A strategy misfires

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST

The visceral hatred of the RSS for Islam finds expression in the BJP-led government's clumsy quest for U.S. approval and recognition. It is self-wounding for India.

THE horrific attacks in the U.S. have shocked the world. Among the more than 6,000 dead are ordinary Americans, office workers, firemen, policemen and citizens belonging to many countries including India.

The inhuman violence of September 11 was spawned by an extreme form of religious fundamentalism. No one on the Left will accept this as anti-imperialist action. Without doubt, the perpetrators of this crime have to be brought to justice.

Yet the way the U.S. administration is moving goes far beyond the realms of any lawful action to pinpoint the guilty and bring them to book. As President Bush beats the drums of war, the world is faced with yet another round of U.S. military action, which will have profound consequences for the world, South Asia in particular. It will unfold a cycle of violence and counter-violence, terror and counter-terror, which will have adverse consequences for many countries and for movements and struggles associated with democracy and social transformation.

With Afghanistan being the epicentre for the "crusade" to be launched by the U.S., neither India nor Pakistan can escape the fallout. The Indian people must seriously attend to the issues thrown up for the region and the Indian government's response to them.

Ruling circles in Delhi were taken aback by the decision of the Bush administration to approach Pakistan for military cooperation and logistical facilities in order to launch attacks on Afghanistan. Those with even a little knowledge of history would not be surprised at the U.S. approaching its old ally.

The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership made a basic miscalculation. It thought that the U.S. is now ready to fight against "Islamic fundamentalism" which has spawned the terror outfits. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the cynical use of Islamic fundamentalism has a long history.

In the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been two of its most reliable allies since the 1950s. The Saudi regime has been the most active purveyor of Islamic fundamentalism around the world. The U.S. has cohabited with such fundamentalist forces off and on throughout the history of its struggle against communism.

The ties with Pakistan go back a long way - to the 1950s. They encompass the Baghdad Pact, the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the grand alliance to fight the Soviet Union and the regimes it backed in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The Taliban regime has been supported and backed by both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It was therefore natural for the Bush administration to call on them to tackle the Taliban.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had propped up Afghan Mujahideen groups through Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Whether it was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or Osama bin Laden, they were financed and equipped by the ISI using American dollars and equipment. When the Taliban, reared by Pakistan, took power in Kabul, the U.S. initially adopted a benevolent approach to it, motivated by the interests of the American oil companies in Central Asia.

The CIA, it is known, maintains one of its biggest stations in Pakistan. Every top Pakistani General, including Pervez Musharraf, has at some time or the other been trained by the Pentagon in the U.S. Pakistan is crucial for the U.S. in its strategic thrust to dominate Central Asia with its vast oil and gas reserves. Without Pakistan, the route through Afghanistan cannot be secured.

On September 11, the chief of the ISI, Lieutenant-General Mehmood Ahmed, was in the U.S. He returned to Pakistan only after being briefed by the U.S. authorities. Musharraf sent him to Kabul on the delicate mission to the Taliban. There was no better choice as the Taliban is essentially a creature reared by the ISI.

The reaction of the BJP-led government to September 11 provides an instructive lesson on what is wrong with its worldview and the entire thrust of Indian foreign policy since 1998. The embarrassment suffered by the Vajpayee government when the U.S. ignored its anxious offers of military cooperation and chose Pakistan instead, illustrates what is wrong with its quest to become a junior partner of the U.S. The Prime Minister wrote to President Bush on the night of September 11 itself, and the concluding sentence said: "We stand ready to cooperate with you in the investigations into this crime and to strengthen our partnership in leading international efforts to ensure that terrorism never succeeds again."

While the offer to cooperate in investigating the crime is unexceptionable, it is the latter formulation, "strengthen our partnership in leading international efforts", which is notable. It is a formulation that was repeated in the Prime Minister's broadcast on September 14. The BJP-led government seriously believed that it was engaged in a "partnership" with the U.S. in "leading efforts" against terrorism. Sadly for Vajpayee and his government, the U.S. does not seem in the least inclined to share the leadership with India, leave alone accept such a partnership on an equal footing.

THE Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs met on September 13 and decided "to offer all cooperation and facilities for any U.S. military operation" in pursuit of the culprits of the carnage in the U.S. Jaswant Singh, briefing the press, confirmed: "There have been contacts at all political, executive and operational levels about this." When asked specifically if this meant that "India would provide logistical help or a staging ground for U.S. military operation, Jaswant Singh replied with an emphatic Yes" (The Times of India, September 14). To make matters clearer, Jaswant Singh stated: "The Prime Minister's letter is explicit, without ambiguity, and the offer is unconditional."

