As George W. Bush
limps towards the finish line of his turbulent presidency, two recent events on
the other side of the globe, in the region that has been the main battleground
in his �war on terror,� are of particular interest. One, the ascendency of Asif
Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, to the presidency of Pakistan. The
other, the decision by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers� Group to grant a
�waiver� to India, after intense lobbying by the White House. The �waiver�
clears the way for India, a nuclear weapons state, to buy nuclear components
and fuel for use in its civilian power plants.
Under this unique
arrangement, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. watchdog, and
suppliers have agreed to do nuclear business with India. In doing so, they have
accepted the reality of the country�s nuclear arsenal. India refuses to sign
the Western-backed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Its argument is that the
treaty is discriminatory, because it applies to non-nuclear powers, even if
they behave responsibly, and not to the nuclear ones. A separate agreement with
the United States is yet to be approved by Congress. Only then will America be
able to sell nuclear material and technology to India for civilian use. But
India will soon be able to do business with other nuclear suppliers.
The rise of Zardari to
the presidency in Pakistan and India�s welcome into the nuclear club may appear
to be unconnected events. But they are parts of the same strategic environment
in which the great powers, America and Russia, as well as the emerging
countries and regional players such as China, India and Pakistan, have to live.
They are rivals, as well as allies. The long-term goal of each is to outdo the
others economically and militarily. But they must cooperate in the short run as
they pursue their objectives.
There is a realization
in Beijing, Delhi and Islamabad that the policy of the Bush administration has
been too aggressive and militaristic. It exacerbated the phenomenon of
terrorism which it professed to defeat. The toll in civilian deaths, injuries,
broken families and exiled refugees is enormous. The anti-American sentiment
has provided fuel to the fires of violence. It has created a serious threat to
the stability of Pakistan and increasingly in parts of India and China. Even
claims of the much-heralded American military surge and the resultant decline
in the violence in Iraq should be seen in context.
Bob Woodward, the
veteran reporter of the Washington Post, speaks of a secret operation of
targeted assassinations that has brought down violence in Iraq. I recently
asked an Iraqi researcher, just back from Baghdad, after a meeting at a London
think-tank what she thought was behind the reduction in violence. Her reply:
�There is less killing because there is no one to kill in mixed Shi�a-Sunni
communities. The unfortunate have already been killed. The fortunate have fled
to safer places in Iraq, turning it into a deeply segregated society, or fled
George W. Bush sits
today amid the vast wreckage left by his presidency. The two events I mentioned
earlier -- the election of Zardari in Pakistan and the entry of India into the nuclear
club -- have an important meaning for America�s policy after Bush, irrespective
of the result of the November 2008 election. The appetite for bloodthirsty
militarism is diminished in the Bush White House. The simple-minded policy of
reliance on Pakistan�s military dictator, now deposed General Pervez Musharraf,
in the �war on terror� has failed. In the court of public opinion in the region
and beyond, America stands in the dock. What can possibly be achieved in these
circumstances with the same policies?
In Zardari as
president, Pakistan has a leader that America can trust. He is controversial
and weak. He needs to work with the military -- something the Washington
establishment prefers. The Pakistani military�s need for American aid remains
great. So it is likely to listen to Washington, putting the history of
hostility and distrust for the People�s Party led by Zardari behind -- for now.
The hope in Washington
is that the coalition of Zardari, the civilian politician in the front, and the
military can keep the rest of the Pakistani opposition at bay. The proclamation
by President Zardari that he would fight the Islamist militants will go down
well in Washington. However, with powerful agencies of the Pakistani military
close to the fundamentalist groups which they have traditionally supported,
there must remain doubts about his ability to deliver.
On the other hand,
America�s new approach towards India, a secure democracy, is the recognition
that the main bulwark against militancy cannot be Pakistan. It has to be
Pakistan�s rival, neighbor and the second most populous country after China. It
marks the end of the traditional U.S. preference for Pakistan during the Cold
War and again in the last seven years since 9/11. However, the rules of the
game with India have to be different.
The country is too
large and independent to be dictated to. Its economy is growing at an
astonishing rate. The West needs India as much as India needs the West.
America�s evolving policy is, therefore, an acknowledgment of today�s
realities. On the one hand, with Pakistan facing escalating violence and
disorder, the main frontier against turmoil is to be India. On the other, it
would, in the long run, serve as a counter to the growing military and economic
power of China, where the Communist Party is supreme.
Deepak Tripathi, former BBC correspondent and
editor, is now an author and a researcher, with reference to the politics of
the United States, South Asia and the Middle East. He is writing a book on the
presidency of George W. Bush. His website is http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com.