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The Not-So-Invisible Hand


"A nation’s strength ultimately consists in what it can do on its own, and not in what it can borrow from others.”— Indira Gandhi

Adam Smith, father of classical laissez faire economics, popularized the phrase “invisible hand” to denote a force which would automatically set right whatever distributive anomalies and conflicts free markets would engender. The “market mechanism” and its auto-corrective invisible hand have been the core pillars of neo-liberal macro-economics, which reigns supreme today under the banners of the World Bank and the IMF. But as Joseph Stiglitz has revealed and as we see Argentina, Brazil, and a host of other countries in flames resulting from the betrayal of the invisible hand, it is clear that the manner in which globalization is proceeding is not favourable to the smaller players. Likewise, the manner in which the U.S. has subtly inveigled itself into playing the not-so-invisible hand of “stabilizing” conflict over Kashmir is deeply flawed and detrimental to long-term prospects of peace and harmony in South Asia.

The infamous incident of American gunboat diplomacy during the 1971 Bangladesh war, with USS Enterprise deployed in the Bay of Bengal as a deterrent on Indian “aggression,” is well known. But it is a relatively lesser known fact that around the same time, the prospect of the complete Balkanization and collapse of the Pakistani state upset the U.S. so much that a Special Action Group (SAG) was formed by the state department with the following objectives: a) finding ways to convince India that it should act with restraint despite the enormous burden the refugee inflow from East Pakistan is posing for the Indian economy and polity, b) making efforts to achieve a political settlement in East Pakistan, c) taking steps to involve third parties in the solution of these problems.” (US National Archives, 26 May 1971)

SAG had little sympathy and no mandate for the Bangla nationalists and minorities who were turned into refugees fleeing Pakistani army genocide (Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report). At most, the U.S. government was willing to “persuade the Pakistanis to stop and if possible reverse the refugee outflow into India,” which touched a record 10 million by November 1971. The notion that Bangladesh was a movement for self-determination and freedom never entered the psyche of the Nixon administration. What the SAG basically aimed was to have India “act with restraint” so that Pakistan’s territorial integrity remained intact. Indira Gandhi did not take the counsel of the invisible hand then and the rest is history.

But look at the puerile Vajpayee government today, which is “acting with restraint” and reposing complete trust and faith in American guarantees that Pakistan would terminate cross-border infiltration and terrorism in Kashmir. No sooner had Richard Armitage left the subcontinent than Gen. Musharraf issued an open salvo that no such assurances were given to the American envoy. Islamabad then converted the verbal defiance into action and ordered a steep escalation in terrorist attacks on civilians in Jammu and Kashmir, commands which willing jihadi executioners of the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba have taken up with sadistic vim. According to latest intelligence inputs, “1140 trained terrorists are waiting to be ‘launched’ at 21 training camps, including the ones at Kathua, Goi, Sensa, Nukial and Kudiali. Another 475 trained terrorists are waiting at the four training camps being run by the ISI across the Akhnoor area.” (The Tribune, Aug. 9, 2002)

So, the invisible external hand and third party mediation have failed again and pools of human blood are flooding the Kashmir Valley and Jammu with gory abandon. American intervention and calls for “restraint” and “political settlement” served no one’s interest in the last three months, except those of the phony “moderate,” Pervez Musharraf. Mujahideen are making hay and all that the American guarantors and peacemakers can do is repeatedly “condemn” fresh waves of killings and massacres by Pakistan-trained holy warriors. The only concession, if it can be called one, is that the White House spokesman has stopped using old malapropisms for Kashmir like “freedom struggle” and “self-determination.” But it will take a lot more grovelling and kowtowing on the part of Vajpayee and Co. for the misleading phrase “wishes of the Kashmiri people” to be deleted from Washington’s lexicon.

Refractions in Colin Powell’s phraseology are token gains in the face of unremitting attacks and loss of innocent lives in Kashmir. They certainly do not compensate for the indiscriminate re-arming of Pakistan that has resulted from the quashing of Section 508 of the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which bars military assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government was deposed by military coup. As long as the U.S. pressures India from behind the scenes to exercise “restraint” while supplying Pakistan with helicopter gunships and jet fighters, and as long as the BJP government buys the argument that American mediation missions help “de-escalate tensions,” there can be no normalcy or progress in ending the free reign of the gun in Kashmir.

What makes the dependence of the Vajpayee government on external promises for ending terrorism in Kashmir all the more risible is the fact that the same BJP raised the bar of expectations of the Indian people when in opposition, claiming to nip the cross-border menace once and for all and not bowing to Western pressures on national security issues. Be it on the nuclear option and CTBT or Pakistan-sponsored terrorist actions in Kashmir, L.K. Advani used to thunder in the well of parliament that Congress and United Front governments were “putting India up for sale.” What has the BJP done in domestic or foreign policy to not be bracketed in the same league as its political opponents? It is an ultimate irony of Indian politics that the Congress and Left parties have to raise a din about the NDA’s inability to curb massacre after massacre of minorities and pro-India Muslims in Kashmir.

Leader of Opposition Sonia Gandhi, lecturing the so-called hard-liners in the Vajpayee cabinet, had this to say after the pogrom in Kasim Nagar which killed 27 villagers: “bardaasht ki bhi had hoti hain” (there are limits to tolerance). All that Vajpayee and Advani are able to do is to rebut genuine accusations of pusillanimity with fatuous statements like “we are winning without a war;” “our struggle against terrorism has reached a decisive phase;” and “we are devising a strategy to prevent future attacks.” Producing inflated lists of the total number of mujahideen shot dead by security forces and boasting that these dossiers are multiplying in length every year are eyewashes to which the Indian public has become deaf and skeptical. On top of it, we are being asked to believe in the ludicrous theory that the U.S. will moderate radical Islam coming from Pakistan, i.e. do India’s work on its behalf.

Repeated referrals to “our American friends” and the habitual solace being derived from Washington’s “condemnations” after every new jihadi attack are fast becoming old tunes. Tomorrow, the Americans will “condemn” the next major carnage and the day after that, they will “strongly condemn” the following one. Residents of Jammu and Kashmir are somehow coping with traumatizing violence and threats to their existence, even as the mandarins and gerontocratic politicians in Delhi have decided that Washington will be their savior.

Inaction, inability, and incompetence are the hallmarks of the NDA government’s bankrupt Kashmir policy. The next time L.K. Advani or George Fernandes mince no words and brag before the media that Kashmir will be freed forever from the grip of jihad and that international (read American) opinion is in India’s favor, don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes.

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