VIEW: What the visits mean —Amit Ranjan - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Source :\10\26\story_26-10-2010_pg3_5

It is in the interest of the two South Asian regional powers to take the lead in resolving the crisis in Afghanistan through political means but not at the cost of their own security. They should use a regional platform to address this problem and not be browbeaten by the US

India-Pakistan relations, since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, have been manufactured in the policy-making industries of western countries. They have successfully dictated their terms over the policy-making process in two South Asian nuclear rivals and have also effectively decided about the nature of the relationship between them. The scheduled visit by US President Barack Obama to the subcontinent in November is a part of this decades-old policy of the superpowers to dictate their terms to the subcontinent. The recent two rounds of inconclusive talks, which took place between India and Pakistan, without any reason and agenda, were covertly directed and dictated to by the US.

Barack Obama will be the first US president to pay a visit to the subcontinent in his first term. This is not due to the growing importance of the region but rather to compel India and Pakistan to work together as an agent of the US to fulfil its political, economic and military interests in Afghanistan. In the past, whenever US presidents have paid a visit to this region, they have provided economic aid to the countries and have made different statements in different countries. After their return to the White House, some of them have even forgotten the texts of their statements. All of them, on their visits to the subcontinent, have consistently emphasised the importance of democracy and peace between India and Pakistan. However, it is the US and its cohorts that have supported military dictators to lead coups and remain in power by destabilising the civilian governments in Pakistan. They are also responsible for the arms race in South Asia, which has perpetuated continuous tensions between India and Pakistan.

Various terror groups that are creating havoc today have mushroomed from time to time due to the erstwhile policies of the US-led western allies towards South Asia. They groomed poor youngsters to fight the US’s war against the invasion of Afghanistan by the former USSR in the 1970s-80s. These teenagers were told to fight to save their co-believers from the atheist invaders; in the name of Islam they were misled by the Pakistani government and Pashtun leaders. Once the US’s aim was fulfilled, they left these talibs on their own. This led to an emergence of anti-Americanism among the people, an emotion that was exploited by those who wanted to channel the energy of these youths for their own self-interest. Thus, the problem started and the perpetrators and victims both were the innocent people of the subcontinent.

After the sheer negligence of South Asian regional powers in almost all decision-making processes relating to Afghanistan, the US administration has realised their importance to use them to fulfil its own self-interest. At present, India is their pet favourite and also a military power in the region. It can do what the US-led ISAF is doing in Afghanistan. It is also one of the largest investors in Afghanistan. Therefore, it is very easy to persuade India to send its military to safeguard its own economic interests. India can also be used by the US on the pretext that it is facing the menace of terrorism, which has its base in Afghanistan. The Indian people can be easily persuaded but, in reality, if the Indian army goes in to Afghanistan, then it will protect the material and military interests of the US.

Pakistan is already fighting a half-battle that was started by the US on its border areas with Afghanistan. Due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military’s response in support of the US, the whole state is being disturbed and is in the grip of terror groups. With overt military interference in Afghanistan, Pakistan is going to suffer the most because of the influence of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the presence of a massive anti-American constituency in Pakistan.

It is in the interest of the two South Asian regional powers to take the lead in resolving the crisis in Afghanistan through political means but not at the cost of their own security. They should use a regional platform to address this problem and not be browbeaten by the US. In the last SAARC summit, which was held at Thimphu, the member states following the charter (which does not allow the member states to comment on the internal problems of others, even if that has grave consequences for the entire region), did not raise their concerns over the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. It is not that the member states have earnestly followed the charter; rather they have used it whenever they wished to criticise their regional rivals from that platform, but seldom has this platform been used by them for constructive work in the region.

There is a saying: ‘Once bitten, twice shy.’ The leadership in the subcontinent has failed to learn and understand the in-depth meaning of this phrase. They are still ready to fight the US-interest war in Afghanistan at their own cost. They seem to lack farsightedness and also do not want to learn from the history of the US role in the subcontinent, which always wanted to keep the region disturbed for its own interests. Policy makers from both countries are well aware that they are going to get bargains from the US administration. They are certainly going to receive monetary or military help from the US. But that help may prove to be disastrous to their long-term interests. This region is the most disturbed region in the world and in case the two countries militarily get engaged in Afghanistan, things are going to get even worse.

Finally, a caveat: the political leaderships of India and Pakistan must not get carried away by Obama’s words. They must acknowledge that in international politics the important thing is to protect the self-interest of a nation. Therefore, they must take cognisance of their long-term self-interest rather then blindly following the diktats from the White House and Pentagon. And their long-term interest is in maintaining a peaceful atmosphere in this volcanic region for their mutual development, growth and prosperity.

The writer is a PhD student at the South Asian Studies School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached at

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