U.S. reaction in Pakistan tests India’s trust
New Delhi ? To gauge the impact here of the turmoil next door in Pakistan, Americans would have to imagine their own reaction to a military coup or the imposition of martial law in Canada.
The reaction here when Pakistan’s strongman, President Pervez Musharraf, declared a national emergency, cracked down on political opposition, arrested the dissident members of the Supreme Court and suspended the constitution was one of shock.
The border was immediately closed and military forces placed on alert. India and Pakistan have fought repeated wars over the years, and suspicions of trouble are always close to the surface.
Beyond that, India, which prides itself on having protected its democracy through several internal crises in its six decades of independence, is understandably nervous when its closest neighbor loses ground in its struggle – even temporarily – for freedom.
I found during a visit to New Delhi that happened to coincide with the crisis in the subcontinent that Indians were both puzzled and dismayed that the United States government seemed so ambivalent in its reaction to Musharraf’s actions. The Indian press reported, along with U.S. journals, that the Bush administration had sent urgent messages to Musharraf counseling him against the crackdown.
But when he ignored their advice and declared martial law, President Bush and the State Department offered only the mildest reprimands and immediately signaled a willingness to continue to support Musharraf and his regime.
To many here, that appeared as if democracy was less important to the American government than whatever help Musharraf might supply in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The assistance he has provided is questionable, in the view of many observers. He has signed off on agreements with local tribesmen in northwest Pakistan that have granted a more secure base of operations for al-Qaida training camps. American Special Forces operations against those camps have reportedly been compromised by leaks of information from members of the Pakistani military sympathetic to al-Qaida.
Nonetheless, the flow of U.S. aid to Musharraf has continued – and India has now watched him use that money to mobilize support against the popular protests to his own rule.
It sends disquieting signals to India at a time when much else is going well. The economy is thriving and a growing urban middle class of professionals has provided a stable base for democratic government.
India, like the United States, seems to have a surfeit of partisanship in its politics – represented here by a proliferation of parties, rather than interest groups. The government has been stymied for months in its effort to bring a nuclear agreement with the United States to a ratification vote in Parliament.
The parties of the left claim the treaty is weighted to the advantage of the United States, and have threatened to force an election on the issue. American diplomats, from Condoleezza Rice on down, have been warning the Indians that if the deal doesn’t get done in the next few months, it may be dead – and its revival under the next president may be uncertain.
U.S. officials appear to believe that India will resolve the internal debate and approve the arrangement, which will supply U.S. technology and materials for peaceful uses of atomic power while allowing India to retain its independent nuclear weapons program.
That trade-off has been controversial in the United States. Some in the Senate argued that the United States should not be helping India until it agreed to enter the nuclear nonproliferation compact. But commercial interests in both countries covet the agreement.
Still, trust in each other’s motives is the underlying requirement – the U.S. must accept that India will not brandish its bombs and India must trust that the U.S. will not exploit its economic muscle within India.
That trust is being tested now as Indians look at the American reaction to Musharraf’s coup. They would like to see America standing up for democracy. If you have trouble understanding that, just think what our reaction would be if the Russians condoned a similar coup in Canada.