India and the US have taken the “Next Step in Strategic Partnership” which has been touted as “landmark” because it moves the two countries out of the Cold War mindset but the joint “sea control” operations in far off waters does little to meet immediate threats faced by both countries from terrorism from a common source.
Even as Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee is signing framework agreements for military cooperation over the next ten years American newspapers are revealing facets of geo-politics that impinge on the security of both countries: Pakistan’s continued involvement in training jehadi terrorists and its obfuscation of Osama bin Laden’s trail since he left Tora Bora in Afghanistan in a hurry under US bombardment creates threats to both the US and India in very direct ways.
It could be said that if the fountain-head of terrorism is effectively tackled framework agreements for long-term military-to-military cooperation would become redundant. The US has been the victim of perhaps the most horrendous series of terrorist strikes on 9/11and India has suffered several decades of assaults on its territorial integrity and sovereignty under the garb of “political and diplomatic support” to “freedom fighters”. In Kashmir these “freedom fighters” have since 1947 itself been Pakistani troops in civilian disguise and this has recurred in 1965 and as recently as 1999 in Kargil.
Current reports speak of terrorist cells in “sleeper mode” waiting for an appropriate moment to strike inside the US itself. This read with the possibility that the Dr A.Q.Khan network of nuclear proliferation has distributed miniaturized nuclear warhead devices to all and sundry and the likelihood of the use of “dirty nukes” to create widespread panic is an accepted fact of life it would appear that long-term “framework agreements” seem wilfully designed to ignore the obvious immediate threat.
At the same time the US offer of F-16 aircraft to both India and Pakistan in a list of weapons it is willing to sell to both countries does tend to queer a pitch which the US itself says is a “nuclear flashpoint”. That nuclear weapons were being prepared by Pakistan during the Kargil war is a revelation that has come from US sources of the same kind that are also now reporting that the jehadi element in Pakistani society have been put on “sleep” mode to try and achieve a political end in Kashmir. But terror remains central to the achievement of that goal and nuclear weapons can be used to that end.
In the case of both countries threats have been attributed to important political personalities in Pakistan. The name of Fazlur Rahman Khalil has been mentioned as being the mentor of persons arrested in the US after they received terrorist training in Pakistan and Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has been fingered by no less a personage than Yasin Malik for playing host to 3500 young men sent out of Jammu and Kashmir for training in Pakistan.
There are, therefore, personalities with a jehadi bent of mind in almost every segment of Pakistani society, more particularly the military elements of which have already made two attempts to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf. This does raise grave doubts about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the possibility that it could fall into jehadi hands.
It should be India’s endeavour to lay greater emphasis on the paragraph containing a commitment for “interaction at various levels to devise strategies to prevent terrorist activities in the region. This is move beyond the frequent assertions by US officials that if there are terrorist training camps in Pakistan they “would be gone tomorrow”.
It is in this context that the US offer to India of Patriot anti-missile systems makes no sense in the nuclear context because even if an interception takes places the fall-out from radioactive debris will inevitably fall on Indian territory just as it did during the Gulf war when the Patriots did intercept the incoming Iraqi Scud missiles but there was always collateral damage in both Israel and Saudi Arabia from falling debris.
If there had, indeed, been a nuclear or chemical weapons or any other kind of weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in the Iraqi arsenal the consequences would have been horrendous not just for the two victims but the region as a whole.
Therefore, it would be incumbent on the Government of India to make a proper assessment of equipment being offered by the US to both India and Pakistan before committing itself to accept anything on offer. It is not without significance that Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee stressed that the “First Steps Towards Strategic Partnership” should not become merely a buyer-seller relationship.
Also, though it is still an infant thought policing the Malacca Straits in search of, among other things, weapons of mass destruction has implications for the India’s relations with ASEAN because it is in all respects its “inland sea” which should by rights be patrolled and protected by the members of the ASEAN. Because the US enjoys a cosy relationship with ASEAN it would be more appropriate that patrolling and coordination of operations in this area should include the countries of the region.
The offer of including an Indian observer within the Pacific Command is in keeping with that same element of “distance” between India’s local concerns and its role within the global scheme of things as the US wants it. India’s direct interest is not the Pacific Command but the Central Command the “area of responsibility” of which covers this part of the world including Jammu and Kashmir.
The phrase “area of responsibility” has replaced “area of operations” that had long delineated the jurisdiction of the Central Command or CENTCOM as it is called since it was created after the failure of the US Seventh Fleet posted at the time in Subic Bay in the Philippines to reach the Bay of Bengal in time to intervene to pull Pakistan’s chestnuts out of the fire in 1971. But that was at the height of the cold war which is not the case now.
Central to any strategic partnership is cooperation in the production of military hardware to tackle the common threats. In recent times the bad blood created by US objections to the sale to China by Israel of military equipment containing US-made components and parts is an indicator that there are national interests that have a very narrow meaning. This fact is highlighted because it is with Israel that Washington shares the highest level of “strategic partnership”.
Even if Indo-US relations in the next decade are confined to the sale-purchase context India’s concern will remain over the possibility of imposing sanctions and embargos within Washington’s global commitments. Thus on the face of it the exchange of dual-use technologies will be the benchmark of the efficacy of this new “strategic partnership”.
For India, there is one school of thought that suggests that too great a dependence on a single source for weapons supplies is detrimental of national interests. But the history of Indian military-industrial complex has been replete with US denial of technology.
That the US should seek to forge such a relationship with a nation it feels had made a fetish of non-alignment during the Cold War is a sign of the changing times. However, though it is too much to expect the US to change its attitude towards Pakistan on which it has bestowed the status of major Non-NATO ally for “cooperating” in the War against Terror.
As long as Washington takes the position that Islamabad is doing all it can to bring the top brass of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban to book there will always been a definite tilt towards it. It is something India will have to live with. For that it will have to keep its powder dry in Jammu and Kashmir.