Must India follow the US blindly? (Comment)

January 11th, 2009 - 12:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Sometimes, to save lives and to gain precious time, it is wise to benefit from the experience of others. But if the intention is to ape them blindly, then you run the risk of being taken for a ride. For the last one month India has been led blindfold on just such a merry-go-round.Ever since the Mumbai terror attacks we have looked to the US for support. At every turn we have sought their guidance. Was there any need for us to go half way across the world in search of advice on what our response to terror should be? If a lead was needed, there was the readily available example of a neighbour closer home.

We had tried to persuade Sri Lanka to ease off its military campaign against the LTTE, and to be mindful of the civilian casualties. Sri Lanka’s response was polite but firmly dismissive. It said it had a job to complete and it was determined to do it fast. According to all information available it is well on its way there. Sri Lanka confronted its problems itself, with hardly any regard to external opinion. It didn’t go globe-trotting to seek support for its actions.

The circumstances may be entirely different, but nearly the same has been the case with Israel. When it decided that enough was enough it began to punish Gaza militarily. It may have had quiet consultations with the US prior to its attacks. But it didn’t engage in ponderous indecision nor did it submit, like a supplicant, voluminous folders detailing evidence against the other side. It launched the air attacks and then sent its foreign minister to the Western capitals to inform them of its decision, and to tell them of the other side’s misdemeanours that led to it.

Investigations have now proved beyond any doubt that Mumbai attacks were co-scripted, co-directed and co-acted by state and non-state actors. However the fact that the Pakistani establishment was involved in the Mumbai terror should not come as a surprise to us. The brutal fact is that every major terror attack in India has been planned and promoted with the involvement of actors who wear the state garb in one manner or the other. The list is endless - be it the Mumbai blasts of 1993 or the attack on Parliament. The trail always leads back to the Pakistani state. This was also the case with sponsorship of terror in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s. And it continues to be so with the reign of terror in Jammu and Kashmir. Yet we refuse to recognise the obvious.

Barely had the revulsion over the Mumbai terror attacks receded than we found ourselves battling another group of terrorists in Poonch; 1,500 Indian troops were engaged there by a small band of terrorists. Quite the same had happened in Mumbai where 10 Pakistani terrorists had engaged hundreds of security personnel.

Perhaps Pakistan has more such cells in India. Like the terrorists in Poonch they too might be well armed. If they were ordered by their masters in Islamabad to strike terror simultaneously, imagine the mayhem they could cause. Imagine too the number of Indian troops they would successfully pin down, giving the Pakistan Army full scope for any military adventure it may choose to engage in.

Unfortunately, instead of taking a concrete step ourselves, we keep looking to the US for the approving nod.

No wonder a home ministry delegation flew to Washington with a folder prepared with the bureaucratic penchant for detail. The home minister who was to have led the delegation suspended his visit reportedly due to the strike in the oil sector.

Usually, such delegations are received politely by governments. Dignitaries, with a serious face, make indignant statements about the need for global action against the menace of terrorism. But that is where all action stops. The folder ends up in some junior official’s cupboard, never to be seen again. However, at the end of the visit, our delegation will claim that the receiving state had supported us fully!

This is bad enough, but the problem is compounded further. It so happens that just before the home minister’s earlier scheduled visit, a US official dealing with the region was feted in Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari conferred Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam on visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. That the president of Pakistan should be conferring a high decoration on an official whose equivalent in our system would be a joint secretary is not without significance. That the US official should accept the award from a state directly linked to the Mumbai terror attacks, which resulted among others in the death of six US nationals, is an issue that his government would have no doubt considered.

But what should concern us is the fact that state awards are not distributed randomly.

Every visiting official is not given these honours, not even by tin-pot dictatorships where such awards may be whimsically conferred. There is a purpose to each such decision; a careful assessment is made in every case.

It is also reasonable to assume that a recipient should feel elated at being the chosen one. This feeling turns into conviction when he is conferred the award at a glittering function, where the accompanying citation glows with high sounding compliments. That the awardee should develop some attachment towards that country is only human, because detachment is in the realm of the gods.

It is therefore entirely human of Richard Boucher to have made the following remarks attributed to him by Dawn at the investiture ceremony; “Mr. Boucher said he would continue his services for US-Pak relations.” He added, “The two sides need to exchange information. India and Pakistan need to work together…”

India provided Pakistan with the folder of investigations, but Pakistan wasted no time in trashing it. Its hurry to do so may have been influenced by the fact that Boucher was still around.

For a country that had made self-reliance a mantra, why is it that we have lost confidence in ourselves? Why can’t we confront our problems ourselves? We are currently poised at a critical security juncture. Indecision and vacillation could be suicidal. As far as the US is concerned, it has too much at stake in the Islamic world in general and Afghanistan in particular to risk alienating Pakistan. Our hopes to the contrary will be nothing short of naivete.

(11.1.2009-The writer is a former Indian ambassador. He can be contacted at ambraja@gmail.com)

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