US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been in South Asia, highlighting the precarious balancing act that his government is currently attempting there. He was first in India, threatening Pakistan that another terrorist attack there will be a step too far. Then he crosses the border into Pakistan where he finally accedes to the army’s long-standing request for drone aircraft. Of course, it’s not de rigeur in that country to be accepting presents from Americans so they have to play down any excitement about the new toys being sent their way – an excitement which might partly be driven by the prospect of being able to use them against the Indians. Oh, what an incredible tangle is being weaved here – and that’s without even mentioning Afghanistan. If the Americans can pull any of this off, it will be a miracle.
My favourite op-ed on all this was in the Hindustan Times yesterday, where Ashok Malik argued that India’s development had made it impossible to either send in the tanks or strike up a friendly relationship with its embattled neighbour, a lesson learned in the abortive build-up of 2002:
India realised its autonomy had been curtailed. That was the price for growing up — as an economy, as a nuclear power, as a nation. Fortuitously, it was in about 2002 that the Indian economy pressed on the accelerator … Today, the western neighbour is treated more with condescension than antipathy.
Having moved on, India would like to ignore Pakistan, preferring to engage “in a two-horse race with China, not in a two-mule derby with Pakistan.” But it’s hard to make a clean break when the diplomatic establishment in Pakistan does not represent the real power-brokers there. How does one go about getting through to the mysterious cabal of intelligence officers that actually have influence in Pakistan?
This track tends towards a very benign view of India as a mature, reasoned actor frustrated in its dedication to peace and only really interested in improving its economic prospects.
However, even if we ignore the fact that economic liberalisation seems to have actually worsened the status of the poor over the past two decades (once the stats are de-rigged), then there is still India’s absolute intransigence over Kashmir, for which it seems unable to even contemplate the beginnings of a resolution. Despite India removing two divisions in late 2009 (or did they?), it remains the most militarised border in the world, and the government brooks no dissent on its sovereign right to the whole territory.
Why not? India has proved quite successful at keeping order in Kashmir, albeit of the boot-on-neck variety, in recent years.
But how do we reconcile the story of India’s supposed maturing into an esteemed international actor with the flatulently moronic scenes witnessed at this week’s IPL cricketers auction, in which some sort of background pressure meant that not one team made a single bid for any Pakistani player (even the really, really good ones). Perhaps there was no government meddling, perhaps it does not reflect deeply ingrained bigotry – two charges that have been levelled at the IPL this week – but whatever the facts, they do not say much for the maturity of India’s attitudes towards its sibling.