Commentators in Pakistan have their hackles up after Mr Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in New Delhi Wednesday: “The US has no plans to mediate between India and Pakistan. We cannot negotiate between the two countries. Our trip was designed to move forward a process in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We stopped here to inform and consult the Indian government”. He and his fellow traveller, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, however, called for cooperation between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to fight the “common threat” and stabilise the region.
What galls the Pakistani commentators is that, instead of making a tough statement about how India must resolve its Kashmir problem with Pakistan, Mr Holbrooke tried to involve India in Afghanistan: “We cannot settle Afghanistan and many other issues without India’s full involvement.” TV channels poured scorn on the American pronouncements of “friendship” with Pakistan; and some even referred to a joint Indo-US strategy to destabilise and “reduce” Pakistan in order to allow India to establish its hegemony in the region. The deficit of “trust and understanding” between the US and Pakistan evident in Islamabad is thus linked to how India is viewed by Pakistan on the one hand, and the world on the other, including the US.
The US and its western allies now represented in the NATO forces in Afghanistan favour India’s participation in the “nation-building” process in Afghanistan for a number of reasons. They think it is a democracy functioning in the same region of SAARC as Afghanistan with long-standing historic close relations with Kabul. They view with respect India’s investment in Afghanistan — $1 billion as against Pakistan’s $300 million — and do not take seriously Pakistan’s fears that Indians could be doing mischief inside Balochistan from their consular “offices” in Afghanistan. They think Pakistan must seek normalisation of relations with India through a bilateral dialogue to defuse the tensions emanating from India’s presence in Afghanistan.
There are other reasons too for this thinking, apart from the fact that the US doesn’t have the same kind of leverage on India as it does on Pakistan. There is no doubt that the world wants Pakistan to make the needed adjustments in its revisionist nationalism vis-ŕ-vis India in the Indo-Pak normalisation process. It takes a dim view of Pakistan’s misadventure at Kargil in 1999 and an even dimmer view of the Pakistani non-state actors who attacked Mumbai in November 2008. It is fearful of the prospect of Pakistan not punishing the terrorists involved in the Mumbai attacks after owning them up. No neighbour of Pakistan in the region abutting on Afghanistan minds that India is there with big money rebuilding its infrastructure.
On the other hand, for Pakistan, the war in Afghanistan is an extension of the Indo-Pak covert war for an upper hand in Afghanistan. India also remembers the 1999 hijacking of its airliner to Kandahar where the Taliban had pressured India into releasing two terrorists from an Indian jail with close contacts to the ISI. The Pakistan army has always thought of providing against the day when NATO-US forces quit Afghanistan and leave behind a power vacuum that could be filled by India, thus exposing Pakistan to a two-front situation. This of course is a purely military formulation but it has popular acceptance because of Pakistan’s textbook anti-India nationalism made more lethal when linked to Pakistan’s widespread anti-Americanism.
For its Afghan policy to survive and to be able to face up to the challenge of terrorism, Pakistan needs to normalise relations with India quickly. Its nuclear deterrence — and thus its security — is of no use unless it quickly completes the process. We know that the terrorists don’t want this to happen and wish to distract Pakistan with a new Indo-Pak conflict that would lift the pressure from them in the tribal areas. Pakistan has tried to start a low-intensity conflict in the past with the help of non-state actors and has not succeeded. Its “strategic depth” policy against India has failed too. It is because of these background facts that the world wants Pakistan to normalise with India as a means of shoring up its security. The India factor is therefore the most pivotal aspect of the war against terrorism. *