September 7, 2000


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The Vajpayee visit E-Mail this opinion to a friend

Colonel (retd) Dr Anil Athale

The key to better Indo-US relations lies in Lucknow and Patna

As Prime Minister Vajpayee reaches US shores in the first week of September, the summer and sunshine would be on the wane in the US. It is a good time to conduct a stock taking of the events of the first post-Cold War decade. It was another time, the Summer of 1942, that saw Indo-US relations defined in a manner that was with us for over 50 years.

The Cripps mission in early 1942 to offer freedom to India at the end of the war took place due to American pressure. Gandhi rejected it as 'a post-dated cheque on a falling bank!' and launched the Quit India movement in August. But the Congress failed to disrupt the war effort and Churchill was proved right. The battle of Midway Island that took place even earlier had broken the back of the Japanese navy and the US could afford to take a more relaxed view on India. Pakistan was born in that exigency and the US continued to look at India through British eyes.

The scheme to partition India was formalised at the Tehran Summit of 1943 and India was saddled with the running sore of Pakistan. As one American participant put it then, India has still not won its 'Yorktown' (the decisive battle of the American war of independence fought in October 1781) for independence! On that basis the US opposed the seat for India at the UN despite her war time contribution being much more substantial than China's was.

At the beginning of the Cold War, the US did attempt to get India into the western camp. But once that attempt failed and Nehru charted the non-aligned course, as the US did in the early 19th century in the war between Britain and France, the US came decisively on the side of Pakistan.

Out of the Cold War exigency was born the distorted western view of equating India with Pakistan. The western world refused to acknowledge that India was a secular state. The old habit of describing India as Hindu and Pakistan as Muslim survives to date and is a mandatory introduction to all the AFP or Reuters reports on the region. The total rejection of the Indian position on Kashmir is the logical outcome of this mindset.

Post-Cold War US dilemma

In the later period of the Cold War, the Chinese astutely played the US card. Through ruthless control of dissent and draconian measures to control population, it has emerged as the world's third biggest economic power. Once Taiwan merges with it and Hong Kong integrates with the mainland, it will be the world's biggest economy. The Americans are torn between the desire to benefit from this economic boom and worry over Chinese domination. They seem to have settled for a two-tract approach, simultaneously engaging and containing China. In the later policy, it sees a role for India.

The US also desires to control the energy resources of Central Asia. To that end it needs access and sees the importance of Pakistan and a friendly Afghanistan. But the monster of Islamic fundamentalism that they spawned during the Cold War has now turned on them. It is here that there is a tendency to continue to mollycoddle Pakistan.

The effect of this clear focus was seen in March 2000, when on the eve of President Clinton's visit to India, the US concluded a deal to sell 80 F-16 aircraft to the UAE. From the experience of the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars, the Indians know how the aircraft from this region have turned up in Pakistan to be used against India. UAE obviously has neither the need nor the manpower to fly these aircraft. This ought to put a question mark on the real American intent vis-a-vis India.

The irrelevance of India

The post-Pokhran II events have put a serious question mark on India's ability to cope with crisis. The woolly-headed doctrine of 'Minimum Deterrence' without the requisite wherewithal and will is an empty boast. The Kargil episode showed up the Indian tendency to lower their guard. The sordid tamasha put up by the relatives of the Indian Airlines hostages (contrasted with the dignified behaviour of the relatives of recent Kursk tragedy ) and abject Indian capitulation sent a strong message of lack of will.

So also, the massacre of pilgrims in Kashmir and surrender by the state governments to the brigand Veerappan have confirmed the utter lack of political will. No amount of nuclear or thermo-nuclear weapons in the hands of such a nation can deter anybody. The US must seriously doubt if India can be of any strategic use for it against China.

Likely future of Indo-US relations

The key to better Indo-US relations lies in Lucknow and Patna. Till such time as these two states that hold nearly 60 per cent of India's population continue to grow at two to three per cent and are mired in anarchy, India has no future.

The 60-year-long relationship with Pakistan has built a formidable lobby in the American bureaucracy. Relations with India do not have a high political visibility in the US. Neither of the presidential candidates has mentioned it in his acceptance speech. Given this, it is the bureaucrats who call the shots. With doubts about Indian will to power and a long standing relationship with Pakistan, it is unlikely that the prime minister's US visit will have any positive impact whatsoever.

The only factor in India's favour is the phenomenal success of Indian expatriates in the Information technology industry. But the jealous Indian diplomats and swadeshi zealots in India are working overtime to negate this advantage. Mr Vajpayee ought to skip New York and instead go to Silicon Valley! But ideally, the Indian PM should rather stay home, nurse his knees and sort out Bihar, UP and Veerappan. This done, Indo-US relations will improve on their own.

The author, a former army officer, is a co-ordinator with the Pune-based Initiative for Peace and Disarmament, Inpad. has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into for news of this historic visit as it happens!

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