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Lonely India

Even after Mumbai, in strategic terms we may have to be on our own

Written by Pratapbhanumehta |
December 18, 2008 11:22:03 pm

The flurry of sympathetic attention given to India since the Mumbai attacks should not blind us to the fact that in strategic terms India still stands alone. We should seek the cooperation of as many countries as we can get. But it is difficult for India to shake off the feeling that a lot of this sympathy is too little too late. The commiseration expressed over terror attacks in some Western capitals does appear to be a little bit of an exercise in bad faith. For in the new-found sympathy for India, and stern statements against Pakistan, there is almost no acknowledgment of the ways in which the US and other Western powers for years created the propitious soil and nurtured regimes in Pakistan that allowed terrorism to flourish. It would of course be prudent not to belabour the past, and look to the future. But this lack of acknowledgment does not portend well for the future on several dimensions.

India has challenges to surmount in Kashmir and in its own domestic politics. But terrorism in the specific form India is now experiencing has deep roots in international geopolitics: if anything, it goes against the interests of Indian Muslims and Kashmiris. Jihad was first given ideological legitimacy during the Cold War by the US, and successive regimes in Pakistan have cleverly used jihadi groups to shore up their own power, managing to both run with the hare and hunt with the hound. The effects this strategy had on India were always given short shrift; and to date US cooperation in bringing perpetrators to justice is minimal. In the meantime all kinds of violent non-state actors, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, were given great political succour by the geostrategic policies of the US. On this, Al-Qaeda overlaid a whole range of other grievances, from Palestine to Bosnia. In short, terrorism was one of the offshoots of the ways in which Western powers defined and intervened in a whole range of conflicts around the world. To assert this proposition is not incompatible with confirming the moral depravity of terrorism.

For a while it seemed India would be immune from these global trends, but it turns out that it is now a frontline target for terrorists. It is not a contradiction to say that Pakistan is responsible for terrorism, and at the same time to acknowledge that Pakistan is also victim of the damage done by the form Western intervention has taken in the region. But the tragic irony is that we are now victims of a war whose terms we did not set, whose contours we did nothing to define, and whose outcomes we are not in a position to shape. The lessons of this history are three-fold. First, we should be wary of those who argue that what the US does in the rest of the world should not matter to us, so long as they are good to us. Terrorism shows we are not immune from the consequences of geopolitics in the rest of the world. Second, the West will come and commiserate with us, when we suffer collateral damage of their geopolitics, but it will not make us an equal partner in shaping its politics. Third, that any state that lets itself become a frontline state, in conflicts whose terms were set elsewhere, will pay a heavy price. Pakistan did so in immeasurable ways, and if we do not maintain our ideological and strategic independence we will continue to do so in future.

So in strategic terms we are going to be alone; this loneliness is going to be compounded by the fact that other states in the position of influencing Pakistan will not do so. Pakistan has managed to get away with so much because it let itself become central to the strategic concerns, not of one but three powers: the US, China and Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to imagine Pakistan coming under serious pressure unless all three cooperate. But it is equally difficult to imagine that at this point Beijing will seriously put pressure on Pakistan. Their refraining from vetoing the UN resolution on Jamaat-ud-Dawa notwithstanding, Beijing has given no evidence that is in support of

India’s claim that it has the requisite evidence. And Riyadh is unlikely to put pressure on Pakistani elites. In short, we would be deluding ourselves if we think the major powers that can actually influence outcomes will unequivocally bat for us.

All the sympathies notwithstanding, there is still a strong undercurrent in influential circles in Western capitals to the effect that somehow this terrorism has its roots in the Kashmir problem. Many of us are candid enough to acknowledge that we have a challenge in Kashmir. But much of the writing coming out on the Mumbai issue in the West obfuscates the issue by linking terrorism to Kashmir. Kashmiris are not involved in Mumbai style terrorism; the demilitarisation of Kashmir is made more, not less, difficult by terrorism; and there are other ways of addressing Kashmiri grievances. Even analysts as otherwise acute as Robert Kaplan blithely associate this terrorism with the seamless ferment of an unstable South Asia, as if this terrorism is overdetermined by the region’s conflicts. The “what else do you expect in South Asia” argument has come back with a vengeance; and that argument is a denial of complicity of so many powers in the region.

Arun Shourie’s point in Parliament about the utility of breaking jaws may be debatable. But he was entirely right in suggesting that “we should stop running to Mummy (the US)”. But what he should have added is that we have become victims of our own rhetoric over the last decade or so. From the defensible proposition that globalisation is in our best interest, we concluded that therefore the rest of the world’s strategic interests will converge with ours. The text of the 123 Agreement may have been fine, but this was the extra obfuscation that was constantly peddled to us. China globalised, but never for one moment did it assume that the world would bat for its strategic interests. We have fallen victims to our own linguistic inflation by declaring that every partnership seems strategic we papered over serious conflicts. In the final analysis, we have only our strengths to fall back on. If we begin to look at the world through the eyes of others, we will delude ourselves about our own interests. Perhaps it is the deep loneliness of our predicament that will bring greater clarity.

The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi

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