Hot air from the border

Updated: Feb 2 2002, 05:30am hrs
An apparently unending standoff seems the most appropriate description of the state of affairs in the subcontinent. While Pakistan goes on demanding de-escalation and dialogue, India insists that neither the troops can be withdrawn from the border nor talks take place until Pakistans military dictator and self-appointed President, General Musharraf, actually delivers what he has promised in his famous January 12 speech. Of this, Indian leaders add with much justification, there is yet no sign on the ground.

Musharraf has surely banned some jehadi outfits and arrested two thousand suspects. But, as The Economist (January 19) has pointed out, he has so far said nothing about purging the ISI, the army, the state-run educational institutes, the judiciary and the civil service of those who have supported and still support Islamisation. Until this is done, military influence would endure.

Under these circumstances, international support for the Indian position that there must be visible movement towards the end of cross-border terrorism before New Delhi can be expected to make any reciprocal move ought to be steadfast. But such support as there has been is now showing signs of weakening slowly.

Those in this country who felt heartened by President George Bushs inclusion of Jaish-e-Mohammed of Pakistan (though not of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba) among the terrorist groups still menacing the world, should also pay heed to another part of his State of the Union address to the U S Congress. In it he heaped praise on Pakistan for cracking down on terrorists and applauded Musharrafs strong leadership. U S diplomats have also stepped up their rhetoric about the situation along the Line of Control being still dangerous and, therefore, in need of being cooled down. More and more voices in support of lowering of tensions and meaningful dialogue on all India-Pakistan issues, including Kashmir, are bound to follow.

If there is any truth in the report of the Pakistani newspaper Jasaarat, that Musharraf had to threaten to resign in order to get the consent of the powerful Corps Commanders to the plans that he spelled out on January 12, then resistance to his future actions is almost certain. Top Army and ISI officers obviously fear the exposure of their own misdeeds in case the aggrieved jehadi groups begin to speak out.

All this needs to be factored into clear-headed thinking on the nature and possibilities of the undoubtedly warming relations between this country and the United States. Military cooperation between the two countries is on the increase. Washington is now willing to sell this country sophisticated military equipment that was unavailable until now. What is more, America is making no effort to dissuade Israel from supplying this country early warning Phalcon AWAC system. On its part, America is seeking the Indian Navys cooperation, especially in escorting U S naval ships from the Straits of Malacca to the Gulf of Hormuz - a request that would surely be granted.

All this is welcome but must not lead to euphoria. For, this coin too has its flip side. For example, most of the restrictions on the transfer of dual use technology remain in force, especially in the civilian nuclear area. In other words, the U S is unwilling to give to India what it freely provides China with. This surely is not the stuff of a paradigm shift in Indo-US relations.

Moreover, during the period between September 11 and October 7, when the bombing of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban began, there used to be soothing words from Washington to the effect that while Americas alliance with Pakistan was tactical, that with India was strategic. This is no longer the case. American declarations that their military is going to stay in Pakistan for long, and the utter generosity of U S economic and military help to Pakistan speak for themselves. American policy in the region will, therefore, continue to be one of triangular tightrope walking.

There is no need to pick a quarrel with the U S. But there ought to be candour even among best of friends. Washington must be told that neither American nor Indian objectives would be served if Pakistan is allowed to say one thing about terrorism and do something quite different. In his State of the Union message, President Bush had also said that if any regime was too timid to act against terrorists, it must know that America would. Would this apply to Pakistan if there were a gulf between Musharrafs words and deeds

However, plain speaking alone would not be enough. Indian diplomacy has got to be both energetic and innovative. Too frequent a repetition of the present Indian position (no disengagement until the cross-border terrorism ends) has begun to pall. Something more has got to be done to ensure that in the struggle for world opinion the initiative remains in Indian hands. We must be firm in the pursuit of our strategic objective. But our tactics must be flexible.