|January 8, 2002||atimes.com|
The isolation of India
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - The renewed tension between India and Pakistan, even if it is short of war, as now seems the case, is likely to remain for some time and further complicate the process of finding new political stability in the area. Despite the fierce military build-up on the two sides of the border, as days go by a settlement appears in sight: in response to Pakistan's crackdown on the organizations, Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed, accused of having masterminded the terrorist attack against India's parliament in New Delhi, India will not attack Pakistan.
The arrests and this political compromise might be not enough to appease the Indians after the parliament attack, which was a serious threat against their security, but the compromise will be less dangerous than the total destabilization of Pakistan. Islamabad's sudden repudiation of the Taliban is reported to have created a rift between itself and Pakistan-based terrorists operating in Kashmir. These groups, whether operating in Afghanistan or in Kashmir, have strong backing among the Pakistani people and the government's decision to oppose them is causing a large rift in the population. This rift would be widened by war with India.
Pakistan would most likely be defeated in a conventional clash with India and Islamabad would be plunged into political unrest that could eventually lead to the "Afghanization" of Pakistan or to the use of Pakistani nuclear weapons against its neighbor. Even without recourse to nuclear weapons, the Afghanization of Pakistan could start a chain reaction in India - trigger more tension in Indian Kashmir, then enhance Hindu militancy in the majority of the population and thus rekindle sedition among the Muslim minority. All of this would in turn squeeze the thin non-religious layer of the Indian establishment.
Thus a war against Pakistan, while serving the purpose of vindicating India's honor and re-establishing its domestic short-term sense of security, would complicate India's long-term regional position. India needs to get out of its geopolitical isolation.
Before September 11, New Delhi had managed to reach out to the United States: it had pledged its support for the US national missile defense plans and, in return, the US was making India, the largest democracy in the world, its South Asian partner. The potentials for the agreement were huge. However, the need to wage a war in Afghanistan brought back the tough reality of geography: Pakistan was essential to the US for its attack on and control of Afghanistan, whereas India was at best secondary.
This reality is even starker now. In the last days of December, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ominously announced that he would move his troops from the Afghan to the Indian border. But the Pakistani troops on the Afghan border were necessary to seal the area and help secure the capture of fugitive Al-Qaeda fighters or of Osama bin Laden, which was the Americans' ultimate goal of the Afghan war. Conversely, the US didn't want a military confrontation between Pakistan and India, which might expand the Afghan destabilization to Pakistan. Therefore Musharraf's announcement of the redeployment of his troops was a cry for help to the US in order to defuse the possibility of war with India, which would further rock his unstable throne. The US soon obliged by putting pressure on Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and pouring cold water on the hot Indian spirits.
The lesson for India thus should clear: The US will try to secure the new, wobbly stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan even if it costs India a little security and pride. India's complaints that the attack against its parliament was even more serious than the September 11 attacks in the United States will be put on the back burner.
The US choice is certainly legitimate in terms of the stability of the whole region, but it doesn't solve India's deep-seated feeling of isolation. India could feel deprived of its former alliance with the Soviet Union, which allowed New Delhi to project itself into the world. India could also come to realize that rapprochement with the US has its limits, and could hark back to the geopolitics it inherited at the end of the Cold War: one of isolation, deep frustration and distrust. The dangers inherent in such feelings are not limited to India itself but affect the whole region.
But things are not as bad as they may look, and there is another actor in the South Asian drama: China. Certainly, there is a long list of issues keeping China and India apart. There are many border controversies, decades of mistrust and, more recently, reciprocal jealousy: India envies China's economic success, and China envies India's international public-relations success, which is due to New Delhi's democratic institutions.
However, the new map drawn by the war in Afghanistan and the renewed tension with Pakistan also pulls India and China together. It is clear that the US will stay in Central Asia and Afghanistan for some time, and for this purpose America must bolster Pakistan; this, for separate reasons, could be an irritant to both China and India. China may fear containment by the prolonged US presence on its western border. Similarly, India now knows that it can't play the American card against Pakistan, and thus Pakistan could be a form of containment to India. To resolve this deadlock, the players should recall the lesson of former US president Richard Nixon.
At the height of the Cold War with the Soviets and the hot war in Vietnam, Nixon opened up to China in a bid to freeze the spread of communism in Asia and introduce a large irritant into the Soviets' side. The game played out so well that the end of the Vietnam War did not usher in a new watershed of communism in the world. Quite to the contrary, thanks to China, the communist tide was eventually stemmed all over Asia and pro-Western regimes were bolstered. Thus victoriously communist Vietnam ended up being isolated and forced first into Chinese-style reforms and then to request admission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which was born as an anti-communist organization especially devised to contain the spread of Vietnamese, and Chinese, communism.
In a similar way, to appease reciprocal fears of containment, China and India must reach out to each other, with a long-term plan to learn from each other: the reasons for the economic success of the former and good international PR of the latter. In this new spirit the border issue could find a compromise, as after all seemed to be the case between the two countries in the early 1950s.
A new reciprocal trust between India and China must be rebuilt, but after decades of confrontation this will be very difficult and will take a long time. But mutual concerns could well spur the rapprochement. The fear is that this alliance might take on a risky anti-American veneer.
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