November 06, 2010

Obama's India visit: Anti-terror policy must be reviewed

5 NOV, 2010

by C Uday Bhaskar

President Obama arrives here in the backdrop of Diwali, which symbolises the forces of good triumphing over evil. It is appropriate that Mr Obama will first visit Mumbai and stay at the Taj hotel, the principal site of the terrorist carnage of November 26, 2008. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, a resident of New York and his wife Rivka who ran a local Jewish centre, were among the 173 victims of 26/11.

While some commercial deals that range from civil and military transport aircraft to marine engines and locomotives are likely to be signed to bolster economic and trade ties and create jobs in the US, a principal Obama objective, the spectre of jihadi terror and the optimum response by a democratic state will be the abiding challenge for Mr Obama and his Indian host Manmohan Singh .

More recent revelations about David Headley , one of the accused in the Mumbai attack and currently in US custody, point to a very muddy trail that reads like a John le Carre novel. The ingenious Headley, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, appears to have played all sides, working first as an informant for the US drug agencies and then for the Pakistani military and concurrently for the jihadi network that planned the Mumbai attack.

A widely held perception in India is that despite the enormity of 9/11 and the exposure about the terrorist eco-system in Pakistan, the US continues to be selective about how it deals with terrorism. Successive US governments are seen as being either unable or unwilling to deal with the ‘hunt with the hound and run with the hare’ strategy adopted by the Pakistani military.

The US is dependent on the Pak military to ensure logistic access from Karachi to different locations in Afghanistan, where US troops are deployed, and the Obama predicament over the outcome of the AfPak policy is all too visible in the region.

July 2011 is seen as the date of US withdrawal when a beleaguered Obama prepares for a second term and triumphalism is in the air. Statements by the Al Qaeda and its affiliates boast about a repeat of 26/11 in European and North American cities.

Getting the US out of Af-Pak terrorist morass remains the real task for the Obama administration . Preventing another 26/11 is the abiding Indian objective. There are many security concerns that the US and India share in the post 9/11 global strategic systemic and Pakistan and its ‘all weather’ relationship with China are central to this spectrum that links jihadi terrorism, the non-state entity, the revisionist regime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

A fundamental review of US policies in relation to the southern Asian region is warranted if the White House is to realise its immediate and long-term objectives and the Obama visit to India may be an opportune moment.

US policy towards Pakistan goes back to the mid 1950s when it was identified as a front-line state in the containment of communism. In an odd policy initiative, in 1955 Pakistan joined the SEATO (South East Asian Treaty Organisation) at US behest, though it is closer to West Asia.

Certitude which had no relation to reality or plain truth was the leit motif of the US south Asia policy at the time. Justifying this decision then US secretary of state Foster Dulles had a very instructive exchange with the celebrated journalist Walter Lippman who was asking inconvenient questions. “Look Walter, I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia, the only Asians who can fight are the Pakistanis...and we could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

Lippman countered that Gurkhas were not Pakistani but Indian, but an unperturbed Dulles retorted: “They may not be Pakistanis but they are Moslems... A perplexed Lippman pointed out that Gurkhas are not Muslims but Hindus only to be told: “No matter...” followed by a lecture about the inviolable validity of US South Asian policy.

US understanding about the region has become more nuanced over the last decade but the Dulless-Lippman exchange is symptomatic of the flawed basis on which the US has made major South Asian policies including the unwavering support to the Pakistani military.


(The author is Director of the National Maritime Foundation)

NEW DELHI 110067

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