Washington, May 21: If the unusual meeting between President George W. Bush and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra last fortnight made official Washington sit up and note the administration’s commitment to relations with India, this week it is New Delhi’s turn to make a splash on Capitol Hill.
A visit by a six-member team of MPs to Washington to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans may presage fresh sanctions on Pakistan for its failure to shut down terrorist camps on its side of the border with India, stop cross-border terrorism and end the spread of nuclear weapons and missile technology among rogue states and terrorists.
In the run-up to the visit by MPs led by Krishna Bose of the Trinamul Congress, the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee unanimously passed a motion which would mandate the Bush administration to reveal to Congress the extent to which Pakistan is fulfilling its promises on curbing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The committee’s move will have no punitive effect, as yet, on Pakistan. But if the motion, titled “Section 708: Report On Actions Taken By Pakistan” goes through its logical process of being considered by the two Houses of Congress and eventually made into law, it may have the effect of reimposing the Pressler Amendment, which was repealed by Bush after General Pervez Musharraf became his ally in the war on terrorism.
Musharraf who is due here on June 24 for meetings with Bush and other American leaders is certain to fight this move on Capitol Hill. So will Pakistan’s well-oiled lobbying machine here, whose energies in the next few months will be concentrated on throwing out any new version of the Pressler Amendment.
What this will mean is that deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani will have his task cut out for him when he meets his American interlocutors here in early June.
It is for this reason that talk has again started in New Delhi about Musharraf’s failure to hand over 20 men on India’s wanted list of terrorists and criminals sheltered by Pakistan.
That will be the starting point for Advani’s talks here. Last year, during a similar visit, he urged Americans to put pressure on Musharraf to hand over at least some of the 20 people. There is no expectation here or in New Delhi that Musharraf will do so now. But the demand will strengthen the case for pushing through “708” as the new version of Pressler is being described on Capitol Hill.
The current delegation of MPs is, therefore, spending the bulk of its time underlining the common threat that India and the US face from terrorists. The delegation includes General Shankar Roy Choudhury from Bengal, Bikram Keshari Deo from Orissa and Salim Sherwani, the former minister of state for external affairs.
At a function on Capitol Hill last night hosted by Indian ambassador Lalit Mansingh and the president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Anand Mahindra, to mark the 10th anniversary of the India Caucus, Congressman Joseph Crowley, its co-chairman, referred to America’s hopes for the latest peace process between India and Pakistan.
But in a total endorsement of New Delhi’s position, he said: “There can be no true movement until General Musharraf keeps his pledge and stops support of all cross-border terrorism and ceases all support of terrorist activities. I pledge to continue to work hard to ensure the support of the US government to India in the war against terrorism.”
Another team of Indian MPs is due here next month under the auspices of the Indo-US Parliamentary Forum, the counterpart in New Delhi of the India Caucus.
The reception being given to the current team and preparations being made for the next delegation have demonstrated that even if there was any unhappiness on Capitol Hill about the Indian Parliament’s unanimous resolution on Iraq, such resentment is buried and gone.
Instead, the wave of terrorist attacks this month from Riyadh to Casablanca has forced the Americans to reassess their view of al Qaida, resulting in a new willingness here to listen to New Delhi’s allegations against Pakistan on terrorism.