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New Delhi marches to Bush tune




Shastri Ramachandaran

Senior Assistant Editor of The Times of India, New Delhi

TFF associate


December 13, 2002

The national security strategy (NSS) of president Bush, unveiled on September 20, has been seized by the government of India to assert its own right to "pre-emptive strikes". This is a qualitative leap from the doctrine of deterrence. Yet the difference between pre-emptive strike and deterrence has been blurred with the declaration, on September 30, in Washington by Indian finance minister Jaswant Singh that "Pre-emption or prevention is inherent in deterrence".

This comes three days after Washington had asked India to show restraint despite Pakistan continuing cross-border terrorism, and underscores that New Delhi is determined to make the most of the NSS report. This is certain to heighten tension in the region especially with hostile rhetoric being revived in the aftermath of the attack on the Swaminarayan Temple complex in Gujarat on September 24. "

Where there is deterrence there is pre-emption. The same thing is there in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter which calls it 'the right to self-defence'," declared Singh after meeting US secretary of state Colin Powell and policy planing director, Richard Haas. Singh, who discussed the "doctrine" of pre-emption or prevention with US officials, said, "It is not the prerogative of any one country. Pre-emption is the right of any nation to prevent injury to itself".

Although Singh is no longer at the helm of foreign affairs - that portfolio being the charge of Yashwant Sinha - his remarks echoing Colin Powell and Bush, and extending the concept of pre-emptive strikes as a prerogative of countries other than the United States has implications for South Asia. Powell has already stated, including before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that pre-emptive strikes could be applied to terrorists or to a country.

It is obvious what - or, which country - New Delhi has in mind, especially when it has been reiterating that US pressure on Pakistan has failed to end support for terrorist attacks in India. India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and sending terrorists across the border to foment violence in India.

The fact that Singh should have said this while on an entirely different mission as India's finance minister exemplifies New Delhi's identity of views with the US in military and security matters. As a result, the NSS, like the National Missile Defence, far from lowering temperatures in South Asia, will further aggravate India-Pakistan tensions.

It would appear that Washington, despite making Pakistan a staging ground for its war against terrorists in Afghanistan, is strengthening strategic ties with New Delhi. This partnership covers a range of areas from defence training and equipment to intelligence and joint exercises.

A joint India-US naval exercise comprising over 750 US personnel, that began on September 27, is now underway in the Arabian Sea. Codenamed 'Exercise Malabar', it involves, for the first time, a cruiser-destroyer group of warships. The US ships involved are the Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, the Spruance class destroyer USS Paul F Foster and a P-3C patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. Indian participation accounts for two warships, a submarine and a maritime aircraft. The exercises covered a variety of skill areas on which the two navies worked together.

This is a sequel to the first joint military exercise - in more than 40 years, according to some reports - between India and the US conducted in May 2002. The scene for those war games, codenamed 'Balance Iroquois' , was Agra - the venue for failed talks between prime minister Vajpayee and president Musharraf.

These joint exercises reflect the growing miliary cooperation between New Delhi and Washington, marking a clear shift from ties that had prevailed during the Cold War as well as in the years after that till the rise of the Hindu nationalists to political power.

It is not a coincidence that the partnership should grow so rapidly and extensively under a government which harbours people known for their antipathy towards Muslims. In fact, the development is something that the ruling BJP, although then functioning as the Jana Sangh, has aspired for since India's 1962 war with China.

While this may be a dream come true for a section of the BJP leadership, it is bound generate nightmares in "the world's most dangerous place".


© TFF & the author 2002  


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