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Volume 3, No. 8 - January 2004

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SAARC, Sub-Continent and the US
K. N. Pandita

The SAARC summit is in progress. There are loud voices of Islamabad summit being a great success. Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan, after their meeting prior to the summit have labeled it a great success. But the atmosphere that prevails in Islamabad is one focusing on Indo-Pak relations overshadowing the presence and the role of the rest of SAARC countries.

This is not a good sign. Indo-Pak relations are so overbearing that the rest of the countries feel they are held hostages to these. This should not happen and instead the other countries should have the scope to play the great mediating role.

However, what we find on the ground is that not the smaller SAARC countries but the US, the lone super power, is playing the important role behind the curtain. It is nothing new and not surprising. But it does leave the smaller countries with an impression that their presence in SAARC is a fragile decision hardly making any big difference to them in terms of regional alignments as these exist today. It is not a healthy sign.

As the foreign ministers met to deal with the pre-summit preliminaries, President Bush of the US came out with a statement, partly meaningful and partly non-serious. That is how the American diplomacy functions. He hoped that India and Pakistan would move towards resolution of their long-standing differences through peaceful means.

This much is usual rhetoric. But then he added a very significant sentence. He said that his administration was convinced that both India and Pakistan exercised desired control on their nuclear arsenal.

This statement has to be understood not in isolation but in the background of President Bush’s veiled warning to Iran to (a) abandon its nuclear programme and dismantle the nuclear structure, and (b) hand over the Al-Qaeda men now in Iran’s custody.

Only weeks ago, sections of American media had hinted that Pakistan had facilitated development of nuclear technology in North Korea and Iran. Soon after that, voices were heard saying that Libya was also among the nuclear beneficiaries of Pakistan.

American pressures on Libya dramatically increased after the capture of Saddam Hussain of Iraq. However, for public consumption, it was said that Libya and UK had been negotiating for last six months or more Libyan programme of winding up its nuclear capability.

Finally, Ghaddafi, realizing the fate of Saddam and his country and also realizing that the much talked about Islamic ummah’s solidarity and fight against the so-called Great Satan were only hollow slogans, decided to eschew defiance and bent backward.

Bush is trying to float the diplomatic finesse. A few weeks earlier, it was planted in the American print media that Pakistan was the source of providing part of crucial nuclear know-how to Iran. But today while warnings are doled out to Iran for pursuing her nuclear programme, Pakistan receives encomium for exercising control on her nuclear arsenal. These are two most contradictory situations and statements. 

Bush means to convey a message to Pakistan that he is not going to touch her that soon on the question of the ‘Islamic bomb’ but he is not gong to allow any other Islamic country, Iraq, Libya or Iran to develop the bomb. Does it mean that he would not want to open the two fronts against Islamic jihadis at one and the same time? Does it mean that he will allow Pakistan, the mother of Islamic jihadi organizations, move headlong towards a full-fledged civil war and internal disorder arising out of intrinsic contradictions in that society? One can draw any conclusion.

The essential purpose of Pakistan in providing clandestinely part of nuclear technology to Iran is to see that Iran becomes nuclear and thus provides added nuclear arm to anti-American force in the Gulf. Obviously, Pakistan has the pat from China for this decision. The importance of Gawadar in the Persian Gulf is not hidden from the eyes of the Chinese who were first to invest about a billion dollar in its development as a deep-sea port.

Yet one more strategic objective of the policy planners in Pakistan is to create another nuclear rival to India in the region. Iran has been playing friends with India for some time while going ahead with her nuclear strategy. This obviously is the new regional policy of Pakistan to counter India’s growing influence in Afghanistan and the southern states of Central Asia.

Bush has the compulsion to give a clean chit to Pakistan failing which, the nuclear bomb can fall into the hands of the jihadis at one or the other point of time. About two months back, America press did speak of the US’ desire of controlling Pak’s nuclear structure in order to be absolutely sure that there were no chances of the deadly weapon falling in the hands of the Islmists. But then came a loud and clear statement from General Pervez Musharraf that there should be no doubts in the mind of any body about Pakistan having absolute control of her nuclear arsenal. The murmurs of the Americans taking over the control began to recede.

It is just possible that President Bush has indicated that the US would want the SAARC countries to elicit an undertaking from both India and Pakistan that they will not use nuclear bomb against each other. A commitment by the two countries over the matter would be a big relief for George W Bush because it would mean that he could deal more firmly with the situation in Afghanistan, Central Asia and elsewhere in the region.

That Iran will have to dismantle her nuclear programme and hand over the Al-Qaeda fugitives is a foregone conclusion. The US is effectively addressing the Islamic terror around he globe, through diplomacy, through stratagem and through the use of force depending on ground situation. The fact that Pakistan has agreed to the anti-terrorist protocol in the agenda for the summit is a clear indication that the US has been exerting pressures in her own interests. This, at least, is he outcome of he recent two attempts on the life of Pakistani President in Islamabad.

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