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'U.S. will not abandon Pakistan'

Print edition : Feb 05, 2000 T+T-

Prakash Karat, member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is of the view that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government is in a make-believe world when it claims that India's relations with the United States ar e is poised for a quantum leap. In an interview to Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, he argues that the basic direction of U.S. policy for the Indian subcontinent has not changed. He believes that "factors in Pakistan have an important place in the geopolit ical and geostrategic considerations and related activities of the U.S. in the region." Excerpts:

Recent happenings in the Indian subcontinent, including the hijacking of the Indian Airlines aircraft and India's request to the U.S. thereafter to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, have apparently imparted a new dimension to the strategic equation s between India, Pakistan and the U.S. In the context of U.S. President Clinton's proposed visit to India, how do you look at these developments?

There has been much talk by government spokespersons that a new qualitative stage has been reached in Indo-U.S. relations. Last year Union Home Minister L.K. Advani said that we had reached a turning point in Indo-U.S. relations. Following that there was talk of a strategic partnership between India and the U.S. But all this is highly exaggerated and misleading. Look at the response to (Prime Minister) Vajpayee's call to brand Pakistan a terrorist state. The reply from President Clinton said that there was no evidence to link the Pakistani government with such activities as the hijacking of the Indian Airlines plane. From all this it is clear that the Government is living in its own make-believe world. Factors in Pakistan have an important place in the geopolitical, geostrategic considerations and related activities of the U.S. in the region.

The fact is that the basic direction of U.S. policy vis-a-vis India and Pakistan has not changed since the two countries became independent. The emphasis and orientation of using Pakistan as a strategic ally may change. Earlier it was directed mai nly at the Soviet Union. Then there was a time when the U.S. was worried about Iran and the rise of established fundamentalism. Today there are other considerations, such as its focus on Central Asia. Pakistan is not going to be abandoned by the U.S.

There is a fundamental fallacy in the Vajpayee Government's approach to the U.S. From the beginning it has been saying 'we would be better allies for you than Pakistan. Stop relying on Pakistan, and we are prepared to be a better junior partner in your g lobal strategy'. I do not think that the Americans are going to buy this fully. Of course it is advantageous for them to have a pliant India. But the American chariot is going to be run by two horses - both India and Pakistan. What the Vajpayee Governmen t has effectively done is to reduce India's status to parity with Pakistan, and this is a demeaning and humiliating step as far as I can see. The net result of all this would be that the terms would become more adverse for India.

At their last round of talks, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott agreed to set up a joint working group (JWG) on terrorism. The argument of supporters of government policy is that this is a major step towards reorientation of policy.

The decision to have the JWG was taken before the hijacking. Even afterwards we saw the U.S. response to the hijacking. It took four days for the State Department to come out with even a statement of condemnation. After that also they have rebuffed all I ndian government initiatives to pinpoint responsibility for this terrorist act. One would have thought that in the context of the special relationship as signified by the JWG, when one of the partners is subjected to a terrorist act the other would do so mething more than issue a formal statement, that too after four days.

The second thing is that the U.S., as a senior partner, sustains, finances and legitimises all successive regimes in Pakistan today. The other point to be noted in the context of the JWG is the lineage and history of the Taliban. It was set up by the fun ds and arms provided by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), Pentagon and the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence). In fact, the Taliban is a creature of the "counter- terrorism" activities of the U.S.

The dialogues between Jaswant Singh and Talbott too are a mystery. Why is it necessary to have their meetings always in a third country? Why this clandestine operation between the two international leaders? It has been going on and on, and this shows the foreign policy outlook of the Vajpayee Government. There is a complete reliance and over-dependence on the U.S.

This secrecy in the dialogue between India and the U.S. has given rise to conjectures that the talks are moving towards India's accession to the CTBT and the waiver of the U.S. sanctions against India. What is your view on this possibility?

The dialogue started after the Pokhran-II blasts. That is why we think that this is not a natural coming together of two countries to sort out any problem. It took place after our isolation internationally after the Pokhran blasts. It also seems to have been motivated by our anxiety to get recognition from the U.S. as a nuclear power. The Americans have used this as a leverage mechanism to force India into a dialogue on what they think are important issues. The main agenda of the U.S. includes non-proli feration, opening up of the economy to its multi-national corporations, etc. Overall, the dialogue is an unequal one and that is why it is kept clandestine.

But the government says that it will evolve a domestic consensus on the CTBT.

All this talk about domestic consensus, in our view, is to create a fig leaf to go into what the Government has already committed to the U.S. Finally this could turn out into our going into the CTBT and the U.S. giving some sort of recognition to what th e Government calls minimum credible deterrent, that is, some nuclear stockpile. But that arsenal would also be subject to American approval and supervision. So the entire nuclear regime in India and Pakistan is going to be arbitrated and mediated by the U.S.

There is a view that India has virtually deserted the principle of bilateralism in its relationship with Pakistan. What is your opinion?

We lost it with Pokhran-II. Although the CPI(M) did not oppose them, the Lahore talks were also done at the prodding of the U.S. There is an overall foreign policy reversal and it is in this background that the Clinton visit is taking place. We have init iated discussions with other organisations to present a charter to the people of India, identifying the issues that must be addressed when Clinton comes to India. They concern economic issues, foreign policy, science and technology, security issues and I ndia's role in the world. There is a whole range of issues where the U.S. has been pressuring India to go against its own interests. We have generally lost ground in coming to a more equal and balanced relationship. China has also reached some agreements with the U.S. on economic issues. But there has been give and take. We only seem to be giving.

The U.S. has certain interests in securing access to the Central Asian republics, which are rich in mineral resources. This is one of the reasons why it backed the Taliban militia in its early days. Do you think that this factor has ceased to operate in American geopolitical calculations, so that the U.S. swings to India's side in the matter of neighbourhood confrontations?

Not at all. As I said at the outset, Central Asia is one of the factors why the U.S. would keep its strategic relationship with Pakistan and the potential of improving its relationship with the Taliban.

How do you respond to the doctrine of a limited war, propounded by Defence Minister George Fernandes?

It is very difficult to say whether this concept is George Fernandes' or the Government of India's or that of the armed forces. After Pokhran-II we had pointed out that the Government had given the advantage to Pakistan and made limited wars possible in the region. Kargil was a very good example. George Fernandes is making things worse by making such statements. The situation in both countries actually requires some understanding in order to avert conflict.