The strategic experts who have been fervently working towards such a U.S.-India military consummation in the subcontinent were euphoric. One such expert exulted: "While understandably nervous, India has become conscious of its role as a 'frontline state' in the world's fight against terrorism."

There was enough put out to delude the ruling circles that here was the chance to realise the long-desired strategic partnership with the U.S. and Israel and to isolate Pakistan. The doyen of the security experts and Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, K. Subrahmanyam wrote: "The World Trade Centre towers were presumably chosen since its destruction would hit three nationalities which the jehadis hate - American, Israeli and Indians - and cause large causalities among them." The deaths of Pakistanis, Britons, Bangladeshis and nationals of scores of other countries were conveniently ignored. The selective mention of the trio of countries indicates what the BJP regime also favours - as we shall see later.

What the BJP leadership has not realised up to now is that the U.S. views India through the same prism as Pakistan. At the most it will concede for India the status of a subordinate regional ally - as it did for Pakistan. Maybe India will be a few notches above in the equation, given its potential as an "emerging market" and its possible usefulness against China. But right now it is the Vajpayee government which has by its own acts positioned itself as a cohort on the right flank of the U.S. in South Asia, even as Pakistan occupies the left flank.

It would be worthwhile briefly to trace the steps which led the government to this abject position. From the Pokhran tests in 1998 to the current episode, the line of steady capitulation to U.S. global strategic interests and a pro-American orientation can be seen. The nuclear tests were designed to achieve "great power" status which only the U.S. could accord. Thus began the quest for acceptance as a "natural ally" of the U.S.

The Vajpayee government fully supported the unilateral missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. It expected the U.S. to endorse India's counter-terrorism moves in relation to Jammu and Kashmir, but was rebuffed. No lesson was learnt.

When the Kargil conflict erupted after large-scale infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) by Pakistan, the Vajpayee government appealed to the U.S. to rein in Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was summoned to Washington. Clinton (as revealed by Vajpayee in a recent interview) wanted Vajpayee also to join the meet. The Indian intercessions had led to the predictable U.S. response - call both the leaders to Washington to sort out the problem. U.S. hegemony was established at this moment. Clinton got his way - Nawaz Sharif agreed to pull back the Pakistani forces from across the LoC, and in return Clinton assured Sharif of his "personal interest" in resolving the Kashmir dispute.

With the Republican administration in place, the Vajpayee government decided that it must start all over again in proving its fealty. The latest instance of the craven approach was the welcome accorded to the National Missile Defence (NMD) proposal. The Vajpayee government had the dubious distinction of hailing the Bush plan, even before any of the U.S' trusted allies did so.

All that the BJP government has accomplished through these obsequious moves is to bring India down to the level of Pakistan in competing for the favours of the sole superpower.

THE Left parties had warned in 1998 that India going nuclear and the Pakistani response to it would only end up making the U.S. the arbiter in Indo-Pakistan relations and opening the South Asian region to direct U.S. intervention. With the proposed U.S. incursion into Afghanistan, this trend will get accelerated.

The grand project of a U.S.-India-Israel axis is something that is assiduously cultivated by the BJP leadership. Home Minister L.K. Advani, in his public interventions after September 11, has been harping on joint efforts with Israel in order to counter terrorism. He stated that joint working groups with the "democratic countries" of Israel, the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France have been formed. The countries cited are all those that are acceptable to the U.S. Significantly, Advani omitted to mention that India has such a Joint Working Group with Russia functioning, while emphasising the role of Israel.

It was a notable coincidence that the Israeli National Security Adviser, Major-General Uzi Dayan, was visiting India to participate in the Indo-Israel Security Dialogue when the attacks in the U.S. took place. The BJP regime has in the past three years stepped up cooperation with Israel dramatically, particularly in the internal security and military spheres. The rationale is evident: Hindutva and Zionism share common ground in their perception of the Muslim threat. Further, the BJP avidly seeks the status Israel has with the U.S. - of a reliable and close ally which acts as the gendarme for the protection of America's imperial interests.

The trouble with this perception of fighting terrorism, Israeli style, is that the Israeli regime is seen by much of the world as one of the most audacious exponents of terror. Ariel Sharon, the current Israeli Prime Minister, was the General who oversaw the shocking massacre of Palestinians in the Shabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. The identification with Israel is an expression of the deep-seated longing of the BJP-RSS combine to do unto Pakistan and the Muslim world what Israel has been wreaking upon the Palestinians and the forward-line Arab states.

