India-Pakistan Relations, and Elections in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

On the face of it, relations between India and Pakistan appear to be on the mend, although nothing substantive has yet emerged. It is becoming more evident each day that India is finally trying to break out of its long preoccupation with Pakistan and seeking to find its place on the larger global stage. Delhi still finds itself tangled, however, in the problems it created for itself in its immediate neighborhood-primarily its dispute with Islamabad over Kashmir. India's past decade was dominated by right-wing Hindu religious parties under the banner of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This not only widened internal as well as external divisions, but the nuclearization of India and Pakistan during the same period made the subcontinent a very unsafe place.

Things have changed, however. The Indian National Congress now in power under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears to be working on consolidating its political position at home, maintaining the dialogue of peace with Pakistan, and simultaneously working toward gaining a place among the world's major powers. New Delhi sees the Western powers and Russia as willing to offer it a helping hand as a way to counter China's quantum leaps in economic development and technological advancement. Indeed, the first evidence of such assistance was British Prime Minister Tony Blair's public offer of support for India's desire to be named a permanent member of an expanded U.N. Security Council when the matter comes up for discussion next year.

London's backing does not represent a home run for India, however, since Washington is backing Japan, and Germany and Brazil also are in the running. The issue will be decided by a majority vote in the U.N. General Assembly and also by a unanimous vote of the current U.N. security Council. Internationally several options are being discussed, including how to give representation to the African continent.

Domestically, the Congress party is trying to consolidate its regained national political position. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has emerged as a real leader after offering the prime minister's job, which was hers for the asking to Manmohan Singh. She now has been credited for Congress' electoral victory in the state of Maharashtra (whose capital is Mumbai, formerly Bombay), the seat of right-wing Hindu extremists like Shiv Sena. The election victory is not hers alone, however.

Congress shares it with the Nationalist Congress Party, a breakaway faction of Congress headed by Sharad Power, now a minister in the central coalition government. Nonetheless, the two groups agreed to work together to defeat the BJP. (Incidentally, BJP has now elected as its new chief the hard-liner L.K. Advani-who, it will be recalled, as home minister under former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was charged with fueling the fire that destroyed the Babri Masjid in 1992.)

Pakistan Affairs

In his own way, President Pervez Musharraf did not return empty-handed from his visit to the United States. George W. Bush assured the Pakistani leader that the promised $3 billion in U.S. military and economic aid already was in the pipeline, and that he appreciated Islamabad's support and participation in the fight against international terrorism. A similar endorsement came from Secretary of State Colin Powell. Ignoring the political dissensions within Pakistan, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said of Musharraf: "He is the right man for the right job at the right time and in the right place. …