A shock from the West

Published : Apr 23, 2004 00:00 IST

The U.S. announcement of Major Non-NATO Ally status to Pakistan takes by surprise the Indian establishment which feels that the Bush administration has gone back on certain assurances.

in New Delhi

THE decision of the Bush administration to grant Pakistan the status of a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) has evidently shocked the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre. The decision was followed by the announcement that the Bush administration had waived all sanctions imposed on Pakistan after General Pervez Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999. Although most of the sanctions were lifted after the events of September 11, 2001, the current waiver will enable the country to receive direct economic aid.

The NDA government had taken pride in the "special" relations that it had succeeded in nurturing with Washington over the past five years. New Delhi was kept completely in the dark about Washington's decision to upgrade formally its already close relations with Islamabad.

New Delhi's sharp reaction to the developments seems to have taken the United States State Department slightly off guard. Secretary of State Colin Powell immediately tried to have a telephonic conversation with External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) let it be known to the media that Sinha kept Powell on hold for a couple of days. The reason given was that the Minister had hit the campaign trail. When Sinha finally spoke to Powell, the latter said that it was not Washington's intention to keep India in the dark about the decision to accord special status to Islamabad. When Powell was in New Delhi in the middle of March, Sinha had grandiosely declared at a joint press conference that the state of Indo-American relations "today is perhaps the best ever". Powell had a similar take on the subject, saying that the two countries "are enjoying perhaps the best relationship that existed". The dialogue between the two governments, he pointed out, was "so open and so candid on all the outstanding issues in all aspects of our agenda".

After Powell spoke with Sinha, a White House spokesman said in Washington that the Bush administration would be willing to "explore" the possibility of giving India too MNNA status. The U.S. official said that Washington had indicated this to New Delhi some time ago. However, a MEA spokesperson told the media that New Delhi had not "given any consideration to that kind of relationship with the U.S." and suggested that the U.S. decision could have an adverse impact on the relations between the two countries. A statement issued by the MEA said: "We are studying the details of this decision, which has significant implications for Indo-U.S. relations."

The NDA government was particularly unhappy that the Bush administration announced the decision regarding Pakistan in the run-up to the general elections in the country. The surprise in New Delhi was all the more because the decision came soon after the Pakistani establishment was caught neck-deep in nuclear proliferation activities.

The new U.S. Ambassador to India, David C. Mulford, has said that the reason why Powell did not bother to tell New Delhi about the impending decision was that his brief was only to discuss U.S.-India relations. According to the envoy, "the next steps" envisaged by both sides to advance Indo-U.S. strategic cooperation is much more important than the MNNA status conferred on Pakistan. Significantly, there has been no change in India's decision to participate in joint naval exercises with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in Alaska. Prakash Karat, Polit Bureau member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), described the government's decision as "one more step towards becoming an outright partner in the growing U.S. hegemonic initiatives". It is for the first time that India is holding joint exercises with NATO. Karat has expressed the apprehension that India is being sought after as a collaborator for NATO's expansion into Asia and that the Vajpayee government is "wilfully obliging".

The feeling in New Delhi is that the Bush administration has gone back on certain assurances given by it. Washington had apparently indicated that as part of the `Indo-U.S. Strategic Partnership' deal, New Delhi would be made a party to the "expanded dialogue on missile defence". The deal was also the carrot offered by the Bush administration to encourage New Delhi to normalise relations with Islamabad and restart the dialogue process.

New Delhi feels that it has been left out in the cold as Islamabad has emerged as the major beneficiary ever since the start of the U.S.-sponsored "war against terror" three years ago. There are no tangible benefits for New Delhi, though Washington keeps on talking about joint efforts in the fields of civil space, civil nuclear and high-tech cooperation. New Delhi is also upset that Washington is taking Pakistan's concerns about India's "subversive" activities in neighbouring Afghanistan seriously. Washington has voiced concern about India opening consulates in Kandahar and Jalalabad, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The observation by President Musharraf that the current normalisation process could be derailed if India did not deal with the Kashmir issue seriously has not surprised Indian officials. It has been observed that Pakistan adopts a tougher stance on the Kashmir issue once it is assured of unblinking support from Washington. The Pakistani establishment knows that the U.S. will be dependent on Pakistan Army for some time to come. The U.S. armed forces are so extended that they do not have soldiers to spare to fight even in a crucial battle zone like Afghanistan. Almost the entire U.S. Army is either in Iraq or getting ready to go to Iraq. "Unanticipated U.S. ground force requirements in post-war Iraq have stressed the U.S. Army to the breaking point," a report for the U.S. War College said.

The Pakistan Army may be destined to remain "a colonial army". When the country was part of the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO), both military alliances, it did the dirty work for the West. It suppressed the Palestinians in Jordan and helped preserve the Saudi monarchy in the 1970s. Recently released CENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) documents show that the Pakistani port of Pasni was used as a naval and marine base by the U.S. Army in the war against Afghanistan.

According to reports appearing in the Pakistani media, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and special forces are operating freely in Pakistan. In the last week of March, it was announced that Pakistan had decided to allow U.S. forces to use five of its bases. Pakistan has also granted two-thirds of its air corridor for use by the U.S.-led coalition forces.

No wonder then that the U.S. owes the present Pakistani government a special debt of gratitude. It is another story that some in the present NDA government would have liked India to play a role similar to that being currently essayed by Pakistan as an American ally in the so-called war against terrorism.

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