Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yes, India Can

Give India weapons of self-protection

From The Statesman

India needs weapons of mass self-protection, not the false sense of security of regionalism as is being proposed in some quarters.

Mr Ahmed Rashid, the renowned Pakistani journalist and author, dumps the entire region extending from India through Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Central Asian states into one giant problematic region and laments that the US has failed in its duty of stopping the region from sliding into anarchy. In his latest book, Descent into Chaos, he reprimands the US for not doing enough, and advocates that saving the region is in the US national interest.

Mr Rashid is perhaps one of the very few Pakistanis who believe that the US invasion of Afghanistan “created enormous expectations of change and hope for a more sustained Western commitment to the region that would lift it out of poverty and underdevelopment”. After 9/11, the US wanted to get rid of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida and the Taliban. No nation can lift another nation or a whole region out of poverty and degradation caused by the blind hatred of others based on religious obscurantism. Instead of giving us an intelligent analysis of why Pakistan sank into progressive misery during six decades of independence, Mr Rashid blames the West for not waking up “to the realities and responsibilities of injustice, poverty, lack of education, and unresolved conflicts such as those in Kashmir and Afghanistan, which it had ignored for too long and which could no longer be allowed to fester”. Mr Rashid forgets that since the 1980s when Zia-ul-Haq seized power, Pakistan has been deliberating and turning into a nation with a fundamentalist mindset. In varying degrees, every institution, including the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI, has been infused with the fundamentalist virus, which spread from Saudi-financed Wahabi madrassas and abundant infusion of cash by Arab petrodollar charities.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Pakistan-backed Islamic fundamentalists and the US-financed Afghanistan armed resistance ultimately drove the Soviets out and might have played a significant role in the final collapse of the Soviet Union. When the US withdrew from Afghanistan leaving behind battle-scarred guerrillas, the ISI in collusion with Al-Qaida and helped by Arab money raised the Taliban, which in a short time overpowered the country, imposing a brutal fundamentalist order on the helpless, war-ravaged nation.

The ISI-Taliban control of Afghanistan seemed an unprecedented strategic achievement of the Pakistani armed forces, but it has become an endless nightmare. No less significant has been the role of China in helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons, which turned a bankrupt country into the most dangerous place in the world, which could not be left alone.Instead of looking deep into the flawed foundation on which Pakistan was founded, Mr Rashid continues to blame the US for every ill of the region. He states the obvious that “Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, forty-five thousand Western troops, and the deaths of thousands of people”.

This would not have happened if the Pakistan military and especially the ISI, which he calls “a state within a state”, had not collaborated with and sheltered Al-Qaida. Instead he says the resurgent Taliban have been “getting a boost from the explosion in heroin production that has helped fund their movement”. He also jumps to the facile conclusion, which sounds like propaganda, that, “At stake are the futures of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), the European Union, and of course America’s own power and prestige.”

He conveniently forgets to mention the role of China, Pakistan’s most reliable all-weather friend, in the country’s collapse. All we know is that when President Asif Ali Zardari went to Beijing to borrow a handful of dollars from China’s massive foreign exchange reserves, he returned with plenty of good wishes and re-affirmation of eternal friendship but nothing else.As expected, Mr Rashid indirectly places the responsibility of political disarray in Pakistan on India’s shoulders.

Pakistan’s obsession with Afghanistan is due to the fear generated by the increasing influence of India in the country, he says. It is true that India has poured massive development funds, as much as $1.2 billion, into the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s educational system and social-political institutions as well as infrastructure projects including the building of the Zaranj-Delaram highway that connects Afghanistan’s highway system to the Iranian port of Chabahar, which will eventually become India’s port of entry to central Asia. The purpose is not to surround Pakistan but find an alternative route to Central Asia to share its natural resources as China is doing.

When General Pervez Musharraf seized power in 2002, he had the opportunity to pursue his grand vision of making Pakistan a modern progressive Muslim nation. But like others before him, he got more interested in holding on to power than rebuilding Pakistan in spite of the billions of dollars in aid from the US. Mr Musharraf left the country bankrupt and in a worse shape than before. But he initiated some fresh thinking on India-Pakistan relations especially in regard to Kashmir and the confidence-building measures that he started have been taken up by Mr Zardari, whose recent pronouncements have raised great interest.

In an October interview with Wall Street Journal, Mr Zardari said India had never been a threat to Pakistan and he called Kashmir militants terrorists. In a recent leadership videoconference he suggested a no-first strike nuclear deal with India and envisaged the possibility of a South Asian economic union.

But the difficulty is that whenever India begins to believe that there is a genuine change in Pakistan, an ugly reality strikes brutally into India’s heart as it did last week in Mumbai when terrorists brazenly emerged out of the darkness of Arabian Sea to destroy everything India values and seeks: building peace with the rest of the world through economic growth, trade and commerce.India cannot stop Pakistan’s descent into chaos. But India can certainly protect itself by erecting a dynamic system of total homeland security as the US has done.

The US is safer today because of the US Patriot Act, which was renewed by the US Congress in 2006. Consider the acronym: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.

The US Patriot Act is a weapon of mass protection that has worked. That is what India needs. By protecting itself, India will protect the region and contribute to world peace.

(ND Batra is professor of communicationsat Norwich University)

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