Travel broadens the mind. During his recent visit to the United States of America, our prime minister had an attack of such broadmindedness. He was speaking, straight from the heart, to the American press. It was a remarkable performance, with beggar-my-neighbour eloquence at its very best. Don't you know, quite unlike India, where you will not find a single al-Qaida man, Pakistan is infested with Osama bin Laden's acolytes. In any case, because it is a military dictatorship, Pakistan's administration is highly unstable; that country could any day come under the control of the taliban. Bereft of the blessings of a strong democracy, Pakistan would be putty clay in the hands of Muslim fundamentalists. It is frightening to contemplate what might happen should these species come to possess a stockpile of nuclear bombs; Western civilization, the prime minister implied, would be in deep peril; India, in contrast, always thinks and prays for the safety, security and prosperity of the Western world, including the great United States.
The twist, of course, is in the tail. The prime minister has rushed to sign some sort of a nuclear agreement with the US. The Americans have kindly agreed to supply us 'heavy water', thereby making full utilization of the capability of the Tarapore plant possible. The fuel will be available for our other nuclear installations too, including new ones that might be set up. The price we have to pay is to concede to the Americans the unfettered right to enter and inspect our nuclear plants. Such inspection will hardly be in the nature of innocuous perambulation though. The US inspectors will henceforth control our nuclear activities. This condition is not overtly mentioned in the agreement signed with the Americans. But, then, there are more things in heaven and earth than are written in formal covenants.
Is it the will-o'-the-wisp of a permanent seat in the United Nations security council ' stated to be an American bounty ' or is it a deeper malaise, a manifestation of the fear of freedom Erich Fromm wrote about more than sixty years ago' Whatever it be, our prime minister is obviously striving to be the number one drum-beater of the US bandmaster. To give Pakistan a bloody nose is an equally strong urge: the Americans should take us in as a nuclear ally, and, at the same time, deny the same dispensation to Pakistan.
Suppose the Pakistanis decide to embark on a riposte, and plaintively warn the US administration of the pitfalls of an Indian connection' They could, for instance, make the following points seriatim. First, India is full of congenital America-haters, and it would prove to be a most unreliable ally. Second, unlike Pakistan, where the military dictatorship works as a factor of stability, India, as a practising democracy, suffers from the debility of periodic elections which lead to frequent changes in government. There is accordingly always the danger of an agreement signed with New Delhi during the tenure of one regime being annulled by a succeeding one; no such risk exists in Pakistan. Third, India's main opposition party is being taken over ' lock, stock and barrel ' by the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad. In case in the next election the Congress-led government loses and the Bharatiya Janata Party takes over, the Indian bomb could well pass into the hands of the wild ones in the VHP. These people might then rain the bomb on Pakistan. The consequences could be far-reaching.
Fourth, there is a further dire prospect. The Congress is in power in New Delhi on the sufferance of the left, some of whom hold far-out radical notions, and nurture an admiration for Fidel Castro. The Americans should seriously take into account the possibility that the left might, one of these days, enter the portals of administration in New Delhi and, in due course, plant their agents in the ministry of defence. What guarantee is there that these wretched communists will not pass on to Castro some of the nuclear secrets the Americans could conceivably share with the Indians in terms of the agreement just signed'
It is a depressing scenario. In their desperate anxiety to curry American favours, the regimes of both countries might go to the most vulgar length to present their own case and vilify the rival country. This frenzy to be a vassal of the US is particularly intriguing in the context of what is happening in the United Kingdom. Leave out the verdict of the former prime minister, John Major, or of the current London mayor, Jack Livingstone, or of the opinion polls; even an official committee set up by the British government has explicitly suggested that the terrorist outbursts in London are a direct consequence of Tony Blair's decision to make the UK an active partner of the US in the blatant act of aggression in Iraq. Till as long as the British government does not agree to withdraw troops from Iraq, life is likely to continue to be chancy for Londoners. Neither normal nor special security measures can really prevent the penetration of ideas.
Let there be no illusion, there are enough zealots living in Britain who have total sympathy for the Arab cause. They are not necessarily of Arab descent nor have Asian or Latin American roots. Almost every country in each continent now has enough haters of US foreign policy who are willing to convert themselves into flaming activists. Terror will remain a ubiquitous phenomenon till as long as the American system is not rid of its imperial ego and its admirers elsewhere too do not draw their lessons from what has happened in London and Sharm el-Sheikh.
In his recent pilgrimage to the US, the Indian prime minister went overboard in praising the virtues of American democracy. He was equally stentorian in his pledge to be a fitting partner of the US in its war against global terror. He has his problems, in Kashmir, along the North-east and in those parts of the country's interior where tribal populations have been experiencing unspeakable deprivation. It would however be awesomely difficult to prove that the troubles in Assam or Manipur are instigated by Osama bin Laden. Nor can the ubiquitous landlessness and related underdevelopment in the tribal belt be attributable to the taliban. In Kashmir, too, the crucial issue is self-determination of its people; if one or two members of al Qaida lend a helping hand to the militants there, much of the fault perhaps lies, it can be argued, with those who decided, in the first place, to move the Indian army into the valley.
Till now, the record says, Osama bin Laden has exhibited no enmity towards India. What is then the rationale of the bravado in claiming to be the staunchest ally of the US in its war against terror' The American war has a single focus: the annihilation of Osama bin Laden and his followers. Terrorism as defined in the lexicon of New Delhi forms no part of the American agenda. To be blunt, in our enthusiasm to join the US president, we are only advancing the dawn of the day when Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, each will be the constant target of so-called terrorist activities.
The prime minister has asked for it, terror will come home. Our parliament condoles the deaths of those killed in the London and Sharm el-Sheikh explosions; it did not bother to commiserate with the innocent citizens of Afghanistan and Iraq who were victims of the butchery perpetrated by Western troops. What if the appropriate conclusion is drawn by some people somewhere'