Opposing US Designs on South Asia Is the Best Way to Tackle Terrorism

There is a growing clamour among US policy-makers these days for a stronger American role in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. The latest US National Intelligence Estimate report released in July 2007 talks of an Al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. In a press conference following the release of the NIE document, Frances Townsend, homeland security adviser in the Bush administration went on to say that the US could well consider unilateral strikes against suspected Al Qaeda or Taliban targets inside Pakistan. This has also been echoed by Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State: “We want to respect the sovereignty of the Pakistani government. … If we have … certainty of knowledge, then of course the US would always have the option of taking action on its own, but we prefer to work with the Pakistani forces…”

Only last year, the Rand Corporation had released a document entitled “War and Escalation in South Asia”. The study, commissioned by the US Air Force, suggested “how and where the U.S. military might play an expanded, influential role” in South Asia. It advised the US Department of Defense to create “a new combatant command for South Asia” and go in for intensified security cooperation with India and Pakistan and increased intelligence production on the region. In short, the report called for intensified involvement of Washington in the region, devoting “the resources necessary to become more influential with the governments within the region.” The study also recommended that a part of the U.S. military be shaped in a way it could “meet the potential crises emanating from South Asia, just as the United States once shaped its military presence in Western Europe for the contingencies of the Cold War.”

Along with heightened military operation, the US intelligence community is also calling for assigning a greater role for the CIA. “Bring in the CIA” ran the caption of an article published in the Times of India on July 25 – the article was originally written for the New York Times by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, two former members of the US National Security Council. They argue that the US military planning has failed to destroy Al Qaeda or even prevent it from acquiring safe havens and so it was now time to bring in the CIA and develop the paramilitary capacity needed for “highly mobile, lethal counterterrorism operations.”

Whichever way the US design may exactly unfold, it clearly spells great danger for the internal security of South Asia and sovereignty of South Asian nations. The Indo-US nuclear deal can only be seen in the context of the US vision for an expanding American role in the region. Even in the limited context of the economics and politics of atomic programmes and energy generation, experts have warned against the serious adverse implications of the nuclear deal. But the main danger emanates from the larger context of India’s strategic integration with – and hence dependence on, and vulnerability to – the American geo-political agenda.

The question of terrorism too cannot be delinked from this dominant context. If the US resorts to unilateral strikes against ‘suspected targets’ in Pakistan, India could not possibly remain insulated from such strikes. The next NIE could well be talking about safe havens in India followed by threats of unilateral or joint strikes against ‘suspected targets’ in India. Already so much is being said about the so-called Indian links in the chain of international terrorism. Even as the case of Dr. Haneef has shown beyond doubt that the accusations of ‘terrorist connection’ are often based on stupid conjectures, imperialist arrogance and racist prejudices, political opinion-makers in India are loosely talking about the proliferation of terrorism in India. It seems the CPI(M) too has begun competing with the BJP and the Congress on this subject.

The July 15 issue of People’s Democracy, the CPI(M)’s weekly central organ editorially called upon the Government of India to “extend all cooperation to the British and International authorities in cracking down on terrorism.” It expressed grave concern over the fact that until recently “the country was mistakenly led to believe that India does not harbour any Al Qaeda jehadis thanks to the famous so-called introduction of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by US president George Bush to his wife saying that, “He is prime minister of a country of nearly 200 million Muslims and not one is with the Al Qaeda.”.” It is indeed heartening and instructive to note that when the PD editorial was taking great pains to convince its readers how Indian doctors and engineers were turning into terrorists, many in Australia were challenging and condemning the racist treatment being meted out to Dr. Haneef by the Australian government.

The PD editorial endorsed Dr. Manmohan Singh’s call for creating an environment where terror could not possibly take root and mentioned the need to erase “oppression and associated perceptions of injustice”, but it failed to identify the biggest factor that is fuelling terrorism the world over – the US-led war on terror. Consequently instead of calling for delinking Indian foreign policy from the US-led global war, it actually called for extending all cooperation to “the British and International authorities” (what about the ‘supreme’ power among all these ‘authorities’?) to combat terrorism. It is this misguided common sense that Washington seeks to consolidate in its bid to sell its global war to the Indian public. The PD editorial displays a shocking innocence of the real international environment that is breeding terrorism on such a huge scale. The Global Opinion Trends Survey 2002-2007 released recently gives us an interesting insight into the threat perceptions of the South Asian people. It showed that while three-quarters of Indians express concerns about Pakistan, 64 percent of the Pakistani public views the US as the greatest threat. 46 percent Indians on the other hand appeared to look to the US as the most dependable ally – the highest rating for the US among all the 47 countries covered in the survey. The more India walks into the strategic trap laid by the US, the greater will be the distrust between India and Pakistan. Contrarily, the more India and Pakistan are able to delink their domestic and foreign policies from American interests and calculations, the closer they can move towards bilateral and regional cooperation and that can indeed be the best antidote against terrorism in the whole of South Asia.