The ugly American by Girilal Jain

AFTER Mr John Mallot’s visitation to New Delhi, it difficult to believe that there exists a realistic basis for Indo-US under­standing and cooperation in the near future. All fond hopes in this regard have turned out to be illusions.

Mr Mallot could not have been more patronizing and insulting. As an Indian working for military cooperation between the two countries told a US embassy official: ‘After the end of World War I, no British Viceroy could have spoken to an Indian audience in such terms.’

It is possible that like Ms Carla Hills, US trade representative in the Bush administration, Mr Mallot belongs to that breed of ugly Americans, self-righteous, arrogant, and ignorant, who revel in insulting others as if that is part of  the ‘only’ superpower’s ‘manifest destiny.’ But it must be admitted that an American visitor not so disposed too could have felt tempted to kick us in the teeth in view of the government’s virtual invitation to-do so.

Witness the government’s extra­ordinary performance. The day Mr Mallot arrived in New Delhi, Union home minister S B Chavan held a press conference with secretaries for defence, home and foreign affairs in attendance, to proclaim that evidence in support of Pakistan’s involvement in the serial blasts in Bombay on March 12 was incontrovertible.

For Mr Chavan, the presence of three secretaries to the government of India at the press conference might have been an ordinary matter, but Mr Mallot could not be blamed if he felt convinced that the ‘show’ had been put up for his benefit and that it spoke of the government’s desperation.

The situation is, of course, confus­ing. For, if New Delhi entertained the illusion that Washington could be pushed into declaring Pakistan a terrorist state on the ground of its support for terrorist activities in Indian Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, it also cannot be denied that the latter had given it reason to entertain such a hope. After all, Washington had put Islamabad on the ‘watch list’ and specifically on the count of that support.

That apart, however, since no one in authority in New Delhi pays more than passing attention to any problem, it is not surprising that implications of US statements in Jammu and Kashmir should have escaped Indian policy makers, or for that matter, Pakistani policy makers. Mr Mallot went as far as he could to spell these out. But it is doubtful if they have been grasped even now.

On the face of it, Washington is putting pressure on Islamabad to end support to terrorists in the state. But since Islamabad is assisting mainly the pro-Pakistan Hizb-e-Mujahideen and its associates who are fighting the pro-independence JKLF, the US is indirectly seeking to tilt the balance in favour of the latter.

Washington is making two demands on India: (a) Respect human rights by enforcing strict discipline and accountability on the security forces and allowing human rights groups such as Amnesty International free access to the state; and, (b) Bring representatives of the Kashmiri people into tripartite parleys, the third party being, of course, Pakistan.

Since Washington knows that JKLF has influential supporters in corridors of power in New Delhi, it could well have concluded that it can push India into bringing into the open hitherto covert talks through emissaries such as Dr. Farooq Abdullah.

The scheme is, of course, wholly impractical. Neither India nor Pakistan can ever agree on independent Kashmir even if that is to mean only the valley; nor can they ever agree to a joint sponsorship of such an entity. But such considerations never discourage do-gooders and busybodies in Washington.

It is conceivable that it is the very hopelessness of the US enterprise involving not only a ‘solution’ to the Kashmir problem but also inclusion of both India and Pakistan under its umbrella that explains Mr Mallot’s bizarre performance in New Delhi and Islamabad. But whether or not this is the case, the need to question some of the major assumptions relating to the ‘region’ is obvious.

Indeed, the very concept of South Asia as a distinct entity has ceased to be viable even to the extent it was earlier despite Pakistan’s willingness to serve as a proxy for China in the latter’s design to harass and immobilize India.

For one thing, with the end of Russian (Soviet) control over Central Asia, the region has returned to its age-old turbulence. The consequences cannot even be imagined at this stage. For another, with the loss of Soviet support for ‘radical’ regimes in West Asia and decimation of the military might of Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism has acquired an awesome sweep. The whole of West Asia is in ferment.

Equally important, Pakistan has lost a good deal of its autonomy as a result of the devastation in Afghanis­tan. Islamabad cannot fully control the drug and arms traffic emanating from its own tribal belt and Afghan­istan even if it is so inclined. Baluchistan has already become another Colombia, according to western experts, and the North-West Frontier Province is well on the way to becoming one. At a conservative estimate, the number of AK-47s and AK-56s in private hands is placed at over one million. In plain terms, Pakistan has ceased to be a civil society.

Within Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islamia in league with Mr Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami and backed by rogue elements in the powerful Inter-services Intelligence and retired officers such as General Hamid Gul, enjoys enormous clout. It is financed gener­ously by the Saudis and they cannot easily withdraw.

If they do, Iran may be more than willing to step in. The Iran-backed Shia Hizb-e-Wahdat in control of certain pockets in Kabul and Mr Hikmatyar’s fundamentalist Hizb-e-Islami are cooperating to block Masood’s forces.

The fault line dividing Central Asia from South Asia runs through Pakistan. This fact was not particu­larly material in the context of Russian control over Central Asia and a relatively quiet Afghanistan. It has so become in the new context again as it was up to the 19th century when the extension of British Imperial control up to the Khyber and Russian up to the Oxus helped promote a measure of stability and order in the region.

Pakistan sees itself as an active player in this dangerous and complex situation. But it is possible to see it as a victim no longer in control of its destiny. Its conflict with India helps divert the attention of even saner elements in its elite from this grim reality.

There is precious little we can do to make it realize the short­sightedness of its worldview. We have to wait for that realization to be forced on it by events. The US can help if it recognizes that stability has to be its topmost priority and that fancy schemes like the ones it is toying with can lead to chaos. But Americans have not been known to anticipate events.

The Observer of Business and Politics, 25 May 1993

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