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Fourth Edition

A Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

August 2002


Spotlight               S H Zaidi

Top of Page        KPS Gill

Special Report     S Roughneen

Fundamentals     Praveen Swami

Periscope            B Raman

InsideTrack          H Bashani

Himalayan Blunder                 W Hussain

In Black & White G Peiris

Statecraft             B Raman

Bottomline           N Kaushik


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Diplomatic Tourism: Powell in South Asia... Again

K.P.S. Gill

‘Dead on arrival’ is how one observer described Colin Powell’s latest visit (his third since 9/11) to New Delhi and Islamabad. His earlier statements, downplaying the significance of this excursion, suggest that Powell himself did not expect much more. 

India and Pakistan have become mandatory stopovers for roving Western VIP’s offering non-solutions to non-problems in South Asia – Powell, for instance, sees images of salvation in international observers for the forthcoming elections in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Meanwhile, the core problem in the region – the persistence of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, and of the armies and infrastructure of the Islamist jihad in that country – is systematically downplayed. 

The trend started after 9/11 (October 2001 saw Powell’s first tour here), and intensified after December 13, 2001, when India’s Parliament was attacked by Pakistan-backed terrorists groups, leading –particularly after the brutal Kaluchak massacre of May 14, 2002 – to the largest military mobilisation this region has seen. None – without exception – of these diplomatic delegations have had anything concrete to offer beyond platitudes about ‘talks about talks.’ And yet, to their home constituencies, they have repeatedly reported ‘great breakthroughs’ in the Indo-Pak imbroglio as a result of their sagacious interventions. 

The greatest of these supposed ‘breakthroughs’ came in the wake of the artificial hysteria that was whipped up over an ostensibly imminent war– and possible nuclear holocaust – in South Asia in the latter part of May 2001, after the Kaluchak massacre tempted the Indian leadership to engage in an experiment in brinkmanship. The fact is, at no moment during that entire counterfeit crisis, was there even the remotest possibility of war, and the ease with which the tensions were abruptly dissipated by the Indian Prime Minister’s sudden pronouncements about ‘clear skies’ bore out the absurdity of Western projections. This did not, however, end war speculation, and ‘experts’ continued to argue that the next time there was a major terrorist strike in India, the country’s leadership ‘would not be able to resist public pressure’ for military retaliation against Pakistan – and Pakistan’s dictator, President Pervez Musharraf, sought international guarantees against Indian ‘overreaction’ in case of a major terrorist attack in India by groups that he ‘cannotcontrol’. But another massacre of comparable magnitude did occur – at Kasimpura on July 13 – and there was not even a suggestion of a military response across the Line of Control (LoC). 

This is crucial, because the pattern of Western – and particularly American – ‘peacemaking’ initiatives has become a critical input in the orchestration of tensions in South Asia, encouraging the major players here to sustain tensions in order to attract ‘favorable’ interventions. The Western discourse has also set an unacceptable limit on what needs to be done against terrorism, as evidenced by the incessant harping on infiltration across the LoC – Powell again saw fit to point out that it was ‘difficult’ to accurately monitor the movement of terrorists from Pakistan into J&K. The result is that, every time international (read, US) pressure escalates, General Musharraf makes a televised ‘address to the nation’ roundly condemning terrorism; for a few weeks, infiltration rates drop; and the ‘international community’, goaded by their ‘friend’ Musharraf, immediately begins to pressure India to offer some ‘concessions’ to placate Pakistan in return. There is something immensely offensive in this. As offensive as the suggestion that, since Osama bin Laden has not executed any further attacks on America after9/11, the US somehow owes him something by way of reciprocal ‘concessions’. The logic appears to be that if a mass murderer agrees –even temporarily – to stop murdering our people, we owe him something byway of reward. This is a position that should be rejected with utter contempt. But it finds the most unlikely defenders in the ‘free world’. 

This is not the only distortion in the Western discourse on terrorism in South Asia. The Americans continue to find it convenient to project Pakistan as a ‘frontline state’ in the war against terrorism, and cite as evidence the fact that Pakistan has ‘co-operated’ with the US and has ‘handed over’ several Al Qaeda operatives, including some at leadership levels in the shadowy Islamist terrorist organisation. It is certain, however, that US Intelligence and policy makers are entirely aware of the duplicity of these claims. The truth is, at no point in the ‘war against terror’ has the Musharraf regime given a whit more than it has been forced to concede. To take an example, the much-touted case of AbuZubaidah – the senior-most bin Laden lieutenant to be arrested till date– in late March. Abu Zubaidah, and more than 50 other Al Qaeda cadre, were arrested at Faisalabad and handed over to US authorities only after the FBI had intercepted their telephonic communications and confronted local authorities, making it impossible for the latter to refuse to take action. In another high profile case in December 2001, over 120 Al Qaeda fighters were arrested in the Kurram Agency and subsequently given over to the Americans – but only when their presence could no longer be concealed or denied as a result of a quarrel between local tribal groups. There is ample intelligence regarding numerous cases where Pakistani authorities have turned a blind eye to the presence and activities of the Al Qaeda until US authorities have coerced action, or till the terrorists have found it possible to relocate to undisclosed destinations. 

Much of this is incomprehensible, particularly in view of the sheer horror of what was done on 9/11, and of the enormous danger that the surviving Al Qaeda and its ideological affiliates constitute. It appears, however, that domestic political compulsions and the inertia of past policies are, once again, taking America down a familiar path of supporting an unconscionable Third World dictatorship – and a sponsor of terrorism to boot. 

The author is the President, Institute for Conflict Management

By special arrangement with Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. (South Asia Intelligence Review)

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