May 11, 2001


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Colonel Anil Athale (retd)

The Burkina-Faso syndrome

Part I: The American proposal

The American President announced his intention to consult allies and friends on BMD world-wide. India was included in the Asian itinerary of Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, along with Japan and South Korea.

After his recent gesture of taking Jaswant Singh for an impromptu meeting at the White House, this was a second signal that the US has sent that it now considers India as at least a friend if not an ally.

Sure, the economic sanctions are still in place and technology denial regime, in force since 1974, repeat 1974 (and not since 1998 and Pokhran II), is still not revoked. But it seems that the two year dialogue between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbot, seems to be at long last yielding positive results for India.

Unfortunately instead of welcoming this change, some unemployed politicians and usual pinko columnists see in this development erosion of Indian 'autonomy'. People want to still live in the past and chant the 'mantra' of non-alignment.

Non-alignment as a concept was dead once the division of the world into two blocks ended. But many in the Delhi circuit continue to swear by it and want India to forever remain in the 'Beggar's Trade Union,' a description of the Third World block by ex-US envoy Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

So some years ago the Indian PM and foreign office searched out an African country with a Muslim majority that supported India on Kashmir, that is Burkina Faso!

In the last several years, India seems to follow a foreign policy that positively snubbed friends and rewarded adversaries. Despite our years of unquestioning support to the Arab cause, not one country in the Middle East has shown appreciation of the secular polity of India. In 1965 and 1971, these very countries gave spare parts and aircraft to Pakistan, while Israel that gave us arms when in need (120 mm mortars in 1962 and 160 mm mortars in 1971) was shunned by us even when many Arab countries began to deal with it.

We seem to perpetually confuse 'strategy' with basic aim. Non Alignment was a strategy to deal with the world during the cold war. It did succeed as evidenced by the US support to us during the 1962 Chinese invasion, despite the fact that we had no treaty with the Americans.

Thomas C Schelling mentions that Nehru was utterly contemptuous of the treaty signing spree of Pakistan (SEATO, CENTO etc) and knew that treaty or no treaty, should China attack India, the US would come to its aid. Incidentally, the US went to the aid of Britain in both the world wars without any formal treaty obligations.

Reality check: India, China and USA

The hangover of the Sino-US alliance against the Soviet Union lasted for nearly ten years. Here was a country, China, that openly targeted mainland US with ICBMs tipped with nuclear weapons being treated as a 'strategic partner ' while India that has never had that intention or plan was being penalised for merely testing nuclear weapons.

No American analyst has been able to explain how Indian tests directly threatened the US. Yet, unmindful of the Chinese perfidy in fighting India through an ever ready Pakistan, the US refused to acknowledge Indian need for deterrence against the Chinese. It took a brinkmanship with a reconnaissance plane by a Chinese fighter aircraft for reality to finally dawn in on the Americans of the aggressive Chinese conduct.

It is futile to blame the Americans as Indians -- of the 'know all' variety -- came down on hapless George Fernandes when he, correctly, identified China as an enemy that needs to be deterred.

Here is a country, whose entry into the UN was supported by us, whose possession of Tibet was accepted by us and with whom we wanted a brotherly relationship. The Chinese have never responded to us fairly. They occupied Tibet but refused to keep the border quiet, never acknowledged the Indian primacy in the subcontinent and since 1963 have been making sure that the 'monkey on our back' Pakistan, continues to carry out its antics.

Pakistan was given M-11 missiles, provided help in making nuclear weapons and small arms to kill Indians in Kashmir. It is time India stopped getting cowed down by fears of the Chinese being displeased, because there is no way we can win them over.

Threat of a rogue state

As seen in Part I, the US obviously feels that the threat of a 'rogue' state targeting an ICBM on US mainland is still about five years away. But for India the threat is here and now! In the colourful language of Lt Gen Ashok Joshi, when the bladder is full the first priority of an individual is to visit the loo, concern for long term peace, the future of humanity, impact on the world, are all academic issues that can wait, but not the immediate threat of failed state.

For the last two decades of the 20th century, according to Robert Oakley, a former US envoy to Pakistan, that country has been 'floating on the sea of American aid'. How else does one explain a saving rate close to 8 per cent and economic growth of 6 per cent!

As that flood of aid, prompted by the American 'Jehad' against the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan, has now ended, the unstable and primitive society in Pakistan is exporting its socio-economic problems in the idiom of Jehad to neighbouring India.

The Jehad factories in madarsas (religious schools) are being supported by a population growth rate of close to 5 per cent. The choice before these products is either to send the child as a camel driver to the Middle East for the pleasure of Arabs or send them as cannon fodder for Jehad.

With the economy likely to grow at less than 3 per cent, this failed state of Pakistan has a declared policy of the 'first use of nuclear weapons.' With Musharraf, the architect of the undeclared war of Kargil as head of the state -- controlling Pakistan and its nuclear weapons -- India urgently needs a shield against tactical missiles. It would be foolish in the extreme if we were to spurn the American advances as in that lies the guarantee that we could cope with the immediate threat.

As to the long term prospect of enmity with China, there is yet no sign of any desire of friendship from their side. It seems that like the Indo-Soviet convergence of interest lasted nearly five decades, the new Indo-US common interest is equally based on a sound footing. What happens after that is best left to the next generation. Suffice it to say that the Indo-US estrangement that began in 1942 with the 'Quit India' movement, is about to end.

The Bush Advantage

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