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Sunday, 30 May 1999

Indo-US Relations - Giving Away too much for Nothing


(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


In this age of the cable, when soaps are just a button away, few
can be unaware that one of the rules of romance is to play hard 
to get. Should the maiden reveal her feelings prematurely, the 
swain is likely to take her for granted and, consequently, neglect 
her. This is what appears to have happened in the case of India 
and the United States. 

Nowhere did the collapse of the Soviet Union come as a 
greater shock than in Havana and New Delhi. Cuba, at least, had
the excuse of being far away. India and the erstwhile USSR were 
neighbours. .However, even when the putsch against Mikhail 
Gorbachov took place, one of the few embassies to cosy up to the
team of tired apparatchiks that had temporarily taken over the
Kremlin was the Indian one. After the collapse, India appears , 
anxious to enter into yet another comfortable security relationship, 
this time with. the United States. Hence the flow of conciliatory
gestures to that country.

Henry Kissinger, in his book Diplomacy makes clear the U.S.
perspective on unilateral concessions. These, says Kissinger, are
to be taken as signs of vulnerability, and the effort should,
therefore, be to squeeze out yet more concessions, rather than
reward such naivete by positive gestures. As the book had not
yet come out in l991-93 we may perhaps excuse the authors of
the many unilateral concessions this country gave to the U.S.
Alas for them, this policy was reciprocated by renewed American
pressure on sensitive issues like defence technology and Kashmir.

Security Curtain
Earlier, in 1963, this country had come close to entering into a
security curtain provided by the U.S. S. K. Patil, at that time a
Cabinet minister, had said that there had been informal high-
level discussions within the Congress leadership on working out 
security ties with western countries in response to the Chinese 
invasion of 1962. "However, both the British and the Americans 
then started pressuring us to make concessions to Pakistan on
Kashmir, and as a result the idea got dropped". Three decades
later another move for security ties with the United States had
begun to wither in the face of a renewed U.S. tilt towards 
Pakistan. The recent statements of a U.S. under-secretary for
defence that implied that relations with India were conditional 
on Pakistani approval, has at last, led to an Indian reaction. The 
Indian defence secretary's visit to Washington has been
"postponed".

The interlude not just from 1991 but from 1989 to the present 
may be seen as one when India neglected its security systems 
and, slowed down the development of missile and other 
technologies in order to placate Washington. Ironically, it is  
American policy and allies of the U.S. that have been creating 
security concerns for this country in the form of fundamentalist 
terrorism. Afghanistan is the obvious example. During the 1980s,  
U.S.-funded network of terrorist's was created that is now  
active as a mercenary force around the globe. Bolstering the ISI,   
which focused on religion as a means of generating morale and  
fighting spirit during the Afghan war, led to substantial sections 
of the Pakistan army coming under the spell of fundamentalism.  
Its utility as an anti-fundamentalist fighting force is today — 
questionable. 

Fundamentalist Forces 
The significance of this transformation is that should a government
take office in Pakistan that lays stress not on conflicts but on  
business, fundamentalist elements could well induce the armed ,   
forces in Pakistan to intervene and crush attempts at secularising 
that country's polity. Secondly, should there be an upsurge in  
any of the major Gulf countries on the lines witnessed in Iran 
when the Shah was to led, the Gulf sheikhdoms would no  
longer be able to count on Pakistan to provide a counterforce.    
The cry of jihad raised so often by Benazir Bhutto has the  
potential to destroy the cohesiveness of her country.  

Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are financing and supporting 
fundamentalist organisations on a much greater scale than the  
other theocracy in the region, Iran. In the process, their ruling  
elites may be in the process of nurturing a monster that will 
eventually devour them. As for the U.S., just as it supplied arms 
to Iran in the Shah’s time, it is doing so in Saudi Arabia and 
would probably like to in Pakistan, but for Congress. In contrast 
to the economics-oriented policy pursued by the Clinton 
administration in most of the world, in the case of the Gulf and 
Pakistan, little U.S. pressure seems to exist to make the ruling  
elites of these countries give precedence to a civilian 
administration over the military. In the case of Pakistan, in 
renewing a military alliance with that state, the U.S. may be 
sacrificing not just the possibility of a strategic alliance with 
India, but also stability in Pakistan. Any injection of arms there
will lead to a response from this country, thus triggering off an
arms race that will debilitate the Pakistani economy far more and 
far quicker than it can India's. 

However, this does not appear to be clear to the individuals 
at the policy planning centres in the Clinton administration.
Watching them at work, one is reminded of those who steered
to the U.S. into the Vietnam war. All the calculations were right but
most of the conclusions wrong. In the decade ahead, the U.S. is
likely to enter into a conflict against a fundamentalist enemy
nourished in the past by American policy errors. Should Benazir
Bhutto have taken a stand against anti-secular laws, and choked 
off the irregular war against India in favour of economic
cooperation with this country, she would have earned the 
epithet bestowed on her by Clinton of "moderate". Today, this
is far from the truth. By ignoring the financial support given by
Saudi Arabia to fundamentalist organisations and the military
help given to them by Pakistan, the U.S. is acquiescing in 
cultivating an enemy not just of stability in the subcontinent but
of itself. 

U.S. Sanction
In the case of Iran, by attempting at quarantine ignored even by
the United Kingdom—the U.S. is reinforcing the siege mentality 
propagated by the religious zealots, thus weakening among the  
Iranian people the only counterjforce to theocracy, the bazaaris. 
Another country where sanctions "have lasted beyond a reasonable 
stage is Iraq, which unlike Saudi Arabia or Pakistan has attempted 
to craft a secular (though repressive) polity. While India has 
refused to follow the U.S. lead on Iran, in the case of Iraq too this
country needs to be more assertive within the international 
community in calling for an end to sanctions. A generation 
should not be allowed to form in Iran and Iraq that sees major 
democracies as tyrannies out to strangle their national existence,
or else future terrorist organisations may find rich pickings 
within these states. 

To predicate New Delhi's policy on the dictates of a country 
that has repeatedly shown extreme myopia in its dealings with
Asia is folly. Should India neglect to create defences against the 
fundamentalism being propagated by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan 
and others, this may prove fatal to its existence. Policy has to be 
formulated not to meet the political demands of those in 
Washington but to answer the security needs of the region in
which this country is situated.  




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