India Focus

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Vol 4, No 3

August 1999

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India After Kargil : Diplomacy & Politics

Implications & Trends

India is generally recognized to have won both diplomatically and militarily in the limited Kargil war, with Western nations and media expressing open or indirect concern at Pakistan’s provocation and support to militant Islamic elements. Privately, the US has taken a lead in labeling Pakistan as the aggressor nation and has quietly encouraged US media to write about Pakistan’s direct army role in the Kargil incursion. The Clinton administration is also reported to have provided India with a secretly taped phone conversation between the Pakistan army chief and his local army commanders, a tape which India was able to successfully use in its global information campaign. India also won much support on Capitol Hill: a resolution asking for withdrawal of "Pakistan supported forces" was introduced in the US House of Representatives, and the House International Relations Committee has passed a resolution by a margin of 22 to 5 for suspension of World Bank loans to Pakistan.

The private and public stance of many Asian and European countries has also been pro-India, though less vocally so than the US. France has quietly suspended delivery of previously

contracted military hardware supplies to Pakistan, which included 32 upgraded Mirages and a brand new Agosta-class submarine, and senior German and British officials have urged Pakistan to "respect the LOC" China and Islamic bloc nations have remained largely neutral despite intense lobbying by Pakistan, and this in itself is seen as a plus for India. Even the international media, particularly from the US and UK has supported India’s claim that the Kargil war was inspired and supported, if not implemented, by the Pakistan army (see box on Page 3).

This is perhaps the first time in many years that India has not been on the diplomatic defensive over Kashmir, and most people here are somewhat surprised by, and unprepared for, this unexpected show of international support. Reactions among Indian policy makers and analysts have mirrored this confusion: there are either strong misgivings of having been finessed into allowing outside mediation in the Kashmir dispute, or optimism over a "new chapter" in relations with the US.

What happens from here ? What will be the implications on Indian diplomacy, public opinion and politics ? And what will be the impact of all this on foreign investors ? Some trends are already clear:

1) Fundamental Changes in Western Perception of Pakistan

Continuing Indo-Pak skirmishes over Kashmir, and their mutual incessant battle of wits and words in international fora, have often warped and obfuscated the larger dynamics of each country’s changing relations with the outside world. And if viewed separately from Kashmir, Pakistan has lost much of its Cold War strategic value and has been unable to cultivate strong economic interests, institutional linkages or favourable public opinion within western nations. Pakistan may even be in danger of emulating India of the 70s and 80s: isolated from the global mainstream and able to draw support only from a single international bloc, that too a bloc which has peaked in clout or cohesion. In India’s case it was NAM, in Pakistan’s it is OIC.

  • US is genuinely upset at Pakistan’s continuing support to Taliban and other Islamic extremists, and the adverse impact this may have on regional stability, specially on weak Central Asian republics where large US economic interests in hydrocarbons are at stake. Pakistan did allow use of its air space and army bases in last year’s US bombing of Osama bin Laden’s training camps, but that was then. There was a quantum jump in anti-American sentiment after the bombing, Pakistan has turned more Islamic and Nawaz Sharif has stalled further cooperation with the US in tracking Bin Laden.

  • Both the State and Commerce Departments in the US are angry at Pakistan over abrupt changes in telecom licenses, frequency allocations and forex repatriation rules, changes which have hurt American firms. And, even though US interests were not directly involved in the cancellation of a large infrastructure contract by the Sharif regime, this unprecedented act of reneging on a sovereign promise has caused deep concern over Pakistan’s credibility.

  • EU nations and US have been publicly unhappy with the Sharif regime over its crackdown on NGOs, media and political freedom. Many Pakistani journalists have been harassed on false charges of tax evasion or drug trafficking, some have even been beaten by the police, nearly 2000 NGOs have been banned, and a non-partisan governor of Sind province has been sacked and replaced with a business crony of Nawaz Sharif.. The Clinton administration has called to "terminate immediately this crackdown against journalists and other elements of civic society," and the EU has postponed signing a treaty on trade and investment. Both Karl Inderfurth (Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia) and Strobe Talbott (Deputy Secretary) are former journalists who are unlikely to be happy with Sharif for muzzling the domestic press.

  • Nawaz Sharif has lost personal credibility and respect among many Western scholars, liberal thinkers and journalists who cover South Asia, and is slowly becoming quite a hate target. In recent months the western media has carried many reports of his overarching political methods and corruption, more than any negative story on India, and British and American newspapers have given prominent coverage to Benazir Bhutto’s claims of political persecution and physical torture (her husband, Asif Zardari, is in jail in Pakistan). In stark comparison to Sharif, India’s Vajpayee is seen as an elder statesman with strong moral values, even if his political party is suspect.

