Washington, April 5: The US and the UK have detected “worrying” signs that India may be considering a limited pre-emptive strike against militant camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to deter President Pervez Musharraf from aiding increased infiltration of militants across the border in summer.
But preoccupied as the White House and Whitehall are with Iraq, China has been asked to engage in some active diplomacy to ensure that South Asia does not become a centre of crisis at this time.
According to sources in Washington and London, British foreign secretary Jack Straw urgently called up Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan a few days ago and sought a proactive Chinese role in preventing new tension between India and Pakistan.
Beijing has little influence in New Delhi, but has considerable clout in Islamabad. Pakistan’s recently appointed Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, was the first foreign leader to see his new Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, and call on that country’s new political leadership within a week of its takeover last month.
China is, therefore, expected to prevail upon Pakistan to do everything possible to prevent an increase in militant infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC), which occurs every year in summer.
Beijing has not acknowledged any new role in defusing tension in the subcontinent, but a statement by its foreign ministry on the India-Pakistan situation out of the blue was a pointer that the leadership there had become seized of the matter. It now turns out that this was at Straw’s instance.
Significantly, the Bush administration warned India on Friday that it must not use the precedent of the war against Iraq led by the US as an excuse for any military action against Pakistan.
“Any attempts to draw parallels between the Iraq and Kashmir situations are wrong and are overwhelmed by the differences between them,” state department spokeswoman Joanne Prokopowicz told the Associated Press.
The US takes the view that unlike Pakistan, Iraq invaded and occupied a neighbouring country, launched a war against Iran, used chemical weapons on its own people and flouted UN Security Council resolutions.
However, the use of Chinese good offices to ride out any resurgent crisis in South Asia parallels the events last summer when similar fears were rampant about Indian “hot pursuit” of militants into PoK.
At that time Russian President Vladimir Putin personally intervened with President George W. Bush to convince him that asking India to show restraint would send a message to Pakistan that New Delhi’s resolve to fight cross-border terrorism was weak.
That intervention by Putin resulted in intense diplomacy by the US leading to the first ever admission by Musharraf of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. Subsequently, he promised to put an end to such activity.
There is considerable concern here over recent statements by external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha, which are being interpreted as leaning towards a pre-emptive strike in PoK.
The Americans have particularly noted Sinha’s interview to Agence France Presse this week in which he said: “We derive some satisfaction...because I think all those people in the international community...realise that India has a much better case to go for pre-emptive action against Pakistan than the US has in Iraq.”
He further said: “A pre-emptive strike or any other kind of strike is the sovereign right of every country in its own self-defence recognised as such by the UN Charter.”
Sources here said, however, that Sinha’s public statements were not the only indications of New Delhi’s hardening stance against cross-border terrorism once again.