The visit to India of Mr Richard Armitage, the United States of America’s deputy secretary of state, has had a mixed impact. Although the visiting dignitary has endorsed Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s latest initiative towards Pakistan, New Delhi does not still seem to be convinced that the US is putting real pressure on Islamabad to stop its sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and beyond. Mr Armitage, known for his bluntly no-nonsense approach, is a troubleshooter for the Bush administration. He is, of course, well known in south Asia. During last year’s protracted India-Pakistan crises, the deputy secretary is believed to have played a key role in helping to defuse the situation in the region. In May 2002, when India seemed to be on the verge of initiating military action against Pakistan, Mr Armitage was dispatched to the Indian subcontinent. On that occasion, he is believed to have convinced the government of India that Pakistan would stop infiltration across the line of control permanently. However, this assurance, based apparently on a promise made by Mr Pervez Musharraf to Mr Armitage, did not translate into reality.
In fact, infiltration and terrorist-inspired violence escalated during the next few months, especially in the run-up to the elections to the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly last autumn. Not surprisingly, Mr Armitage has received a more cautious reception in New Delhi this time. Although he has once again secured a commitment from Mr Musharraf that all camps, which train terrorists to sponsor violence in Jammu and Kashmir, will be closed down, the government of India is far from convinced that this is indeed going to happen. For one, there is little evidence of Islamabad clamping down on terrorist groups. For another, Mr Musharraf is known for making private commitments under pressure and rarely sticking to them. The fact, however, is that Mr Armitage is visiting south Asia, not at a moment of crisis, but when a gradual thaw is beginning to defreeze India-Pakistan relations. Publicly, the deputy secretary has claimed that he is visiting the region to help in the independent growth of Washington’s relations with Islamabad and New Delhi.
The reality, however, is that the Bush administration wants to ensure that there is an early resumption of a dialogue between India and Pakistan, and that a new crisis does not erupt in south Asia at a time when its attention is focused elsewhere. The guarded welcome to Mr Armitage in New Delhi, however, demonstrates a new reality. Not only does India want to convey to Washington its disappointment with the Bush administration’s inability to stop Islamabad from sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir, it also wants to signal that India’s policies towards Pakistan will no longer be determined by American assurances. While, for the present, New Delhi may be willing to adopt a conciliatory posture, India could well be forced to adopt a more aggressive course in the future if cross-border terrorism does not end.