Hindu nationalists cause US policy shift
The Nation
April 18, 1998
When, in February 1995, former US Secretary of Defence William Perry had visited Pakistan, the United States wanted Islamabad to play a stabilizing role in Asia, Persian Gulf and Central Asia, regions where the Americans were then fearing the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism”. Now, nearly three years after Perry’s visit, in April 1998, the United States appears to be concerned about the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, which, as it appears from the chauvinistic pronouncements of the hardline BJP-led government in India on nuclear and economic issues, posses a credible threat to international peace and security.

Had this not been the case, the State Department by now would have been leading an international crusade against Ghauri, the Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile that Pakistan test-fired on April 6. Instead, America’s response is no response at all. It even ignored allegations made in the Western press that Ghauri was supplied by the Chinese, even though, in past, the State Department had criticised China for supplying Pakistan its M-9 ballistic missile technology in violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime. “The United States understands and appreciates the steps Pakistan has taken to ensure its defense”, Bill Richardson, the visiting US Permanent Representative to the UN, has reportedly told prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

On the nuclear issue, the BJP, both in its election manifesto and National Agenda for Governance, released last month, has made it clear that it will exercise India’s nuclear option. By all accounts, this is a very dangerous message for the international community, among which there currently exists a great concern for freeing the world from the threat of the spread of nuclear arms to more states.

And, on the economic issue, the BJP has vowed to follow a Swadeshi (self-reliance) model, an external affairs offshoot of its Hindutva ideology of ‘one people, one nation and one culture.’ The Party’s National Agenda for Governance states that “India will be built by the Indians”; that the BJP–led regime will not permit Direct Foreign Investment in India’s “non-priority areas” and that such investment will be allowed only in “core areas”.

The Western community, led by the United States, ever since the end of the Cold War, has been dreaming to benefit from India’s huge consumer potential. This dream can only come true if India opens up its consumer industry to Direct Foreign Investment.

For BJP, any industry dealing with the production of consumer goods falls in “non-priority areas”; while the “core areas” include infrastructure development such as energy units, and road and telecommunication networks in which Western investors hardly have any interest. The United States, therefore, has all the reasons to worry about the rise of Hindu nationalism in India. If, on the one hand, Hindu nationalists’ nuclear ambitions threaten international security; on the other, their economic agenda turns American investors’ dreams to dust.

It is true that in their search for a “new enemy” to justify militarism in US foreign policy, the Americans, from the start of this decade, had started overplaying the danger from the so-called transnational Islamic forces. And, what a Foreign Office press release issued a week before . Perry’s 1995 visit had stated was, therefore, also in line with America’s great grand design for the region at that time.

It had stated, “The United States and Pakistan have an interest in working together for the construction of progressive, moderate states in an arch which extends beyond South Asia, Persian Gulf and Central Asia.” But, as this century nears conclusion, the foremost threat, which is now limited to South Asia, has come not to be from the previously perceived phenomenon of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which, despite all Western efforts, could not take the shape of a singular ideological threat to world peace and stability, as Communism remained until the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ground reality today is that it is Hindu nationalism, which has all the ingredients of fundamentalism, that has, with an extraordinary speed, emerged as the world’s most important post-Cold War ideological factor.

The two ideologues of the first half of this century, Dr Hedgewar and Guru Golwalkar, from whom the BJP inherits its current outlook on nuclear and economic matters, were greatly influenced by the achievements of Nazis in Germany and Fascists in Italy prior to the Second World War. Hitler practiced Racism at home and expansionism abroad.

So is the case with the BJP, which, with its Hindutva ideology, aims at purging India’s all other races except Hindu. And, in its outward outlook as well, the BJP-led government’s expansionist streaks are already quite visible. Besides pledging to declare India a nuclear power, India’s External Affairs Minister has even accused China of infiltrating into Indian territory. It can, therefore, be safely theorized that the danger of Hindu fundamentalism, which today threatens peace and stability of South Asia, may threaten the same in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, which the former US Defence Secretary, during his parleys with the Pakistani authorities in 1995, had identified as of significant strategic importance for the United States.

