Those folks in Washington always knew that New Delhi has a fair share of morons — perhaps even more than the share of a capital city. Even then, the announcement about putting a 10-million dollar bounty on Pakistani militant Islamist Hafeez Saeed, made in New Delhi by the visiting US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday takes the cake.
The timing is just superb: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan president Asif Zardari are contemplating a meeting during the latter’s ‘private visit’ to India next Sunday. Goodbye Mr. Singh, Goodbye Mr. Zardari — Sayonara! No way can India-Pakistan dialogue move an inch forward on April 8 when they meet. (That is, assuming Zardari will want to come after what Sherman did.)
Barack Obama has ensured that PM will only have time to talk about Saeed with Zardari. If these Indian and Pakistani leaders thought they could do without the US facilitating their dialogue, they didn’t know what was good for them in the first instance.
Don’t these Washington folks know it takes just a few minutes to get Indians perked up, raring to go? Look at the splendid result Sherman got. Manish Tewari, spokesman of Congress Party is elated that Uncle Sam is a sincere pal, after all. Home Minister P Chidambaram is beside himself, unconsolably agitated about the bad things Pakistan is doing to India. External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna is all excited as if it is all happening on a tennis court. And, of course, Bharatiya Janata Party is not to be left behind. I wonder if this could be a proxy war against the PM.
It can’t be that these well-informed people in our political class don’t know Sherman’s announcement doesn’t change things on the ground. The entire world knew a long time ago that 26/11 was masterminded from Pakistan. So, pray, where is the additionality? Taliban chief Mullah Omar too has a 10-million dollar bounty on his head. So what’s the big deal? Has it made any difference? The American and NATO diplomats are queuing up day and night to do business with him at his earliest convenience.
I would have liked if Sherman came all the way to tell us they had a change of heart and we could have David Headley. Imagine if she had offered Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai: ‘We’ll hand over both Headley and Rana. Fix them like you know how in the tropics till they cry out for their mom; and you guys get to the bottom of this 26/11.’ No, she wouldn’t say anything of that sort. And Headley will take his dark secrets to his grave.
Things were actually looking up for India-Pakistan relations. The climate is distinctly better than ever before in memory, and there is hope that a new phase in the relationship might begin. A long-awaited visit by PM Manmohan Singh to Pakistan was being talked about — even if in whispers. The bold decision by Pakistan to grant MFN status to India promises to be a game changer. The two countries are noticeably reticent despite sustained western attempts to make out that Afghan problem is an India-Pakistan issue.
All that vanished now as wishful thinking. PM Singh has no dearth of detractors in New Delhi who would bray for his (political) blood if he dared to advance the dialogue with Pakistan, leave alone contemplate a visit to Pakistan in a near future.
Why is Washington doing this? It’s no mystery. An India-Pakistan normalization at this juncture significantly boosts Pakistan’s ‘strategic autonomy’ while negotiating the reset of its ties with the US. Washington is desperate to kiss and make up with Islamabad, especially with the timeline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan drawing near. But Islamabad is proving to be tough customer and playing hide and seek — and Obama feels exasperated.
This is political chicanery of the highest grade on the part of the Obama administration. The US officials, on the one hand, lament incessantly that India is the core reason why Pakistan isn’t optimally cooperating with the US; and, that Islamabad is paranoid about the ‘existential threat’ from India. The US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta lamented even yesterday on these lines — while Sherman was effectively telling us that actually US and India could have a joint enterprise to kill Saeed or squeeze Pakistan or both. Amen.
I am aghast at the naivety of our political class. At any rate, I have a point to make to all four of them — Chidambaram, Krishna, Tewari and Rudy. They should have asked, ‘We want Headley, Wendy!’. But they didn’t. Maybe, it isn’t a terribly smart thing to annoy an American envoy.
– April 3, 2012