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Axis of doublespeak

Axis of doublespeak

Author: Rajiv Dogra
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 5, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/174047/Axis-of-doublespeak.html

The US says Pakistani nukes are safe and sound. Pakistani media says Islamabad has twice toyed with the idea of nuking India. Manmohan Singh is clueless about what's happening out there but is happy to believe whatever Washington and Islamabad tell him

The other day Mr Manmohan Singh announced in Guwahati, "We have been assured that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are in safe hands…". This prime ministerial pronouncement received considerable media attention because the issue worries the nation, just as it worries the world. But there were some serious doubts too, starting with the natural query as to who had given this assurance to India. Logic, guesswork and the process of elimination narrowed down the possible sources of this assurance to Pakistan and the US. Therein lies the rub.

Can Pakistan's assurances be taken at their face value? As if in evidence of that doubt the Pakistani media reported within the next few days that at least on two occasions in the last few years Pakistan had considered the possibility of using nuclear option against India.

The US itself has been so concerned over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile and the deteriorating situation there, that the spokesperson of the US President admitted that the matter was deemed so serious that President Barack Obama was personally involved in taking stock of the situation.

Obviously then we need to do some rethinking about the assurances that have been received, and their credibility. In doing so, it will be good to keep in mind the fact that it's not just the Taliban that could be nuclear trigger happy. Insofar as India is concerned, the Pakistani Army remains an equally potent threat, along with the rest of its establishment too. After all, on the two recent occasions when it did contemplate the step, Pakistan was nominally under an elected Government.

Therefore, the issue of nuclear weapons being in safe hands in Pakistan is one that requires to be understood in context. The brutal fact there is that while the stock-pile may be in safe hands vis-à-vis the West, India continues to be a case apart. Our safety is far from assured.

Essentially, the issue is attitudinal. And it has to do with the democratic ethos, economic success and the size of India. On all these scores Pakistan suffers badly by comparison.

Unfortunately the national course chosen by Pakistan from the very beginning of its existence has pushed it deeper and deeper still into a morass of envy and hatred towards India. While its consequent actions have undoubtedly wounded India repeatedly, this hatred on a national scale has badly poisoned Pakistan's body politic; to the extent that it can't distinguish right from wrong when it concerns its attitude towards India.

Sadly, the US did nothing much to discourage it. In fact it may not be off the mark to characterise the US role as supportive, which must have had some effect in strengthening the Pakistani conviction that it was following the right course in furrowing an acrimonious relationship with India. And evidence points in that direction.

From the early 1950s, the Pakistani leadership has been highlighting to the US its strategic location near Soviet Union, China and the Persian Gulf. This of course was the peg on which it premised the quid pro quo for US support to it vis-à-vis India. Ever since then, this strategy has worked flawlessly for Pakistan.

After a visit to India and Pakistan, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles briefed the National Security Council in June 1953. At that meeting he expressed high regard for martial and religious qualities of Pakistan and contrasted this with his view of Jawaharlal Nehru as an utterly impractical statesman.

That more or less established the line of the foreign policy course for US as far as the region was concerned. So much so that even in the hour of our difficulty, the US didn't hesitate to advance Pakistani interests.

In the aftermath of China's invasion of India in 1962, US perceived an opportunity and sent a joint US-UK delegation led by Averill Harriman. But as the then US Ambassador Galbraith admitted later, "Indians perceived that the US was exploiting Nehru's post-war weakness to push India to the table. This left Nehru with no option but to refuse to budge on Kashmir."

That the US should have thought of exploiting India at its most vulnerable is bad enough, that it should have done so under a liberal and a Democratic Party President like Kennedy should serve as a warning to us today.

Mr Obama is an admirer of Kennedy, and despite French President Nicolas Sarkozy's withering comments about Mr Obama's inexperience, we should be in no doubt that he is an extremely crafty politician. And a very ambitious one at that; whose primary focus is his country and the promotion of his personal legacy.

From the very beginning of his term, a top priority that he has set is to cut the losses and get out of Afghanistan with as much dignity as possible. He has recognised that, in this objective, Pakistan would be the crucial key to American success. That's why he commented even before his election; "We should try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that Pakistan can stay focussed… not on India but on those militants…." Whether we in India admit it or not, he has been following that broad line.

Later, echoing him, Mr Richard Holbrooke said, "The Administration would take more of a regional approach."

The linkages were, therefore, clearly established in the American mind, just as they have been ever since the Dulles visit in 1953. However we lulled ourselves to a false sense of triumph when the formal announcement of Mr Holbrooke's charge confined it to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But others saw through that subterfuge.

We kept ignoring the alarm bells when every visit of substance to the region clubbed one to India with that to Pakistan. Finally it was left to Admiral Mullen to say bluntly that yes India was very much a part of Mr Holbrooke's mandate.

At least now we should sit up and take notice. Among a variety of reasons for our concern should be past record of Mr Richard Holbrooke.

In diplomatic circles, hard charging is the term used to describe him politely. Abrasive is a tighter fit. He is also known as a "one man diplomatic wrecking crew." And when he ventured outside the diplomatic world into one of high finance it was to join the ill-fated AIG. It is said that he was on its board when it went over the hill.

From Vietnam to the Balkans he has courted controversy. But what is worse is the current round of insinuations in the Balkans alleging that he had not kept his word. No wonder he is not a popular man in Serbia or for that matter in the Orthodox Christian parts of the Balkans.

It is sometimes a physiological compulsion with a driven man to focus on ends rather than the means. And to achieve his ends Mr Holbrooke has not hesitated in the past to opt for the readily achievable; even if it meant embracing a dictator or opting for the militarily violent course. Therefore in South Asia he might find comfort in the company of Pakistani Generals.

That's why even as Mr Obama said recently that there was some recognition by Pakistani Army that it was not India but the Taliban who pose a mortal threat to it, the pronouncement has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Only a week before that, when a Pakistani military delegation sat with their counterparts in Washington, their focus was clear; they wanted more aid to secure their eastern border from India. Quite clearly then Mr Obama's soothing words were meant to lubricate the passage of the military aid bill to Pakistan through the Congress, even if it meant winking at the facts - just the way he had done while describing the mandate of Mr Holbrooke.

The fact is that Jammu & Kashmir continues to be on American radar, just as it has been for the last five decades. And as on the nuclear issue, we need to be wary of facile assurances that Mr Holbrooke's AfPak charge has no 'In' in it.

- The writer, a senior diplomat, is a former Ambassador.

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