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December 24, 1998


E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

Supercop America?

Fire!" said Billy the Kid from Washington DC. "Fire!" also said Tony Blair of 10 Downing Street. And, hey presto, there was fire galore in Baghdad last week as citizens of that city were woken up by a nightmarish fusillade of cruise missiles. The timing was a cruel paradox of our age: it happened a week after human rights as a concept completed 50 years. The golden jubilee event also marked a cruel coincidence: it was the USA, which talks the loudest about human rights, which had also dropped the bombs which ravaged generations of people in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Though Baghdad's recent bombings may have helped douse the naive and bitter controversy burning around the filmed lesbianism in Deepa Mehta's Fire, it aroused the doubt once again as to whether Uncle Sam is a sadist at heart who revels in his superpower status and likes to show it off now and again, with guns a blazing. It was Sudan in August: reason Osama Bin Laden; it's now Baghdad: reason Saddam Hussein.

After Sudan, the UN Security Council has not yet cared to verify that country's claim that its factory blasted by American rockets was not making chemicals meant for mass destruction. After Baghdad, the world, despite the protestations of China, Russia and France, will only pass resolutions deploring the act before going back to its "business as usual" mode.

Meanwhile, it is reported that the self-acclaimed supercop of the world believes that the deterioration of the Asian economies, the growing concerns over North Korea's weapons potential and the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan leave no choice for the US except to depend on its military presence as it would "help us shape events to respond to crisis and to prepare for an uncertain future." Hence, its defence secretary's proposal for stationing of 100,000 US troops in Asia. How such troops could swing into action to check the economic downslide has not been explained. Nor is it known as to how many billion dollars the US taxpayer will have to shell out for this exercise. (America's military adventure in Asia is said to have cost $ 77 billion in 1948, $ 360 billion during the Korean war and $ 340 billion in 1989 even after the Vietnam era.)

Ironically, the richest and most powerful entity of the world has not been able to really impose its will on any country -- save, perhaps, Tony Blair's Britain. Even Pakistan, with its battered economy, refused the American carrot to desist from testing after Pokhran II; months later, despite insolvency starting in its face, Pakistan has declined to sign on the dotted line of the CTBT.

And India, way down on the human development index, has also refused to be suppliant, sanctions notwithstanding. As Prime Minister Vajpayee made it clear to the nation's Parliament last week. India's primary decisions on its nuclear policy "are not subjects for negotiations" and that it will neither quantify its nuclear deterrent, nor immediately halt its production of nuclear material, nor stop its Agni missile programme, nor accept restrictions on weapons R&D.

If this strong stance -- as reportedly projected in the long on-going talks with US officials -- was simply not acceptable to the American government, it would have turned the screws on India in a variety of ways apart from the sanctions.

However, America thrives on trade and it is a democracy, a vibrant democracy at that where even its president must face an inquisition, and face it before television cameras.

All kinds of people contribute to the formulation of its foreign policy, the doves and the hawks, the shortsighted and the visionaries. All of them aim high, of course, but appreciate the ground realities. Hence the many words of wisdom in the 'Findings And Recommendations" of the report by an Independent Task Force formed after the nuclear tests this May by the Council of Foreign Relations which, though in no way affiliated to the US government, has a certain amount of influence on US foreign policy, especially because all such Task Force reports "benchmark" their findings against current administration policy. Here are some extracts from that 42-page report released before President Clinton "deferred" his proposed visit to our subcontinent.

  • "US foreign policy should not sacrifice its many interests in South Asia in order to promote unrealistic aims in the nuclear realm. In particular, a complete 'rollback' to a non-nuclear South Asia is simply not a realistic near-or even medium-team policy option for the United States. What India and Pakistan learned from the recent tests cannot be unlearned. For the foreseeable future, neither country will eliminate its stockpile of fissionable material or declare itself ready to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state. Policy departures of this magnitude are likely to be possible only in the context of unprecedented strides towards global nuclear disarmament and fundamental changes for the better in both Indo-Pakistan and Sino-Indian relations.
  • "Although it is important that India and Pakistan be seen as paying a price for their decision to test, relying on broad-based economic sanctions for this purpose makes for questionable policy -- sanctions can work against US interests, including the goal of promoting regional stability. Also, India and Pakistan will pay a price for what they have done apart from the sanctions.
  • "Economic aid provided by the World Bank and private loans should be allowed to go ahead. Selective easing of controls on dual-use technology exports is also warranted. Encouraging and supporting a diversification of energy production makes sense as well.
  • "Kashmir remains the most dangerous point of contention between India and Pakistan. It is the issue with the greatest potential to trigger a conventional or even nuclear war. That said, the dispute is not ripe for final resolution. It is not even ripe for mediation by the United States or anyone else. Diplomacy aimed at now resolving the permanent political status of Kashmir is bound to fail.
  • "China bears some responsibility for the situation in South Asia, given its own nuclear and missile programs that concern India and the assistance it has provided over the years to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs… US policy should encourage China to adhere to the MTCR, and all unsafeguarded nuclear cooperation with Pakistan, announce a willingness to join in a moratorium on fissile material production, separate nuclear warheads from missiles so as to 'de-alert' its forces and thereby pose less of a threat to India…
  • "US interests in South Asia have been increasing for years; so too now are the threats to those interests. India has the potential to be a major power in Asia as the next century opens; Pakistan can have a significant impact in both Central Asia and the Gulf."

If the above majority views of a responsible body of 24 US political analysts are generally inclined towards the Indian position, why have our deliberations with the Clinton administration become so long-drawn out that our defence minister is reported to have said the other day that they have yielded "nothing?"

The answer probably lies in the undisclosed war of nerves that Jaswant Singh may be fighting with Strobe Talbott and his team over the Kashmir issue. For although the Independent Task Force is against third-party mediation in the dispute, it advised the US government to urge India to (i) grant increased political and economic autonomy to the inhabitants of Kashmir (ii) reduce the size of forces stationed in Kashmir that carry out policing functions (iii) accept an increase in the number of international observers monitoring human rights conditions within Kashmir (iv) accept, along with Pakistan, a thinning of forces along the Line of Control and (v) convene three-way talks involving Delhi, Islamabad and those representatives of Kashmir (who are willing to eschew violence) for discussing ways of calming the situation in Kashmir. All this assumes that a question mark still exists in the American mind regarding India's sovereign status over Kashmir.

If so, it is high time that India loudly make the world understand, once and for all, the real Kashmir story --its tribal invasion from Pakistan, its legal accession to India in October 1947, the impotency of the UN Security Council Resolutions, the utter impropriety of the recommended plebiscite and the irrevocability of the constitutional pronouncement by the Kashmiri people in November 1956 that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is and shall be an integral part of the Union of India. The Americans at least will quickly grasp all the nuances when told that Kashmir's accession to India in 1947 was akin to and as valid as that of the State of Texas to the USA from March 1845.

Arvind Lavakare

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