Republic of the litigants
by Sandhya Jain on 20 Jan 2009 1 Comment

On the eve of another Republic Day, we face the tragic continuity between a freedom struggle of litigants to the British Crown and a contemporary regime of supplicants before imperial Western capitals. Nothing underlines the sad disconnect between the challenges facing the nation and the Marie Antoinette-like nature of the ruling coalition as the spectacle of a facetious British foreign secretary snubbing New Delhi’s concerns over jihad, yet receiving a conducted tour of India’s rural poverty by the Congress party’s PM-in-waiting! 

New Delhi’s live enactment of Slumdog Millionaire, which raised the hackles of Bollywood Badshah Amitabh Bachchan, failed to cause offence to the ‘nationalist’ BJP, possibly because the party itself humiliated the Indian Army by vainly deploying it on the border for nearly a year after the 13 December 2001 attack on Parliament; obeyed the American diktat to limit engagement in Kargil; and legitimized the post-coup pariah President Pervez Musharraf by inviting him to Agra.  

The Indian people are thus stuck with visionless national parties and an implacable Islamabad that diligently protects its so-called non-State actors from foreign pressures. Pakistan has steadfastly refused to hand over any citizens desired by India for involvement in Mumbai 2008, including India’s own citizen-suspect, Dawood Ibrahim. It has shown contempt for the dossier of evidence compiled by a litigation-minded South Block, and announced its own probe into Mumbai and the purported involvement of Jamaat ud-Dawa (since dropped, but who knows?). Maulana Azhar Masood’s whereabouts are unknown, and the denied-admitted-denied citizenship of surviving terrorist Ajmal Amir Kasab rendered virtually irrelevant. India, in contrast, readily let America’s FBI interrogate Kasab. 

Some of us foresaw that New Delhi would take no action after the 26 November 2008 commando attack on prime locations in Mumbai (a limited war) until Mr. Barack Obama assumed office. The UPA marked time by displaying political and intellectual bankruptcy. While Islamabad met foreign interlocutors with steely nonchalance, New Delhi grovelled and surrendered all initiative.

After initial probes suggested seven of the ten Pakistani assailants had UK passports, British premier Gordon Brown rushed to New Delhi to stifle this line of inquiry. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came and conveyed a similar demand for non-action. As the Congress party’s PM-in-waiting was then fully occupied with the wedding ceremonies of former Amethi MP Satish Sharma’s son’s wedding, the cognoscenti realized nationalism had been superseded by the personal convenience of the Page Three people. 

It is unclear why British foreign secretary David Miliband came to New Delhi so soon after the visit of Mr. Gordon Brown. Certainly he did not come to share intelligence about the Mumbai attack. Besides giving unsolicited advice on Jammu & Kashmir, he gave Pakistan a clean chit and repulsed New India’s demand for the conspirators behind the attack. By pinning responsibility solely on Lashkar-e-Toiba, he said Islamabad alone should take action against that organisation. 

The main photo-opportunities of his visit came from the Amethi frolic, which should have been cancelled by a regime with self-respect. But this was perhaps the raison d’etre of his trip – to endorse Mr. Rahul Gandhi as a leader desired by the West; to legitimize Rahul’s belief that only foreign doles can provide succour to rural India (recall the since-denied Tehelka interview); and to push conversions in northern India by looking for chinks in its social armour (hence the visit to a poor scheduled caste woman). 

Now, with a new regime in Washington, the UPA has reached a decisive crossroads. Will it subordinate India’s national security and sovereignty to Washington’s geo-political agenda for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, or will it enunciate a clear-cut national policy to counter the growing jihadi menace on both borders? It is pertinent that Sheikh Hasina’s pledge to ensure that jihadi camps in Bangladesh do not target India triggered fresh serial blasts in Assam hours before Home Minister P. Chidambaram landed in Guwahati on 1 January 2009.

Matters are getting complex, even for America. On the one hand, Washington desires a quiescent Pakistan, but the growing power of Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has made the entire region turbulent. The corporates that dominate American public life want regional stability in order to access the oil reserves of the Central Asian Republics, which they hope will off-set the depleting Saudi reserves and the now out-of-reach Iraqi oilfields. Only a peaceful Karachi can ensure sure access to this oil; hence the constant, albeit reluctant, flow of Western financial and military aid to Pakistan. 

But the turbulent Afghan-Pak border region forced President Bush to authorize ground raids in Pakistani territory against the jihadis, and this has complicated matters for both Washington and Islamabad. Both the Pakistani government and jihadis believe that Washington also wants to somehow seize control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and this suspicion has caused a trust deficit on all sides. Pakistan continues its two-faced policy of supporting Taliban in Afghanistan, while resisting its attempts to control Islamabad. Then there is a restive Tel Aviv that wants action against Iran. 

In this scenario, New Delhi has to take a call on whether to let Mumbai 2008 pass without a riposte, or whether to launch a military action with specific military objectives, against Pakistan. Political observers hint that New Delhi is keeping the military option ‘warm’ so that a show-piece engagement can coincide with the announcement of general elections; with the BJP leadership US-compliant, this could give victory to the ruling coalition. A comfortable majority could even result in the imposition of Mr. Rahul Gandhi as PM. Peace would then be restored by responding to UN calls for ceasefire! 

This is a shameful, though plausible, game-plan. A military engagement without the clear objective of destroying each jihadi camp in Occupied Kashmir, and physically re-taking PoK in deference to the Partition plan of 1947, is a charade and a mockery of the people of India. The Indian armed forces should refuse to be party to such cynicism. 

Another scenario suggests Mr. Obama may like to split and occupy part of Pakistan, with New Delhi’s acquiescence, to act against Teheran. This will catapult New Delhi to a non-NATO ally and frontline state in the war on terror, a euphemism for a Western stooge regime. Dr. Manmohan Singh will have to take this call; so will Mr. Advani.

The author is Editor,

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