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BETWEEN FRIENDS
- India cannot ignore the link between Pakistan and the US

The delightful double entendre of Chakravarti Rajagopalachari's comment as Union home minister to a visiting Afghan premier in January 1951 could be repeated next week to George W. Bush. 'It is no secret that our foreign policy holds Indo-Afghan friendship to be essential; and when we two are bound in friendship we will squeeze anyone in between in the same embrace of affection ' a pincer movement for peace, so to speak,' Rajaji said wickedly.

Not that Bush with his call for a trilateral approach to Iran ' which really means India and Pakistan toeing the United States of America ' will see Pakistan as the kebab ki haddi in the 'strategic partnership' announced last July. But relations with India, which have improved incrementally under him, will not achieve the fruition Bush outlined to the Asia Society unless he can bring himself to review in light of contemporary compulsions a patron-prot'g' bond that was forged in the crucible of Cold War expediency. Even the July 18 agreement, which seems to have mesmerized Indians, is far less a matter of life and death than the unseen enemy who attacks from three neighbouring countries and whose agents are scattered among a billion Indians.

It is not a simplistic question of India resenting good America-Pakistan ties, or vice versa. It is a matter of understanding the prerequisites of a stable and lasting regional polity. India's south Asian position is analogous to US needs in the Americas which explained the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 to ban European intervention, and John F. Kennedy risking nuclear war in 1962 to prevent a Soviet entr'e in Cuba. It also explains the fulminations of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Eva Morales.

Richard Haass's attribution of all subcontinental tension to Pakistan's refusal to accept India's primacy and India's refusal to accept anything else was a blunt but pragmatic exposition of ground reality. It recognized that Kashmir is the result ' not cause ' of friction. Apart from obsessively hunting for the missing 'k' in its name, Pakistan is still smarting from Bangladesh and is humiliated by democracy's repeated failures and its inability to fulfil the foundation promise of providing a homeland for all subcontinental Muslims. Second, Haass acknowledged the logic of geography. With one-eighth India's gross domestic product, one-seventh the population, one-fifth the area and probably fewer Muslims, Pakistan can defy that logic solely because of American and Chinese backing.

The fashionable argument of the great equalizer of nuclear power robbing geopolitics of its potency needs qualification. If the bomb were the ultimate currency of power, the Soviet Union ' 'Upper Volta with missiles' ' would not have collapsed so easily. The oil boom, not the bomb, maintained the illusion of Soviet might. When the boom evaporated, so did the myth of a second superpower. The US alone can drive home that point and restrain Pakistan's nuclear option.

Arguing that while India was of little strategic use, Pakistan would allow military and intelligence penetration of the Soviet Union, the state department first encouraged it to challenge India as an equal. Now, Bush calls Pakistan 'a key ally in the war on terror'. The thread of continuity that runs through all these calculations is that India would gobble up Pakistan if the US withdraws support. It is usually implicit but Henry Kissinger accused India of seeing a large Muslim country next door as threatening its own survival, and Zbigniew Brzezinski claimed that China alone restrained India's ambition to 'subordinate' Pakistan.

It is anyone's guess whether this is a genuine conviction or an excuse for a policy to give the US greater scope for manoeuvre. But it is something India must address during Bush's promised 'detailed and substantive' talks with Manmohan Singh, as much to come to grips with basics as to remove suspicion. If the US is satisfied, it will have a soothing effect on Pakistanis who accuse their vibrant, secular, pluralist and democratic neighbour of plotting their undoing. Sadly, the ill-concealed glee in this country at the Balochistan troubles feeds Pakistan's paranoia. It can never be stressed strongly enough that turmoil next door would not enhance India's security.

Indian and US interests overlap on many points of the current dialogue though perceptions are bound to differ. Leaving aside global and economic matters and concentrating on regional security, Kashmir is something of a Procrustes' Bed. If India sweeps the problem under the general heading of terrorism, it provides Pervez Musharraf, that 'man of courage' whose friendship and leadership Bush appreciates, a loophole to evade responsibility, pleading a shadowy international network that he is trying to curb 'at great personal risk'. Any acknowledgement of local militancy anoints the militants as freedom- fighters, inviting what was euphemistically called 'facilitation' and pressure for tripartite negotiations.

It is important in this context to nail the fallacy of a reservoir of goodwill among Pakistanis waiting to break its banks and overwhelm the theocracy and the military which have fanned the flames of enmity all these years to distract attention from domestic failures. This illusion fuels the peace process and associated initiatives like train and bus that will lead nowhere because, as Musharraf candidly admitted during the Agra fiasco, if he gives up Kashmir, he might as well buy back the family haveli and settle down in Delhi. What may originally have been a governmental tactic is now a national id'e fixe.

Happily, Bush does not harp on the supposed palliative of delinking America's regional diplomacy. Statecraft has matured beyond Jawaharlal Nehru's pique at the Americans lavishing the same ceremonial honours on Liaquat Ali Khan or the consternation in India in 2000 at Bill Clinton also visiting Pakistan. Bush's point that 'good relations with America can help both nations' is more pragmatic than the earlier promise of relations with India and Pakistan having 'their own separate vectors, trajectories and velocities'. De-coupling alone might even be counter-productive for a truly de-hyphenated policy would entitle the US ' quite innocently perhaps ' to shower money, sophisticated weapons and technology on Pakistan in the belief that both are engaged in the good fight to exterminate terrorists and usher in democracy. How Pakistan will use those goodies we already know from past experience. The hyphen is the safety valve and the only means of holding Pakistan to its commitments. Even if the US drops it, India cannot ignore the link between Pakistan and the US.

Bush's reference to 'interference by security forces' in Pakistan's press could be extended to the danger he outlined of terrorists seeking to use the country as an operational base. He should also know that while democracy is a panacea for many ills, Pakistan's attitude to India has not been affected so far by whether the regime is dictatorial or democratic. Finally, an India that constantly fears being stabbed in the back, faces sabotage and subversion, is bogged down in the region and upstaged on every international platform cannot attend to the basic needs of its people. Even less can it build up enough democratic muscle to discharge international duties.

There is no reason to ask after Bush's Asia Society speech why any of this should matter sufficiently to the US to change course drastically. He expounded in graphic terms not inter-dependence but US dependence on India's growth. 'The growing affluence of India is a positive development for our country'It means a bigger market for America's business and workers and farmers.' There was much more in that vein about outsourcing, investment, trade and 'research centres to tap into India's educated workforce'. The strategic partnership already emphasized intelligence-sharing, terrorism control and guarding ocean routes that are vital for America's superpower role. To that extent, India's interest is America's, and the world's largest and oldest democracies are indeed natural allies, to repeat that overworked clich'.

It's the global version of the stakeholder society.

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