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Wednesday, 24 November 1999

To Become Global, Act Global (Rediff)

At long last, Atal appears to be realising that his hand-picked foreign minister's unvarying advocacy of the Washington line may not be in India's best interests. Rather late, but better by far than never. Vajpayee has publicly acknowledged that Bill Clinton is fixated on Islamabad, even when the men in uniform illegally throw out a democratic government. These comments were made on the very day that Jaswant Singh had traveled halfway around the world to get a few hours time with a junior US official, Strobe Talbott, whose close collaboration with the CIA in matters relating to the Soviet Union was no secret to his journalistic colleagues.

After numerous rounds of talks, Washington has -- if anything -- further hardened its stand on India. At every opportunity, as for example to the Turkish parliament, Clinton attacks New Delhi as a threat to peace. Why not petition the Americans to give Jassu the job he is most suited for, that of replacing Dick Celeste as the US ambassador in India? His dear friend Brajesh can move on to Washington and together, the two can complete the job that so many in the past -- ranging from Laxmi Kant Jha to Amar Nath Verma -- tried to do, making India a full foreign policy colony of the US, just as the UK, Australia and Japan are.

Jassu loves going to places where he can meet state department officials, which is why it is surprising that he has found so little time for the Gulf region, a destination swarming with official US visitors. In economic policy the Nehru family stunted India and set it back by 50 years. However, in foreign policy even Rajiv Gandhi devoted considerable attention to this region so crucial for India as both an employer of labour as well as a source for hydrocarbons.

After the Rajiv defeat in 1989, New Delhi has neglected the Gulf. In exchange, India is slowly being forgotten in a region where not long ago the rupee was acceptable tender. Indeed, till the 1960s it was the preferred medium of exchange in countries such as Kuwait. Today, if there is any coherent strategy for fusing India's technological prowess with Gulf capital, Jaswant Singh has kept it a secret. Small wonder that even in nations such as Syria, where a moderate social ethos prevails, even Indian films are slowly becoming rarer. The world's largest democracy figures less in the external calculus of Damascus than even Yemen.

A pity. With the speeding up of the Arab Free Trade Zone, it would be beneficial for Indian companies to locate plants in Syria that could market goods throughout the Gulf region. Today, the US and the EU have virtually monopolised the Arab market. This can change in a decade, if the Government of India were to help companies to get reasonable terms from the Syrians. Not difficult, considering the huge reserves of goodwill present in the country for India, another country seen as pursuing a foreign policy that is 'independent' of the Sole superpower. Clearly, Damascus has not heard of Jassu yet!

This has been said before, but it bears repeating: the talent pool available in the Indian Foreign Service is among the world's best. However, the critical spark is missing, and this is political leadership. Like them or hate them, the Nehru-Krishna Menon team had a clear foreign policy and followed it. Today, 'strategy' is in preparing the menus for state banquets, and in worrying about what dress to wear in the forty-seventh meeting with 'my dear friend Strobe.'

That Talbott and Jassu are 'dear' friends has been revealed to all his minions -- and repeatedly so -- by the Indian foreign minister himself. Just how dear this friendship is becoming to Indian interests is becoming more apparent by the day, as Washington once again pressurises India to help its enemies (the Pakistan army) to gain the strength needed to wreak further harm on local interests.

It would be interesting to compile the 'confidence building measures' that India agreed to under Clinton's pressure, despite a total absence of reciprocity from the Pakistan side. It would not be difficult to calculate the harm done to Indian interests by these one-sided gestures, as for example the spurt in terrorist infiltration after New Delhi thinned frontier posts in the Jammu region in 1993, again as a CBM. And yet, even today there is a pathetic belief that Bill Clinton will end his love for the Pakistani generals, a feeling clearly shared by the most likely candidate to succeed him, George Bush Jr, who believes in the 'stability' of the grave and has welcomed the murder of a democratic government in Pakistan.

Those friends of India in the US who are rushing to fund his campaign need to educate the Texas governor about US history, and how he is insulting the faith of his great republic by conniving at the butchery of democracy in one of the world's most populous countries.

Fortunately, in yet another show of independence from Jassu's 'Follow Clinton' line, Prime Minister Vajpayee has correctly refused to join Washington in singing hosannas for Pervez Musharraf, whose links to the Afghan drug cartels are presumably known even to the CIA. He has insisted on the restoration of democracy in Pakistan, ignoring the chorus of voices who urge a 'business as usual' policy. Hopefully, he will move further along the track of encouraging democracy in Pakistan, aware that only a fully federal, moderate and narcotics-cleansed Pakistan can accept a policy of peace with India.

New Delhi needs to give active support to forces in Pakistan fighting against the military jackboot that has for so long treated Pakistanis not in uniform with contempt. Women, Shias, Mohajirs, Ahmediyas, Hindus, Christians, Balochis, Pashtuns, Seraikis and Sindhis are second-class citizens in that state, and only when they win equality will a climate get formed against the drain of resources towards terrorism and its partner in Pakistan, militarism.

