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By Rajesh Rajagopalan
WHEN THE U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, visits the region, it will mark the beginning of a new diplomatic campaign by Washington. Over the next few weeks, the U.S., along with its allies, will step up the pace of a proactive diplomatic campaign aimed at bringing peace along the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. They will, yet again, confirm Pakistan's complicity in cross-border terrorism, and even make harsh demands that it end support for terrorist groups in Kashmir. Senior U.S. officials have already started making public statements proclaiming their disappointment at Pervez Musharraf's broken promises about stopping cross-border terrorism, while also insisting that nevertheless there are no military solutions to this problem. Over the next few months, despite the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee's surprise peace initiative, New Delhi can expect to play host to a steady stream of diplomats from Washington and other capitals, all urging India to give them yet another chance to bring Pakistan around.
In evaluating these efforts, New Delhi should understand that the U.S. is severely constrained in pressuring Pakistan on the issue that matters most to India, cross-border terrorism. One of the constraints is that the U.S. believes it needs Pakistan to prosecute the war on terrorism, a dependence that is unlikely to end in the near future. But even if the war on terrorism had not complicated the issue, the U.S. is not capable of determining Pakistani behaviour on India and Kashmir. India has misread the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. New Delhi should understand the limits of American power and develop options that are independent of Washington's constraints. The alternative is to be once again sucked into the morass of the New Delhi-Islamabad-Washington triangular diplomacy, the result of which will be predictable and unfortunate.
The first constraint, the U.S. dependence on Pakistan in the war on terrorism, is something that New Delhi finds very difficult to recognise. Indian strategic analysts, and its officialdom, are loath to accept the American claim that Pakistan is a `stalwart' ally in the war on terrorism, and with some reason. Washington's own acceptance of its failure to control Pakistani actions in Kashmir, and Pakistan's complicity in the increasing violence in Afghanistan, point to the apparent hollowness of American claims. From the Indian perspective, America's commendation of Pakistani cooperation in the war on terror betrays either American naivete or hypocrisy.
But, from the American perspective, the picture is somewhat more complex. Islamabad has made a careful distinction between terrorism directed at the U.S. and terrorism in the pursuit of Pakistani objectives in India, Afghanistan and other parts of the region. Islamabad has discouraged any terrorism of the first kind, and has been quick to cooperate with Washington in apprehending those that have targeted the U.S. and extraditing them, sometimes even in contravention of domestic law. Clearly, self-interest dictates that the U.S. cannot but acknowledge such cooperation, even if it is a tactical move designed to forestall American pressures in other areas.
This Pakistani policy of discriminate terrorism has driven a wedge into Washington's war on terrorism, forcing the U.S. to either suborn its policy to a philosophical consistency about the indivisibility of terrorism, or recognise that American security interests can sometimes trump political rhetoric. The choice that the U.S. has made between these alternatives is, not surprisingly, to follow the dictates of its interest. This may indeed be hypocrisy, but consistency is rarely the hallmark of sensible strategic policy in any country. In any case, what is clear is that the U.S. will be careful about risking Pakistani cooperation in the war that Washington is waging against its terrorists for New Delhi's sake.
The second constraint that the U.S. faces is that no amount of diplomatic isolation, or American disapproval, is likely to change Pakistan's policy towards India and Kashmir. This hypothesis may also be difficult for New Delhi to accept, but a review of the two years of U.S.-Pakistan relations prior to 9/11 will provide ample support for this proposition. Pakistan-U.S. relations, which seemed to have reached their nadir after Kargil, plummeted to even greater depths after Gen. Musharraf's coup later that year. Isolated because of the military coup, with an economy in meltdown, it is difficult to imagine a more favourable circumstance for U.S. pressure to have had an effect on Pakistani behaviour. But the record clearly indicates that Pakistan shrugged off American demands and continued its self-defeating policies. Despite being under tremendous constraints, Gen. Musharraf refused to back down from maximalist positions at the Agra summit in July 2001. These favourable circumstances are today a distant memory, making it even less likely that the U.S. will be able to persuade Pakistan to change its policy.
Pakistan did modify its behaviour somewhat last summer, at least temporarily stemming the tide of cross-border transit of terrorists, for which American officials were quick to take credit. But the critical difference was the Indian military mobilisation, and clear indications that India's patience had finally run out. American diplomacy worked, but only with Indian threat of force backing it up.
The argument here is not that American diplomats or its diplomacy are lacking, but that there are severe limits to any purely diplomatic effort that aims at changing this facet of Pakistan's policy. For Pakistan, American disapproval is a small price to pay for the pursuit of its current policies towards India and Kashmir, and it is a price that Islamabad has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to pay.
For Washington, what matters is not the validity of the opposing Indian and Pakistani claims and counter-claims, much less national interests, but preventing these disagreements from leading to war. And because preventing a war is the primary concern, it makes no difference to Washington whether that threat of war is removed due to Pakistani concessions or Indian ones. Though the U.S. had put a considerable amount of pressure on Pakistan last year, this is unlikely to last. Many of the concessions that Washington made to India last year, such as branding more Pakistan-based terrorist groups Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTOs) and changing the tenor of its language towards Pakistan, came after it seemed that the limits of India's patience and restraint had finally been breached after the terrorist attack on Parliament, not because any new evidence had come to light regarding Pakistan's complicity in terrorism in India. More importantly, the changes in U.S. policy reflected no change in its view of the India-Pakistan conflict but were simply one way of mollifying Indian anger. But this is not a card that India can play twice with any credibility.
India's options in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism are limited. But that should not become a temptation for shifting the load on to Washington because that would limit India's options, including military ones, without any great benefit.
In addition, U.S-.India relations are once again being held hostage to Pakistan's obduracy. Indian disappointment with the U.S. and American pressure on India threaten to torpedo the unrealised promise of closer New Delhi-Washington relations. Far from stabilising the India-Pakistan relationship, the dynamic of the triangular relationship between India, Pakistan and the U.S. will only damage these relations.
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