Being a sovereign nation state

Life would be so much nicer if the whole world just agreed with India on everything.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Published:January 18, 2009 12:49 am

Life would be so much nicer if the whole world just agreed with India on everything. Then Pakistan would surrender the hundred-odd people on India’s laundry list and bomb its own terrorist bases,British politicians would concede that Kashmir is India’s,and every Nobel Prize would go to an Indian.

Alas,life is not like that. Indians have yet to learn to think from the other person’s perspective. A week after 26/11,I said in this column that there was no chance Pakistan would extradite anyone or that the UN would be any help (just look at Gaza) and that Condoleezza Rice was less impressed by India’s submissions than the UPA Government realised. Like the Grand Old Duke of York,the Government marched the media up a rhetorical hill,which it will now have to get gently down. There will be no pinpoint bombing of terrorist bases,nor will there be any admission of guilt by the Pakistan Government. Anyone old enough to recall the U-2 spy plane incident will know that Eisenhower did not admit any guilt despite Khruschev’s dramatic antics at the Paris Summit. Sovereign Nations don’t admit guilt.

The USA and UK governments are only concerned about preventing any hot war in the subcontinent. The rest of the world is frightened to death of two nuclear powers next to each other going to war. I met someone who argued that India should just nuke Pakistan. I pointed out that a nuclear attack on Islamabad would kill people all the way up to Delhi.

Nuclear weapons are useless; even worse they alarm the rest of the world about belligerence on the part of India and Pakistan. So there is not going to be war,even a limited one,between India and Pakistan. What is more,Pakistan will behave like any other sovereign nation and do whatever it wants with its own terrorists. India has little purchase on that,no matter how cogently Pranab Mukherjee tries to put India’s case. The difficult thing for UPA is to transit to quiet diplomacy in the run-up to the elections.

I wish more had been made of Manmohan Singh’s New Year dove card to Zardari. As the big brother,India should have said to Pakistan,let us get together to fight terrorism which blows up the Marriott in Islamabad and the Taj in Mumbai. Before 26/11,Zardari and Sharif had openly said they were not bothered about Kashmir and wished to settle other issues. All the good work Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have done over the last ten years talking with Pakistan was just about to fructify. The 26/11 incident should have been seen as a terrorist incident not formally sponsored by Pakistan. By arguing otherwise,six weeks have been spent on rhetoric which may please TV channels,but does little else.

This is why David Miliband’s statement comes as such a shock. Of course,the world does not agree with India. The terrorists used Pakistani territory and perhaps ISI’s help,but it is impossible to prove an official link. India should have tried Kasab openly and shown how his guilt was unarguable and his evidence would have revealed much more. That chance has now been wasted by frequent media leaks as to what he said and ate and wrote,etc. If India cannot even guard the testimony of its prize captive,what hope is there for the counter-terrorism fight?

Finally I do wish India would stop being so defensive about Kashmir. Miliband is an intelligent and knowledgeable Foreign Secretary. His Guardian article is hardly the monstrous thing it is said to be. He is not the first to say that Kashmir is part of Al-Qaeda’s agenda,which foments terrorism. Read my Rethinking Islamism,where you can see Osama bin Laden’s own testimony. If India were more confident of its claim on Kashmir,and after the recent elections it has cause to be,it would note the comments by Miliband and say no more. India,no less than Pakistan,is not going to do what other people ask it to do. That is the point of being a sovereign nation state. The rest is rhetoric.

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