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. The interest of the Bush administration in
this whole process has been strong and is indicative of America�s changing
policy in South Asia -- be tougher with Pakistan and court India.
Under a 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 against countries not recognized as nuclear powers. 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. An agreement with France is close.
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 objective.
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 China and India. The
recent bomb attacks in Delhi, killing and wounding scores of shoppers, are the
latest sign of India�s vulnerability to the growing militancy in the region.
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
the country.� Even so, civilian deaths in Iraq often go unnoticed in the
international media while America boasts about a reduction in violence after
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, in the end, 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. The recent presidential
directive, which allows the US forces to launch attacks inside Pakistan from
Afghanistan, has also begun to cause tensions with the Pakistani military. It
cannot appear to be standing by as American military incursions take place, for
fear of inflaming public opinion in Pakistan even more.
America�s new approach
towards India, a secure democracy, is a 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
India 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 an acknowledgment of these 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
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.