Either the CIA is sleeping on the job, or Bill Clinton does not read its reports. Otherwise, he would have realised that it is the Pakistan army that is protecting Osama bin Laden, for fear that the canary will sing about the opium trade once he falls into US custody. Expect the fugitive onetime ally of the generals to wind up either shot 'accidentally' or suffering a heart attack. He knows too much about the heroin industry and its linkages to the Pakistan elite to be kept alive.

However, seeing the pro-uniformed stand of the US, the generals need not get worried about a change in the US policy of pretending that Pakistan has no control over its servants, the Taliban, whose heroin-related activities bring in so much lucre to the generals. They can, it is clear, rely on Dictator Lover George W Bush to protect their operations as surely as they have on Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

Perhaps in this second innings, Atal Bihari Vajpayee will break free of his hand-picked advisors and set the course for a rational and principled foreign policy that promotes both Indian values and interests. This means a degree of activism in critical regions, even though Jassu's friends may not appreciate this. For example, New Delhi can help Kuwait and Iraq negotiate an end to the issue of the remaining PoWs, that is bedevilling ties between two Arab states and forcing Kuwait to oppose the lifting of sanctions against Iraq.

India can also act as a link between Syria and Israel, as the two adversaries circle one another in an attempt to fashion a peace. New Delhi has diplomatic -- and friendly -- ties with both Tel Aviv and Damascus. Prime Minister Vajpayee can nominate a special envoy who can visit Damascus, Tel Aviv and other capitals and help in the search for peace.

In the past, India saw its responsibilities globally. For example, New Delhi backed the ANC and the PLO at a time when few countries did. It is another matter that Yasser Arafat dumped India and adopted Clinton's anti-India line on Kashmir as soon as the Americans took him on board. Do the right thing, not for gain, but because it is right, says the Gita, which has yet to be included in school curricula in India, because Jawaharlal Nehru (or Lady Mountbatten, it doesn't matter whom) thought it a 'Hindu' rather than an Indian text. In fact, the Gita and the Mahabharata belong to all Indians, of whatever faith.

Only the local 'Hindu' Taliban will oppose M F Husain, for example, drawing on his -- I repeat the word 'his' -- ancient heritage in painting, just as the 'liberal' Taliban oppose the teaching of the Gita and the Mahabharata in Indian schools, preferring the European classics so dear to the Nehrus.

Why this inferiority complex, Atal, that makes us preen when the Indian foreign minister eagerly goes halfway around the world to get lectured by a junior US official? That prevents us from injecting ourselves in regional diplomacy? India is an ally of the democracies, even though the subliminal racists among them may not quite see it that way. The closer the linkages between New Delhi and the Gulf states, the stronger the gravitational pull of moderation rather than the extremism financed by Saudi Arabia, given trained foot soldiers by Pakistan and implemented in Afghanistan.

Contrary to what the 'Hindu' Taliban believes, by and large the Muslim-majority states are free of extremism. Even in the Sheikdoms, it is only in Saudi Arabia that the women are in chains. In both Kuwait and the UAE, Arab women are getting education and equal opportunity. In Kuwait the Emir has come out in favour of universal suffrage, even though fanatics are seeking to prevent ratification of the Royal decree.

Across the border, in Riyadh, Arab women are mobilising in favour of equal treatment. Universal education and employment for women will be the best antidote against Pakistan-style fanaticism, which says that Muslims should live separately from the rest of the community to 'maintain their purity'.

In this process, India can export teachers and even turnkey educational institutions. It is unfortunate that modern education in India has been shackled by restrictions that prevent the development of world-class facilities that are self-financing. If educationists are permitted to open medical, engineering and technical colleges that finance themselves by stiff fees changed to international students (fees that are much lower than the US or Australia), then billions of dollars can be earned each year. Sadly, policy has thus far worked in the reverse direction, stopping such enrollment or limiting it to unviable levels. HRD Minister MM Joshi needs to change such a mindset.

If India is an eagle, the head reaches into the CIS states that were formerly part of the USSR, and one wing touches the Gulf, with the other spanning the ASEAN states. A leg abuts into the south of Africa, while the other touches Australia. The core is, of course, the SAARC region, with Myanmar and Afghanistan as future members of this group. The only recalcitrant is Pakistan, with its Lahore fanatics now hiding behind a Mohajir mask.

Should that country not make peace with India, it is likely to splinter, as the non-fanatic provinces decide that it is better to break away rather than be sacrificed on the altar of a war mandated by the narcotics mafia, which needs to cloak itself in religious hues to escape public attention and odium. After that, the broken-away provinces can -- as did Bangladesh -- establish ties with India.

Prem Shankar Jha is a genius but even he can be sometimes wrong, as he was on the impact of US sanctions and now when he writes of the 'catastrophe' facing India if Pakistan 'fails'. Pakistan has already failed. It would be better for both its tortured people as well as the region if this fact were accepted, and bridges built 1970 and 1986-style with those within that territory that are working to create zones of freedom and moderation from the ruins of fanaticism. Atal Bihari Vajpayee appears slowly to be moving away from the Jaswant Singhs in accepting this reality, and for this he deserves praise. Now, Atal, give us an Indian foreign minister! 

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