[Let us hope and pray that Indian leaders have been burned by the empire enough times to see through the smoke and mirrors, not to mention the river of bullshit which flows continually from Washington.]
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is said to be one of the drivers of the India policy in Washington, pushing and pulling when the going gets dull. Her visit to New Delhi for the second round of the India-US strategic dialogue was important to manage the differences that have arisen over time – from the nuclear liability law to defense contracts, from alleged misconduct of diplomats to blocking India from opening a new consulate in Seattle.
But more important was the American eagerness to see India loom larger on the world stage. Clinton’s basic message was “We Want More India” in the world – in Southeast Asia, in the Indian Ocean, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, in Central Asia, in Latin America.
The joint statement was a veritable spreadsheet of initiatives covering every area of “human endeavor”. From space to clean energy, from student internships to creating an open source data platform on e-governance, from disease detection to aviation safety, every box was checked. While this large mesh is a celebration of the depth and breadth of the relationship, the key is the new American willingness to discuss the world with India with an aim to push it to assume greater responsibility in world affairs. It is up to New Delhi to seize the opportunity, or not.
America is beginning to treat India as an equal partner. The trilateral dialogue of India, the US and Japan, announced during Clinton’s visit, is significant and a perfect venue to discuss China’s rise and the attendant ripples. But the neighborhood must come first where India faces tough prospects.
The regional situation is grim with assassinations of key Afghan leaders even before the real draw-down of US troops begins, and the clenched-teeth posture of the Pakistan army. India is rightly worried about the endgame in Afghanistan and the talks the US is holding with the Taliban. But it can take comfort: Washington will not plead Pakistan’s case in Afghanistan. If India wants to train Afghan security forces and play a role in shaping Afghanistan’s future besides investing in infrastructure projects, the Americans are on board.
If India wants an Afghanistan with an independent government, which makes its own security decisions, does not allow the country to become a terrorist playground and provides access to Central Asia, it has to do more than just hope for the best. So far the emphatic enunciations from New Delhi have been in the form of what it won’t do – Pranab Mukherjee told Clinton last month India does not want to get involved in the “security affairs of Afghanistan”. So what then?
Success will depend on how well India and Pakistan talk to each other about their region’s future. The Pakistani establishment may recognize that it can’t manipulate the Taliban this time around as it did in the 1990s. Making fine distinctions between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban is futile; the two are seamless and represent Pashtun interests on both sides of the border. They are a new morphed entity, more a part of the global Salafist movement and less prone to tribal loyalties of the old days. If there is civil war in Afghanistan after US troops leave by 2014, it will be far more vicious. But if Afghanistan were gradually drawn into regional trade – Pakistan could allow transit to India, for starters – the whole region would benefit.
Both India and the US have the same difficult task – bringing Pakistan on board. The overall US policy on Pakistan remains a series of confusing moves, alternately cajoling and berating. While Clinton was meeting top Indian officials, the FBI arrested an ISI front man in Washington. Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri separatist prone to sweet-talking his way through the corridors of the US Congress to denounce India, was exposed. Also exposed was the hypocrisy that often goes with Islamabad pleading Kashmir’s cause in major capitals. That the Obama administration is chipping away at the ISI and seriously encircling it, at least within US jurisdiction, is good news.
Also welcome is growing India-US cooperation on counter-terrorism – note the heavy hitters who came with Clinton: James Clapper, director of national intelligence, and Michael G. Vickers, under-secretary of defense for intelligence....and arch-Nuclear Terrorist of the infamous White House Murder INC, on the Potomac....
But the US also bends over backwards and stretches the limits of imagination on Pakistan. Clinton recently certified to the US Congress that Pakistan had shown a “sustained commitment” to “combating terrorist groups” to allow a part of $1.5 billion in new US military aid to flow through. Two days later, on March 20, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the ISI was involved with the Haqqani network. More recently, the US suspended $800 million in aid to Pakistan in retaliation for Pakistan throwing out US military advisers.
Unfortunately, Clinton’s clean chit is a reminder of the 1980s when the US government annually certified Pakistan was “not” building a nuclear bomb when it clearly was, to allow US aid to Pakistan for the mujaheddin. State department lawyers would argue that while all the bomb ingredients were present, they were in different places and unassembled. Ergo, no bomb. But terrorist networks of today are very assembled.
The snakes-and-ladders US policy on Pakistan will continue for the foreseeable future with its own impact on the Afghanistan pullout. But the big takeaway from Clinton’s visit has to be the full-throated American call for India to come out to play before the game gets fixed. And not be afraid of the umpiring....