Is It The End of Coercive Diplomacy

Updated: Jul 27 2002, 05:30am hrs
Mr Colin Powell is visiting Delhi to assure himself that all is well, and that India is not going to upset the axis that the US has built with General Musharraf. The US and Britain want India to de-escalate its military presence on the border, and let them get on with the job of fighting Al-Qaida and the Taliban, who are regrouping themselves in Pakistan, with the help of the General. They say that they are not in a position to put any pressure on the General until their fight with the Al-Qaida and the Taliban comes to an end. They say that India, by maintaining its strong military presence on the border, is creating a tense situation, complicating their fight against terrorism. So please back off - that is what Mr Powell wants India to do.

Is this then the end of the road for coercive diplomacy New Delhi is pinning much hope on unlocking a process for restoring a peaceful atmosphere by holding elections in Kashmir in September-October. It hopes that a middle ground will develop for dialogue and autonomy discussions, which it thinks is the way forward. And it thinks it is too early to withdraw the army from the border - lest it convey the wrong signals to the General and the terrorists.

What should New Delhi say to Mr Powell in these circumstances It could ask Mr Powell to put pressure on the General not to allow infiltration during the time of elections, for that would escalate the tension; it could say that it needs to maintain its military presence on the border as a threat against any foolish thinking that the General might indulge in.

The truth is that General Musharraf does not want any space for democratic dialogue to develop in Kashmir at all. Mr Musharraf has repeatedly declared that he is opposed to holding elections in Kashmir. He would turn a blind eye if infiltrators can upset the elections, and undermine the hopes of New Delhi for restoration of peace in Kashmir. New Delhis hope of using Mr Powell to buy peace on the border is therefore a futile exercise.

Instead of spending time talking about the chances of the General helping to stop infiltration at the time of elections, New

Delhi should use Mr Powells visit to India to reach a common mind on General Musharraf and the whole issue of Kashmir - a common mind that serves the interests of both India and the US.

What, then, should New Delhi say to Mr Powell

* It should start by emphasising that Mr Musharraf has no mind to effectively help the fight against the Al-Qaida and the Taliban, for he knows that the American interest in standing by him lasts only as long as the terrorist threat prevails. The US, therefore, should give thought to what it can do to change his mind.

* The Indian presence on the border is in fact a weapon that the US and Britain can use to put pressure on Mr Musharraf to cooperate. They can tell him that unless he is sincere in capturing the leadership of the Al-Qaida and the Taliban, they would find it very difficult to persuade India to de-escalate.

* If Mr Musharraf and the Muslim fundamentalists succeed in wrenching Kashmir from India, it will give a new lease of life to the Muslim fundamentalists all over the world. The consequence would be further Muslim terrorism. Mr Powell should let Mr Musharraf know that far from safeguarding his position, a strengthening of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan and elsewhere is a danger to him - and the modernist forces in Pakistan who want to escape the fundamentalist hold on the country.

* Mr Powell should appreciate that a secular and prosperous India will be a source of stability in Asia. Anything that threatens the break-up of India on communal lines is against the long-term interest of global stability. In its anxiety to find a settlement for the Kashmir problem, the US should not undermine the secular basis of India.

* India is a growing economy, and has an open society. In the longer run, the US and India have much that binds them together. These long-term interests should steer the US in adopting a much more mature approach on the Pakistan-India conflict than is the case at present. It should not be fooled into believing that the short-term worry of how to secure the Generals cooperation in the fight against the Al-Qaida and the Taliban outweighs the long-term interests of the two countries.

It cannot be gainsaid that the discussions in New Delhi should not let the short-term concerns cloud the long-term vision of mutual interest of the US and India in preserving secularism and democracy.