Superpower retreat: Bowing to N-blackmail
[ TUESDAY, JUNE 04, 2002 11:56:27 PM ]
May 31, 2002 is likely to turn out as fateful a day in history as September 11, 2001, when the superpower was attacked on its home turf.
On the former day, the sole superpower virtually yielded to nuclear blackmail by Pakistan (conveyed by its ambassador to the UN). Instead of taking Pakistan to task as was done in 1990, the US chose to keep silent on the issue. Worse, the US administration obliged Pakistan by recalling its staff from the subcontinent.
Whether this was a momentary loss of nerve on the part of Washington or a permanent cerebral stroke incapacitating the superpower, the next few weeks will tell, as deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld visit the subcontinent.
The advisory of US and western powers to their nationals verged on utter panic. It also brought out two factors which will affect the future, irrespective of any policy reversal by the United States and possible recovery of its confidence. First, in spite of the non-proliferation treaty, the counter-proliferation strategy and the Security Council summit resolution of January 1992, the US and its nuclear allies are in no position to impose nuclear discipline on Pakistan.
The message is loud and clear to other potential rogue states that if they could clandestinely acquire nuclear weapons, then the US and the rest of the international community would keep off. It would confirm the potent role of nuclear weapons in international relations.
The western leaders praised General Musharraf for more than four months for his speech of January 12, 2002 and his commitment to stop cross-border terrorism. Then, on May 31, 2002 they spoke about the possibility of an Indo-Pak war consequent upon the continuing cross-border terrorism. In other words, the sole superpower and its allies were not able to prevail upon Pakistan to abide by its commitment and invoke Security Council resolution 1373 (which mandates states not to support terrorism).
Further, Bin Laden, Mullah Omar and the leadership cadres of the Al-Qaida and the Taliban are today in Pakistan and regrouping their forces. In spite of Pakistan being an ally of the US, the terrorists were able to move from Afghanistan to Pakistan in November-December 2001 before the Indo-Pak border stand-off began and while the Pakistani army fully manned the Afghan border.
Out of 22 leaders of the Al-Qaida, only two are accounted for. Most of the high profile operations of the elite US and British forces on Afghan-Pakistan border have been futile.
The US vice-president and the director of FBI have asserted that new terrorist threats are inevitable and cannot be stopped. Yet, they seem oblivious of the fact that today the epicentre of terrorism is Pakistan, from where the Al-Qaida is busy plotting new attacks on the US.
The Al-Qaida used to proclaim that they had defeated one superpower (the Soviet Union) and they would surely defeat the second (the US). The US’s current indulgent behaviour towards Pakistan would appear to validate their claims.
Lastly, by giving in to Pakistani nuclear blackmail, the US has allowed the nuclearisation of terrorism, thereby encouraging the Al-Qaida and the jehadis to continue their terrorist activities behind the shield of Pakistani nuclear capability. Today, the Al-Qaida and the Taliban may have lost Afghanistan, but they have successfully established themselves in the safe haven of Pakistan, thanks to General Musharraf’s brilliant strategy of claiming to be an ally of the US, while in practice supporting and sustaining the operation of the terrorist groups.
This strategy is derived from the one successfully practised by the Al-Qaida and the jehadis in the eighties in Afghanistan. They derived their weapons, skills and other resources from the US for the purpose of overthrowing Soviet occupation and used them successfully against the US itself. Similarly, using General Musharraf’s professed alliance with the US, the Al-Qaida will derive the necessary wherewithal to wage its war of terrorism.
In this respect, General Musharraf has been hunting with the American hound even while running with the jehadi and Al-Qaida hares.
In these circumstances, the world, as well as India may have to adjust themselves to a new international security paradigm in which the sole superpower does not have the will to commit itself to a war against terrorism or towards effective countering of nuclear blackmail. The present Indian strategy is based on certain assumptions of superpower behaviour.
The May 31 events call for a radical reassessment of our assumptions. The possibility of the US not pursuing the war against terrorism or countering nuclear blackmail has to be factored in our calculations. Many may rejoice in the sole superpower losing its nerve and abdicating its responsibility.
Others may be disoriented by it. For the Al-Qaida and the jehadis, this will be a morale booster and it will be logical to expect them to initiate more terrorist attacks both against India and the US.
The former is far more vulnerable than the latter. It is also possible the Americans may treat this as a temporary loss of nerve and return to their normal superpower behaviour pattern. In that event continuity will be restored, though at significant cost to the US image and credibility.