Prime Minister Vajpayee has returned to India triumphantly after a visit to the United States, which was hailed as a success by President Clinton. A visit of this kind is a success if its objectives have been attained. Apparently what was achieved matched the objectives of both India and the United States. Three decades after President Nixon’s “tilt to Pakistan,” many now believe there is a tilt toward India.
Last month’s Indo-U.S. joint declaration on September 15 was broadly a continuation of the Vision 2000 statement signed in New Delhi by Clinton and Vajpayee during the U.S. president’s March 2000 visit to India. It shows that India and the United States have now taken a few more steps toward enhanced political and strategic cooperation.
Among the achievements India can claim are commercial deals worth $6 billion for projects in power, e-commerce, and banking sectors. The Indian government made a concerted effort to accelerate the second-generation economic reforms in preparation for Vajpayee’s visit to the United States. The signal was given that all doors of globalization and all windows of liberalization are now wide open in India. After reaching the U.S., the prime minister reiterated that India was determined to sustain the momentum of comprehensive reforms, noting that important sectors of the country’s infrastructure–power, insurance, banking, and telecommunications–have been offered to private institutions (both domestic and foreign).
The U.S. did not, however, show any interest in the prime minister’s offer to host a “comprehensive global dialogue on development” in Delhi. In the prime minister’s speech to the U.S. Congress, he described “global poverty as an unsustainable and unacceptable legacy of the past.” With this statement, the prime minister showed his ignorance. Global poverty today is no longer a legacy of the past; the new global poverty is not only the direct consequence of globalization, but an integral part of it.
Kashmir: The “Core” Problem
On the issue of Kashmir and Pakistan, the joint statement “reaffirms” the two countries’ “belief that tensions can only be resolved by the nations of South Asia and by peaceful means,” stressing the “unacceptability of continued violence and bloodshed as a basis for a solution to the problems of the region.” President Clinton told press correspondents that “because of the groundwork his administration had laid, the United States can play a positive role to a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute, which has been at the core of difficulties between India and Pakistan for more than half a century now.” This statement caused the Indian government much anxiety. Its anxiety arises more from what the Indian government has not told its people than it does with the U.S. stance. The Indian government cannot accept that the “core” problem with Pakistan is Kashmir. It does not even concede that there is a dispute over Kashmir.
The second part of the statement also is contrary to what India has claimed. India insists that it will not accept third-party mediation of the Kashmir dispute. Clinton openly stated that the U.S. is not only qualified to mediate but has already laid the groundwork for mediation. India’s government owes an explanation to its people. The groundwork was probably laid during the Kargil conflict. What has the role of the U.S. on the Kashmir issue been since then?
India in the Clash of Civilizations Scenario
There is reason to believe that the prime minister and his advisers read The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel P. Huntington during their visit to the U.S. The theme of the book is a favorite of both India’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party policymakers, and a section of American policy planners. Huntington’s civilizational conflicts are mostly religious wars, and Islam is depicted as the main culprit. In the Indian prime minister’s address to the U.S. Congress, he said that “in our neighborhood, in this twenty-first century, religious war has not just been fashioned into, it has been proclaimed to be an instrument of state policy.” In seeking to draw the U.S. into a common cause against an “obscurantist religious war” as an instrument of state policy in South Asia, Vajapyee began articulating a maximalist agenda for cooperation with the United States.
How does one resist the religious war in the neigborhood? At the UN’s Millenium Summit, Vajpayee clearly portrayed India as a pluralistic and open society blighted by cross-border tensions fueled by dangerous religious extremism. He implied that an India that is strong (because it is secular), democratic, pluralist, and open will prevail. But he also addressed a large meeting of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Staten Island as a swayamsevak, a member of the militant Hindu organization, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS). He vowed to continue to be swayamseva even after he ceases to be prime minister. He assured the meeting that he would build the India of their dreams–of course a Hindu nation–if his party is given two-thirds majority.
By attending the meeting, which was dominated by Hindu religious leaders and members of the Sangh Parivar, he opened himself up to charges of intolerance and bigotry. It was edifying to see the Indian prime minister openly championing Hindutva, the ideology of a Hindu nation. Vajpayee probably read the book again and found that Huntington consistently refers to India as Hindu India, and calls all Indians Hindus. In Huntington’s Future of Civilizations, Hindu India is a U.S. ally: “The United States, Europe, Russia, and India have thus become engaged in a truly global struggle against China, Japan, and most of Islam.”
The Indian side is jubilant about the perceived U.S. accommodation of India’s nuclear arms policy. The joint Clinton-Vajpayee statement noted that “both countries agreed to continue their dialogue on security and non-proliferation, including on defense posture which is designed to further narrow differences on these important issues.” India’s nuclear test in May 1998, far from challenging the nuclear club, was a calculated attempt to gain entry into it or at least near it. It showed its readiness for negotiations with the United States on the terms of entry within hours after the nuclear tests on May 11, 1998. In this issue, too, Huntington proved very helpful to India’s policymakers. His book reads, “In 1993 the primary goals of the West as defined in American policy shifted from non-proliferation to counter-proliferation. This change was a realistic recognition of the extent to which some nuclear proliferation could not be avoided. In due course U.S. policy will shift from countering proliferation to accommodating proliferation.”
What was more still significant was the apparent mutual accommodation. It did not go unnoticed in Washington that India is one major power that did not seriously criticize the National Missile Defense plan. The theme of Russian President Putin’s address at the UN’s Millenium Summit was the U.S. missile plan. But there is no indication whatsoever that the Indian prime minister raised this issue in Washington. What the U.S. did not get from some of its European allies it did get from its newly found “natural ally:” acquiescence on missile defense.
The agreement to create a joint working group on UN peacekeeping at the level of the Ministry of External Affairs and the U.S. State Department raises a number of questions. Why should this issue be a matter of bilateral contact between the two countries and not addressed in a UN forum? Certainly, UN peacekeeping is in crisis now. But the crisis is largely the responsibility of the U.S. because of its highly selective support of UN peacekeeping operations. For the most part, it only supports peacekeeping in places that are of direct strategic or economic interests to the United States. In the Sierra Leone conflict, India was ditched because powerful nations like the U.S. were not willing to commit their troops to battle under such hostile conditions. There is much to be reviewed and reformed about UN peacekeeping. However, by setting up a working group with the U.S., India has allowed the issue to be framed according to the U.S. agenda.
At the end of his U.S. visit, the Indian prime minister claimed that India’s international standing has benefited enormously as a result of its nuclear tests. Apparently he believes that a permanent seat in the UN Security Council comes on a nuclear arms chair.