What US cosying up with Pakistan over nuclear talks says about a clueless India

This questions not only the hype surrounding our ties with America, but also Obama's 'short-term foreign policy interests'.

 |  IST  |  6-minute read |   24-10-2015
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As Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns home from his summit with US President Barack Obama, it seems clear that the promise of a civilian nuclear deal for Pakistan - on the lines of what the US did for India - did not materialise only because of Rawalpindi's obduracy that it would maintain "full spectrum deterrence".

In ordinary English, Pakistan's all-powerful army which is headquartered in Rawalpindi (about 20km from its capital Islamabad), refused to accept any US-proposed limits on the deployment of its short-range nuclear capable missiles - for example the 60-km range Nasr, which is said to have been primarily developed to target India - as well as refused to sign international treaties (such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty) that would put constraints on its nuclear arsenal.

On the eve of Sharif's visit to the US on October 22, Pakistan's foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhury told reporters in Islamabad that Pakistan had built "low-yield nuclear weapons" to counter India.

But the fact remains that the Obama-led US establishment remains deeply interested in giving Pakistan more than a few carrots, both financial and political, even at the risk of displeasing India, as it finally withdraws from Afghanistan over the next year, bloodied and weary.

More to the point, the US is unlikely to have shared with its "strategic partner," India, its intention to give parity to Pakistan with India, especially on the nuclear field.

According to several analysts, this calls into question not only the hype surrounding the India-US relationship, especially with regard to the huge "tamasha" that takes place in the football stadium-type venues packed with cheering NRIs, but also Obama's "short-term foreign policy interests" as he winds down from the White House.

According to Rakesh Sood, a former special envoy to the Manmohan Singh government on nuclear and disarmament matters and a former ambassador to Afghanistan, "Pakistan's obsession with parity with India is reflected in its search for a civil nuclear deal with the US, like the kind that took place with India in 2008… The US also wants such a deal with Pakistan as it disengages from Afghanistan over the next year," Sood said.

Also read: Why India must worry but not panic over Pakistan's nuclear cry

Sood pointed out that Pakistan's leverage over Mansour Akhtar, the new head of the Taliban after the death of Mullah Omar, means that the US feels it is "dependent" on the Pakistanis to bring the Taliban to negotiate a peace process with the Afghan government, as it withdraws from that country after 15 years.

In fact, the quid pro quo between Obama and the Pakistanis seems terribly straightforward: In exchange for nuclear parity with India, Pakistan would have to put a few limits on its nuclear programme and eschew the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons in strategising war with India.

But the generals in Pakistan turned down the offer.

The star of the US cast proposing parity with India seems to be Peter Lavoy, long-time intelligence officer on the Pakistani programme and now in a key position in the White House-led National Security Council. He was in Delhi last month, along with General John Campbell, commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, when they met a variety of Indian officials and analysts on the Indian think tank circuit.

Naresh Chandra, a former ambassador to the US and a former Gujarat governor, told this reporter that India must be watchful about the growing US-Pakistani relationship, even when Nawaz Sharif commits to exterminating terrorists, including those harmful to India.

"We have to be concerned with what is not publicly stated (from the Obama-Sharif summit). Even if Pakistan promises to degrade the capacity of the Haqqani network as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, we all know that it won't do it for free. It doesn't matter how many F-16 fighter jets the Americans give Pakistan… India must press the US to tell us what is the content of the US-Pakistan agreement that goes beyond the press release," Chandra said.

Indian officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity echo Chandra's statement that the Obama administration's overtures to Pakistan are being driven by its exit from Afghanistan. "Obama doesn't want to go down as being seen as having failed in Afghanistan and so he is willing to go the extra mile with Pakistan even though he knows what Rawalpindi is capable of," said Chandra, referring to the fact that the Pakistani army and ISI had hidden Osama bin Laden for several years.

Also read: US-Pakistan nuclear deal: Why India should see America is no friend

The officials also admitted that Nawaz Sharif had scored over India by raising the bilateral Kashmir dispute with Barack Obama, thereby opening it up to third-party intervention.

"Even though the US denies that it will undertake third-party intervention, fact is that there is truth in what Nawaz Sharif told Obama, which is that he had tried to dialogue with India several times and consistently been rebuffed by several caveats and conditions put by the Indian side," the officials said.

Several analysts are also now beginning to say that Delhi's obsession with ending terrorism and only then opening talks with Pakistan is only hurting its own capacities and tying down its own hands. For example, since the horrific attacks in Mumbai in 2008, there has been little dialogue with Pakistan, including on nuclear-related issues. This also means that Delhi is cutting off its own channels of information, and making itself much more dependent on third countries, like the US and UK.

Even on a good day, India's diplomats have to deal with the fatiguing business of noxious states. But there is now growing disquiet that far too much attention is being devoted to "creating the tamasha," including the big coming-out parties in Madison Square Garden and San Jose.

While the prime minister's enthusiasm in leveraging NRI clout is admirable, there is growing concern that the prime minister's office and the ministry of external affairs doesn't have enough time left to deal with the most important issues at hand.

Under the circumstances, India may not even have been aware that a US-Pakistan partnership was growing under its very nose. Officials have now been reduced to making righteous noises of indignation, especially since its own India-US nuclear deal came after so many years of relentless negotiation.

The incredible truth is that this is not the first time that a US administration may be making compromises on its relationship with India, at the cost of improving ties with Pakistan. In the '80s, soon after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the Americans used Pakistan as a frontline state in its war against the Soviets, and pumped in millions of dollars as well as weapons.

Even after the September 11 incidents, after the US armed forces bombed the Taliban out of Afghanistan and restored that country to normalcy, Washington asked Delhi not to open consulates in southern Afghanistan - because the Pakistanis didn't want India to expand its presence in that region.

As for the potential US-Pakistan nuclear deal, Delhi should be happy that the Pakistan generals have short-sightedly said no to what could have become the biggest bugbear for India in the coming years. The unpleasant truth is that it had no say in the matter.

Also read: Why Pakistan will always threaten India with a nuclear attack


Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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