G7 & 8’s perception of the subcontinent

Columnist MB NAQVI looks at the perception of the West towards South Asia.

Yoshiro Mori, the Prime Minister of Japan, visited Islamabad the other day as also New Delhi. He has now gone back. The vibes of Mori’s negotiations in Islamabad were not particularly uplifting. Doubtless Mr. Mori threw a few sweeteners to Pakistan by way of sweeteners; some of the ongoing projects will continue to receive their funding from Japan.

For the rest, the resumption of full or normal aid from Japan to Pakistan remains suspended so long as Pakistan does not come onboard the western bandwagon of non-proliferation. Mr. Mori was quite firm on the CTBT as the starting point of this journey and regarded it as the door to normal government-to-government aid through the Paris Club.

Prime Minister Mori was not merely the Prime Minister of the second greatest power on the globe, economically speaking. Japan is certainly Pakistan’s largest aid giver. It also buys and sells large quanta of goods. It had been necessary all along to extend the greatest possible welcome and respect to the Prime Minister of Japan. But Mr. Mori’s position in this visit was even larger than that of a normal visit of a Japanese PM. Thanks to the G7 meeting having taken place this year in Okinawa, Japan is the current Chairman of the G7 group. The G7 is known to have discussed the Indo-Pakistan and subcontinental questions. It does appear that Mr. Mori was visiting India, Pakistan and the rest of the subcontinent on a mandate from the G7. At any rate, he is the Chairman of G7. Therefore the negotiations that took place in Islamabad and New Delhi must be treated as having taken place between G7 and these capitals separately.

From the point of view of the peoples of the subcontinent —- not merely that of Pakistan alone —- the significance of the visit is that Mr. Mori has visited these places. Pakistan’s response to whatever G7 had wanted was conveyed to the G7 Chairman. Similarly what impressions Mr. Mori gained in New Delhi would also be similarly conveyed to the rest of G7. For its part, the G7 would assimilate these assessments with their own reports about the developments in South Asia. That is how they will define their national stances and after an interchange with one another would evolve a combined G7 attitude. From that will issue a set of demands on the subcontinent. It is necessary for us in Pakistan to keep two facts in view: one, what is the bottomline of Pakistan insofar as the western ideas of resolving the subcontinent’s various crises. Similarly a broad assessment of India’s bottomline would also be necessary to be kept in view vis-a-vis what the west is perceived to be asking the Indians. It is only then that we can somehow picture in our minds the overall point of view of the G7 and their various concerns that however are no secret from newspaper readers.

The question is what does the G7 want of the Indians and Pakistani and by extension from the peoples of the subcontinent or rather the people of all the SAARC states. Let us however keep the Indians and Pakistanis in focus. The primary interest of the west as a whole —- which is in powerpolitics another name of G7 —- is to ensure a certain pro-western orientation primarily in economic matters but not exclusively. India well understands that and is ready to play ball. The only question in India’s obsession of being a greater and grand power in the sense of becoming also a nuclear power. Now for the west proliferation of all nuclear weapons and missiles constitutes a major worry insofar as India is concerned. They also notice that subcontinent’s security is virtually in a shamble as a result. Pakistan, due to its endemic confrontation with India has also become a nuclear power and is new running a cold war rivalry with India with all easily predictable risks because of Kashmir.

Indians and Pakistanis have remained close to a war —- just this side of active hostilities but with all the mind sets of a people at war. The Indians and the Pakistanis, the west is painfully conscious, are people with nuclear deterrents of their own. It is a fact that people in the two countries must recognise that the western image of India and Pakistan is not an enviable one in the given context. They all appear to believe that if ever there is a nuclear exchange in pursuit of nationalistic quarrels, it would be between India and Pakistan. The people of India and Pakistan are seen as possible nuclear war fighters; indeed they are seen as being in a way eager to be so. It does not matter what the Indian and Pakistani defence and security thinkers formally assert. The G7’s attitudes towards the subcontinent will be determined by what Mr. Mori reports in addition to individual national assessments of G7. That must be kept in mind.

Looking more closely at India and Pakistan, let us take India first. The western concerns vis-a-vis India, as noted, begin with the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the rapid development of missiles in India. No matter what the Indians say, everybody in the world knows that India’s nuclear and missile build up is, in the present context, immediately aimed at Pakistan. But, and it is a fairly big but, it is not oriented to Pakistan alone. India began its nuclear build up way back in 1958 when Pakistan did pose a serious threat to Indian security, if Perkovich among others is to be believed. Indian fascination with nuclear mass destruction weapons and their delivery vehicles is oriented to a nationalistic complex. India wants to emerge as a great power. And since great powers have always had great military strength, it is therefore building a huge military capability in all fields reinforced by an economy that can sustain the desired militarisation. The Indians are well on their way to achieving some of the goals that they have set themselves to. It just so happens that it has run smack into opposition from the non-proliferation concerns of the US and the rest of the west. Secondly it just so happens that Pakistan got involved quite early in the process. Any accretion to India’s strength raises the hackles in Pakistan; their security concerns are heightened and they want to counter it. In fact as a result of the 1971 war, the Pakistanis quickly realised that since India’s military build up is likely to go on and Pakistan will be unable to match it in the conventional field, it decided to go nuclear. Whatever nuclear capability it has, it is directly oriented to India and it is also purely for military purposes. There is no pretension here of any civilian use of nuclear and other high technology and so forth as the Indians talk about. This creates a very dangerous situation in the South Asia and the US that is leading the rest of the west by the nose is alarmed at the possibility of turmoil in such a populous region of Asia. Therefore its non-proliferation concerned are today aimed directly at India —- and of course Pakistan. Indeed Pakistan being smaller and weaker power, more given to extremist sloganeering may take precedence over India in being contained and countered by the international community.

