Making the right noises

Print edition : June 06, 1998

IT was clear from the Clinton administration's position from the time India conducted its nuclear tests that Pakistan would be made to pay a price if it decided to follow the Indian example. During the fortnight after the Indian tests, the United States virtually kept imploring Pakistan to exercise restraint. Although U.S. officials maintain that there was no "wish list" involved in the negotiations between the U.S. and Pakistan, the fact was that there was a "goodies bag" and Islamabad kept hinting that it was insuffcient. However, even while talking about how "responsible" Pakistan would appear if it decided against responding to the Indian action with nuclear tests of its own, the U.S. was convinced that given Pakistan's domestic compulsions, it was just a matter of time before it (Pakistan) conducted such tests.

Going by conventional wisdom, Pakistan's reaction did not come as a surprise, especially to India, since only the naive would have imagined that Nawaz Sharif could have survived the crisis by acceding to the wishes of Bill Clinton or any other Western leader.

Once Pakistan conducted two rounds of nuclear tests, the Clinton administration was forced to respond. If it had a choice, the U.S. Government would have tried to soft-pedal the issue by saying that Pakistan could not be blamed since it was India that had conducted the tests first. However, no one appears to want to talk about the "original sin" - the fact that the recent developments in South Asia may have had their origins in U.S. policy itself, especially the U.S.' extreme reluctance to confront China for its alleged dealings with Pakistan on the nuclear and missile fronts.

The U.S.' new-found "infatuation" for Pakistan was gainfully used by the Clinton administration to dismantle what it perceived as "uncomfortable" pieces of legislation. Few people remembered the fact that Pakistan came very close to being named an official sponsor of terrorism by the George Bush administration. Soon after India conducted the nuclear tests in May, the Clinton administration and other like-minded members in the U.S. Congress appeared to be determined to do away with the little pieces of legislation that had been formulated for all the right reasons. And it went far beyond the release to Pakistan of the 28 F-16s sitting in air-conditioned hangars in a desert strip in Arizona. However, whether all this is history now, remains to be seen.

PUTTING aside the concept of the "original sin", it is amazing how Pakistan has got away with so little in terms of harsh rhetoric from the Clinton administration in the aftermath of its tests. In fact, Pakistan is being spoken of in glowing terms for "not deceiving" the U.S. That Islamabad did not have much of a choice given the positioning of the spy satellites is something that not many may have bothered to look into.

The U.S. State Department reacted strongly to statements made by Home Minister L.K. Advani on Kashmir soon after India's first round of testing, but it did nothing of the kind when Pakistan's Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan made negative remarks about India. This relative silence aside, Washington appears to be persisting with some of its old-fangled ideas about South Asia. The administration maintains that it wants to reduce tension in the region and facilitate a dialogue between India and Pakistan (if both New Delhi and Islamabad consent to it) but does not appear to have realised that it cannot do so if it persists with its old thinking. It is still a comparison between India and Pakistan and the parity between the two countries without any mention of China, especially in the new strategic environment.

MEANWHILE, official Washing-ton continues to maintain that the sanctions will "sting" India and will perhaps have a greater impact on Pakistan. However, only those who are unaware of the ground realities will be impressed by this line of thinking. The fact is that no one seriously believes that Europe is behind the U.S. as far as sanctions are concerned, or that sanctions are a one-way street. Sober-minded people have realised that sanctions would also hurt U.S. business houses, both monetarily and in terms of goodwill.

In fact, if the Clinton administration's eye on mega markets is anything to go by, it is surprising that the White House allowed itself to be led around by the hawks in the State Department who insisted that sanctions must be slapped against India and, by extension, against Pakistan. It could probably be argued that Clinton did not have much of a choice since a 1994 law made it mandatory for him to react the way he did. There are no waivers in the 1994 law, but it is widely believed that Clinton could have waited for a 30-day period to see what exactly the law meant.

There is no doubt that Pakistan will be hurt badly even if the Clinton administration decides to get on with the business of undoing the sanctions. (At this point, however, the U.S. has not even finalised its strategy of enforcing the sanctions.) If one goes by what happened in the case of India, the U.S. is likely to hurt Pakistan squarely in areas where funding is most needed. Unlike India, Pakistan has an ongoing $1.5-million programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which may be blocked by the U.S. In addition, Pakistan's efforts to get around $700 million from the World Bank on an annual basis also appear to be in serious trouble. Only recently did the Clinton administration press for the postponement of the disbursal of loans to the tune of about $865 million spread over several years to India. By the end of the current financial year (June 1998), the World Bank was to have allotted an additional $1.9 billion to India. These funds are definitely in doubt now. According to an argument doing the rounds in the U.S., Pakistan cannot withstand the impact of the sanctions since its economy is a shambles and its foreign currency reserves are enough for only about five weeks of imports. Moreover, potential investors may be wary of the declaration of Emergency soon after the nuclear tests.

POLITICALLY, the Clinton administration is said to be working on a multi-dimensional approach vis-a-vis India and Pakistan. On the one hand, it is keen on involving the permanent members of the Security Council. The trouble with this is that the U.S. has already begun to talk about "resolving" the Kashmir dispute as part of the overall agenda. While Pakistan is likely to welcome this proposal, India will stick to its stand that Kashmir is a bilateral issue and should be treated as such.

One of the proposals that holds a lot of promise, but had not been commented upon by the Clinton administration publicly at the time of writing, is the one mooted by France - an international conference, a two-part step that would initially involve seven or eight major political and economic powers and would then expand to include India and Pakistan, to see how best the concerns could be addressed. In fact, French President Jacques Chirac bluntly said that the sanctions would not work, and that the best way course was to look at ways in which New Delhi and Islamabad could be provided with help for significant nuclear power programmes if they agreed to give up the process of testing and processing weapons grade materials. Of course, some people within the U.S. administration and outside will probably see this as France's desire to poke the U.S. in the eye, but to many others the French President's plan might just be the one to get off the ground.

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