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West’s Compulsions Post 26/11

December 3, 2010

The recent WikiLeaks disclosures have seen a hostile Indian media, which has had a pronounced Left bias traditionally, asking as to why the west led by the US did not stand by India post 26/11 attacks. Cables from American embassy in Islamabad also shed light on the fact that the British were particularly concerned about a possible conflagration between India and Pakistan post 26/11. Then Foreign Secretary David Miliband was really concerned that India and Pakistan may go to war after the Mumbai carnage.

From the feedback that the American embassy gave Washington it is also clear that Americans were taking things more easily and were not as worked up about a possible war between India and Pakistan. This could have been something that the British and the Americans may have worked out between themselves where while one was proactive in discussing the possibility of a war the other was taking things easy, so as to work the situation in the sub-continent to their liking. The media here in India has been watching the developing Indo-US relations with much consternation ever since the Clinton era. Since the Indo-Us Civilian Nuclear deal the anti-west rhetoric may not have been upfront but the causticity of the media against this developing partnership has been markedly acidic. One way to torpedo the growing Indian alliance with the west is to keep pointing out as to what as an ally and a partner the west has not done for India. This keeps appearing in the press from time to time and such ‘outrage’ will keep happening in future too. Their logic is simple, to up the ante to such a level that it becomes impossible either for the west or for India to pass muster and then to go to town pointing out that our allies and strategic partners have not done even this much for us while we keep bending backwards to accommodate them. One prime example of such rhetoric is the post 26/11 scenario that is emerging from the WikiLeaks cables. Mind you, these are cables sent by the American embassy in Islamabad and not in New Delhi.

The grouse of the media is that Americans were loathe to name ISI as the organization behind the 26/11 attacks. They further say that Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliate Jamaat ud-Daawa were pointedly not mentioned by the US as those that carried out the Mumbai attacks; that American embassy was trying to make sure that the issue was soft peddled and that the whole situation was ‘normalized’. Let us for a moment assume that the Americans had zeroed in on the LeT and the ISI as ones behind the Mumbai attacks and had gone out public with the assertion at that time. Let us also recall what the political and military atmosphere was there at that time in the sub-continent? A mention by the US that the ISI and the LeT were behind the 26/11 carnage would have been taken as a ‘go ahead’ by India for an attack on Pakistan. The situation was so tense that everyone was waiting with baited breath as to what New Delhi would do next. I am not sure whether the army was put on alert with a missive from the Defense Ministry. I guess the army was at high alert waiting for orders as it were. The world was watching what was going on in Mumbai and army personnel are a part of the society, it did not take orders from the commander to start getting ready, I guess every soldier and every officer of the Indian army was in a state of readiness to take a call for national duty.

I guess the Americans had already played out a scenario where a massive terror strike in India leads to a fluid situation in the sub-continent. What does the west do then? Does it stand by India and give it an unhindered right to strike Pakistan or does it try to diffuse the situation? Remember, the western forces led by the US are stationed on the western borders of Pakistan. It must also be remembered that Pakistan is the route through which all the supply lines pass to Afghanistan. A conflagration would have seen India first strike at Karachi port and at their nuclear installations to make sure Pakistan does not do anything silly. Any strike at Karachi port would have stalled all cargo from reaching Afghanistan and the American troops would have found it very difficult in sustaining themselves.

For a moment let us assume that the US decided that Pakistan is the epicenter of global terrorism and that the US needs to take physical charge of Pakistan. In such a scenario, the US would have sounded India and the west and India would have started preparing for war. It would have taken both India and the west at least two months to get ready for an assault on Pakistan in which time they would have readied with arms and ammunition and supplies. Pakistan would have got a whiff of things as the cargo to Isaf would have increased dramatically. What if hypothetically India entered Pakistan from the eastern side and the US entered Pakistan from the western side. I agree that the keys to nuclear arsenal of Pakistan are still by and large with the west and Pakistan would have found it almost impossible to launch a nuclear attack on India or on Afghanistan. I also agree that if Pakistan were attacked from both flanks it would not have been able to resist for more than a week. But questions remain. Remember, American and allied troops in Afghanistan are stretched and they would have had to take help of Afghan army that is basically Pashtun. The Pakistan army is also made up of Pashtuns, almost 30% of it. Could the Americans and the allied forces have relied on the Afghan army to fight Pakistan army?

Were the Indians from the east and the western forces from the west to attack Pakistan would Beijing have remained silent? It is very likely that Beijing would have entered Indian from Arunachal Pradesh and from Aksai Chin. India would have had to fight on both the fronts.  Would Washington then have encouraged Taiwan and Vietnam to open fronts against China? And maybe Japan too? This could have flared up into a much bigger conflict and neither India nor the west was ready to take on China head on at that point in time.

Let us assume another scenario where the west would not attack Pakistan but would create a situation where India could take military action against Pakistan. The first thing that Pakistan would have done was to move all troops from its western border to its eastern borders.  This would have meant that the US would have been exposed to terrorist attacks from Taliban much more blatantly. The other thing would have been that supplies to American troops would have been greatly hampered. Pakistan is the lifeline for the US in its military and strategic aims in Afghanistan. A conflict between India and Pakistan would have been a prolonged one and this could undermine US efforts in Afghanistan to a great extent. While it is true that US and India are strategic partners but in the short run the US is dependent on Islamabad for its supplies and its war on terror. This is not self-interest, this is pragmatism for both the US and India. A conflict between the two South Asian countries will benefit no one at this juncture.

The US though at a later date did impose further sanctions on LeT and has been tough with Islamabad. It is also clear that there have been more and more Taliban attacks on Pakistan establishment post 26/11. Jama’at-ud-Da’wah has been banned. Pakistan establishment has been targeted more than once. These are as a result to the inherent contradictions in the Pakistan society and polity. Let us be clear, a nation that can send a bunch of terrorists to kill and maim at random is a sick society. Such a nation and such people will perish because of their own convoluted, sectarian and myopic mindset. I agree that the US and the west could have done more but let us also understand that there is a time and place for everything. That was no time and certainly no occasion to go in for punitive action against a rogue state. However, to condemn the west as being phony allies of India is also being harsh and perhaps a shade unreasonable in our assessment of our relationship with the west. I may add with fingers crossed, that there has been no major terror attack since 26/11 on India and that is as a result of close cooperation between India and our western partners. Those who carried out the dastardly attacks on Mumbai are still being pursued and terrorists of Pakistani origin have been captured from Barcelona and Thailand. The west and India have mechanisms in place to make sure that any such designs are thwarted at their very root. This again the secular press does not like as they see India and the west coming together on anything as something detrimental to India’s interests. I am not sure whose interests these people espouse. Certainly they do not further the interests of India and the Indian people.

Lastly, these very same forces that are calling out at American ‘duplicity’ in not standing with India post 26/11 are the first ones to call for confidence building measures (CBM’s) between the India and Pakistan for bettering relations. These are the same forces that put the onus on India to better relations with Pakistan. Now the same forces are demanding that US and the west prove at every juncture as to how good a partner and an ally they are of India. These are old tricks to try and corner both the administration in New Delhi and the one in Washington so that they have to keep explaining. I would urge both New Delhi and DC not to take some sections of the Indian media too seriously. They also do not need to react to everything that these shrill bunch of people say every other day to scuttle a partnership and a friendship that is natural and beneficial for both India and the west.

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