After it became clear that the U.S. would rely on Pakistan for its military operations against Afghanistan, the retreat made by the Vajpayee government has been an undignified spectacle. On September 14, Jaswant Singh told the press that no "request" had yet been made by the U.S. for cooperation. Jaswant Singh and the External Affairs Ministry then floated the idea that only a "concert of democracies" can effectively tackle the scourge of terrorism. Pakistan obviously would not qualify to join the coalition. The "concert of democracies" is the shibboleth sold to the Vajpayee regime by Madeleine Albright and the Clinton administration under the grand name of "Community of Democracies". It seems that the Republican administration has not much time for such ideological exercises. With Saudi Arabia and Pakistan as its chief interlocutors in the Islamic world, such talk of "democracies" would be inconvenient.

While barely able to hide its disappointment, the government's behind-the-scenes moves subsequently were equally pitiable. A series of briefings to the media said that India is offering "turnaround facilities" to the U.S. for its planes to land in India on their way back from the bombing missions. If India cannot be used as a "forward strike facility", at least let it be used as a "turnaround facility".

THIS gross miscalculation - where does it stem from? To find an answer to this, one must go back to the ideological mindset of the BJP and its mentor, the RSS. The chauvinist nationalism of this combine has nothing to do with anti-imperialist nationalism. Rooted in the communal politics of pre-Independence days, this is a Hindu nationalist current which set itself against the broader anti-imperialist movement. One can understand its affinity with Zionism in this context. The Jewish extremist groups in Palestine in 1947-48 used terror against the Palestinian and Arab people to drive them out and expected the British administration to help them in founding a Zionist state.

Such a communal outlook views U.S. imperialism and its hegemonic ambitions in different ways. How can Hindus benefit from allying with the imperial superpower in the fight against Pakistan and the Islamic states? The RSS publication Organiser, in editorial comments on the September 11 attacks, said: "What New York and Pentagon underwent now, India has been experiencing for centuries. The menace of terrorism is oiled by a monotheistic belief that fosters intolerance." The thesis is put indirectly - it is Islam which has attacked India for centuries and it has now hit the U.S. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, in its reaction to September 11, put it more bluntly: "Hindus had been waging a relentless war against Islamic terrorism for the past 1,000 years but it is only now that the world has come to realise the threat that Islamic terrorism poses to the forces of peace." It is this visceral hatred of the RSS for Islam that finds expression in the BJP-led government's clumsy quest for U.S. approval and recognition. As the recent debacle shows, it is self-wounding for India.

Unlike the BJP, the Left can never agree to concede to the U.S. ruling circles the right to decide what is good for the world and what is evil. Terrorism for people in many parts of the world has taken the shape of American warplanes at 35,000 feet dropping napalm or cluster bombs causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people. This was the experience of terror for people in Vietnam, Iraq and Yugoslavia. For the Palestinian people, terror manifests in the form of Israeli helicopter gunships, rockets and assassination teams, a state-sponsored violence nurtured and backed by the U.S.

It is terrible that ordinary Americans have had to learn the meaning of the words "collateral damage" - a term used by the Pentagon to describe civilian casualties in innumerable illegal military actions. It must be a chilling experience to realise that the terrorists who perpetrated the September 11 outrage also consider the deaths of innocent people as "collateral damage" incurred in the course of their fanatical quest.

Fortunately for India, the United States, based on its own calculations, has pressured the Pakistani regime to cooperate in its military operations in Afghanistan. Thus India has been saved from a potentially disastrous situation. The Vajpayee government would have unhesitatingly plunged into this adventure, renouncing the decades-old policy of not allowing foreign troops base facilities in India. If this had happened, the aftermath - the stepped-up anti-Muslim rhetoric of the BJP-RSS combine, the response of the embattled Muslim minority, and the menace of minority fundamentalism - would have been serious. The danger has not passed yet.

The sensible course for an Indian government, free from the ideological blinkers of the BJP, would have been to condemn the terrorist attacks in the U.S., offer to share any information on trans-national terrorist activities that it possesses and insist that the efforts to punish the culprits and curb terrorist activities be taken up through the United Nations and other international forums and according to international conventions.

President Bush, in his speech to the joint session of Congress, has declared on behalf of the U.S. a "global war against terrorism". He has warned that the U.S. will aggressively launch its military machine on Afghanistan and other countries harbouring terrorism. The war on all fronts will be prolonged and will be as never seen before. All this points to the dangers ahead. Given the right-wing and jingoistic character of the Bush administration, the world can expect to see a prolonged bout of military escalation. In country after country the ruling circles will clamp down on democratic rights and popular movements and justify the economic burdens on the people accruing from increased militarism and internal security measures. In India too such moves are being considered.

Bush has challenged all countries to respond: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." The right answer for India would be to say: we are with neither. But then, the tragedy for India is that it is ruled by men not very different from the type of people at the helm of power in the United States.

Prakash Karat is a member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

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