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Metamorphosis in foreign relations when the time comes!

Some exceedingly worrisome changes have taken place in the Region, barely perceptible at this stage, nevertheless significantly ominous in their portents.

Rajiv Gandhi recently went to Washington and came back cock-a-hoop.  Euphoric and buoyant, he talked to the members of the media in the aircraft on his way back from USA. Pakistan was dismissed by an irritated Gandhi as “one of the small countries” on India’s borders and as far as the “problem of Pakistan” was concerned he said, I quote, “we shall handle them when the time comes,” Unquote.

The Washington visit seemed to mark a watershed of sorts for India as it took place amidst far-reaching global changes and in the backdrop of the following scenario:-

a. After almost two decades of half-hearted stop-gap measures, USA and the Soviet Union are close to a meaningful and all  encompassing nuclear arms agreement.

b. US Aid to Pakistan has almost simultaneously been deferred  for a short period for the US Congress to take stock of  Pakistan’s nuclear aspirations and give a strong signal to  Pakistan’s leadership and people about the US resolve and  resentment on this issue.

c. In a most surprising development, India has ventured into a “Hyderabad-Kashmir” type operation in Sri Lanka at the  invitation of the Sri Lankan Government, ostensibly with the  blessings of both the superpowers.

d. USA’s neutrality in the Gulf War has gradually changed from a  moral support for Iraq to an armed escalation hitting at Iran’s economic and military interests.

e. USA and the Soviet Union have reached some sort of accommodation over the respective areas of concern, Nicaragua and Afghanistan among others as an unstated codicil of the nuclear arms agreement.

f. The US Government faces sharp reductions in its budget due to deepening economic malaise and the Soviet Union is embarked on a positive right turn under Gorbachev aimed at improving the life-style of the Russian people.

Coming to the throne with the goodwill of almost the entire Indian nation to bolster him, Rajiv Gandhi has gradually lost his image of “innocence” and “cleanliness” as the world of domestic and regional politics has caught up with his inexperience and immaturity. He has blundered from problem to disaster with a baffling sense of ease and yet survived. His original aides and ideas are either respectively in disarray or in tatters – his government being rocked not only by the BOFORS scandal but also the West German submarine deal in which he and his Italian connection figure quite prominently. In spite of the dynamic political momentum derived from his maternal grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his mother, Indira Gandhi, only an innate sense of survival (which along with pure luck is a family trait), has sustained Rajiv from his detractors, particularly from the defection of almost his entire ab initio inner circle of friends and advisors. The blatant corruption has tainted the Indian PM to such an extent as to alienate the idealists around him. In an era of open secrets marked by the Watergate and Iran arms scandals, why the smoking gun has not yet been identified by the Western media is a surprise as much as it raises questions as to why the media pressure has just faded away? Or was it made to fade by the powers that be in an interested western world?
40 years after their independence, India’s social democracy, strongly aligned to the Soviet Union, is vulnerable to the Western democracies penchant to remove the ‘largest democracy’, India, from the Russian camp into its own fold. Beset by the “Khalistan” problem and a developing “Gorkha land” situation, Gandhi has barely contained a burgeoning Tamil problem in his own backyard temporarily even as the Indian Army gets bogged down in an advanced stage of a classical guerilla land warfare, exacerbating the very Tamil wounds they sought to heal. In the circumstances, the West has much to gain by not crucifying Gandhi as he shifts his country rightwards. An Italian wife, an engaging personality and an enduring charm does no harm to the media persona in the west, where image counts for more than substance.

Combining the facts stated above (and the many left unstated), you get a picture which is diverse from the real situation, which are:-

a. India’s links with the Socialist countries particularly Russia are more enduring than can be easily subverted over a long period of time. This is best highlighted by the consistent Indian support to the Soviet Union, mostly against USA, which has been an Indian article of faith in its foreign policy.

b. Indian consistency in unreserved support to Russia is derived from the enormous military aid on SOFTER THAN SOFT financial terms given to India by the Soviet Union, denied by them to their closest allies among the Warsaw Pact Countries or Cuba, even in material terms of the latest aircraft and weaponry, all given on priority basis to India.

c. India has a consistently bad record with its immediate neigbours and the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accord has barely any supporters in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority except among the ruling few.

d. Despite its starving millions, India continues to spend billions of US dollars annually for purchases from the West of its exaggerated defence requirements particularly high-tech products.

e. Ostensibly a democracy, India’s prime political party, Congress (I) has a particularly bad democratic record inasfar as the muzzling of its own recalcitrant members are concerned, most of whom are summarily expelled if they carry any dissenting views.

f. “Secular” India is the most class ridden, religiously diverse society in the world today, its jails filled with people in utter violation of basic human rights.

