted interference in its internal affairs. It
feels the US should give it the same unquestioned
support that it has itself offered to the US. After
all, India had not expressed (nor felt, to tell the
truth, as some even in the US had) any sympathy for
the thousands of innocent Afghans the US killed in the
war against terror. Why the US or any other country
should worry about the hapless Gujarati Muslims is
beyond India's comprehension. Why couldn't the West
behave in the fashion of the Muslim world, which has
not felt the need as yet to show any compassion for
their co-religionists? 

And on top of Gujarat comes the US pressure to wind
down the military threat to Pakistan. Even if this is
accompanied by a Pakistani promise to stop
infiltration in the Indian part of Kashmir and actual
monitoring of the LoC, it is going to devastate the
militant Hindu fundamentalist constituency of the
ruling BJP, which has lost most of the elections to
state assemblies, municipalities and village councils
held since it came to power four years ago. The very
last nail in the BJP coffin would be the compulsion to
start a meaningful, substantive dialogue with Pakistan
on Kashmir. For its militant cadres are bound to
wonder what the use of this party is if it can't help
them kill Muslims and Christians within India, even in
those few states they rule, and it can't teach the
"treacherous" Pakistan a lesson. 

The US may have its own compulsions in not making
Muslims the world over even angrier with it than they
already are, but if it wants a loyal ally in BJP-ruled
India, it could do nothing better than start reading
the BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya
Swayamsewak Sangh's literature and understand its
compulsions too. Remarks like the following made by
Hathaway in the congressional hearing on Tuesday are
not going to be helpful at all. He said, "There are
clear limits to what we as a government can say
publicly, but we must speak privately and candidly. We
keep talking about being natural allies ... what sort
of friendship is it if we can't speak candidly?" 

Admitting there was a feeling among some in India that
Gujarat was a domestic affair, and that the US had no
business interfering in this, Hathaway said, "This is
an erroneous and self-serving falsehood. We should be
under no compulsion to accept the view that recent
events in Gujarat are a strictly domestic Indian
affair, and therefore off limits to international
scrutiny, any more than we accept similar arguments
from China, Serbia or Sudan." 

Such remarks will merely exacerbate existing tensions
in Indian-US relations and strengthen the position of
those strategic analysts who are calling for a
fundamental reassessment of these ties, which had
appeared to be burgeoning before September 11. Until
that fateful date, everything was well between the two
countries. Pakistan was on the verge of being declared
a failed state and perhaps a terrorist state as well.
The most favored ally of the sole superpower in this
region, India had started fancying itself as the
"Israel of South Asia", on the verge of being allowed
to teach Pakistan a lesson. 

But September 11 has changed all that. Today Pakistan
has the gall to demand from the US-led world parity
with India in conventional warfare capability so that
it doesn't need to flex its nuclear muscles ever
again; it is calling for denuclearization of South
Asia, and to top it all it is calling for a
substantive peace process to solve the long-festering
Kashmir dispute. And the US seems to be capitulating.
The US needs to do better than that if it wants to
keep the world's biggest democracy on its side. 

(2002 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Please contact ads@atimes.com for information on our
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