Since then, the top American officials visiting India and Pakistan, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (last November) and Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering (last October), had been trying to give an impression as if the Americans were following an even-handed approach towards the two countries.

Pakistan remained an aggrieved party during this period while it was facing US discrimination under the Pressler Amendment; the Clinton administration was showing a tilt towards India. Pickering had even started with Delhi what he called as “strategic dialogue”; a process, which was to include enhanced defense cooperation between the two countries. That dialogue is nowhere to see now. During his meetings with Sharif, as the Foreign Office press release also confirms, Richardson has once again talked about Pakistan’s strategic importance as Washington’s ally in the region. To the United States, Islamabad is no more an “old ally” as Perry had observed three years ago.

In relations between states, things like permanent friends or permanent enemies do not fare anywhere. Allies become non-entities if strategic priorities of the bigger partner in the relationship, determining the junior partners’ utility to it, vanish, which was exactly what had happened to Pakistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

The United States, compelled by the requirements of realism, left Pakistan alone to deal with the multiple threats arising out of the messy and complex situation of the post-Soviet Afghanistan, the foremost among them being in the shape of Taliban. Until Richardson’s visit, the United States had remained virtually unconcerned about the fate of Afghanistan; in other words, about the fate of Pakistan, since the bloody happenings in Afghanistan were having a negative fallout on Pakistan, perceived widely to be the main backer of Taliban on the behest of primarily Saudi Arabia.

There is now renewed American interest in Afghanistan. Richardson has succeeded in bringing Taliban and Northern alliance back to the negotiating table—something which neither Pakistan, nor Iran, nor, for that matter, the OIC could achieve after months and even years of hard diplomatic efforts. Why all of a sudden so much American care for Pakistan, which has been the direct victim of the intra-Afghan warfare tragedy in the last one decade?

Something volatile must have happened in the region in the last few months that the United States has been forced to shift its attention towards Pakistan, attention that was missing in this last one decade. That volatile thing could only be the rise of Hindu nationalist forces in India, which, in future, might pursue an expansionist agenda after declaring India a nuclear state. Richardson did visit India, before coming to Pakistan.

There, in Delhi, he did talk about US strategic dialogue with India, but not as enthusiastically as Pickering had done last October. In fact, the message that he wanted to give to the Indians during his visit to the region he gave it in Islamabad: that the US respects the efforts Pakistan was making for its defense. His obvious reference was towards the Ghauri missile, about which the State Department has not expressed any grave concern. Instead, the State Department seems to have reacted in an even-handed manner by putting India and Pakistan’s missile development ventures in the same basket.

Issues like F-16s and Pressler may not take that long to settle if the United States has decided to renew Pakistan’s strategic role in the region, after concluding that South Asia’s security climate has undergone a qualitative change in the wake of coming to power of Hindu nationalists in India.

Since, for the sake of its private investors and to reduce Russian influence in Central Asia, the United States is interested in the operationalization of gas and oil pipeline routes from Central Asia to Pakistan through Afghanistan, working for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan will be in US national interests. As regards the nuclear question, the United States is aware of Pakistan’s flexible position, as against India’s rigidity on the matter. This Indian rigidity was previously limited to demanding a deadline from nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear weapons in exchange for India’s signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. Now it has taken an offensive form, as BJP has declared to exercise the Indian nuclear option “when the time comes and the need arises.”

Perhaps the Americans perceive that the Hindu nationalists, by taking bold acts such as exercising nuclear option, would in the coming months like to strengthen their power base, which has been fast expanding in the last one decade even if they were not in power.

The United States would, therefore, act to put the Hindu nationalists in restraint. In the pursuit of such an agenda, Pakistan might be willing to go an extra mile, for instance, by following Israel’s path in signing the CTBT on the eve of President Clinton’s visit to the region later this year. As recent history is a witness, Islamabad has always been more than willing to go an extra-mile when it comes to the renewal of its partnership with the United States after a pause of a few years or more.