US's dalliance in Beijing is short-lived
By M K Bhadrakumar
Discourse between India and Pakistan can be deceptive - like when cats hiss.
You can never quite tell dalliance from discord. The fact remains that at
different levels, despite their occasional shrill rhetoric, contacts have been
going on between Delhi and Islamabad, including some unprecedented highly
sensitive lines of communication, which neither side publicizes. India has also
kick-started parallel efforts aimed at reaching out to Kashmiri opinion, with
Pakistan in the loop.
At the responsible level of leadership in both India and Pakistan, there is a
realization that extremism and terrorism do not and should not provide scope
for zero-sum games, given the acuteness of security threats. There is no
attempt on India's part to take advantage of the pressing need for the
Pakistani military to redeploy from the eastern border to the Afghan border.
Washington is privy to the alpha and the omega of what is going
on, and yet it got a pithy paragraph inserted into the summit statement by US
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao:
The two sides
welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South
Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism,
maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social
development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India
and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and
cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace,
stability and development in that region.
articulation raised eyebrows in New Delhi, as both Washington and Beijing know
only too well that it isn't in India's DNA to accept minders or mentors -
Western or Asian. Delhi lost no time brusquely rejecting mediation.
However, the Sino-American affair over South Asia presented Delhi with another
puzzle. The fact remains that US and Chinese interests are so patently at odds
in the region that the two countries cannot easily mate. Washington is actively
undermining the stability of the Mahinda Rajapakse government in Colombo, with
which both Beijing and Delhi enjoy close ties. The US has just begun a robust
thrust in Myanmar to contest China's influence.
Conceivably, China has a good grasp of the situation in Pakistan and can
estimate how deeply unpopular the US has become in that country. Ironically,
the day the Obama-Hu statement was released in Beijing, a Gallup poll revealed
that Pakistanis see the US as a bigger threat (59%) than India (18%) or the
Taliban (11%). Why should Beijing stake its "all-weather friendship" with
Pakistan to salvage America's reputation?
Meanwhile, a concerted media campaign has begun in the US to discredit Chinese
policies toward Afghanistan - that China is involved in "brazen examples of
corruption" to grab Afghanistan's wealth of mineral resources. Quoting US
officials, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that state-run China
Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC) paid a bribe of US$30 million to the concerned
Afghan authorities for receiving a $2.9 billion project to extract copper from
the Aynak deposit in Logar province.
The MCC is reportedly all set to bribe its way into another massive mining deal
- an iron-ore deposit west of Kabul known as Haji Gak - and Sinochem, a Chinese
state oil company, is similarly bidding for access to oil and gas deposits in
northern Afghanistan. It is an unsavory tale.
Yet the London Times picked up the sleaze story on Thursday and embellished it
even further. The tale already finds echo in a recent testimony by Milton
Bearden, a former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Islamabad, to
the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The other regional players [read
China] are busily setting the stage for exploitation of Afghanistan's natural
resources, while the US remains bogged down with the war. This should change,"
Two weeks ago, when the Associated Press broke the story, it quoted leading
American think-tanker and author, Robert Kaplan, "The world isn't fair. A worse
outcome to staying and helping the Chinese would be withdrawing and losing a
great battle in the war against radical Islam."
Therefore, where is it that US-China "communication, dialogue and cooperation"
can work in South Asia? In Nepal? Indeed, Washington has already begun
backtracking from the Obama-Hu statement.
On Wednesday, addressing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in
Washington, DC, William J Burns, under secretary for political affairs, said,
"Of course, we all share an interest in stability and peace between India and
Pakistan. We all know the stakes. America has always supported the two
countries' peace process and the resolution of outstanding disputes through
dialogue. The pace, scope, and content of the peace process is for Indian and
Pakistan leaders to decide."
