BUSH AND THE NEW SOUTH ASIAN ORDER
By Sherry RehmanÂ Â / March 4 ,2006Â
Despite the concessions made by Parvez Musharraf for Washington , President Bush's approach to South Asia indicates very clearly a major shift in US policy, refracted most sharply by his visit to the region.
Not only has US policy de-linked India and Pakistan as meriting some semblance of parity, India seems to be getting the lion's share of Bush's attention as well as his administration's favour. This is as much a reflection of India's pull as the largest democracy in the world as it is about attracting Indian markets or about countering the growing weight of China in Asia as well as the global stage.
First of all, the Bush administration sees India not only as a functioning democracy, it regards New Delhi as a stable manger of conflict and transition. Delhi's capacity to absorb internal dissent without significant threats to central stability is quoted widely as a key factor attracting US state and private investor confidence.The world's three largest circulated newsmagazines, Time, Newsweek and The Economist, all featured India Shining on their covers to dovetail with Bush's visit.
Secondly, the scope of the new partnership between the US and India is being seen not only on a regional level, but embracing a larger global strategic vision. If there are any doubts about the limits of the military partnership between the two, it has been eliminated by theÂ unusually explicit statement issued by the US Defence Department hailing the deal as opening a path for more American-Indian military cooperation. Â "Where only a few years ago, no one would have talked about the prospects for a major U.S.-India defense deal, today the prospects are promising, whether in the realm of combat aircraft, helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft or naval vessels," the Defense Department statement said. Although resistance is expected from China, it is probable to expect Â Britain, France, Germany and possibly Russia to fall into line with the agreement, in part because it would clear the way for them to sell nuclear fuel, reactors and equipment to India.Â
The negotiated accord announced Thursday by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi is aimed at removing the ban effectively imposed by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on the sale of fuel and civilian nuclear technology to India, in return for India 's agreement to put its civilian reactors under international inspections. According to this deal, India will be able not only to retain its nuclear arms program but to keep a third of its reactors under military control, outside international inspection, including two so-called fast-breeder reactors that could produce fuel for weapons.
The accord would also allow India to build future breeder reactors and keep them outside international inspections. A fast-breeder reactor takes spent nuclear fuel and processes it for re-use as fuel or weapons. American officials negotiating with India over the last several months failed to get India to put its current and future breeder reactors under civilian control. Although the accord would allow India to buy equipment and materials for only those new reactors that are to be used for civilian purposes,America has also reportedly agreed to lobby seriously forIndia to obtain nuclear fuel from the 35-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.
In essence, the accord announced in New Delhi would place 14 of India 's 22 nuclear reactors under civilian inspection regimes by 2014. The phase-in time along with very real possibility that breeder reactors may never come under such a regime have unleashed a volley of objections from critics.While senior scholars at the independent Carnegie Endowment for International Peace call this deal an example of â€œSanta Claus negotiatingâ€ in terms of dropping all established nuclear regime principles, critics of the deal in Congress and Pakistan focus on what they maintain is a double standard embraced by the Bush administration: in effect, allowing India to have nuclear weapons and still get international assistance but insisting that Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and other "rogue states" be given no such waiver. Yet administration officials insist that there was no double standard at play here.
"The comparison between India and Iran is just ludicrous," R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said on Thursday. " India is a highly democratic, peaceful, stable state that has not proliferated nuclear weapons. Iran is an autocratic state mistrusted by nearly all countries and that has violated its international commitments." Â
Yet Capitol Hill has not been as sanguine as the Bush Administration would like the world to believe. If support for India is across-the-board, so is criticism of this deal by conservative Republicans, who are concerned that the deal will encourage Iranian intransigence, and liberal Democrats, who charge that the Bush administration has effectively scrapped the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Â The issue of double-standards will naturally arise from Pakistan as well for months after George Bushâ€™s high-security visit to Islamabad on the 4th March. While Bush hailed Musharraf as a key ally in the US war against terror, it was noted in Pakistan that he seemed to be doing business with one man, not Pakistan. Whereas he only met with Musharraf in Islamabad, in India he chose to call on the Prime Minister, the President,the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Congress Party, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, among other bilateral engagements. In sharp contrast, the message to Pakistanâ€™s democratic opposition and rubber-stamp parliament was that if you want to meet with President Bush it would be under General Musharrafâ€™s roof, not to mention his political turf.
