Dispatches : INDIA

By Bidwai, Praful | The Nation, October 15, 2001 | Go to article overview

Dispatches : INDIA


Bidwai, Praful, The Nation


The following four dispatches assess the impact of the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks elsewhere in the world. Two additional disptaches, from The Nation's correspondents in Britain and South Africa, are available at www.thenation.com. --The Editors

New Delhi

As the United States puts together a broad alliance to avenge the September 11 atrocities, two major candidate-members of the coalition in the region south of Afghanistan are dangerously intensifying their mutual rivalry. Barely two months after their Agra summit, India and Pakistan have again locked horns in ways characteristic of their bitter rivalry during the cold war. Today, in an ironic twist of history, once-nonaligned India and former US ally Pakistan are clashing, although they are on the same side--with the United States.

Military action by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan threatens serious domestic trouble in India, besides plunging South Asia into new uncertainties. If President Bush thinks the coalition offers "an opportunity to refashion the thinking between Pakistan and India" to promote reconciliation, he is likely to be proven wrong. Responses in New Delhi and Islamabad to his September 22 lifting of sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests have been divergent. Indian policy-makers see this as long expected but "asymmetrical," and as an ill-deserved reward to Pakistan for belatedly breaking with the Taliban. The Pakistanis call it inadequate. They want removal of sanctions imposed after the 1999 Musharraf coup and a further "correction" of the recent pro-India tilt in US policy.

Since September 11, India and Pakistan have been vying to become America's "frontline" partners in Afghanistan--for parochial reasons. India offered full military cooperation to the United States even before there was significant evidence on responsibility for the attacks. Indian policy-makers and -shapers could barely hide their glee at this "historic" chance for an Indian-US "strategic partnership." The United States had finally come around to understanding India's suffering under "cross-border terrorism"--that is, Pakistan's support for Kashmiri-secessionist militants--a rather facile explanation of the Kashmir crisis, which is rooted more in New Delhi's policies and popular alienation than in Pakistan's proxy war.

India's unsolicited offer of support was buttressed by Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, who echoed Bush's insistence on obliterating the distinction between terrorism and states that support it. Vajpayee demanded that "we must strike at [the terrorists'] organizations, at those who condition, finance, train, equip and protect them...and thus compel the states that nurture and support them." This brazen alignment with Washington disturbed and astonished Indian public opinion. New Delhi was so preoccupied with its self-serving stand on Kashmir that it offered to join forces with Washington without demanding the multilateral approach it is traditionally known for. India has conventionally opposed unilateral action by states or groupings like NATO and insisted that any use of military force be properly authorized by the UN's Security Council under Chapter VII of its charter. India's failure to ask for such a mandate today is largely explained by its Kashmir preoccupation and urge to isolate Pakistan.

For its part, Pakistan made a momentous choice on September 19: It will dump the Taliban and join the US-led coalition, thereby overcoming global opprobrium for supporting jihadi militants. It cashed in on its obvious locational and logistical advantage and its leverage over the Taliban. This produced resentment within New Delhi's ruling establishment. …

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