    Western Media Reaction

    Support For India On Kargil...

    Washington Post (Editorial, June 28)

    "Pakistanis are plainly to blame for having started the fighting....In an evident act of provocation, hundreds of Islamic guerrillas and perhaps also some Pakistani soldiers infiltrated across the line of control."

    The Economist (Editorial, July 1)

    "Isolated diplomatically, Pakistan faces a choice between continuing its offensive in Kashmir at the risk of provoking a catastrophic war or finding a face-saving way out."

    The Times, London (News report, July 3)

    "While Pakistan army officials and politicians are denying that its troops crossed into Indian territory, there is little doubt about Pakistan’s involvement"

    NY Times (News report, July 5)

    "In public, the Clinton Administration says Pakistan is supporting the forces, but less publicly, officials assert that the forces are a mix of guerrillas and Pakistani soldiers"

    Christian Science Monitor (Editorial, July 7)

    "It's apparent that guerrillas demanding independence for Kashmir are not simply "morally" backed by Islamabad, as Pakistan maintains, but are actually equipped by independent units of the Pakistani Army...It is a provocation to India."

    Asiaweek (News report, July 9)

    "According to Western military sources in Islamabad, the Pakistan-backed assault on Kargil is a joint operation undertaken by members of the Special Services Group, a top-secret commando wing of the army, and Muslim rebels"

    Boston Globe (Commentary by director of the South Asia Program, Johns Hopkins University, July 12):

    "...Pakistan's action in initiating the misadventure in Kargil is indeed mind-boggling....Loose statements by political leaders in Pakistan that the nuclear option remains open have appeared reckless against the measured response of the Indian government that the LOC will be respected"

    TIME Asia (Feature Article, July 19)

    "Pakistani soldiers, along with recruits from Islamic fundamentalist groups, took control of Indian-held territory in the Kargil region of Kashmir....Pakistan’s adventure may cost it a lot more than a loss of face, it may hasten Western rethink of Pakistan’s value as an ally"

    ..But Also Global Concern On Kashmir

    NY Times (Editorial, June 20):

    "In the wake of the Kosovo campaign, awareness is growing in Washington and other capitals that the world pays a high price for waiting too long to address growing crises. The one in Kashmir is among the most combustible, and the fact that both contending nations are armed with nuclear weapons lends it an apocalyptic urgency.....few international summits are likely to pass now without discussion of the possibility of assertive action in places like Kashmir."

    Washington Post (Editorial, June 28)

    "If the Kargil crisis is calmed there must come a serious address to the Kashmir question. Pakistan needs to stop blowing on the fires of armed revolt in India-held Kashmir; this is basic. But India has its own responsibilities. The Indians want it both ways: to keep a tight grip on Kashmir and at the same time to deny Pakistan's effort to internationalize the issue."

    The Economist (Editorial, July 1)

    "India should not confuse a triumph in Ladakh, if it happens, with victory in Kashmir"

    Christian Science Monitor (Editorial, July 7)

    "Current worrisome developments have further internationalized the Kashmir issue, and the argument for breaking the military deadlock on a bilateral basis seems less convincing....The international community should recognize that defusing today’s military crisis is only a part of the larger problem and a lasting Kashmir settlement is to be found....The time has come to heal the Kashmir crisis before a massive collapse destabilizes the entire region."

    NY Times (Commentary by William Safire, July 9 )

    "Kashmir is like a fault in the political earth....The answer may well take the form of protectorate as it has in Kosovo and Kurdistan -- but in this case, the intercession would be invited by all three parties."

    Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan (News report, July 21)

    "It is only natural for Indians to enjoy their "victory" this time. But resentment of the Indian military runs deep among local residents. In addition, the operation did not bring a fundamental solution to the Kashmir problem."

2) Kargil Aside, India-US Relations Have Picked Up Momentum

It is perhaps ironical that India’s nuclear tests have actually been a trigger for both countries to carry out a more concentrated dialogue and mutual discovery than ever before, and both have come out with less rigid perceptions. The US is now taking a more long-term view of India, removed from the Kashmir dispute, and public opinion in India is also becoming more pro-US, or at least less anti-US, especially after Kargil. India-US ties are moving forward, but the onus is on India to provide real depth by addressing specific concerns over CTBT, tariff cuts and market access. However, India does have breathing time till 2000 and only then will a new US administration (Republican or Democrat) or a new US Congress begin to act strongly over these issues.

