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Kashmir & Iraq: What's common?

By Vijay Dandapani
February 15, 2005 15:58 IST
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A good friend and an ardent well-wisher of India sent me an e-mail with his thoughts on a recent election in a largely Muslim area with the following notable characteristics:
  • Sunni clerics denounced the election and asked voters to stay home.
  • Militants shot and killed security personnel regularly including through suicide attacks and threatened to kill and behead anyone who participated in the electoral process.
  • Non-cleric 'intellectuals' denounced the elections as meaningless and invalid due to the presence of security forces -- who they view as an enemy.
  • The outside world, especially Muslim countries, proclaimed the election was invalid or not important, and urged the governing power to 'negotiate' with the militants instead of validating the election.
  • On election day, ordinary people braved threats and cast their ballot with the turnout crossing 60 percent.
  • The government and many local supporters proclaimed the election a success.
  • Opponents of the election and the government refuse to see anything good in the election and continue to denounce it (or ignore the meaning of the high turnout).
  • The government says it will deal with elected officials while the militants continue to assassinate people, including those elected to office.
  • The government and its local allies note the only way forward is through negotiations among elected officials as well as through efforts to persuade militants to give up the gun and join the mainstream.
  • The militants, their foreign friends and others who hate the government -- but not necessarily sympathise with the militants -- urge the government to negotiate directly with the men with guns and ignore the elected officials.

Which land does this refer to? Iraq is an obvious answer. But equally all of the above applies to India and the recent election in Kashmir. Yet denunciations of the 'fraudulent elections' in Iraq abound among the Indian intelligentsia and the political class, particularly the Left. But the same chattering class is mute when it comes to Kashmir.

My friend and I were ruminating about the blatant double standards when I came across a report in a leading national daily from the South about the overwrought trans-Atlantic alliance that has been worn threadbare since the invasion of Iraq. Following the neat dichotomy of Leftists, the correspondent called the recent election in Iraq a 'fig-leaf of democracy' and the US a 'hegemon' while the Europeans, a euphemism in this instance for France, were deemed to be 'globalists.'

Putting aside the irony that such terms have been used for decades by the Pakistani establishment and press to describe Indian motives, the same paper's correspondent let pass decades of French hegemonic actions in a host of countries including most recently in the Cote-d'Ivoire when they intervened first and asked for United Nations approval later. All in the name of maintaining a sphere of influence.

Even more ironically, French President Jacques Chirac arrogates the moral high ground to himself while he avoids prosecution in a scam involving his term as mayor of Paris by claiming immunity from prosecution as president of the French republic.

Other muddy waters swirling around Chirac include allegations that a former political colleague and interior minister, Charles Pasqua, was a recipient of Saddam Hussein's largesse in the oil-for-food scandal. Pasqua denies the charges but suggests somewhat helpfully that other ministers may have been bribed.

It is hard not to wonder how this unbridled embrace of the morally suspect Europeans by the Leftists, largely to tar the US, is helpful to India. With the passage of time, it is likely to become clear that European -- almost wholly French, German and Russian -- objections to the war were at least as equally rooted in self-interest as the putative oil interests of the US.

India, on the other hand, has much to gain from the new dispensation and it is time to move past the reflexive objections to the US-led invasion. Indeed, the private sector has quietly embraced it with the presence of thousands of Indians in Iraq.

In touting European foreign policy as a model for India to emulate, the bigoted Left omits the fact that it is a failing, if not failed, society on several issues ranging from racial integration to economic growth as well as dodgy geopolitical alignments. Examples abound.

For instance, the deep racial and religious intolerance that underlies European objections to Turkey's ascension to the European Union and a broken financial architecture that is at the heart of anaemic growth rates. Stubborn and systemic double-digit unemployment numbers that prevail in France attest to their economic woes. European influence in reining in the terror-supporting military regime in Pakistan is close to zero.

The Europeans do represent a significant trading bloc for Indian economic interests. However, it is unlikely to be materially affected by an Indian foreign policy agendum that is more embracive of its natural democratic and economic ally, the US. Arguably, the US can be impressed upon to rein in its leading 'ally' in the war on terror, a task that is afoot in some not so subtle ways.

On the last point, I am willing to wager that the Kashmir 'problem' has a greater probability of being resolved in the relative near term, thanks in no small measure to Indian economic growth but also to tacit nudges from the US, than Turkey joining the European Union.

The latter is about as likely to occur as the US sale of F-16s to Pakistan.

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Vijay Dandapani