Indo-Pak pow - vow: Will it be any different?
South Asia has emerged to be a prime strategic region to western powers but to South Asian countries it has remained a region paralysed by Indo-Pakistan rivalry that has prevented not only the Summit meeting of the SAARC heads of state being held but even sporting encounters such as the South Asian Federation (SAF) games. India stubbornly refused participation in encounters that involved Pakistan.
Suddenly, as it has happened before, the 17-month Cold War thawed rapidly last week with Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee proposing talks with Pakistan and thereafter reconciliatory moves being made rapidly with the Pakistan Premier Zafarullah Jamali inviting the Indian Premier for talks and decisions being taken by both countries to re- establish diplomatic relations which were broken off 17 months ago.
There appears to be a catalytic element involved for such rapid developments to take apace and a clue to this may be the positive response of the United States with the announcement that the Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage would be visiting the sub- continent.
India and Pakistan have warred thrice since the British gave up their Raj over fifty years ago and have held as many Summits to resolve their disputes though without success. There will be much interest generated in the current development but considering past failures at the conference table a great deal of optimism would be required to be hopeful of a breakthrough.
Much interest will be centered on the possible American involvement. The United States, under the Bush administration, is not only following an unprecedented belligerent foreign policy but is also pursuing a far more interventionist diplomacy than before. It may not involve itself directly in the negotiations, if it gets going, but has the clout to pressurise both Pakistan and India.
Evidence of this emergent US foreign policy is seen in Sri Lanka itself where US is playing a key role in the resolution of the North-East Conflict with Japan and Norway acting as proxies to the US. India which considers itself the regional power of South Asia in 1987 asked all foreign powers inside and outside the region to keep out of Sri Lanka, now appears to play ball with the US directed peace process here.
Already, both India and Pakistan have been under severe pressure over their nuclear development programmes and had even been subject to sanctions. The Pakistan regime of Gen. Musharaff has in the face of tremendous domestic opposition cracked down on Al Queda terrorism under American pressure. Even in the case of the invasion of Iraq, the Pakistan regime has gone easy on America. India, the once vociferous leader of the Non Aligned world, who would have led the opposition of the Third World to the invasion of Iraq in the days of Indira Gandhi, was tongue tied and could only say that Iraq had not complied with UN resolutions.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, its superpower ally, India has set upon the capitalist road and today is very much dependent on the United States and other western powers. Indian political analysts look longingly for an alternate axis, the Russia, China and Indian axis as was evident during the last visit of Russias President Vladimir Putin to India but with the interests of Russia and China too being tied to the United States, there is no other alternative for India like in its happy days of Non Alignment and the Cold War.
Indias ambitions for Big Power status also necessitate American support. Its desire for a seat in the Security Council will not materialise without western support and US.
During the past half-century, never have the two nations been so dependent on any one nation as they are on the US today. But can this power-the power of the almighty dollar -transcend the atavistic animosities that have made the two nations arch foes? There are fundamentalist Islamic and Hindu forces to which leaders of both countries are subject to. Political analysts have pointed out that the best chances for reconciliation were when two young liberals, Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi led the two countries but they too ultimately succumbed to these forces. Neither Gen. Musharaff nor Vajpayee could be described as liberals by any stretch of imagination. They are hard conservative politicians who may want to lead their countries out of the present impasse. Could they do it with the backing of the superpower?
In the coming weeks there will be much speculation on the turn of events but events seem to be running to past form. For example Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Togadia has already gone for the jugular of his political ally Vajpayee. Pakistan has offered to eliminate its nuclear weapons, if India did so. The response in the past to this proposal has been that Indias concern is not only Pakistan as a nuclear power but neighbouring China as well. And so the old refrain appears to go on. Will it be any different this time?
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