there a 'Burns Effect' on Pakistan?
By Sreeram Chaulia
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.
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
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
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
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 [email protected])
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