Mani-Talk: Modi is Turning Us into America's New Pakistan

Published: February 03, 2015 13:35 IST
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(Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha.)

During Cold War I between the US and the USSR in the 20th century, the US co-opted Pakistan as its "most reliable ally". With the onset of Cold War II in the 21st century, now between the US and China, Barack Obama made his Republic Day visit to India to woo Narendra Modi to become the US's most reliable ally. Modi doubled over backwards to oblige.

We are being rapidly dragged into the abyss of confrontation, abandoning the signature tune of Gandhiji and Nehru - peaceful coexistence. We are on the edge of becoming America's Pakistan at the brink of Cold War II. History must serve as our guide as Modi takes the plunge.

India under Nehru reacted to US overtures in the mid-20th century by setting our face against all forms of military involvement with one side or the other. It was called Non-alignment. We were the first and, at the time, only Non-aligned country in 1947. 36 years later, when the seventh Non-aligned Summit was held in New Delhi in 1983, two-thirds of the Member-States of the UN turned up in our capital at Head of State/Head of Government level. No foreign policy of any country in the 20th century turned out to be as widespread in its global influence as Nehru's. Nehru showed the way. Virtually every newly independent nation followed. Until we got embroiled in the 1962 war with China, Non-aligned India was the country of choice for settling almost every international crisis - Palestine in 1947; Korea in 1953; Indo-China the following year; Suez in 1956; the Congo in 1960. Even when the world initially disagreed, as with India's recognition of China after Mao's revolution, everyone eventually came around to accepting the reality.

On decolonization, India's was the first and last word. We were the first to boycott racist South Africa and the first to rejoice when half a century later Nelson Mandela joined with Willem de Klerk in Africa's Gandhi moment. From Algeria to Namibia, over three long decades, India was the acknowledged champion of the End of Empire. On disarmament, India gave the lead. On mobilizing the world to regard development as a global responsibility, India again led the rest in securing global trade concessions for developing countries in GATT and establishing the Group of 77 in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Meanwhile, independent India's development was so impressive compared to its colonial past that when Walter Rostow published in 1960 his breakthrough work, The Stages of Growth, and was asked which underdeveloped country he thought would first reach the "take-off" stage, he unhesitatingly pointed to India. Besides, of course, we were the only country of nearly 150 who have come to liberation of one kind or another since we became independent, to have translated Independence for India into freedom for her people, combining full-scope democracy with a socialistic pattern of society and sincerity in secularism, backed by a voice of our own in international affairs that was respected by all even when disagreement was strong. We established that foreign policy is the external expression of internal sovereignty - and although the West balked at that, it did not prevent us from essentially "viewing the world with clear and friendly eyes", as Nehru remarked on the day we became Independent. We were friends, but not allies, of both the East and the West.

Pakistan, by the turn of the century, was left a client State of an increasingly disenchanted patron. Since Clinton, it has been downgraded as the preferred partner for the 21st century, cast aside like a used glove. Today, its most sturdy patron is China.

Readers as old as I am will remember Vice-President Lyndon Johnson visiting Pakistan during Kennedy's Presidency and taking Pakistan swirling into euphoria when he invited a Pakistani camel-driver to the US as a State guest. A decade later, the US-Pakistan partnership reached its highest (or lowest) point when the US stood rock solid behind Pakistan as the Pakistani army butchered ordinary East Pakistanis and drove ten million of them as refugees into India, thus sparking the war that led on 16 December 1971 to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. Small reward for Peshawar having served as the base for U2 spy flights over the Soviet Union and as Kissinger's launch pad for his rapprochement (now breaking down) with China.

In the years that followed, the US led Pakistan by the nose into the mess of Afghanistan. The Mujahideen, transported from the Arab world and Central Asia to the Pak-Af border, and trained and supplied by the US on the soil of its most reliable partner, has now become the Frankenstein that has rendered Pakistan both the hub of global terrorism and its biggest victim. Meanwhile, the people of Pakistan have been denied the democracy that had come so readily to India because India eschewed military engagement with the US while the Pakistani armed forces became the US's principal client and, therefore, the rulers of Pakistan or in between the puppeteers of civil governments. Seventy years of servitude to America has ended in America becoming the most hated, if most desired, country in Pakistan.

At the end of a half-century and more of becoming a military ally of the United States, Pakistan's society, polity and economy lie in tatters while Non-aligned India rides high. Modi does not seem to have learned the lesson. Quite taken at his transformation from a communalist denied a visa to the US to being feted by the US President, India under Modi is being enticed into a military partnership with the US as it attempts to encircle China in the way the US in the twentieth century had sought to encircle the Soviet Union. From being a disengaged peace-maker, and therefore, a highly influential independent operator in foreign policy, as India was from Nehru to Indira to Rajiv Gandhi, we now have Modi cozying up to the United States in the military sphere as if he were a Liaquat Ali Khan, a Feroze Khan Noon or a civilian Ayub Khan/ Yahya/ Zia-ul-Haq. That is the real story behind the recent Obama visit that has dragooned India into the disputes of others in the South China Sea.

One final warning and I am done. Cold War I was a far-away war, the potential battle-field being Europe. Cold War II is much nearer. It is burgeoning on our doorstep. If it comes to hot war, the most likely battle-field will be India. Is that how we wish to transmogrify the India of Mahatma Gandhi by the time we reach the centenary of our Independence?

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