Year Of The Phony War

Updated: Dec 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
2002 will come to be regarded as the year of the phony war between India and Pakistan. The December 13 attack last year on the Indian Parliament led to a massive deployment of Indian forces on Pakistans borders and shrill threats of a fight to the finish by our leadership.

The deployment did compel the Bush administration to secure the promise of a complete end to cross-border terrorism from General Musharraf, which the good general had no intention of fulfilling. Despite a murderous attack on the families of Indian soldiers in Jammu followed by heightened terrorist violence during the Jammu and Kashmir polls, the Indian army and air force showed no inclination to respond with strikes into Pakistan controlled territory. Then the troops were withdrawn and the nation blandly informed that the purposes of the deployment had been achieved. Across the border, a triumphant General Musharraf proclaimed he had looked the Indians in the eye and they had backed off.

But there were concrete gains for Indian foreign policy during the year. Persistent engagement with the Bush administration resulted in India acquiring a prominent place in American strategic perceptions. The new American National Security Doctrine proclaimed that differences over nuclear and missile policies will not be allowed to compromise the strong strategic partnership the US seeks with India, a growing world power with which we have common strategic interests.

More importantly, the relationship is not being linked with the US-Pakistan relationship. India-US relations are instead described as crucial for the free flow of commerce through the vital sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and in creating a strategically stable Asia. Thus, while the Bush administration is not going to see Pakistan through an India prism, they are going to make a conscious effort to ease curbs on technology transfers and promote a growing defence relationship. One also feels that while Washington regards Pakistan as a perpetual problem child that has to be persuaded to mend its ways, it regards India as a resilient democracy with a vibrant economy, an asset for stability and progress in Asia.

While there was extensive interaction with major European powers like the UK, France and Germany, New Delhi will have to recognise that the interaction with the EU is going to be sterile, given the tendency of its smaller members to pontificate and sermonise.

New Delhi can also look back with some satisfaction with the new level that relations with ASEAN have assumed with the introduction of an annual India-ASEAN Summit. It is imperative that we have a wide-ranging dialogue with countries to our East to deal with issues of security and terrorism, and to give a dynamic thrust to our economic integration with these rapidly progressing economies.

China is assuming the role of Asias economic powerhouse and we will find ourselves badly marginalised in the east if we do not move ahead with further economic restructuring at home, coupled with imaginative economic diplomacy across the Indian Ocean region.

Despite agreement in the Kathmandu SAARC Summit that the countries of South Asia would move ahead in widening the existing Preferential Trade arrangement and concluding the framework of a SAARC Free Trade Agreement, Pakistan has effectively stalled any prospect of this happening with its one-point agenda of focussing attention on Kashmir. The time has thus come to analyse whether it would be preferable to work for economic integration and progress in our neighbourhood through fora in which Pakistan is not a member.

We enter the New Year in an uncertain global and regional strategic scenario. The US is poised to strike at Iraq, with some reports suggesting that such a strike could commence in January 2003. The Americans are finding that their campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly frustrating, with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and their supporters regrouping in Pakistan and Afghanistan and dispersing across the globe. Right wing religious parties are coming to power in Pakistans North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan on a platform pledging assistance to independence movements in Palestine, Kashmir, Myanmar, Chechnya and the Philippines. Therefore, India, Russia and the US should be prepared for a prolonged spell of terrorist violence. 2003 is going to present new challenges that will have to be dealt with with more imagination and firmness than the phony war of 2002.

Mr Parthasarathy is former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan.