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Posted by on Jun 18, 2006 in At TMV | 9 comments

India, Pakistan: What is the U.S. Foreign Policy?

The Indian subcontinent rarely gets the attention it deserves. However, the latest developments would ensure that more sensible people would be tempted to analyse the situation there in an informed manner.

Here I am specifically referring to the recent brilliant post by Cernig “America’s Next Big Foreign Policy Disaster”. As also to the result of a recent Opinion Poll about the U.S. foreign policy as reported by the Voice of America.

Indian subcontinent, because of its diversity and the past, is a complex place. Geographically, the Indian subcontinent is a peninsular region south of the Himalayas and east of the Hindu Kush mountain range and Balochistan region, extending southward into the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Sea (to the southwest) and the Bay of Bengal (to the southeast). It covers about 4,480,000 km² (1,729,738 mi²) or 10 percent of the Asian continent; however, it accounts for about 40 percent of Asia’s population.

It is futile to make off-the-cuff remarks about this strategic subcontinent. But a few things are clear.

Historically speaking, the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) initially used force but in later months/years/decades/centuries did not overtly interfere in the local affairs/politics. The “troubled” regions of the “frontier areas” bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan (including Afghanistan) were left to their own functioning/machinations. The theory is that those who interfere there become their life-time enemy.

(And this applies to Iraq too. I read a fascinating book tracing the history in Israel-Palestine-Iraq from the late 19th century to the present. The British/French never got permanently embroiled. A short skirmish here and there…and then get out. When I remember the name of the book I would tell you).

The British Empire followed the same example. Even the civil servants ensured minimum interference although they were posted in remote areas. Soldiers were rarely used in the internal strife. This helped the British Empire to influence large areas without interfering in the day-to-day life of the the local people and leaders.

The fatal flaw in the American foreign policy is to control the situation on a foreign soil with soldiers…overtly interfere in local affairs…and then stay on for an unlimited period until even friends become foes. American soldiers can’t fight the internal bloody battles of all the nations!!!

When a nation cannot conduct its foreign policy, and that too in areas where in the past all nations have tried to stay away, then it is sensible/safer to offer foreign policy franchise to some other nation/nations!!!

About India and Pakistan, I think the Bush administration policy is on the right track. Whatever be the impediments, the two nations must be encouraged to overcome their traditional hostility for the sake of peace in the Indian subcontinent and the world.

Many believe that most of the problems here are aggravated by the Western nations’ dangerous approach in promoting the sales of their arms. The Western nations, in the process, wink at the possible consequences of this ruthless marketing strategy (which, in turn, may also indirectly fuel terrorist activities).

Leaders in India and Pakistan have been accused of fanning insecurity in the minds of their respective citizens to create a market for these arms (of course under pressure from the Western nations). (Ask an average Indian or Pakistani…they love each other and want to live in peace.) There have been allegations that certain leaders binge on the goodies/commission that comes along with the arms. This is now a well-entrenched practice.

Although the British/French/Russians are also selling arms in the Indian sub-continent, it is the American nation that gets the maximum bad name and bashing. I remember there was a best-selling novel called “The Ugly American”. It is better to be seen as promoting trade and commerce in items other than arms alone.

The billions that are been pumped by the Indian subcontinent for purchasing arms from the Western nations can be diverted in the field of education, health and agriculture/forestry.

A rich nation would be loved more if it is seen to provide help to the impoverished, hungry and uneducated people than arming them to the teeth. The Western nations’ visible lust for taking reckless monetary advantage in developing countries would get them more enemies than friends. And one wonders whether mere killing of al-Quaeda terrorists alone would help much.

The scenario may not change overnight but a good alternative policy approach would help in the long run.

Take for example, President George W. Bush’s recent visit to Iraq. He would have done a great service in promoting the image of America as a caring nation had he visited some civilians (or even met them in the safety of the Prime Minister’s palace).

(“Anyone remember this great photo-op where Bush left the lens-caps on?”—courtesy Newshog).

At least he could have met members of the families who suffered at Haditha and apologised. This gesture would have given a healing touch. He could have also announced monetary or similar help to the aggrieved civilans.

But, no Sir! President George W. Bush was all smiles and had a swagger of a Chief of an occupying/conquering force. Not a word about the suffering common/ordinary Iraqi folks being butchered on the streets and homes every day. The “war” is against al-Qaeda and terrorists and not against common Iraqi people. Or, am I wrong?

Ordinary people in India and Pakistan have always believed that the “war on terror” will never end so long the mindless and dangerous pumping of arms by the Western nations does not stop in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere.

So its a great irony. On the one hand the Western politicians are in the grip of arms-sellers, and on the other the West goes on with its “war on terrorism” for the “sake of peace on earth”.

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  • Swaraaj, Joe tells me you are one of the best journalists in the subcontinent as well as teaching at one of India’s most prestigeous journalism schools and training the BBC’s reporters in India. I am very flattered by your description of my post.

    If I read you correctly, we both agree that a reapproachment between Pakistan and India is greatly to be desired and in so far as that appears to be a motive for Bush’s foreign policy he is correct.

    However, we also both agree that the method, namely arms sales as carrots, is all wrong and will actually achieve the opposite effect. In this, Bush continues a foreign policy strategy used by every recent American administration which, while it may seem to have noble goals, is based upon precepts of “America first” and a lack of “hearts and minds” thinking which actually make those goals impossible to attain.

    Thanks for responding.

    Regards, Cernig @ Newshog

  • Swaraaj

    Thank you Cernig. I am also Trainer/Mentor for BBC World Service Trust for journalists working for Indian media (not BBC journalists). Joe has always been rather generous/kind in giving me compliments. I admire his grit and irreverent style of functioning. Cheers…Swaraaj

  • Swaraaj: could you get into that a little bit more please? What Cernig said I mean? Is that, indeed, what your opinion as well?

  • Salmineo

    Well, one thing is for sure, the Bush administration is not going to listen to you or anybody else regarding policy of anykind, much less foriegn policy. Their goal is to stretch this war out as long as possible because it is the only thing they have for drawing attention away from their changing of this nation into a corporate republic.

  • An Indian

    Ask an average Indian or Pakistani…they love each other and want to live in peace.

    Hi Swaraaj,

    Wanting to live in peace certainly.

    As for loving each other, that is a flawed conclusion.

    Outlook, an Indian News Magazine, commissioned Gallup to do a poll in Pakistan in 2003.

    One of the findings was that 54 % of Pakistani’s polled, see India as an “Enemy�.

    Simply put the poll clearly shows that the “average� Pakistani does not love India.

    While I have not come across a poll about Indian views on Pakistan, I would be shocked if the poll found the “average� Indian loved Pakistan.

  • Swaraaj

    Michael…I agree with Cernig that the rapproachment between Pakistan and India is important and that’s what the US Government is encouraging. However, the spanner in the works is provided by the competitive nature of arms selling to the two countries by the Western nations.

    “Indian”…Your observation is based on “opinion poll”, but mine on one-to-one interaction plus the views of both Pakistanis and Indians who have been interacting in droves at different forums – academic, media, fashion, cinema, students, NGOs, corporate business folks – during the past year or so because of liberal visa regime now.

    Even when people go to see cricket matches across the border now, they come back with heart-warming stories of friendship and bonhomie. Please remember that both countries share a common heritage, language and customs.

    Despite the horrible partition in 1947 when a single national entity was divided into two nations at the manipulation of the British, people in India and Pakistan have retained their love for each other.

    As I said earlier the leadership in the two countries feed on the insecurities of the people, and try to create a wedge between the people for political reasons. But since the bus/train services have started between India and Pakistan, a lot of misunderstandings have been cleared.

    In Pakistan a lot of indoctrination still continues about the difference between Muslims and Hindus. But that has not stopped Pakistanis from responding in a most moving manner to a large number of Indians who have been to Pakistan.

    As I said in my post, people are interested in peace (and this happens in many troubled spots in the world) but certain political leadership has a vested interest in fanning insecurities, and then 1) Diverting the attention of people from the pressing local problems, 2) And then go in for large-scale purchase of arms, etc, from the Western nations (and later pocket the large commissions/bribes).

    I can predict that with the march of globalization, India and Pakistan will have open borders within five years. And faced with this economic reality, and the pressure from the public, the wily politicians would not be able to divide the people of these two countries for long.

  • Hamood

    Yup… I agree with an Indian.
    Swaraaj Bhai is off the mark here.

    The ambiance of fashion shows or other “social” events where Indians and Pakistanis get together is because nobody wants to bring up the unplatable differences that Indians and Pakistanis have.

    There everyone acts “friendly” simply because its a social event and ofcourse we all go to parties to have fun, not to engage in the grim political discourse. All is well and good in that.

    However, conclusions like “…they love each other and want to live in peace…” come off as exaggerations that are just too mushy reminiscent of the recent Bollywood flicks (e.g., Mein hoon na etc. etc. awww I feel like crying with emotions).

    This claim (purportedly coming from a professional journalist?!?) can only be catalouged as the stuff of poor analysis.

    We’re not dying of love for each other. BUT, Yes, and here’s swaraj correct, we do want peace.

    So a more correct statement would’ve been that most of us are tired of this warmongering. But it aint going to come anywhere near so easily as by arranging a few social gatherings that go by the common name of people to people to contacts

  • Hamood

    The “spanner” in the works is not the competitive arms race… the arms race is just a result of a more serious issue that is at the core. Its our differences.

  • Pyst

    The US still shouldn’t be handing out nuke technology as gifts, on this I agree with Swaraaj.

    But alas, most lesser thinking “leaders”, and I use that term loosely, like to use the arms carrot for diplomacy. And our “leader” fits into this line of thinking like a glove.

    I’m amazed Pakistan, and India haven’t found a way to annihilate eachother yet. Alot of restraint shown so far not to spark a major war, but how long will it last?

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