A U.S. role and agenda

Published : May 25, 2002 00:00 IST

Visiting Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca condemns the May 14 attack, but the United States may not go beyond that to make Pakistan rein in the terrorist groups.

THE visit of Christina B. Rocca, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, to the subcontinent assumed special significance in the wake of the terrorist attack in Jammu and the larger tensions that it spurred. This is Rocca's third visit to New Delhi (and Islamabad) since March this year. The May 14 attack in Jammu took place even as Rocca was holding talks with Indian officials.

Just before Rocca's visit, senior Bush administration officials seem to have planted scare scenarios in the mainstream American media of a possible war in the subcontinent. Another story that appeared around the same time quoted Bruce Reidel, a senior aide of Bill Clinton, as saying that the Pakistan Army top brass had mobilised the country's nuclear arsenal against India during the course of the Kargil war.

An article in The Washington Post in the second week of May said that if the numerically superior Indian forces launched an attack across the western borders, Pakistan, with its "vague nuclear doctrine", would launch a nuclear attack on big Indian cities, leading to a nuclear holocaust in the subcontinent. In New Delhi Rocca restated the Bush administration's concerns about the "potential" for an unintended conflict between India and Pakistan. "The fact that both countries have their forces in forward deployment heightens concerns among friends," she said in Delhi.

According to U.S. officials, their worst case scenario is shared by their European partners. Defence Minister George Fernandes had to assure the U.S. that India did not contemplate military action. In an interview to The New York Times, he said that India was not contemplating military action in the near future, even if severely provoked. But that interview appeared a few days before the May 14 attack in Jammu. After visiting the injured and the next of kin of those who were killed, Fernandes declared that a suitable military reply would be given to the government in Pakistan. Indian officials also conveyed to Rocca that the responsibility for stopping "cross-border terrorism" lay squarely on the shoulders of Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

At the moment, India is refusing to countenance suggestions from the White House to renew the dialogue process with Pakistan and start troops withdrawal. Pakistan says that the massing of Indian troops along its border is the main reason for its not deploying more troops for the joint operations with the U.S. special forces in the hunt for the remnants of Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border.

Rocca was quick to condemn the terrorist attack in Jammu, saying that it was precisely this type of "barbarism that the war on terrorism is determined to stop". However, Washington has made it clear that its priorities were first to obliterate "terrorist groupings" along the Afghan/Pakistan border. The Indian government, on the other hand, wants Rocca to convince the Pakistani government that it must take immediate steps to act on the demands made in the aftermath of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on Parliament. These include the immediate halting of cross-border terrorism and action on the list of 20 wanted terrorists.

The Indian Foreign Office spokesperson said during the course of the Rocca visit that the U.S. government "fully understands these legitimate demands". Rocca, before her departure to Islamabad, said that the war on terrorism being waged in Afghanistan and the current tensions between India and Pakistan could be equated. "My current mission is to reduce tensions between India and Pakistan, which is a separate issue from our campaign in Afghanistan," she said. The U.S. embassy in New Delhi was quick to clarify that Rocca was in no way trying to condone the recent terrorist acts against India.

Before Rocca reached Islamabad, Pakistan's Intelligence chief, Lt.Gen. Ehsanul Haq, told Pakistan Army commanders that there existed "an all-time-high risk of a Pakistan-India conflict in the coming weeks". Indian Defence Ministry officials say that Pakistan may have misinterpreted the Indian Army's ongoing "Operation Parakram" as the beginning of an attempt to start a military strike.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration announced plans to dispatch Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to New Delhi and Islamabad in early June to try and defuse the tense situation in the subcontinent. A few days after the Kaluchak incident, the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had a telephonic conversation with External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, in which he urged India to exercise utmost caution.

Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, said in Washington that the U.S. "was trying hard to prevent" a war between India and Pakistan. At the same time, he praised Musharraf, saying: "I really believe strongly that what President Musharraf is trying to do in Pakistan is hugely important for all of us, including I believe, India." It is the same Wolfowitz who has been advocating war on Iraq.

WHEN Rocca was in New Delhi, joint exercises involving Indian and U.S. armed forces were being conducted in Agra. Although Indian officials described the military exercises as the biggest ever conducted by the two countries, the actual number of U.S. special forces involved were only around 200. The exercises will continue for three weeks. Earlier Indian and U.S. Navies had announced that they would cooperate to secure the maritime trade routes between the Suez Canal and the Malacca Straits.

The Indo-U.S. Defence Policy Group, which has also started functioning, is scheduled to meet Armitage soon. The first of its meetings took place in Washington in September 2001. The U.S. side is headed by Under Secretary of Defence Douglas Feitch and the Indian side by Defence Secretary Yogendra Narayan. The next meeting of the group is scheduled to be held in the third week of May. Indian and U.S. intelligence agencies have also been cooperating closely.

Many Opposition parties, especially the Left parties, have demanded that the government reveal the details about the confabulations it has been carrying on with the large number of senior U.S. government functionaries visiting India. The Left parties have criticised the joint military exercises conducted by the armies. It is no secret that the pro-U.S. coalition in power at the Centre, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, was more than willing to give the U.S. military basing facilities after September 11. There are fears, both in the Indian establishment and outside, about the growing military collaboration between the two countries. The focus of the latest round of joint exercises has been on mountain and jungle warfare, areas in which India has considerable expertise. Previous governments were wary about extending such privileges to the U.S.

The joint military exercises with India come at a time when the U.S. is carrying out joint military operations with Pakistani troops. the U.S. military has long-standing ties with the Pakistani Army and despite the best efforts of the Vajpayee government, security ties between the two are now stronger than ever. There are fears that some of the defence information gathered during the joint exercises could be passed on to Pakistan. It is no secret that the U.S. is keeping a close watch on Indian troop movements.

Frequent joint military exercises with the U.S. could also be misinterpreted by some of India's traditional friends and neighbours. The Bush administration is preparing for war against countries such as Iraq and has said that China is a "strategic competitor". Besides, New Delhi and Washington do not share the same security perspectives.

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