August 1, 2001


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Kashmir at breakfast,
     lunch and dinner
There is no need to be
     defensive every time
     we test a missile
Time to look beyond
     the subcontinent
Dealing with Dubya
South Block is well
     conditioned to promote
     our economic interests
Nothing suggests that
     Musharraf is going to
     cool his passion for
     jihad in Kashmir

G Parthasarathy

Murder this Musharraf Mania, please!

For the last two months, our media and its young television anchors spent huge amounts of time and money trying to discover 'concessions' that should be given to Pakistan's military ruler even before he arrived in India.

The entire country appeared to be afflicted with the strange phenomenon of 'Musharraf Mania'. Few people seemed to realise their fatal obsession with the likes and dislikes, prejudices and preferences of the visiting military ruler were all tending to make our entire approach to foreign policy unbalanced, unifocal and warped.

Thus, while on one hand our strategic thinkers were speaking of our role as a regional power, our fixation with Pakistan seemed to make us lose all perception on the happenings across the globe and even in our immediate neighbourhood.

It was interesting that amidst the Musharraf Mania, new dimensions were being given to our relations with the United States. Following the low-key visit of National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra to Washington, a clear understanding seems to be emerging that while New Delhi and Washington may not entirely agree on how to deal with Pervez Musharraf and his jihadis, both sides are looking at new dimensions in their bilateral and strategic relationship.

The visit of General Henry H Shelton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was the first clear sign the Bush administration is seriously looking at a new strategic partnership with India in the Indian Ocean region. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was also here to get a firsthand feel of the South Asian region. And the first Cabinet-level visitor from the Bush administration will be United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.

Our economic interaction with the US will largely depend on how we reconcile our differences to a globalised economic order. It was largely because of our obsessive commitment to the so-called Third World unity that we were unable to strike deals to safeguard our interests with major powers like the US, European Union and Japan during the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations that led to the establishment of the World Trade Organisation.

We should have an open mind in agreeing to a new round of trade negotiations that would improve market access for us on agriculture and services. We should link our support to new negotiations to our concerns on the imbalances of the WTO agreement being effectively addressed, especially on issues like anti-dumping, standards, intellectual property rights and the other non-tariff barriers that we now face.

The time has also come for us to agree to binding our industrial tariffs at lower rates in return for lower tariffs on industrial products and products like textiles being introduced by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development countries. We will find ourselves isolated unless we show imagination and flexibility on such issues. Further, given the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol by the Bush administration, we need to evolve a new approach to dealing with environmental issues in world fora.

New strategic dimensions to our relations with the US will have to be crafted in an imaginative manner. It is obvious that in course of time there will be increased military to military and diplomatic interaction not only on issues of maritime security and security of energy supplies in the Indian Ocean region, but also in coping with the threats posed by extremism in the garb of supranational religious zeal that is threatening to spread across Central Asia, the Persian Gulf and even South-East Asia.

Strategic cooperation with the US is not something new. The Reagan White House was consulted, and had lauded our intervention in the Maldives in 1989. The US welcomed our moves because it was not in a position to act swiftly and decisively during the Maldives situation, despite its facilities in Diego Garcia. Earlier, President Ronald Reagan had personally congratulated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, just as the Indo-Sri Lankan agreement was being signed in Colombo in 1987.

Strategic interaction with the US on developments in the Indian Ocean neighbourhood assumes added importance now, given our increasing dependence on this region for our energy supplies. One cannot also ignore recent developments like General Pervez Musharraf's announcement about China being provided facilities by Pakistan to base its navy at the Gwadar port, located at the very entrance to the Persian Gulf.

New Delhi's assertions about its role in its neighbourhood will be regarded as empty rhetoric unless we assume a much more pro-active role both bilaterally and regionally with countries near us. On July 24 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched a devastating attack on the Katunayake airbase near Colombo. At least six combat aircraft and helicopters were destroyed. We surely could have responded by loaning the beleaguered Sri Lankan government half a dozen MiG 27 strike aircraft till they are able to replace their losses. This would have been a symbol of our commitment against terrorism worldwide. We should not shy away from such pro-active measures because of imaginary fears of adverse reactions in Tamil Nadu. The Congress-All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance, after all, swept the polls in 1989 during the height of the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations against the LTTE.

We should similarly take up issues pertaining to river water projects in Nepal in a manner that convinces the people there that the implementation of projects like Pancheswar, Sapatakoshi and Karnali will add immensely to their economic prosperity and wellbeing. It is heartening that the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is not dealing with the Maoists in western Nepal exclusively as a law-and-order problem, but as a socio-economic issue requiring a political response. It is in our own interests that we cooperate in a discreet manner with the government, the Palace, and all political parties in Nepal in addressing these issues. Given the increasing use of our open borders with Nepal by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, it is imperative our exchange of information with Nepal on issues of mutual interest should be expanded and energised.

The time has also come for us to take an activist, project-oriented approach to regional issues. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation foreign secretaries are to meet shortly in Colombo. India should insist on an early implementation of the Vision 2000 report, and ask for the setting up of a high-level group to work out the modalities for making the sub-continent a free trade area by 2008 and an Economic Community by 2020.

We also need to combine efforts to conclude free trade agreements with Bangladesh and Myanmar with measures to make the entire Bay of Bengal Association comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand a free trade and investment area. With Thailand and Singapore keen to enter into free trade agreements with us in tandem with moves for the establishment of an ASEAN free trade area, we should shed our intrinsic protectionist inhibitions and move towards the establishment of a larger Asian Economic Community. The Bay of Bengal Region remains an area of immense potential for cooperation in the energy sector. This potential has to be harnessed imaginatively so that the people of the region regard the projects that emerge as being mutually beneficial.

It is now clear that given the mindset of General Musharraf and the 'Military, Mullah, Madrassa Complex' he presides over, the process of normalisation with Pakistan is going to be a long and difficult -- if not impossible -- task. While every effort should continue to expand cooperation and enhance mutual confidence with our western neighbour, it is now time to pay greater attention to expanding cooperation bilaterally, sub-regionally and regionally with other countries in the Indian Ocean and Central Asian regions. One only hopes that during the course of this effort, the luminaries of our media will adopt a policy of benign neglect towards the antics of the military regime in Pakistan!

G Parthasarathy

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