Seeing US special envoy to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Richard Holbrooke go week-kneed in Pakistan has left most security analysts in India shocked. They are dumbfounded as to how could the all powerful US, now as a matter of routine, prostate in front of Pakistanis when in their “physical” proximity.
But to be sincere, I am not amused a bit. Come on, what did we expect…Holbrooke will go out and lambaste Pakistan after lunching on their Mutton Korma (A friend suggested that the US honchos frequent Pakistan, not just to make the usual noises about terror and al Qaeda but also because they just can’t resist the frontier cuisine…well?)
Just hours after he told Pakistan’s Geo News: "His (JuD chief Hafiz Saeed’s) release has disturbed us all," and that he would take up the matter with the Pakistani government.
Holbrooke, without batting an eyelid, reversed his stand at a joint press conference with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Foreign M
inister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, saying it was Islamabad's "internal issue."
If you missed out on what he said in Islamabad…here is the pièce de résistance:
"I don't want to comment on the issue at this press conference. It is Pakistan's internal issue. That's all I can say," he said, when asked to comment on Saeed's release.
What happened to you Mr Holbrooke; President Obama’s chosen one to bring the US troops out of the mess that’s Afghanistan – and did anyone hear anything about Osama? Oh no one, actually it has been quite sometime since I heard anything serious being said about the al Qaeda boss…Hmmm, good old Bush days, I surely miss them; if not for anything but at least for those amazing stories about him being in a cave “somewhere” on the Af-Pak border, forever plotting against the West.
Yes, that’s the point. The America that chose someone, with whose father they wouldn’t have dined just 50 years ago, expects him to leverage his middle name “Hussien” in the Arab world and ensure that the US Army comes back home – not in body bags - soon…no matter what!
Barack Obama, to be honest, is someone who I deeply appreciate and look up to, not just because of his oratory, but also because he is someone who has dared to dream and dream big. Here’s a man who not like many of his recent predecessors at the White House is sincerely attempting to bridge the every widening gorge between us and them…between the West and the Muslims.
He for sure has started on a positive note by trying to look neutral while trying to heal the Achilles heel: Israel-Palestine conflict.
But he knows that it’s only 1/3rd of the picture; the other being Iran and the Af-Pak.
Let’s, for now, focus on the Af-Pak as we had started with Mr Holbrooke’s ramblings and his conduct in Pakistan.
Obama and his panel of advisors including the baggage from the Bush era, Robert Gates, are clearly thinking in unison on what their immediate priority is – to rein-in the Taliban lest they go on rampage in Afghanistan against the already fatigued Allied Forces or worse dig their way to the nuke button. As indeed the Taliban is covertly, but surely trying to lay its hands on the nukes.
If not a mega bomb at least something that is remotely nuclear for they and their brother-in-arms Osama knows the deterrent value of “the Little Boys and the Fat Mans” and for inspiration there’s always North Korea and Iran to look up to.
And, for Americans to have some control over the “happenings” in Pakistan, they have to keep Zardari and his gang, including the cigar puffing General Kayani, in good humour.
So what we have in result is: A meek looking Holbrooke tamely excusing him from saying anything on Hafiz Saeed – someone who has been branded as a terrorist by none less than the UN itself.
Really, seeing Holbrooke during that press conference, I felt, he was nervously looking at Zardari and his men after every word as if to ensure that they are approving of his blabbering. It was as if they were holding Holbrooke at gunpoint and then asking him to go strictly by what’s agreed upon during the lunch, one wrong word and boom!
Who knows, he might also be conjecturing - given today’s age of Live News – that if he, by mistake, says anything remotely pro-India when on the pious soil would tempt someone in downtown Islamabad to pull the shutter down on his Biryani center, start his truck, fill it with 100 kilograms of RDX and ram it into where he stood positioning Washington’s South Asia policy.
That’s why, why would he do something that amateurish, when he always has the option – in line with the US tradition – of saying something in Islamabad, its diagonally opposite while in Delhi and then take a 360 degree turn after returning to the safe environs by the Potomac.
Moreover, he is in Pakistan not to seek justice for India, he is there for those perfect photo-ops when he offers Uncle Sam’s healing touch to those poor hapless Pakistanis displaced by the war that’s being waged by the Pak Army for the US in SWAT and NWFP.
And, even as we watch in horror, Holbrooke goes on with his “job” of patting the Pak Army on its back for fighting for the US, martyring its soldiers for the bigger cause. To make the deal sweeter, he also offers another USD 200 million as aid.
So what has India got in the bargain?
In one word…nothing. Here are the “change” crusaders from across the Atlantic who can’t stick to their word and expect us to be contented with the occasional inducements meant to keep us happy.
Sample this: "Well, we continue to impress upon the Government of Pakistan the importance of bringing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice," Assistant Secretary of State, Philip J Crowley told reporters in Washington just hours after Mr Holbrooke’s stoic silence in Islamabad.
I am sure “someone” from the Obama administration would have, by now, worked the lines and told New Delhi…guys don’t worry, what Holbrooke said in Islamabad was for their internal consumption.
‘We still are with you and will help you bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to the gallows, but have patience and let Mr Obama first play his biggest game - making up with the Islamic world – something which will also help you in the long run’.
And, New Delhi, the ever so obedient friend would “understand” and not raise the issue of Pakistan’s double standard as it goes on with differentially dealing with extremists on its western and eastern borders.
India would be expected to play slow for now and be happy with statements like the one made by the Assistant Secretary of State Crowley and Pakistan’s latest announcement that they will appeal against the release of Hafiz Saeed in the Supreme Court.
But, the catch here is that India, while trying to “understand” the game is unwittingly playing into the hands of the US. The Nehruvian principle of having our own independent foreign policy is now all but forgotten and here we are, perpetually looking for cues from Washington on what’s good for us and what’s bad.
Like the latest travel advisory by the US to its citizens, cautioning them against traveling to India, as the Pentagon feels that there is considerable threat from terrorism in India.
Don’t we know it Mr Obama that India is perpetually on the terror hit-list? We have a very able man in P Chidambaram to keep our house in order; please don’t give us advice on one hand and a offer a long rope on the other to Pakistan…that hurts, really.
But, officially, we are waiting for the Kabab loving Indophile Hillary Clinton to arrive and help us better “understand” what’s going on in our neighbourhood and whether we are still in those good books of America that gave us the nuke deal.
Till then, let’s watch the show and try to fathom what’s happening in the US of A, Pakistan and nearer still in the South Block because, although unacknowledged, today’s Hafiz Saeed and the Lashkar-e-Toiba have an eerie resemblance to the Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda that fought the Russians and when they fled, focused their energy on the World Trade Center.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)