India ill served

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST

Instead of mouthing cliches, the Vajpayee government should build national consensus on a coherent anti-terrorism strategy that is credible, effective and defensible in the eyes of law and world opinion.

THE United States has lifted sanctions against India and Pakistan. In the first instance, these should have never been imposed. As Yashwant Sinha, India's Finance Minister, has pointed out, the removal of sanctions will have no effect on our economy. And it is to be seen if the Information Technology sector benefits.

Nevertheless we welcome the dropping of these sanctions, which had, in any case, become counter-productive. The U.S. minced no words. No altruistic reason made the U.S. take this step; it was pure self-interest. What is noteworthy is that India and Pakistan have once again been bracketed.

India's Prime Minister has much to explain. Ominous and dark clouds are casting their sinister shadow on our region. The U.S. has declared war on terrorism and amassed awesome armour in our neighbourhood. Still, Vajpayee is reluctant to appoint a full-time Defence Minister. India cannot do with a part-time External Affairs and a part-time Defence Minister. Jaswant Singh's hilarious verbosity and humourless pomposity do not harm. His poor judgment is a national hazard. If he had any wisdom, then on September 11, 2001, he would have gone to the Prime Minister and said, "Sir, fateful events are engulfing us. You should have a full-time Defence Minister and a full-time External Affairs Minister." He did not do so. Left to himself, he would probably take over North Block also! But, what about Vajpayeeji? Does he not comprehend the damage his administrative indifference is doing to the country?

The individual at the helm in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is lacking both sound judgment and sagacity. Let me list his judgmental lapses. He escorted three hard core terrorists in his plane to Kandahar. He glibly announced, after the Lahore bus ride in February 1999, that it was a defining moment in India-Pakistan relations. Three months later, we had Kargil. He wanted India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty because financial advantages would accrue to us. This was the first time that finance was to be given preference over national security. One telephone call from the bright Condoleezza Rice and Jaswant said India supported the U.S' National Missile Defence programme. Two days later, he had to eat crow in the presence of the Russian Foreign Minister. He made a further turnaround on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty when he went to Moscow. More recently, he announced unconditional support for the U.S. following the terrorist attack on New York and Washington, even though the Americans had not asked for any help. He changed his tune when some of the Ministers of the National Democratic Alliance pulled him up for his subservience to Washington. There was also the statement of the Congress Working Committee. In that statement, it was made clear that India was a non-aligned country. A coalition government has no authority to make fundamental changes in India's foreign and defence policies.

The CWC's statement recalled that the Congress Party had paid a heavy price for its refusal to surrender to unwholesome ideologies and terror tactics. Seventyfive thousand Indians have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists coming from Pakistan. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were brutally assassinated by terrorists. We, therefore, know the pain of the people of the U.S. The Congress would support a global alliance against terrorism. We are not non-aligned when it comes to terrorism. The Congress does not subscribe to the pernicious, half-baked theories of civilisational conflict between Islam and the West. On the contrary, all right-minded Indians hold that the essence of all religions is to promote peace, harmony and goodwill. This is the essence of our pluralistic ethos.

The Vajpayee government, instead of mouthing cliches, should offer a coherent policy to deal with this crisis. It should work over-time to evolve a national consensus. The Prime Minister should be in touch with Opposition leaders daily. He should be in constant contact with SAARC leaders. The present crisis is not confined just to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It directly affects the entire South Asia region. What happens if Gen. Musharraf is removed or (heaven forbid) eliminated? Then, who in Pakistan will have his finger on the nuclear button? This is a matter of supreme concern for us.

It is in India's vital national interest that Pakistan does not become a prey to anarchy and chaos. In spite of Gen. Musharraf's lamentable and disappointing speech on September 19, we should take a long-term view of India-Pakistan relations. The President of Pakistan is in a very difficult situation. The Taliban are their creation. He now has to turn on them. His country is divided. Had he been a greater man, he would have risen to the occasion and spoken to all SAARC heads and sought their advice. Instead he fell to the temptation of blaming India for the torment and agony of his country. In many ways, the world has changed since September 11. New challenges need new thinking, bold thinking, sober and balanced thinking. India's contract is with peace and harmony. Bin Laden's is with proselytising hate and killing. He has done enormous damage and has a lot to answer for. But terrorism is not confined to Al Qaeda - it is a world-wide phenomenon now.

The Taliban is known to be flush with drug money. Drugs are now finding their way into several parts of northern India, especially Kashmir, Punjab and northern Rajasthan. The other danger for India is equally grave. Communalism is a spectre we are only too well acquainted with. The Uttar Pradesh elections are not too far. The Sangh Parivar has a number of political kabbadi teams consisting of dangerous and dedicated frauds who would be only too ready to stoke the communal fires. The consequences for us would be disastrous. That is reason enough for us to want peace, harmony and civic order in Pakistan.

Dictator Musharraf has overnight changed his image in American eyes. And this talk of war, crusade, this inflated rhetoric of 'either you are with us or else', will in the long run, do our American friends little good. Jingoism of the Kipling kind does not do credit to a great democracy. Russia and China, Egypt and the European Union have advised caution. So has the Congress Party. Has the Vajpayee Government done so? It must.

K. Natwar Singh, the chairman of the Congress(I)'s foreign affairs committee, has been Ambassador in Pakistan and Minister of State for External Affairs.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment