The Indian reaction to the killing of Osama bin Laden has more or less crystallised. It is a multi-vector reaction and hence can be construed as nuanced although not lacking in transparency. The Indian media, on the other hand, have by and large predictably stuck to a one-dimensional track, largely lapping up the White House official versions - ‘more loyal than the King’, so to speak - although, curiously, western media reflects a lot of scepticism about what really might have happened in Abbottabad. Funnily, the retractions by the White House from its own earlier versions of the episode do not even get highlighted in the Indian press coverage. As often enough, the Indian foreign policy establishment seems to have blithely outstripped the ill-informed media honchos in Delhi in thinking through the issues involved.
Five things emerge. One, Indian establishment has unambiguously viewed the killing of Osama as a watershed event in the struggle against terrorism. Two, however, flowing from the above, Delhi has no illusions that the counter-terrorism struggle is a long haul. Three, the official Indian statements have neatly side-stepped the issue of the propriety of the US operation in Abbottabad - whether it is justifiable, consistent with international law, precedent-setting for itself, etc. (Interestingly, Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised the issue of international law). Four, there is absolutely no trace of any smirk on the Indian face or any note of gratification in the Indian official statements that Pakistan’s image lies in tatters today.
This last point is very significant. Is there something ‘extra’ that the India establishment knows about the exact nature of the Abbottabad operation? After all, there are indications available already - and more can be expected in the coming weeks - that the Pakistani establishment wasn’t all that passive a player as is the common media perception in India. The Indian establishment would presumably have the capability to tap into Pakistani signals - remember the famous conversation by Pervez Musharraf while on a visit to Beijing with his deputy in Rawalpindi regarding the Kargil operation? However, conspiracy theories apart, it is a good thing that India hasn’t adopted a ‘triumphalist’ note (except a minor jarring note that HM P Chidambaram stuck in the early hours of the Indian reaction). Why do I say so?
This brings me to the fifth point. Because, I agree with the government thinking that the nascent dialogue with Pakistan which has has just resumed, should not be impaired in any way in the heat of the ‘Osama moment’. The stakes are high that the dialogue must be carried forward. This thinking can be rationalised in terms of tactical considerations as well as strategic foresight. On the tactical side, clearly, scoring a brownie point in the field of rhetoric is a shallow approach.
Second, what is highly probable is that unlike what ill-informed sections of the |Indian media are fancying at the moment, the high probability is that the Barack Obama administration will sooner rather than later pick up the threads of its ‘partnership’ with Pakistan and move on as there is much joint work to be done over the endgame in Afghanistan ahead of the proposed drawdown of US troops in July and second, there are great imponderables in the emergent Persian Gulf security situation that may well demand some focused US-Saudi-Pakistani collaboration in a near term. (Pakistan already provides 30000 personnel, including thousands of ex-servicemen for the security of Bahrain, where, interestingly, the US Fifth Fleet, the military anchorsheet of the entire American strategy in the so-called Greater Middle East, is based.)
In sum, India is being far-sighted in taking all factors into consideration in terms of the time past, time present and time future. Most important, India’s priority ought to lie in realising the strategic objective of making Pakistan a real stakeholder in good-neighbourly relations. Thus, as Siddharth Varadarajan’s highly perceptive dispatch in today’s Hindu underscores, India is looking forward to advancing the dialogue process on the Kashmir issue, amongst other core issues.
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