For the first time, economic issues took centrestage of a US Secretary of State’s visit to New Delhi. In itself, it marks the growing economic stature of India on the international scene. But Colin Powell and his Indian hosts messed up with the rest.
Powell made two mistakes. First – the decision to upgrade Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally (MNNA). Arising from both Washington’s realisation that one-night stands with Pakistan were working against its strategic interests as well as the need to prop up Musharraf until Bin Laden is captured, the decision to make Pakistan a military ally is over the board and counterproductive. The United States’ one-night stands were always with unelected Pakistani military dictators, and it is this unholy partnership that has bred anti-Americanism in Pakistan. Anointing Pakistan as a military ally is not going to help as it will only strengthen the military dictatorship and put more dollars and deadly toys in the hands of the junta. Meanwhile the Pakistani population sees the United States as talking democracy but pushing dictatorship (Further along his trip, Colin Powell succumbed to Saudi pressure and backed down on the US plans for promoting democracy in the Middle East).
Surely, debt relief and US development aid were enough to convince General Musharraf to step up the hunt for Bin Laden. There was no need to upgrade the ever unreliable Pakistan to a close military ally. The sclerotic US State Department has failed to learn from current and past history – from the C-130s for the War on Terror, to the F-104 for the Cold War, US military hardware has ended up in wrong hands, in wrong places and for wrong purposes.
The second mistake was not to have informed an election-ready India of this decision in advance. This omission will be used by the anti-US hardliners to put Vajpayee in a difficult position. How is Vajpayee to defend against criticisms suggesting that the US is taking India for granted? The glide-path agreements and high-tech cooperation are indeed bringing the US and India into a slow strategic tango, but that’s not easy to explain to the Indian voter one month before elections.
India should not sulking, though
But why is the Indian Foreign Office complaining? If de-hyphenation of US-India relations is an objective, India should not be so concerned with what wages Musharraf gets for attacking his own countrymen (that’s the unvarnished truth, for his troops are fighting the Pakistani tribesmen the ISI radicalised). Furthermore neither is Pakistan formally a MNNA yet, nor is this alliance targeted against India. Interestingly, if this alliance puts the Pakistani nukes under some form of US control, it may even be a strategic bonus for India.
Both in my very first post on this blog as well as in my new year post, I had argued for India to send its forces to Iraq. Just like how India expects the US to regard Indian public opinion, it is fair to expect the US to do likewise. India’s alliance with the US would have been strongly cemented had some troops been dispatched to Iraq. But if India was ready to demonstrate that it could pursue its own agenda then, its only consistent that it should be expected to do the same now.
The next few months will be a roller-coaster ride for everyone concerned. The current offensive did not net Bin Laden or Zawahiri as expected (by the United States) but some relatively lowly Uzbek commander (via The Argus). That gives Musharraf a few more months to get the al Qaeda kingpins, and he’ll be under severe pressure to do so. Notwithstanding India Shining, Vajpayee’s electoral fortunes could receive a jolt if Pakistani terrorism continues after the snows melt. George Bush should reconsider giving Musharraf a prize he does not deserve.
Head Of Mush: The war they insist can only be won by confronting militarily the rogue states that could someday give arms to the terrorists… In a case where you have two nuclear powers, bitter rivals, seething with religious animosity and territorial disputes you go out of your way to insult the one that has no record of supporting islamic terrorism or selling nuclear weapons to our enemies and openly reward the one that does. And you do this in the name of fighting terrorism and rogue states. They call this moral clarity.[Hullabaloo]
The squeeze in the hug: Powell’s been clumsy and graceless in not keeping Delhi in the loop on his non-NATO ally status for Pak but we don’t need to envy our neighbour’s pride. [Shekhar Gupta/Indian Express]
Pakistan Changes the Subject: Mr. Powell struck a somewhat surreal note in Islamabad when he announced that Washington was preparing to designate Pakistan a “major non-NATO ally,” easing access to military sales. Pakistan’s efforts to capture Dr. Zawahiri are welcome, but it is excessive to offer even a symbolic promotion to one of America’s least reliable allies. [New York Times editorial]
Mr Powell’s visit and Pak-US relations: The United States wants to have good relations with Pakistan because its previous policy of cutting off this country hurt its interests. That is a good development. Mr Powell’s statements, while in Islamabad, reflect this US understanding. But this does not mean the US would court Pakistan at the cost of its relations with India. It would try to strike a balance. Pakistan, for its part, will have its own multi-layered relations with the US. For instance, it will be sensitive to US concerns on nonproliferation but will not cap or rollback its nuclear and missile programmes. [Daily Times]