3) Instability and Anti-US Mood Will Grow in Pakistan

Both warring nations have indulged in huge propaganda, but Pakistan much more than India. The general public in Pakistan has been fed an overdose of anti-India stories and distorted media reports of developments surrounding the Kargil conflict. Consequently, a majority of people are still not reconciled to the end result, and blame the US. The dominant public mood is a combination of disbelief, confusion, anger and betrayal. It is difficult to predict the outcome of this heady mix of emotions, or to speculate on whether Prime Minister Sharif will ride out the current wave of protests against him, but trends in Pakistan strongly favour anti-western, Islamic tendencies. Pakistan is very likely headed towards extreme social and political instability.

4) India Is Realizing the Value of Moderation & Public Opinion

Both India and Pakistan have played extensively to the public gallery to score diplomatic and psychological points, and thanks to technology Kargil has been much more of a media and information war than any other recent geo-political conflict in Asia. As a matter of fact, Indian commentators are more excited about India’s diplomatic and media success than victory on the ground. A sure lesson learnt by both countries is the importance of world public opinion, a lesson which has perhaps sunk deeper and more naturally in India. But even Pakistani diplomats privately admit that a single interview on BBC Television by Pakistan’s hawkish Minister for I&B may have cost the country much international goodwill. India can now be expected to become more pro-active in its ‘media diplomacy,’ but this will also open it to greater western scrutiny over domestic issues, including economic policy and human rights. India is still in the grey zone, between a new imperative to join the global mainstream and a historical aversion to follow what many here consider ‘western dictates,’ but recent events may encourage moderation in social and economic views.

5) China Factor Will Continue To Help India

Even though China’s refusal to support Pakistan was guided by practical self-interest -- China neither wants to set a precedent for Tibetan independence nor encourage Islamic separatism in the vicinity of its own Muslim province -- Kargil may have speeded up the thaw in Indo-China relations by providing a common purpose. Both India and China now have a mutual interest in containing regional instability, even if the mechanics and extent of any formal cooperation in this regard are uncertain.

6) Kashmir Has Been Internationalized, But So Has The LOC

Kashmir has been internationalized, but in a context which is favourable to India. First, Kargil has brought about a slight pro-India change of heart around the world. Second, and even more significantly, western countries are now less concerned by finer points of law and history, and want a practical and quick solution which can stop this conflict from spiraling out of control. There is growing international opinion, quietly but surely, on converting the current Line of Control into an international border, an idea which India would gladly accept but which Pakistan vehemently opposes. Ironically, it is India’s own opposition to international mediation which is becoming a barrier to public endorsement of this formula by western nations.

7) Indian Foreign Policy Will Focus More On US & Europe

One of the expected consequences of Kargil is that Indian foreign policy will now increasingly focus on Europe and the US, and disparate diplomatic initiatives of recent years, such as the ‘Look East’ policy, the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative etc, will now assume lesser importance, at least in the purely diplomatic, non-economic sense. Already, there is increasing mention among Indian officials and intellectuals that what matters most for India is not G15 or G7, but G1, that is to say, the US. This may perhaps be typical Indian hyperbole, but recent events do support the view that at least in the context of Kashmir, which still remains its primary diplomatic concern, India’s success or failure will be shaped by its relations with the US.

8) Domestic Mood & Politics: Kargil Will Help BJP, But Only Slightly

Because of better media, and also some clever manipulation of public sentiment by the government, Indians have been more emotionally involved in this fight than Pakistanis, and there has been a resurgence of nationalism and anti-Pakistan sentiment. To some degree, though not much, there is a feel-good factor in the country which is due as much to positive economic news as to India’s victory in Kargil. But there is also a growing sense of uncertainty and disquiet at the course of future events in Kashmir, and over the possibility of war, at least among the educated classes. Public memory in India is also notoriously short, and already, just a few weeks after Kargil, the BJP has come under some pressure from opposition parties over accusations of an "intelligence lapse" and "unnecessary deaths of Indian soldiers," charges which are beginning to bite. Kargil will clearly favour the BJP, but it will be not be a dominant factor in these elections. The positive impact on the BJP will perhaps be felt more in the long term. Whether support for the BJP will increase or not in these elections, anti-BJP sentiment has certainly come down.