Given any of the above, what to talk about all of them, it would be hard to reconcile the liberal bent of US Congress with present realities prevailing in India – and yet the ominous overtones of Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to USA must be felt by the powers that be in Pakistan.

The amazing lack of criticism at the imposition of “Pax Indiana” at will on Sri Lanka, the murderous attitude of the Indian occupation forces against Tamil civilians in Jaffna Town, the resounding silence on India’s advanced nuclear ambitions and the exuberant return of Gandhi from Washington could only have been possible due to :-

a. Assurances to India by the US Government that Aid of all kind to Pakistan would be curtailed if not altogether terminated, thereby signifying acceptance of India’s position vis-a-vis Pakistan, particularly the Western suspicions of Pakistan’s supposedly nuclear ambitions.

b. A pat in the back to Gandhi for India’s military role in Sri Lanka which was certainly co-authored by the US, if not entirely inspired by them.

c. A positive assessment of India’s regional contentions as a mini-superpower in the Indian Ocean especially in the post-Afghanistan and Gulf situations where US would like its physical role to diminish yet not lose its capacity to influence events altogether to the Russians.

It is the last which causes the most concern to Pakistan, even in isolation of the other precepts because the situation in the Gulf is really complicated. As is apparent, neither superpower wants a conflagration in the region, each because of its own diverse interests. The US does not want Iraq to lose and Iran to win, which is the position of majority of the Arab countries. The Soviet Union, which has been till lately the largest supplier of defence material to Iraq, is nevertheless loathe to see an Iraq, supported by the US and rightist Arab countries, to defeat Iran outright, fundamental differences with Iran aside. In Kissinger’s famous plea, he would love to see both Iran and Iraq lose, which in fact both are doing at the moment, gloriously. In the meantime, the US has drawn a picket line with its frigates in the Gulf, which is symbolic of the line that the other inhabitants of the Gulf would not like the warring parties to cross. In the circumstances, the financial and human cost of convoy duty and maintaining a picket line is likely to be high. Though supported by American public opinion and the US Congress at this present time, President Reagan very well realizes that the continuation of the enhanced presence in the Gulf can only be a short time measure whereas the Gulf War may drag on for some time in the absence of Iraq’s capability to win the war against Iran and almost everybody else’s intentions to make sure Iran cannot win the war against Iraq.

Circumstances therefore dictate that the US searches a suitable power in the region to provide “stability”. In the event, India’s acquisition of another aircraft carrier, its imposition of “Pax Indiana” on Northern Sri Lanka, and its undisguised “peaceful” ambitions and aspirations in the Indian Ocean, coupled with its being the world’s largest “democracy”, carry an image to the US Government that belies actual facts.

As unpalatable it may seem, we have to make a realistic assessment of our precarious and vulnerable position read into the context of the present situation. We cannot behave like ostriches any more and must clearly see that:-

a. A disturbing consensus of opinion between the two superpowers as well as Israel and India about Pakistan’s nuclear aspirations.

b. Simultaneous disengagement in Afghanistan and Nicaragua by the two superpowers, with the resulting curtailment of the need of the US to give any more aid to Pakistan.

c. India’s emergence as a superpower approved regional mini -superpowers to fill the vacuum created by US disengagement in the Gulf area.

The end of 1979 saw Pakistan in an extremely isolated position because of the burning of the US Embassy in Islamabad and other factors but the start of the attempted Russian subjugation of Afghanistan proved an unexpected boon for Pakistan, which has lasted until September 1987, almost 8 years to the day. However, the signs are of increasing troubled times for Pakistan in the future because of the possibilities explained in the analysis. In such circumstances, it is important for all Pakistanis particularly our leaders, whether they be in power or in the opposition to not only make a realistic appraisal but to unite their thoughts and deeds together to safeguard the existence of the country. Personal self has to be sacrificed in the face of our survival. An indolent attitude by us now will lead to lifelong servitude for us, our children and grandchildren under an alien ideology.

USA has given us extremely meaningful economic and military help over the years, albeit out of need for its own strategic interests, but policy changes do not come overnight and we have some time before us to plan for our survival. This survival could be by carrying a strong message to the US as to our insecure feelings which must be allayed or it could be by taking steps to ensure that the break with the “cornerstone of US policy” is less painful than it threatens to be. These views may be taken by some to be alarmist and we can hope they are given the fact that we would prefer Americans to Russians any day, but the countdown to our “Pearl Harbour” may start on Dec.7, 1987 when Mr. Gorbachev goes to Washington and it may be heralded in the form of a surgical strike against our nuclear facilities by all interested parties.

Among other things, what a time to lose Sahibzada Yaqub!

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