We have a tendency of not noting important shifts at the right time
The “information factories” in Pakistan are working overtime to condemn the US President Donald Trump for criticising Pakistan and praising India during his policy speech on Afghanistan, a few days ago. Overnight, pole after pole was adorned with streamers on the Mall Road in Lahore that showed crossed faces of Trump and the Indian Premier Narendra Modi. The overall impression created by the “information factories” was as if Trump had committed some cardinal sin by preferring India over Pakistan in relations-building.
Our problem is that we wake up at the eleventh hour and that too with a “shock therapy.” We are shocked because we could not think that the US could even think of doing anything substantial without our help in Afghanistan let alone urging India to play an active role there. Both the “bewildered informed” and the “indifferent uninformed” are blaming Trump and his country for being “matlaby” (selfish), “makkar” (cunning), “dhokaybaz”(deceptive) and a “friend of Hindus.” It is a fact that Trump has been the most criticised American president for the right reasons but there is a definite method in his madness in tilting towards India. There is nothing new or shocking in this. He is simply following the policy set by his predecessors whether Democrat or Republican.
We have a tendency of not noting important shifts at the right time. Subtle signals or nuances were either not read at all or simply ignored. The American tilt towards India took place about seventeen years ago in March 2000 when President Bill Clinton spent five days in India and just five hours in Pakistan. It was Clinton and not Trump who forged a new relationship with India and the subsequent US presidents Bush and Obama just built upon that. This change in Indo-US relations was historic because throughout the Cold War India had either sided with socialist Russia or upheld the cause of non-alignment much to the chagrin of Americans. After the break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991 both India and America reassessed their positions. The Indians began to de-emphasise their alliance with Russia and after a major policy review on South Asia in mid-1997, the Americans decided to adopt a “multi-basket” approach in dealing with India under which each issue from security to economics would be dealt with independently “without holding any one hostage to progress on the others.” It was at this time that Clinton’s advisors began to look upon India as a global player of significance in the twenty-first century. During those five days, Clinton and his family played “Holi” with hosts while on his five-hour hop over to Pakistan, he lectured our chief executive to invest in human development instead of arms and nukes and warned that “terrorism would eventually destroy Pakistan from within if he didn’t move against it.”
There were other signs too that showed which way the wind had begun to blow. Often the intentions and commitments are expressed through subtle symbolism. One such symbol was the building of a larger-than-life statue of Gandhi whose authorisation was signed by President Clinton himself in 1999. Somewhat similar statues of Gandhi were erected in five cities of America. These were not merely statues of the dead Indian leader rather an acknowledgement and constant reminder of the greatness of Gandhi and India which Clinton admitted by saying that no other country “has been more influenced by India than the United States.” He went further in praise, when, at a welcome reception in honour of the visiting Indian Prime Minister Atal B Vajpayee at the White House, he called India a “rising economic leader, making breathtaking strides in information technology” and hailed the moment as a moment of “new hope and new opportunities in Indo-American ties” because he believed that “It is not only India’s democracy, but India’s manner of achieving democracy that will forever inspire America,” to which the elated Vajpayee responded with the punchline that “We have much in common and no clash of interests. Let us remove the shadow of hesitation that lies between us and our joint vision.” One manifestation of this “joint vision” will be their enhanced “cooperation” in Afghanistan.
While Clinton heaped praise on India, he tried his persuasive skills to prevail upon Pakistan to sort out Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The relationship of goodwill and trust that America built with India in those five days of Clinton’s visit has been lacking with Pakistan in over half a century of “close strategic” interactions. Our relationship has been “superficial” at best and “false” at worst in the words of the US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who bluntly revealed in 2001 that “People would look at it superficially and say we had a great relationship with Pakistan, but it was in a way a false relationship because in the first instance it was built against the India-Soviet Union axis, and then latterly it was against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan… So we didn’t have a policy for Pakistan, we had a policy with Pakistan directed at something else…”
What India gained in those five days and what we lost in those five hours is visible from Trump’s lambaste. His anger is due to the frustration caused by the failure of his country to transform Afghanistan as they wished. America is a bullying superpower and the world knows what she has done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. She is stuck in Afghanistan and has run out of ideas as how to get out. In her fit of fury, we happen to be standing at her left. The important point is that we have had seventeen years for course correction but we just sat over the issues. Threatening times ahead!