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Dispatches | The Nation

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Dispatches

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The following six dispatches assess the impact of the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks elsewhere in the world. The last two, from The Nation's correspondents in Britain and South Africa, are not available in our print edition.
         --The Editors

About the Author

Ana Uzelac
Ana Uzelac is a Moscow-based journalist who writes for the Moscow Times and other English- and Polish-language...
Ahmed Rashid
Ahmed Rashid, the Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, is the...
Mark Gevisser
Mark Gevisser is an Open Society Fellow. His latest book is A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the...
Graham Usher
Graham Usher is a writer and journalist who has written extensively about the Arab world and South Asia.
Maria Margaronis
Maria Margaronis
Maria Margaronis writes from The Nation's London bureau. Her work has appeared in many other publications,...
Praful Bidwai
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political analyst and peace activist, a columnist with twenty-five Indian...

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INDIA

PRAFUL BIDWAI

New Delhi

As the United States puts together a broad alliance to avenge the September 11 atrocities, two major candidate-members of the coalition in the region south of Afghanistan are dangerously intensifying their mutual rivalry. Barely two months after their Agra summit, India and Pakistan have again locked horns in ways characteristic of their bitter rivalry during the cold war. Today, in an ironic twist of history, once-nonaligned India and former US ally Pakistan are clashing, although they are on the same side--with the United States.

Military action by the US-led coalition in Afghanistan threatens serious domestic trouble in India, besides plunging South Asia into new uncertainties. If President Bush thinks the coalition offers"an opportunity to refashion the thinking between Pakistan and India" to promote reconciliation, he is likely to be proven wrong. Responses in New Delhi and Islamabad to his September 22 lifting of sanctions imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests have been divergent. Indian policy-makers see this as long expected but "asymmetrical," and as an ill-deserved reward to Pakistan for belatedly breaking with the Taliban. The Pakistanis call it inadequate. They want removal of sanctions imposed after the 1999 Musharraf coup and a further "correction" of the recent pro-India tilt in US policy.

Since September 11, India and Pakistan have been vying to become America's "frontline" partners in Afghanistan--for parochial reasons. India offered full military cooperation to the United States even before there was significant evidence on responsibility for the attacks. Indian policy-makers and -shapers could barely hide their glee at this "historic" chance for an Indian-US "strategic partnership." The United States had finally come around to understanding India's suffering under "cross-border terrorism"--that is, Pakistan's support for Kashmiri-secessionist militants--a rather facile explanation of the Kashmir crisis, which is rooted more in New Delhi's policies and popular alienation than in Pakistan's proxy war.

India's unsolicited offer of support was buttressed by Prime Minster Atal Behari Vajpayee, who echoed Bush's insistence on obliterating the distinction between terrorism and states that support it. Vajpayee demanded that "we must strike at [the terrorists'] organizations, at those who condition, finance, train, equip and protect them...and thus compel the states that nurture and support them." This brazen alignment with Washington disturbed and astonished Indian public opinion. New Delhi was so preoccupied with its self-serving stand on Kashmir that it offered to join forces with Washington without demanding the multilateral approach it is traditionally known for. India has conventionally opposed unilateral action by states or groupings like NATO and insisted that any use of military force be properly authorized by the UN's Security Council under Chapter VII of its charter. India's failure to ask for such a mandate today is largely explained by its Kashmir preoccupation and urge to isolate Pakistan.

For its part, Pakistan made a momentous choice on September 19: It will dump the Taliban and join the US-led coalition, thereby overcoming global opprobrium for supporting jihadi militants. It cashed in on its obvious locational and logistical advantage and its leverage over the Taliban. This produced resentment within New Delhi's ruling establishment. Each establishment is abusing and maligning the other, and parodying its intentions and plans. Musharraf didn't help matters when he announced the decision: Three of the four reasons he cited for it pertain directly or indirectly to India. Two of them, Kashmir and "safeguarding" nuclear weapons, have direct implications for India-Pakistan strategic hostility. Musharraf told India to "lay off" and attacked its "grand game plan" to "win over America to its side" while harming Pakistan's vital interests.

This drew an immediate rebuke from New Delhi. India accused Musharraf of conducting "an anti-India tirade...instead of focusing on terrorism, which is responsible for the present situation," and it held Pakistan responsible for the Taliban's "birth, growth and nurturing." The mutual resentment is likely to grow as Pakistan and the United States "neutralize" and work with Afghanistan's rebel Northern Alliance, which India recognizes as that country's legitimate government and in which it has invested significantly over the years.

Rivalry with Pakistan has blinded New Delhi to the dislocations and implosions the current situation could produce if Islamicist opposition grows in Pakistan. It has been equally insensitive to the domestic need to defend pluralism and secularism as these come under increasing pressure from militant Hindu chauvinists, who see September 11 as an opportunity to malign Islam, paint all Muslims with the jihadi-terrorist brush and present them as a threat to "civilized" countries. Such elements are most strongly represented in Vajpayee's own Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads India's twenty-seven-party ruling coalition. The BJP claims to speak for 80 percent of Indians, who are Hindu, but it holds less than a quarter of the national vote. The coming confrontation in Afghanistan is likely to further disturb Hindu-Muslim relations and aggravate sectarian trends in India. It has already spurred demands for a "tough" line on Kashmir and for draconian antiterrorism laws, which would severely curtail civil liberties.

However, there is rising opposition to this policy not just from political parties--including some within the ruling coalition--but from civil society and India's growing peace movement. This movement questions New Delhi's unconditional and uncritical support of Bush's "you're with the United States, or you're with the terrorists" line (which Indian ministers have described as "brilliant"); demands a proper UN mandate for action against the September 11 culprits; and opposes excessive use of force and "collateral damage" (highly likely in Afghanistan's conditions). India has witnessed small but spirited demonstrations against any unilateral US (or coalition) action. And there is a vigorous public debate over the wisdom of using force, as well as over the US record of military intervention in the Third World, including Iraq.

Above all, there is serious concern about the nuclear dimension of any instability that the imminent confrontation might produce in South Asia--with grim global consequences. The United States, ironically, will have contributed in no small measure to this through its own addiction to nuclear weapons, coupled with its flawed nonproliferation, as distinct from disarmament-based, approach to arms control.

Praful Bidwai is a South Asian peace activist, a columnist with twenty-five Indian newspapers and co-author (with Achin Vanaik) of New Nukes (Interlink). He shared the International Peace Bureau's Sean MacBride International Peace Prize for 2000 with Vanaik.

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