Friday, Jun 20, 2003
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By K.K. Katyal
As for the troops for Iraq, each of the two (India and Pakistan) keeps a close watch on how the mind of the other is working. Though it may not say so publicly, India would be keen to know Islamabad's response to the U.S. plea, and the indications from there would be one of the crucial inputs for it to make up its mind. Pakistan's positive response, for instance, could weaken the stand of those in the Government here, advocating rejection of the American proposal and vice versa. Likewise, Pakistan would be keen on knowing the Indian position before finalising its stand. Its acceptance of the U.S. demand could be taken for granted, in case India says "yes". Even otherwise, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, seems inclined to go along with the U.S. obviously, to increase his leverage with Washington in the hope of a helpful attitude on issues related to his problems with India. In his interview to a television channel, Gen. Musharraf left little doubt about his personal (and that of his government's) preference. Asked whether Pakistan would send troops to Iraq, he said, "we need to see certain parameters" but, when pressed, hastened to add, "yes we may. Yes we would like it".
The U.S. says that a "no" by India would not impair bilateral relations. Broadly speaking, this may be correct but, in practice, Washington may tilt towards whosoever accepts its suggestion. It will be a different story, if both India and Pakistan were either to accept or reject the U.S. request. For taking a principled position, New Delhi would need not to give too much weight to this factor.
However, the U.S. would continue to be relevant as a facilitator or in any other role in regard to the future of the bilateral moves in the sub-continent. Since Mr. Vajpayee's Srinagar speech, "extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan," the bilateral ties have seen two phases one, of euphoric welcome, with each side announcing what were described as confidence-building measures and, two, of the re-appearance of recriminations. The second phase began with Gen. Musharraf's reference to Kargil and other aspects of India-Pakistan ties, which evoked a sharp rejoinder by Mr. Vajpayee. The problem has been compounded by the delay in implementing some of the measures, announced by the two sides like restoration of air links and removal of the embargo on overflights.
The third phase will start after Gen. Musharraf's meeting with the U.S. President, George Bush, in the wake of the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani's trip to Washington.
The meanings of the advice of the "facilitator" will be known when Mr. Advani, on return, briefs Mr. Vajpayee, and Gen. Musharraf completes his talks at Camp David. The shrillness of his rhetoric may yield place to a mellowed approach, evoking an appropriate response by India. It would be an unpleasant surprise, if things do not work that way.
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