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Facing the nuclear dagger

The trajectory of US foreign policy on South Asia, despite very significant transformations, is still to escape the moulds and prejudices of the past. In this sense, Henry Kissinger, with his visceral hatred of all things Indian, and Colin Powell, with his unrelenting support of what one American commentator has described as "their dictator darling" in Pakistan, are located on the same continuum, though external circumstances and the character of the Administrations they serve(d), are radically different.

There is, of course, a world of change between Kissinger's denunciations of those "god dam Indians", and Powell's reluctant overtures towards those "major powers", including India, "with whom we have had difficult relationships in the past…" Nevertheless, the reliance on an intense personal relationship with a dictator in Pakistan remains one of the defining conditions of American foreign policy in the region - and this condition survives even the worst of transgressions by such dictators and the regimes they head.

Recurrent Pakistani adventurism has taken not only South Asia, but the world, to the very brink of catastrophe again and again. Yet the servility of Pakistan's leadership - and particularly its military leadership - towards America, has always brought it a reprieve, even after the most extraordinary and appalling transgressions.

Thus, the "nuclear dagger" was pointed at India's heart in 1971, when the Seventh Fleet moved menacingly into the Indian Ocean, because of an intransigent American commitment to Pakistan, based on the personal relationship between Richard Nixon with the then Pakistani dictator, General Yahya Khan - both leaders who ended their careers in disgrace. This commitment survived even the unforgivable and gigantic genocide committed by Yahya Khan's forces in then East Pakistan - in which an estimated three million people were butchered, and unnumbered others maimed, raped and brutalised. Despite pleas by both the US ambassadors to Pakistan and to India at that time, and urgings by the latter to consolidate "better relations with the one stable democracy in that part of the world" (India), it was Nixon and Kissiger's unyielding infatuation with Yahya Khan that eventually prevailed.

Earlier, in 1962, during the Indo-Chinese war, documents released recently from British Archives indicate that Pakistan's 'foolishness' nearly brought the Western alliance to the brink of a nuclear confrontation with China, as Pakistan threatened to make common cause with the latter and attack India. After China decided to unilaterally terminate its aggression, however, Pakistan's then dictator, General Ayub Khan, was safely restored to the security of American patronage.

The same central theme, though with a script substantially altered in its detailed, is once again being played out with General Pervez Musharraf at its centre. Despite mounting evidence of the most extreme criminality of conduct, of Pakistan's support to terrorism across the world, of its centrality in the network of illegal nuclear proliferation, and of Musharraf's own recurrent deceit and dishonesty on these various issues, the General, it appears, can do little that is wrong, and provokes nothing but repeated and enthusiastic praise from Powell. As recently as January 4, 2004, with mounting disclosures of Pakistan's involvement in the leakage of nuclear technologies to Libya - after Pakistan's role in proliferation to North Korea and Iran had been firmly established - Powell declared, "We still have confidence in Pervez Musharraf and we are standing behind him." Crucially, significant proliferation activities by Pakistan have now been documented during Musharraf's tenure, though an incredible pretence is currently being projected that Pakistani nuclear scientists had acted 'in their own capacity', succumbing to greed, and without the participation or approval of the state.

This is not the only evidence - despite America's dogged dependence on Pakistani dictators to secure 'US interests' in South Asia - that Pakistan and General Musharraf have not reciprocated with like commitment. Indeed, the real target of the terrorism that is firmly located in Pakistan today is the US - as even a cursory review of statements, not only of terrorist leaders, but also of senior military leaders, both serving and retired, would demonstrate. And if there is, eventually, an WMD attack on US soil, it is almost certain that its footprints will have travelled through Pakistan, and its linkages will go high into the echelons of its military administration - even as did the pathways that led to the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is useful, here, to recall that, through the 1980s, the US repeatedly waived provisions of the Pressler Amendment in favour of Pakistan, and deliberately ignored mounting evidence of Pakistan's clandestine quest for the 'Islamic bomb' - and this, precisely, is what culminated, not only in the development of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, but in the leakage of these technologies to rogue states, and the manifest danger of its leakage to non-state Islamist terrorist entities. It was a deliberate blindness, a denial of obvious realities that culminated in the tragedy of 9/11; and it is the same attitude that will hit America again, if it chooses to persist in the attitudes of the past.

It is truly amazing that America still fails to clearly see the greatest danger it has confronted since the Bay of Pigs crisis. The "nuclear dagger" is now pointed at America's heart. The current danger is, moreover, crystallizing in an absolutely clandestine fashion. There is, of course, a growing concern today regarding the possibility of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of the jehadis in that country. More dangerous, however, is the possibility of a nuclear device, possibly a small 'dirty' bomb, being dismantled and transported to US soil, to be reassembled and used in one of its great metropolii. And if the devastation is hundreds, or even thousands of times greater that the tragedies of 9/11, there is no predicting what the retaliatory US response would be. If it takes the form of a nuclear response against Pakistan, India would suffer collaterally, almost as much as the primary target would.

There is a constant tendency, both within the South Asian region, and in the US Administration, to be carried forward in a succession of small movements that focus purely on the imperatives of the moment, to be misled by well-intentioned illusions, or by deliberately false rhetoric, and to ignore the emerging realities of the ground. There is, at present, another explosion of great euphoria in the sub-continent, and among those who project their interests in this region, as a 'peace process' manifests itself once again. It is easy, in all this, to believe that things have suddenly and radically changed, because leaders of the two 'traditional' sub-continental rivals have chosen to enter into negotiations. It is, however, necessary to remind ourselves that, between the weeks preceding the brief theatrics of the SAARC Summit at Islamabad, and those that follow it, nothing has really changed in South Asia. The 'factories' and 'supply lines' of the Islamist extremist jehad are intact; the armies of mujahiddeen are trained and ready for action; terrorism continues to thrive, though it has suffered some reverses - as have counter-terrorist forces. The only change is that one of the manifest sponsors of this terrorism - General Musharraf himself - has now apparently been targeted by some of his own erstwhile protégés. But that is cold comfort for those who continue to be targeted by the 'armies of jehad' across the world.

(Published in The Pioneer, January 10, 2004)





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