Washingtonâ€™s tendency to see Pakistan as an unstable, yet critical frontline state in its war against Al Qaeda in the region has pitted it unfortunately in an uneasy relationship with a country that is increasingly at odds with its ruling elite. While extolling democracy as an incentive for regime-change all over the world, Pakistanis are quick to note that democracy is best considered controlled for their country by Washington, ignoring the fact that since September 11, all President Musharraf has done is take the state farther away from democracy instead of the promised transition.
By continuing to retain both posts of Army Chief and President, despite a promise to shed his uniform by the end of 2004, Musharraf openly relies on US support to shore up a government that marginalises and persecutes mainstream political parties. Instead of cleaning up the tribal areas of Al Qaeda elements through a mixture of political co-operation and security sweeps from local maliks he has chosen to allow the area to become a hotbed of extremist dissent and high-ranking Al Qaeda officials.
The killing of 18 innocent civilians caused by last monthâ€™s US bombings in Bajaur agency was a result of sloppy intelligence and ham-handedness when dealing with a volatile and difficult terrain, but it raised a cauldron of questions about the private nature of the deal that Washington and Musharraf seem to have struck against the short-term and long interests of both countries.
No rocket science is needed to see where such a course of action will take the goals of stable self-governance in the region. A country of Muslim moderates which once saw American values as equivalent with respect for civil liberties now sees a cloak of double-standards fall on US responses to strategic challenges both in the Middle East and the South Asian region.
President Bush could have struck a better chord in Pakistan by understanding three things: One, the majority of Pakistanis donâ€™t valorise suicide bombings, nor the damage to property and innocent lives that a culture of militant protest brings with it. If the anti-blasphemy protests are out of proportion in Pakistan, it is because of widespread unhappiness with the Musharraf model of unaccountable, non-representative governance. The bulwark-against-extremism role that Musharraf has fashioned since 9/11 is neither real nor is it working.Â [See Hamid Karzaiâ€™s dossiers on the tribal areas of Pakistan] Two: The rationale for dictatorship can never lie in civilian governance failures. Whatever establishment elites say to US interlocutors, a corrupt, incompetent civilian government is better any day than a corrupt, incompetent military government that is neither accountable in its spending nor unable to govern the federation. [See US travel advisory sites on Karachi, Balochistan, NWFP and everything except the US embassy compound and the Serena Hotel in Islamabad.] Three: Pakistan needs higher investments in education and the social services from US assistance, not just more F-16 aircraft. It needs a fair trade agreement that allows its goods market access in the US without the prohibitive architecture of US tarrifs. If Jordan and Morocco can prise better trade deals out of America, then why not Pakistan, which needs its young people in the service of gainful employment instead of on the streets roiling dissent. Bushâ€™s investments in democracy too fall way short of what is required in Pakistan to strengthen democratic institutions and parties.It is not enough to invest in Pakistanâ€™s National Assembly secretariat, which essentially ducks the detail that the Assembly runs against all established norms of parliamentary practice. This happens not because of an untrained secretariat, but because of the parliamentâ€™s eroded powers and Musharrafâ€™s manipulation of it as a front to appease criticism from the international community. The governmentâ€™s constant propaganda on enlightened moderation and soft images too needs to be replaced by hard decisions on repealing laws discriminating against women and minorities. Although these are sovereign choices, Bush can certainly make Musharraf commit to a better record on promises given the formerâ€™s leverage over the few dictators left in the world.
Clearly, there is little to be gained by radicalising young converts to a growing anti-US polestar in these parts of the world. It is high time the Bush Administration understands that it is not serving its own interests by operating in Pakistan through a one-window dictatorship model. The summary arrests of media and women organising in peaceful protest in Rawalpindi on March 4th is not a move that Bush would want associated with his visit. If the US is indeed sincere about exporting a mass democratic culture that once kept its universities stuffed with children from the Muslim world, it should realise that there is little sense in expecting a free and fair election from a military dictator in Pakistan in 2007. If Bush wants to do business with Pakistan he needs to lean on Musharraf to put in a caretaker government and an independent election commission in place by the end of 2006. Without that, in what promises to be an unfortunate turn of events for both countries, Pakistan could start really shutting down to Washington, and that is not something either nation would want.
Sherry Rehman is a Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the National Assembly of Pakistan and former Editor of newsmagazine, The Herald.. Â Â Â Â