India’s foreign policy is clearly unprepared to meet the aggressive diplomacy unleashed by Pakistan’s president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, in Washington. Although the Indian prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was responsible for initiating the latest peace initiative towards Pakistan, it does seem that the Indian ministry of external affairs has not developed a clear plan of action to take it forward. What is obvious is that American interest and involvement in south Asia will increase in the months to come, and it is vital, therefore, that New Delhi develops a coherent plan of action. It is time also that South Block quickly faced up to three critical realities. First, it is vital for India to realize that Mr Musharraf has proved to be a very shrewd practitioner of diplomacy and he has been able to carve out an important niche within the policy establishment of the United States of America. This has not only ensured that Pakistan’s interests are protected, but also that Washington seems to become the guarantor of Mr Musharraf’s survival. Important voices within the Republican administration believe that Pakistan is a vital asset in the fight against terrorism, especially of the kind motivated by al Qaida. Moreover, there is a strong lobby within Washington that is convinced that there is no real alternative to Mr Musharraf, and any possible replacement would be much worse and deeply detrimental to American interests.
Second, it is also clear that the US involvement in south Asia will increase in the months to come. For a variety of reasons, the George W. Bush administration believes that the region is an area of strategic importance to it. There is also a strong belief in Washington’s policy circles that it is important to ensure stability in the subcontinent, and that a resolution of the Kashmir issue is essential to achieve that goal. Indeed, the US state department organized a major conference on Kashmir last week, but New Delhi seems to have ensured that there is no significant Indian participation. Finally, and this is a realization that must dawn on India, US policy towards south Asia must not be viewed within a zero-sum paradigm. It is true that the US is unwilling to abandon its relationship with Pakistan, for the present, but Washington also needs India’s support on a variety of fronts. In other words, the US’s involvement in south Asia need not be towards Pakistan’s advantage. India can influence and mould Washington’s engagement. However, that requires a paradigm shift within the South Block and India’s own clear and comprehensive road map for peace.