Washington, Jan. 5: America’s assertion that it has the right to pursue al Qaida and Taliban fighters into Pakistan has closed the lid firmly on even the faintest chances of resuming a dialogue between India and Pakistan.
The events along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in the last few days, including the shooting of a US soldier followed by American bombs being dropped on what is arguably Pakistani territory, triggered intense diplomatic and military contacts between Islamabad and Washington involving even presidents George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf.
It also triggered intense activity in New Delhi, albeit on a much lower profile and involving only decision-makers in India.
The US assertion has strengthened the hands of those in New Delhi who have been reasoning for a long time for hot pursuit of Pakistani and other foreign terrorists across the Line of Control.
In recent exchanges with India, Israeli strategists have been strongly advising New Delhi that hot pursuit of terrorists across the LoC is imperative to fighting militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, supplementing other military means. The price to be paid for it notwithstanding, as in Palestine, the Israelis pointed out.
The hands of those in North Block and the intelligence agencies who favour hot pursuit have been so far held by South Block, which has emphasised diplomacy, especially at the instance of Washington.
However, the arguments favouring diplomacy were comprehensively thrown out of the window with US Major Stephen Clutter asserting at Bagram air base in Afghanistan on Friday that the US military had the right to cross the border and that “this is done with the express consent of the Pakistani government”.
Clutter’s assertion was followed by warnings by Pakistani politicians celebrating Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s birth anniversary on Saturday that the US would ask Pakistan to surrender its nuclear and missile assets to Washington.
The warnings should not be dismissed entirely as the product of anti-US phobia among Pakistani politicians.
A straw in the wind is the reported flight out of the country by a group of Pakistani nuclear scientists, who fear they may some day be interrogated about their work the same way Iraqi scientists are now being questioned in Baghdad.
The scenario in Pakistan, produced by a combination of these circumstances, represents a vindication of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s strong assertions in recent weeks that Pakistan is now the epicentre of international terrorism.
Significantly, recent high-level meetings between Indian and US officials or ministers have been devoid of any American pressure on India to resume talks with Pakistan.
The last time any such suggestion was emphasised by the Americans was during the visit of under-secretary for commerce, Kenneth I. Juster. But according to Indian accounts of recent Indo-US exchanges, Juster “got a mouthful” on the issue from at least one Indian official with a reputation for plain-speaking.
It is unlikely that the Americans would seriously ask India to resume its dialogue with Pakistan at any discussions in the immediate future. Any such demand would invite Indian allegations on US double standards on the hot pursuit issue.
All the same, it is unlikely that any hasty decision will be taken in New Delhi to pursue terrorists across the LoC.
A key input into analysis in this regard will be experience of using the Indian Air Force to evict Pakistani intruders a few months ago.
The use of air power invited no retaliation from Pakistan, which may be a guide in devising any strategy on hot pursuit.
Advani, who has been favouring a hard line on Pakistan all along, today widened the scope of his campaign against Pakistani terrorism by asking for the international business community to be involved in tackling the dangers from Pakistan.
Inaugurating the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Partnership Summit-2003, Advani said businessmen should be lobbied in western countries to put pressure on their governments to tackle Pakistani terror tactics, which adversely affected business worldwide.