December 2005 News

India's Strategic Periphery

17 December 2005
The Daily Excelsior
Vinod Vedi

Jammu: Among the many recent events in our part of the world three have potential for grave consequences in the future - the supply of truckloads of weapons by China to Nepal; the stationing of NATO troops in Pak-Occupied Kashmir under cover of providing relief to the earthquake victims; and the projected supply of airborne early warning (AEW) system by SAAB of Sweden to Pakistan. China has made known its distaste of the Maoists operating in Nepal in no uncertain terms particularly their use of the name of the founder of modern China; so the supply of weaponry to the Royal Nepal Army to deal with the Maoist insurgency was a foregone conclusion. The result will be an intensification of the class struggle in a kingdom where the monarchy has come to power through a 'bloody' coup. The reversal of the progress towards constitutional monarchy in Nepal has long-term implications for India-Nepal relations. Already free movement across Tarai has been stopped and documents are being issued to bonafide travellers and there are reports of Maoist leadership of Nepal coming closer to official friends here in India with Maoist supremo Prachanda himself making a visit to Delhi. The last time Nepal received weapons from China, the consignment contained anti-aircraft guns. Such guns had no relevance to the situation obtaining in Nepal because the Maoist insurgents have no recourse to aircraft; so if some see an implication and presume that these were to be used against the only other neighbour with which Nepal shares a common border, well, it is difficult to blame them. More so since the supply of Chinese weapons among neighbours surrounding India have tended to make them violent proxies against India. The provision of nuclear technology and missiles has been the cornerstone of Pakistan's posture of using jehadis in Jammu and Kashmir to further its territorial ambitions under threat of first use of nuclear weapons if India attacks their bases in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and elsewhere. Ditto has been the case with Bangladesh; there is growing evidence that a similar strategy of the use of Islamic fundamentalists to keep India off-balance is clear in Bangladesh's denial of camps and training facilities for terrorists on its territory. There is, thus, a duality in China's policy towards India. While on the one hand it is agreeable to open up markets with India, the economic factor does not preclude the full play of encouraging its neighbours to keep the Indian armed forces fully occupied by supplying them, as in the case with Pakistan at least, weapons of mass destruction. Under the concept of Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) the US too has been pumping in weapons into Pakistan on the ground that it is a great help in the so-called 'War on Terror'. It is debatable as to how F-16s or the more modern F-18s will help Pakistan seek out and destroy Al Qaeda hideouts within its own territory. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee was constrained to warn therefore that the renewed massive supply of sophisticated American arms to Pakistan could derail the current peace process between the two countries. This warning underscores the pitfalls of assessing 'strategic partnerships' and their fallout on national interest. MNNA status to Pakistan also opens up the floodgates of weapon and technology supplies from all the weapons producing nations of Europe who are all members of a fast-expanding North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). For one, it raises the spectre of resumption (under US coercion because currently the relations between India and Turkey are very good) of the kind of interaction that existed between Pakistan, Turkey and Iran within the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and the likelihood of the exchange of F-16 aircraft spare parts and technology upgrades. Evidence of the urge to grab the best bargains for their respective military-industrial establishments among NATO member- states is the offer by SAAB of Sweden to supply Pakistan airborne early warning systems to complement its nuclear arsenal and long-range missile delivery systems. Another Swedish arms manufacturer, Swedish Weapons Systems (SWS) -new name of Bofors AB Company whose 155-mm howitzers had created a political upheaval in India-has tendered for the upgraded versions for the Indian Army. This is a significant departure from Sweden's policy of not adding fuel to regional fires as it was during the reign of the assassinated Prime Minister Olof Palme. Long before President Bush came up with MNNA status for Pakistan, a clear tilt in the US global policy vis--vis Islamabad was evident. It was not as pronounced as now though. The outlines of the tilt emerged for the first time in the manner in which Washington handled the nuclear proliferation network that the father of the Pakistani Bomb A.Q.Khan created and expanded its operations into China, Iran, Libya and North Korea. The consequences for the rest of the world and the US itself are extremely dangerous but the Americans persisted with the policy saying that Islamabad is a very useful partner in the War Against Terror. Now a word about NATO and its 'forward policy' in South Asia. A broad outline of the policy was manifest with the deployment of a NATO contingent in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir ostensibly to help October 8 earthquake victims. The deployment had an aura of an 'invitation' rather than a unilateral intervention in a disturbed area. The agreement that facilitated the deployment allows the NATO troops to stay in the country for 90-days. Yes, the move invited instant outcry from local religious groups. And NATO stated rather trenchantly invoked the agreement to tell the critics that it had the right to stay there for 90 days. The fact that the contingent is commanded by an American admiral puts the entire NATO operation in perspective. At the time of Indo-Pak war of 1971, the US was unable to come to the assistance of Pakistan. It did despatch its Seventh Fleet task force from its base in Subic Bay in the Philippines but they could not reach the Bay of Bengal before East Pakistan became Bangladesh. It was a week long sailing for them. Learning from the experience, Washington has since created a new command structure to enable it to intervene militarily in any part of the Indian subcontinent within a few hours. Called the Central Command or CENTCOM, the first description of its role in the region was 'area of concern' which extended on the map from the Mediterranean, the eastern seaboard of Africa, the area between the Arabian Sea and the Caspian and the whole of Jammu and Kashmir! More recently, the role is being described as 'area of responsibility' and gives to the whole scheme of things a proprietorial connotation. Thus the admiral in charge of NATO relief operations in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is there because J and K falls within the 'area of responsibility' of the US CENTCOM. Under the Indo-US 'Next Steps in Strategic Partnership' contract it is pertinent to know whether Washington also sought Indian permission to deploy its admiral as head of the NATO contingent in Pak-Occupied Kashmir which India claims to be its 'atoot ang'. If it did not, it speaks volumes about the relative weightage of the Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA) of Pakistan and the so-called 'strategic partner' India. Did we hear some one say India's is 'second class' friend in the US scheme of things vis--vis Pakistan.


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