Thursday, May 6, 2010

** Surrendering to America

Surrendering to America
Shobori Ganguli

When a Pakistani official lauds an Indian Prime Minister (in this case Mr Manmohan Singh) for his “vision” and welcomes the “legacy” he wants to leave behind, it is cause for grave worry.

Ahead of the meeting between Mr Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani in Thimpu last week, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the Indian Prime Minister is “a well-meaning individual, he has a vision, he wants to leave a legacy behind”. Surely, a vision that pleases a visibly and audibly intransigent Pakistan cannot be one that will particularly benefit India. Nevertheless, Mr Singh seems to be acquiring quite a fan-club across the border.

Apart from calling India’s dossiers of evidence against the 26/11 terror perpetrators pieces of fiction and refusing to display any meaningful action against terrorism emanating from its soil, Pakistan now says India’s linkage of talks and action against terror has “dragged too long” and that “nobody is buying that anymore”. Mr Qureshi is right. Apart from the Pakistanis themselves, now the Americans are not buying it. Hence the eminently avoidable Prime Ministerial-level meet in Thimpu.

One is perhaps unable to understand the logic underlying the current exchange between India and Pakistan but the subcontinent’s history says Pakistan’s intentions are not exactly well-meaning. Therefore, when senior Indian officials talk about a certain “chemistry” between Mr Singh and Mr Gilani or speak of how the latter “batted” for Mr Singh after the ignominious Sharm el-Sheikh meeting last July, citizens of this country need to know whether all that bonhomie is not actually compromising our national interest and security. Are all those virtues in our Prime Minister, so suddenly visible to the Pakistanis, or the mere chemistry between two individuals, on which Indian officials are pinning all their hopes, really geared to address India’s genuine concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan? Perhaps, Mr Singh is indeed on his way to creating a legacy: That of India’s abject surrender to those who bleed and terrorise its innocent civilians. Little else explains the Manmohan Singh Government’s inexplicable moves to keep the veneer of diplomacy with Pakistan on despite the latter emerging more recalcitrant after each dialogue initiative.

From the arrest of a Pakistani-origin man in the Times Square bombing attempt to a Pakistani who will be sentenced — hopefully, to death — in Mumbai today for the 26/11 attack, Pakistan’s footprints indeed span from Mumbai to Manhattan. While the United States may have its own set of reasons to humour such a Pakistan, there is no rationale whatsoever for India to repeatedly expose itself to Pakistani bluster. Incidentally, only two days after the Times Square incident, seven people are arrested in Pakistan; nearly two years after Mumbai, we are still sending across dossiers. From Yekaterinburg and Sharm el-Sheikh to New Delhi and now Thimpu, India is desperately trying to open a channel of dialogue with Pakistan that remains invisible to the other side. In fact, each attempt has seen the emergence of a more arrogant Pakistan. In theory, India’s approach cannot be faulted. It is seeking to adopt a step-by-step approach to get Pakistan to first deliver on the more specific cases relating to the Mumbai terror attack and then move on to the larger question of that country eliminating all terror camps operating from its soil. Fair enough. Had this approach borne even the minutest of results, one had reason to hope and be patient.

However, after officially stating that India has resumed dialogue only under intense American pressure, Pakistan has made it annoyingly clear after each interaction since 26/11 that the talks are a part of the composite dialogue process, that the two sides have decided to discuss Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water-sharing, issues that “concern both Pakistan and India”. After each official interaction, the Pakistanis have made their irritation with India’s repeated “harping” on Mumbai quite apparent. This, even as India continues to flood Pakistan with 26/11 dossiers; it now intends to send across a copy of Ajmal Kasab’s judgement along with fresh sets of evidence against the 20 others implicated, including masterminds Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, and seek their extradition — all a pointless exercise. While New Delhi has everything neatly figured out on paper, it is unable to read the complexities of the minds working in Islamabad. Miles away from worries of extradition, therefore, Saeed and Lakhvi brazenly continue their anti-India operations under the very nose — and active patronage — of Pakistani authorities.

What could possibly explain Pakistan’s continuing defiance, including its repeated posturing on the dialogue issue, its insistence that India, more than Pakistan, was desperate to resume talks, a charge New Delhi has sought to ignore rather than forcefully counter? Why is India remaining a mute spectator to the changing goalposts of its engagement with Pakistan that are being unilaterally shifted by the latter, particularly the recent clamour about India’s “water terrorism” that could become a “nuclear flashpoint”, a subject that has been appended to the Kashmir issue at various international fora by Pakistan in recent months? Is there even an iota of shift in Pakistan’s position, on Mumbai specifically and on terror in general, since Yekaterinburg last June which propels the hope that eventually Islamabad will fall in line?

Clearly, Pakistan’s nuisance value is what is fetching it international attention: It is a nuclear power that could press the button under the least of provocations from India. In the aftermath of 26/11 world capitals went into a spin, anticipating a military reply from India that could critically shift Pakistan’s focus from Afghanistan, apart from increasing the chances of a nuclear war. Given Mr Singh’s disposition no one need have worried. However, the spectre itself was enough to get the hotlines between Washington and New Delhi working. Talk to Pakistan, was the suggestion, even if the terms of engagement bring little benefit to India. Not one to displease, Mr Singh obliged, alternately shaking hands with the Pakistani President and Prime Minister in various corners of the world, Kodak moments that have suitably reassured US President Barack Obama.

Engagement is a sound principle in diplomacy and international strategy. However, such an exercise must visibly augment a country’s strategic worth and clout, particularly so in India’s case as it seeks its rightful place on the global stage. Unfortunately, this ongoing engagement with Pakistan, apart from exposing the Manmohan Singh Government’s helplessness against a petty neighbour, has also led to legitimate questions on whether, on its way to becoming a major world power, India has woefully surrendered to the American game in South Asia instead.