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   07:48:34   

Is there a 'Burns Effect' on Pakistan?

(COMMENTARY)

By Sreeram Chaulia
 

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns' recent remarks that Washington is bearing down on Pakistan to end all forms of terrorist violence against India has generated excitement - as a vindication of New Delhi's diplomacy. Since 9/11, the Indian foreign office has left no stone unturned in trying to convince the US that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is part and parcel of the larger global mayhem unleashed in the name of jehad.

After being attacked massively in 2001, the US awoke from ignorance and became more receptive to accepting the long-standing alliance between Pakistani terror groups and Al Qaeda. Burns not only acknowledged this transformed understanding but went one step forward by saying that Washington had extracted an assurance "that Pakistan will use its influence on the matter".

Predictably, Islamabad has responded that no formal request or demand of this nature has come from the US and that the violence in Jammu and Kashmir is of indigenous origin, stemming from human rights violations by the Indian Army. What is striking is that Burns has come a long way from Robin Raphael, the former US assistant secretary of state in the Bill Clinton administration who earned New Delhi's ire by criticizing it in 1993-94 for alleged rights excesses and questioning Jammu and Kashmir's legal accession to India.

Burns has never once been persuaded by the strong Pakistani lobby in Washington to talk about human rights in Jammu and Kashmir. American thinking has moved forward from viewing the problem from the prism of a "self-determination struggle" to that of a bilateral dispute in which one side uses terrorist proxies.

Yet, these changes in the US position are so incremental and languorous that one must ask whether they have had any effect on Pakistani policy toward India. Is there a 'Burns Effect' that will translate into restraint by jehadis in their relentless war on Indian political, economic and cultural citadels?

On Oct 4, US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker ironically commented that, lacking proof, India should stop blaming Pakistan's intelligence agencies and jehadi groups for the Mumbai terror attacks of July 2006. This reckless statement was not retracted by the US embassy in Islamabad despite India's objections.

The contradiction between Burns and Crocker reveals that diplomats simply speak to appease their immediate constituents. Crocker's job is to keep the Islamabad-Washington relationship oiled with mutual confidence. Robert Blackwill, the former US ambassador to India, did the opposite by massaging Indian egos in a way that no one since John Kenneth Galbraith (1961-63) managed.

Euphoria about Burns' laconic references on Pakistani terror is only justifiable if there is a visible scale shift in jehadi infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir and attacks all over India. The skill with which Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has made himself appear indispensable to the US attempts to stabilise the Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan leaves little scope for the Burns Effect to be meaningful.

Despite the fact that democracy promotion is an official pillar of the Bush administration's foreign policy, the US-Pakistan strategic alliance is today as strong as in the Reagan-Zia era.

Quasi-governmental American democracy promotion NGOs like the National Endowment for Democracy are funding civil society activities in Pakistan to boost human rights, rule of law and freedom of expression. But this is more than counterbalanced by the gigantic official US military and economic aid to the undemocratic regime in Islamabad.

The current American push for "democratisation" of the Muslim world, absent during the Reagan administration's time, means that Washington will support some token political reforms in Pakistan that would not undermine Musharraf's throne. Rumours that the US has a 'Plan B' to overthrow Musharraf if he outlives his usefulness have circulated in the media, especially in journalist Shaheen Sehbai's now defunct online publication, South Asia Tribune, but have not been corroborated.

Exactly what leverage does the US have on Pakistan's nuclear assets? After 9/11, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker magazine of a secret US-Israeli plan to take control of Pakistan's nuclear facilities in the case of an Islamist coup there.

In December 2003, US officials claimed to have installed "locks" on Pakistani nukes to make them unusable after two assassination attempts against Musharraf. In January 2005, American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Senators that the Bush administration has a "contingency plan" to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from seizing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal if "something happened" to Musharraf. These titbits imply that the US knows the whereabouts of Pakistani nuclear warheads and has even accessed them.

If the US is privy to such strategic secrets in mockery of Pakistani sovereignty, Washington has the ability to apply the squeeze on Islamabad's sponsorship of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir as well. After all, the two jewels of the Pakistan Army's empire are monopolies over nuclear weapons and Kashmir policy. However, ability and willingness are two different tales. Does the US have the political will to curb cross-border terrorism against India? The record shows a highly inconsistent American attitude on this question.

This segues into an even bigger puzzle: Is the US "sponsoring" India's rise to global power? Burns or no Burns, it was the US that spoilt Shashi Tharoor's candidature for the UN Secretary General's post, not China. It is the US that repeatedly resists the proposal for an Indian permanent seat at the UN Security Council, not China.

(Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher and commentator on world affairs based at Syracuse University, New York. He can be reached at sreeramchaulia@hotmail.com)


 

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