Vis-a-vis India the west has other interests. India’s status needs to be remembered. It is a very large country and already assessed as a notable market for the surplus capital of industrial powers. It is also a major power that nobody wants to trifle with. It is therefore being courted and it is being treated with much respect. But for all that this has never translated into either acceptance, tacit or otherwise, of its nuclear status or all its pretensions vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

We must recognise that the west is serious and, up to a point, sincere —- so far —- about its desire to ensure peace and security in the subcontinent and if possible to talk India and Pakistan out of their nuclear deterrents. It is true that the realists in the west as a whole tacitly recognise that India and Pakistan are now nuclear powers for keeps. But even they would not accord nuclear status to either in any near future. They would continue to keep the Indians and Pakistanis out in the cold insofar as the nuclear matters and status is concerned. As for India alone, the approach of the west might be more friendly and politer but on sensitive matters they might seem soft but would remain firm.

Insofar as Pakistan is concerned, its status is one of a much smaller power, though important enough for its strategic location. Even its Islamic identity does in one fashion add to its importance. In some circumstances it can certainly be turned to one’s advantage. There is an impression in the west that many other Arab and Muslim countries regard it as a friendly power, though currently the Central Asian States and Iran are not merely wary of it but may have become actual or potential adversaries. Pakistan is supposed to be the most modern Muslim state that is being run by relatively moderate and modernist elements. That imparts a special importance to Pakistan. For the rest, Pakistan is not an attractive market for the surplus capital of the west not even a big market for their manufactures. It can therefore be trifled with and in fact is being trifled with. What happened during the Mori’s encounter?

Obviously the two sides said their pieces. The briefs of either side were predictable and largely known. The Chairman of the west, if we may call Mr. Mori that, asked Pakistan to sign the CTBT, do something about the terrorism and agree with the US and other western countries on the question of what are called peace, security and stability matters in South Asia. This involves a detente of varying comprehensiveness with India. It is recognised by the west that Pakistan is right in insisting that there must be a solution to the Kashmir problem. But there is a difficulty here. The Indians would simply not hear a word about Kashmir. They think it is an integral part of India, sanctified by their constitution. Period. No question be asked or answered. No foreign mediation or arbitration can be entertained by India and its sovereignty over any part mentioned in its constitution is not negotiable. How does west and Pakistan circumnavigate this big hurdle is the unresolved question about the merits of which little need be said. That is a continuing worry and a problem that would continue to be addressed by all: the leaders of the west, Pakistan and India.

Talking of terrorism in Islamabad has four main contexts: The first is Afghanistan. It involves Taliban, their style of ruling and their disrespect for what the west regards universal human rights and of course Osama bin Laden. The west also object to narcotics (heroin) trade sustaining its economy. They object to its foreign policy and the whole orientation of Taliban themselves. On this issue, the US and by implication the rest of G7 have lined up with Russia and the Shanghai Five (that include, significantly enough, China also). India and Iran are thought to be quite willing to cooperate with Shanghai Five, even if they cannot be its members. That leaves Pakistan out in the cold among its neighbours. Pakistan having recognised Taliban and regarding Taliban as a sinew of its strength, there is little that Pakistan can do in all these Afghanistan related problems. It is a no go area insofar as Pakistan is concerned.

The second context is domestic. Pakistan is said to be itself vulnerable: the west thinks that Pakistan can be taken over or swamped by local version of Taliban. There are so many jihadi organisations with private armies of their own. They are technically over a dozen, though four or five are specially significant. The strength of such armies varies in each assessment: but most agree that varies between a 100 thousand to 300 thousand. It is a major worry and Pakistan government’s conduct vis-a-vis the religious seminaries and their private militias has not been reassuring for anyone, the least of all to the west. Pakistan government has spoken in two voices and no one knows what Mr. Mori said or heard on the subject.

The third context is Kashmir. Some of the Jihad volunteers that go on to fight in Kashmir are said to have their links with both Taliban and various religious parties and their military wings in Pakistan. This context occasions the western demarche that Pakistan should endeavour hard to ensure that the level of insurgency in Kashmir decreases drastically so that India can be persuaded to start talks on Kashmir and be in a fit enough frame of mind to talk about peace, security and stability. Now this demand is the hardest to fulfil. In part, Islamabad has in some ways worked all these 53 years to put India at the receiving end. Why give up this advantage? Insofar as Pakistan rulers are not naive fanatics, they would be able to lower the temperature if they are given an attractive enough quid pro quo. Would India do anything of the kind? Would the west still ask Pakistan to put brakes on Kashmir’s Jihad even if India fails to adequately recompense Pakistan for the favour? No clear answers appear to be available from Mr. Mori’s boys.

