As the US and the UK ready themselves for their coming military intervention to overthrow the Saddam Hussein Government in Iraq, the attitude of India and Pakistan on this subject needs careful analysis.
The Indian policy has been tactically correct and strategically calculating. It is correct in the sense of keeping in step with the prevailing opinion in the so-called non-aligned world, which supports the deprivation of Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which it may still have, under the UN auspices, but opposes any externally-engineered regime change and any unilateral intervention by the US and the UK bypassing the UN.
At the same time, it is strategically calculating in the sense of seeing long-term benefits for India by not overplaying its opposition to an unilateral intervention by the US and the UK. An anxiety to keep the improvement in Indo-US relations, which has gathered additional momentum under the Bush Administration, sustained and futher accelerated and a hope, bordering on wishful-thinking, that the US, after depriving Iraq of its WMD, might turn its attention to Pakistan's WMD capability underline this policy.
Pakistan's policy too is tactically correct in the same sense as India's, but the underlying factor behind its strategic calculation is a fear that India might succeed in adding to the fears of the US over Pakistan's WMD capability. There is a convergence of fears between the military-intelligence establishment and the religious fundamentalist parties on the dangers of the US turning its attention to Pakistan's WMD capability after it has disposed of Iraq's and they have not hesitated to give open expression to these fears.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf did so while talking to a group of intellectuals at the Governor's House in Lahore in January. His significant address to them was analysed in four installments by Jang, the Urdu daily (January 21 to 24). Some of his remarks as cited in the analysis need to be quoted:
"Our people are saying that if Iraq is attacked, then we will fight for Iraq. Before saying such things, we should see whether such commitments are in the interests of Pakistan. We should give priority to our interests over all other issues. Instead of sentimental statements and slogans we should behave sensibly. We should think over how we can protect ourselves from the possible effects of US policies. We can choose a path of confrontation. Whenever we disagree with the USA, we can adopt an inflexible and aggressive stand, but would it be in our interest? The other way out is that we should follow prudence, far-sightedness and a cautious approach.....Our nuclear capability has become a matter of concern for many countries and we should try to protect our nuclear assets. By adopting a sentimental course, we should not provide an opportunity to others to destroy our nuclear capability."
Similar fears and the consequent need for caution can be seen in the statements of some of the leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist parties despite their support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban and despite their virulent rhetoric against the US presence in Pakistan and its policies on Iraq. For example, Lt.Gen.(retd) K.M. Azhar of the Jamaat-ul-Ulema Pakistan (JUP) says in a statement cited by the News, the prestigious English daily, of February 20, 2003:
"The countries where the masses are holding protest rallies are economically strong and are not dependent on the USA. There is a general impression that Pakistan would be the next target of the USA after Iraq. That is why the religious parties are behaving realistically and cautiously. The US administration is already displeased with the role of the religious parties in Pakistan and is terming them fundamentalists. Any unwise decision of religious parties could cost the country its nukes and security. The USA changes its behaviour once it achieves its purposes. The religious parties and the Government should adopt the same policy keeping in view the solidarity and security of the country"
This desire and advice for caution were largely responsible for the initial hesitation of the religious parties to organise any mass street demonstrations against the US. As Yahya Mujahid, a leader of the Jamaat-ul-Dawaat, the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a member of Osama bin Laden's International Islamic Front, said:
"The masses in Europe are holding street marches against the war because they would not be its (the USA's) target. The people in the Muslim countries would be the target of the US-led coalition and so they are avoiding reaction."
This caution of the religious parties came to be taunted by their political detractors as one more evidence of the fact that they were the surrogates of the military-intelligence establishment. Their rank and file too started expressing their unhappiness over this cautious approach of their leaders. It was only then that they decided to organise huge demonstrations against the US in different cities, starting with Karachi on March 2, 2003.
To borrow an expression from a Pakistani analyst, Gen. Pervez Musharraf's mind, in this matter, is with the US, but his heart is with the religious fundamentalist parties. He has three objectives --
- to protect Pakistan's strategic WMD assets and to ensure that they do not cause fears in US mind similar
to those caused by Iraq's;
- to make Pakistan an economically strong power; and,
- to force India to the negotiating table on Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) by continuing to maintain in a high level of terrorist violence there, which he perceives as a freedom struggle, through the jihadi cadres of the fundamentalist organisations which are allied with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
To achieve the first objective, he needs the continued confidence and trust of the US and for the second he needs its continued benevolence. Both would depend on his continued co-operation with the US in its war against Al Qaeda, his responsiveness to its concerns over Iraq and his ability to ensure that the anger of the religious parties against the US does not exceed permissible limits and become the object of concern to the US .
To achieve the third, he needs to continue to resist the US pressure for action against terrorists operating against India and close his eyes, to the extent possible, to the complicity of the religious parties with Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizbe Islami which has joined hands with Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The task before him now on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, as it has always been since 9/11, is how to marry the contradictory objectives of collaboration with the US and complicity with the religious fundamentalist parties. Thus far, he has succeeded in doing so without suffering any damage to the goodwill of the USA.
Would he continue to do so? He seems to be confident, he would.
The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai chapter