Sunday, May 10, 2009

Does the US Support Pakistan over India?

From Nehru to Obama: Why the US supports Pakistan

Poll after poll shows that Americans view India, not Pakistan, as their ally; a kindred democracy fighting a common Islamist enemy. Nevertheless, when I was in India throughout March, the question I was asked most frequently was “Why is the United States supporting Pakistan?” Even before President Obama’s March 27 speech, trepidation had been building. Admitted supporters of the US President told me in Delhi’s Connaught Place that Obama’s pro-Pakistan tilt varied from their pre-election expectations. One aspiring journalist expressed a growing sentiment that Obama’s actions are meant to “insure that the American people are safe,” regardless of “lives of other people of other countries.” But Obama’s speech pledged an addition $1.5 annually to Pakistan and identified it—not India—as an ally in fighting the Taliban.

That baffled Indians since Pakistan has shown a decided inability and lack of desire to take on Islamist terrorists, while Indians have been laying down their lives in that struggle. Even Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher seemed uncomfortably aware of the inconsistency. Shortly after Obama spoke, a CNN-IBN correspondent asked Boucher if he thought the Pakistanis had the “ability and willingness” to fight the Taliban as Obama said they would.

“Let me put it this way,” Boucher replied. “We talked to all the senior people there…and they said they wanted to.”

They “wanted to”? That was Boucher’s ringing support? No wonder Indians are concerned. Many Americans are working to change that policy, but India has a role in that, too. For US policy can be traced in part to Indian decisions decades ago.

People in the US State Department are no different than their counterparts elsewhere. They depend on contacts and authoritative people “on the ground” worldwide; people with inside information and expertise impossible to garner from halfway around the world. In the 1950s, Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru made a critical decision to minimize contacts with the US and thereby gave Pakistan that exclusive role. In 1955, he founded the Non-Aligned Movement, which was nonaligned in name only. Look at Nehru’s cohorts: Gamal Abdul Nasser, whose Egypt was a major Soviet ally and large recipient of Soviet aid; and Josip Broz Tito, while a communist gadfly, solidly in that camp; Marxist Kwame Nkrumah; and Indonesia’s Sukarno, aligned with China and North Korea. India itself became dependent on Soviet aid and welcomed legions of Soviet advisors and experts. Only in the early 1990s did India realize it backed the wrong side in the Cold War and had to re-orient its policies.

For almost four decades, when US diplomats and advisors needed someone with inside information, they would call their contacts who all were Pakistani and who helped their careers. It is no wonder that experts advising Obama see the world through that Pakistani prism and believe them when they say they will fight the radicals. Those decades-long relationships still hold sway. Moreover, Indian leaders often allow their desire to be politically correct on other issues—such as Iraq and at times Israel—take precedence over Indian interests. But all is not lost.

Washington is a city crawling with lobbyists. Everyone has them, including India. The challenge facing them must be to make India Washington’s major source of information; to convince people to call an Indian, not a Pakistani, when they need good information about South Asia. That must be a priority for everyone from the Indian embassy to paid lobbyists and Indian officials who meet with their US counterparts. They also should push their own plans to counter Pakistan’s. For instance, Obama spoke of regional cooperation. Since Indian troops were so successful against Kashmiri terrorists, let them take on that fight, so Pakistan can move its troops from there to fight the Taliban. That only makes sense if Obama and the Pakistanis were serious about cooperating and fighting terrorists.

There are a myriad of ways to do it and people in the US ready for it. That is the challenge facing those who want to see a change in US policies in South Asia.

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