The fourth context may be more theoretical: Islamic fundamentalism is thought to be the real cause of all this worry about terrorism because it is by nature a militant and destabilising force and so forth. In this context many of the central Asian states —- Kryghizia, Uzbekistan, Kazhakhistan and Turkmenistan —- have lined up against Pakistan. On this question China and Iran are lukewarm in supporting Russia and these central Asian states. The point is hardly ever pressed in day-to-day inter-state dealings. But what would happen in future is anyone’s guess.

Between Pakistan and G7 one major subject is Pakistan economy’s present state. It is freely discussed. The economy is teetering on the brink of a default and thus a possible consequential collapse. The situation is about as grim as can be imagined. Since Pakistan has said no on the non-proliferation concerns and is not as forthcoming as could be expected on the peace, security and stability clutch of problems involving talks with India and making basic adjustments, Pakistan’s reply must be assessed is another no. On Afghanistan related questions for all its being verbally forthcoming, the actual answer turns out to be negative. As it happens Pakistan desires that IMF should give it $ 2.5 billion loan under its renamed poverty reduction facility and help it to get a rescheduling of debts from Paris Club and also help it to get the normal quantum of aid from this club as well as others. What would the west do is the question. It can be assumed that the west cannot approve the writing off of all the debts. That would go against the grain of the system, though for PR purposes it shall go on talking interminably of the need to forgive the debts of deserving poor. It would actually want Pakistan to repay. Since the later cannot do without aid, it will have to climb down and give some aid. The quantum is the big question. The general assessment is that since Pakistan has not pleased the west on any of the significant matters, its aid would be strictly limited —- just to enable it to keep its head above surging waters. But it will not permit Pakistan to either turn its economy around with its help that may be given or by its own endeavour and resources. It is likely to remain in this situation because of the various answers it has given to Mr. Mori.

To summarise one of the important nos to the west that have been given is in the important field of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles. Pakistan has not agreed to sign the CTBT. Its attitude to peace, security and stability in South Asia is predicated on a level of its own defence vis-a-vis India that the Indians would not approve of and which will mean a breakdown in the overall detente that the west favours. Similarly without India giving a quid pro quo, as events relentlessly march on, Pakistan would not be cooperating either with India or the west in scaling down the intensity of Kashmir dispute among other things. Here it is known that the west does desire that Pakistan should adopt a unilateral approach in the nuclear matters and on the specific question of scaling down of the Kashmir dispute. Pakistan government has so far spoken with two voices on both questions and no one is sure which will finally prevail. Pakistan will sign CTBT but there has to be national consensus first. The Hizbul Mujahideen episode of unilateral ceasefire showed a degree of Pakistani cooperation. But its breakdown underlines the need for an appropriate concession from India. The uncertainty remains. Other issues are less fundamental, though difficult enough. They deal with narcotics and Osama bin Laden. Here too today’s Islamabad cannot provide full satisfaction to the west. All in all, Mr. Mori must have returned rather disappointed by his interaction in Islamabad.

Insofar as Mr. Mori’s interaction in India is concerned, it is also a matter of interest for us. It does not directly concern us. In a general sort of way, it is possible to see the net results: there has been a relatively firmer Indian no to the non-proliferation pleas of the west. India is likely to remain embarked on a big nuclear and missiles build up. Conventional build up too is likely to go on. It is likely to remain as adamant on Kashmir dispute as it has been as the Hizbul’s abortive ceasefire shows. In words it might be more flexible but it is unlikely to be in fact. It will warmly welcome western aid and capital if it keeps pouring in. While the west is unlikely to lift all the sanctions, it is likely to relax them as much as they can legally be done in view of India’s nuclear ambitions and conduct. Economic cooperation will increase and western investments will also increase in willing step with India’s ability to absorb more capital. The west also threw more and bigger sweeteners at India and the offer of what is a strategic partnership is one of them. That will be seen as a special situation for Pakistan. Pakistanis will have anyhow to assess their situation vis-a-vis the west.

If we just ruminate a little, it will be seen that the strategic standoff that in fact took place between Pakistan and India has now graduated into one with the west —- and by extension and partially with Russia and central Asian republics. Pakistan is thus in a very difficult position. The emergent deadlock between Pakistan and the west has made South Asia’s situation piquant in strategic terms for the west. Could it be that Pakistanis are opening a window of opportunity to India to not merely win the grateful sympathies from Russia and Central Asian republics but also from the west —- but only if it can manage to sign the CTBT and have a more flexible diplomatic stance. Would flexibility on Kashmir and nuclear stance be possible for an India that is weighed down by a sense of its own power and importance? It is a difficult moment for Pakistan, requiring mental alertness and much cerebral labour.