|HOME | NEWS | COLUMNISTS | T V R SHENOY|
|January 8, 2002||
T V R Shenoy
On the eve of another war
I am back in the United States after a hiatus of less than two months, but the difference is amazing.
In November, the front page of every newspaper and the headline news on every television channel put the focus on Afghanistan. Today, at least as far as the American media are concerned, the war is over, and other issues have come to the fore.
President Bush and the Democrats are squabbling over the economy again, and foreign policy pundits are debating who the next target of American power should be. (American fleets are gathering in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, giving the United States the option of attacking anyone from Saddam to Sudan.)
It is accepted wisdom today that the Taliban took over Afghanistan at least partly because of the utter disinterest of the West following the Soviet Union's retreat. Everyone is determined not to repeat that error. But there is only so much that any power, even the United States, can do at any given time. If its attention shifts to, say Iraq, how much time will it have to focus on South Asia?
Leaving Afghanistan aside for the moment, what effect will this have on relations between India and Pakistan? Let me give you the worst-case scenario: probably a turn for the worse.
Some of my brethren in the media have spoken at length of how Indians and Pakistanis have much in common, and of how the ordinary Pakistani really does not want war with his neighbour. I am not so sure; being South Indian-born and bred, all this talk of 'common culture' leaves me cold. I also recall General Musharraf's frank remark at the press conference in Islamabad when he returned from the summit in Agra: "We hate each other!"
Given this bad blood, does anyone think the Pakistani government would have taken any steps to curb terrorism from its territory unless there was pressure from the United States? And would there have been any such pressure unless India's response to the December 13 attack had not been so strong?
Some Americans have wondered why India is not giving General Musharraf enough credit -- or any credit -- for taking steps to curb terrorism in his own country. The answer is simple: India does not believe he has done anything to seriously hamper terrorism, leave alone to stop it in its tracks. Moreover, what little has been done is the result of much pushing from Washington.
Very frankly, India does not trust General Musharraf. The Indian prime minister summed it up at the SAARC summit: "The Lahore Summit was followed by the invasion of Kargil and then the hijacking of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu. The Agra Summit was followed by attacks on the Srinagar assembly and Parliament House."
The prime minister did not say aloud the thought that was uppermost in every Indian's mind: "What outrage should India expect after this handshake at Kathmandu?"
Nor do I see any need to give anyone in Islamabad any credit for the series of cosmetic gestures taken against terrorists. Some outfits have been banned, only to reappear under other names. Some leaders have been placed under house arrest, a laughable response. But the worst things about all this are the timing and the grudging manner in which these actions were taken.
India would have had a new respect for General Musharraf had he done all this in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. They would have been proof that he was taking the 'war on terrorism' seriously. Instead, even now, he seeks to draw a line between 'terrorists' and 'freedom fighters' though the methods of both seem to be the same. (By the way, nobody in Pakistan gave any prominence to Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga's forthright remarks about this silliness when speaking in Kathmandu.)
The farce was given away by General Musharraf himself when a correspondent asked him how Pakistan would deal with the list of terrorists supposedly living in that country. His Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar had said India would be required to offer more proof. Musharraf was more honest; they would not be given over to India in any circumstance, he said; at best they would be tried in Pakistan.
Is this to be the fruit of the restraint that the world calls upon India to demonstrate? A mock trial with a pre-determined verdict, and a consistent refusal to admit that nothing justifies terrorism!
Speaking from the White House gardens immediately after the December 13 attack, President Bush denounced the deed as an assault on democracy itself. I am surprised that the United States has not realised the full implications of this statement. In a democracy, an elected government cannot indefinitely defy the wishes of the people who elected it. And right now, nerves have been frayed to breaking point.
In the past decade, we have endured the Bombay blasts, the Coimbatore blasts, the Kargil war, the hijacking of Flight IC-814, the murderous assaults on the Srinagar assembly and Parliament, and the deaths of thousands in terrorist attacks on streets across India. Those calls for restraint are rapidly becoming counter-productive.
Some weeks ago, I wrote that there was no immediate threat of war. There is still time to avert it. I can only hope that L K Advani and George Fernandes can convince their American hosts of the depth of India's frustration and anger.
"We were rasped beyond endurance by militarism and its contempt for us and for human happiness and common sense; and we just rose at it and went for it." That was George Bernard Shaw writing of Britain's mood on the eve of World War I. But he could just as well have been talking about India on the eve of another war.
|Tell us what you think of this column|
ASTROLOGY | NEWSLINKS | BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL BOOKINGS
AIR/RAIL | WEDDING | ROMANCE | WEATHER | WOMEN | E-CARDS | SEARCH
HOMEPAGES | FREE MESSENGER | FREE EMAIL | CONTESTS | FEEDBACK