A pivotal event for India and Pakistan was 9/11. The US decided precipitately and, as it turned out, wrongly that al Qaida was behind the attacks and that the Taliban had given it sanctuary in Afghanistan. It decided to invade Afghanistan, remove the Taliban and hunt for Osama bin Laden. Pakistan was Taliban’s progenitor and protector. Colin Powell asked General Musharraf whether he was with the US or against; after only a moment’s hesitation, Musharraf said he was with the US. In one short step, Pakistan overtook India.
The impact was not political alone. The Pakistan economy was in poor shape, and its government was in default to foreign lenders. After Pakistan became an ally, the US asked World Bank, International Monetary Fund and USAID to pour money into it, and revived it. Today, Pakistan is growing at about the same rate as India.
But then came Manmohan Singh. He saw that America's decision not to sign the Kyoto treaty was a decision not to scale back energy use. Hence the US was bound to be interested in developing energy supplies to meet future demand. The supplies could not come from coal: it was a dirty fuel. Its known reserves would be exhausted in the second half of this century, and even if new reserves were discovered, they would be deeper and more expensive to exploit. Supplies could not come from oil, which would be depleted even faster than coal. The ultimate hydro potential was not enough even to take care of today's total energy consumption. If a nation wanted to consume increasing quantities of energy in the future, it would sooner or later have to turn to nuclear power. If this was true of the US, it was even truer of India, whose energy consumption would increase faster. The interests of the two countries converged. US companies had developed relatively cheap nuclear power plants before all industrial countries decided to stop building them in the 1980s. The US would have to resume production of nuclear plants; and India could buy them.
That was the temptation India could wave before the US; what could India ask in return' Since India had been in the Soviet camp, the US and its allies had imposed an embargo on export of equipment and technology that might add to India's military capability; the embargo covered a broad range of advanced technology. It had been reinforced with other punitive measures after India's nuclear ceremony of 1998. India could ask for its withdrawal.
Apart from widening India's energy options, this bargain had two further advantages. The US made it difficult for India to buy military equipment abroad. Since India was an ally, the Soviet Union supplied it with arms at throwaway prices. But after it collapsed, Russia's military capability has fallen behind; and it has developed a bigger market in China. Sweden sold us guns; but once Rajiv Gandhi was suspected to have taken a bribe on purchase of Bofors guns, Sweden became untouchable. France was prepared to sell Mirages, but they were terribly expensive. So America's hostility made arms procurement difficult. But once the US removed the embargo, not only would all the world's suppliers be accessible, but the US itself would want to sell arms to India. India aspires to be a world power but does not have the necessary technological capability; for it, the end of embargo would be of great value.
Further, once the US saw India as an ally and a customer, it would cease to support Pakistan. As long as India was a Soviet client, US support to Pakistan was unequivocal. It wavered in the 1990s as India came out of the Soviet fold and Pakistan's patronage of the Taliban brought it disrepute. But then Pakistan bounced back when it rejoined the American camp over Afghanistan.
But even now, India's imports are six times those of Pakistan. Though largely closed today, India's market for services is enormous. Once the US got interested in the Indian market, Pakistan would lose weight in America's foreign policy. Vajpayee had laboriously tried to improve relations with Pakistan; he had persevered even after its treacherous infiltration of Kargil and after Musharraf's flamboyant misbehaviour in Agra. Such thankless, plodding efforts to befriend a recalcitrant neighbour would be unnecessary if the US sided with India.
So ever since he became Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh has been working on a deal with the US; the nuclear agreement signed in Delhi last week is the first, but not the only fruit of his efforts. More must follow.
And meanwhile, Pakistan has been marginalized. In particular, Musharraf hoped that the US would pressure India to settle the Kashmir dispute in Pakistan's favour. This hope is now buried. Manmohan Singh made that clear to him when he told him that there would be no transfer of territory or migration of people based on religion ' in other words, that India would not cede Kashmir or any part of it. And Bush told Musharraf in public last week in Pakistan that Kashmir was for India and Pakistan to settle ' that by implication, the US would not intercede in either's favour.
In the India-US-Pak game, Musharraf has lost out to Manmohan Singh. But he is not one to sit back and enjoy his defeat. He has been advertising Pakistan's economic health, and inviting trade and investment. He did so in Davos in January when the World Economic Forum made him chief guest. Wherever he goes, his speeches are replete with figures: in the last five years, exports increased 120 per cent, government revenue 130 per cent, development expenditure 300 per cent, foreign investment 600 per cent; last year, Pakistan produced half a million motorcycles, 150,000 cars, and so on. He advertises Pakistan as the gateway to the Persian Gulf and to central Asia; even China, according to him, would have to go through Pakistan if it wants to trade with India. He says Pakistan has the cheapest workers and the best mangoes in the world.
And then, in February, Musharraf went on a state visit to China to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Sino-Pak friendship. On Kashmir, China repeated the Bush line: that it was a problem for India and Pakistan to settle. A large number of agreements were signed. That is common on state visits; nothing much comes out of most. But amongst the important agreements, China promised to build further nuclear power plants, and to begin negotiations on a Sino-Pak Free Trade Agreement.
Musharraf started as a single-minded India-hater. His campaign got hobbled after he enlisted in America's campaign against terrorism. He scaled down his India-phobia to an obsession with Kashmir. He is not out of that phase. But enmity with India makes Pakistan a risky location; it does Pakistan considerable economic damage. So does it India; but India has been doing fairly well despite living close to Pakistan. So Musharraf's search for a lever to force open India's grip on Kashmiris is leading him nowhere. Will he now come to the realization that peace with India, devoid of a concession on Kashmir, would be highly advantageous to Pakistan' He will get there sooner or later, though he may not admit it in public.