Burns later told Indian newsmen, "The US is interested in pursuing the best and
healthiest possible partnership with China. But that doesn't come at the
expense of other increasingly important partnerships, particularly our
relationship with India." He advised them "not to read too much" into the
Beijing will not be surprised that its South Asia connection with the Americans
turned out to be ephemeral. The US similarly fired from the Chinese shoulder 11
years ago when its influence over Pakistan and India was again at low ebb. That
was in May-June 1998, when the two South Asian countries went openly nuclear
and Bill Clinton thundered in the Oval Office, "We're going to come down on
those guys like a ton of bricks."
Clinton dispatched his diplomats to rally the Chinese to his side and Beijing
promptly obliged. A few weeks passed and Clinton changed his mind and began
reconciliation talks with Delhi - without keeping Beijing (or anyone else) in
the loop. History seems to repeat itself.
No sooner had Obama taken off from China, the American side began its
explaining. These temper tantrums show up the fault lines in the US's regional
policies. The plain truth is that both Pakistan and India have become somewhat
Washington is acutely conscious that "anti-Americanism" is riding high in
Pakistan and it cuts across all sections of society. There is growing
volatility in Pakistani politics and any new government can only be less
The Afghan Taliban continue to flourish as Pakistan's "strategic assets" and
they bleed American troops while Pakistani military operations remain
restricted to militants who disrupt Pakistan's internal security.
As for Delhi, it hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday,
just a week before a visit by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the US.
India may get back into the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project and
Manmohan may visit Tehran in February. Most important, Iran invited India to
join the Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan regional format, and Delhi showed interest.
Delhi takes a dim view of the Anglo-American thinking regarding "moderate
Taliban" in Afghanistan. It repeatedly ignored - including a week ago - the
proposal by the US AfPak special representative, Richard Holbrooke, to visit
Delhi for consultations, pleading "scheduling difficulty".
Again, Manmohan will be visiting Moscow in early December - his second trip to
Russia in six months. The traffic from Delhi to Moscow has become heavy - one
presidential visit, two prime ministerial visits and visits by the foreign
minister and the defense minister.
Indian strategists are finally catching up with the transformative realities in
the world order and realizing that Delhi's one-dimensional foreign policy
riveted on the idea of working "shoulder-to-shoulder" with Washington as
"natural allies" on the global scene is a hopelessly archaic notion.
It becomes embarrassing to look back and survey that India has held over 50
military exercises with the US in recent years. Obama prefers a
"demilitarization" of US-India ties, with cooperation mainly focused on
American arms manufacturers tapping into the massive Indian arms bazaar.
For the first time in the post-Cold war era, Delhi elites too are not going
overboard with excitement over an impending prime ministerial visit to the US
and are able to maintain equanimity and poise.
At the same time, US-Indian business ties are set to blossom. On Thursday, the
Indian government tabled legislation in parliament under the misleading title
"Civil Nuclear Liability Bill", the sole purpose of which is to provide access
for the US nuclear industry to the Indian market, which promises to offer over
$100 billion in business in the coming five to 10 years.
Washington's quick backtracking from the Obama-Hu statement underscores that
any enterprise to mount ill-fated Sino-American ventures in the Indo-Gangetic
plains can seriously harm the American business agenda, which is the US's top
This is not the end of the story. Beijing still may have an affair to settle
with Delhi - the Dalai Lama's recent visit to the Indian state of Arunachal
Pradesh, which China claims as its territory.
Most certainly, it was not in India's interests to have raised the dust. It
remains unclear what good purpose was served by the visit and what may have
In what may be the first Chinese response, the top Kashmiri separatist leader
in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, has
been invited to visit Beijing. He said he accepted the invitation and hoped to
give Chinese diplomats and other officials a "perspective" on the situation in
J&K. This is the first time ever that Beijing has invited any separatist
leader from J&K to visit China.
Obama may have a thing or two to explain to Manmohan when they meet over the
first state banquet of his presidency that he is hosting in singular honor of
the Indian dignitary next week. While in Beijing, Obama might have unwittingly
butted into an area in which angels fear to tread.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka,
Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.