It is really difficult to understand why South Asia continues to reel under a colonial hangover. For there can be no other explanation for the manner in which South Asian governments succumb to the new colonialists, the US and its allies, on each and every issue. Even more difficult to comprehend is the attitude of the Indian government that seems to forget that it is backed by a powerful state and need not bend and crawl when a firm handshake will do.
Both India and Pakistan will not tolerate a sneeze from the other side without opening a paraphernalia of forensic science but, will stand like dummies when the US manipulates both at will. Pakistan barely squeaks about drone attacks and the manner in which the US has, over and over again, violated its sovereignty, rushing to assure every official American visitor that Islamabad is an ally and a friend and should be treated as such. But then, Pakistan is a small country, weighed under bad policies that legitimised terrorism and violence over the years.
What about India? It is a large country. It is a democracy. It is supposedly growing. Why do governments forget this and turn India turtle for a kick or a pat whenever the Americans so demand.
There is no excuse for Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid actually excusing the US for “snooping” and insisting that its intensive surveillance programme was only a “computer and analysis of patterns”. He went to the extent of supporting the US argument in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations that the surveillance had been used by the Americans to “prevent serious terrorist attacks in several countries”. This support embarrassed the government that fielded a joint secretary to counter the minister’s remarks by admitting that the surveillance was a little more than computer analysis. Even so, instead of a demarche that governments often issue at the drop of a hat, or strong censure, the UPA has decided to soft pedal the issue instead of examining the very serious ramifications of this surveillance.
A second shift in the Indian foreign policy position has become evident after the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to India, recently. Mr Khurshid has now announced that New Delhi is not averse to a role for the Taliban in the peace process in Afghanistan. He chose to make this announcement not in New Delhi or through a MEA statement, but while addressing the 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in the Bruneian capital Bandar Seri Begawan. “This dialogue,” the minister said, “must involve all sections of the Afghan society and armed opposition groups, including the Taliban.” This is a major departure from the Indian position that opposed such a dialogue and insisted that there was no difference between the good and the bad Taliban, as Pakistan had been insisting. The process through which the government changed its position and decided to support talks with the Taliban, has of course not been shared with the country, leading to the assumption that this shift came at the insistence of John Kerry.
A third indication of continuing US pressure was New Delhi’s immediate, in fact, earlier than others, denial of asylum to Edward Snowden. India was on Snowden’s wish list of countries to which he had applied for asylum, but New Delhi denied this request within hours. This despite the fact that India has given political asylum to a large number of persons in the past, including the high-profile Dalai Lama, Tamil separatists and others. In this case, however, the government did not want to sour relations with the US even though it is one of the countries that the Americans have placed under their surveillance scanner.
The leeway given to the West is thus huge and one cannot help think of how often Islamabad and New Delhi are at each other’s throats for being a little out of sync. War drums are beaten and threats and angry words are exchanged before the two agree to ride over the obstacle one more time. But the US can bruise sentiments, override international law, kill citizens, frame individuals and spy on South Asian missions without a murmur of dissent.
And then, we say we are independent, we have thrown the British out, we are sovereign. Sovereignty is not just about territorial boundaries. It is about peoples and mindsets. And clearly, our governments need to shed the mindset of the past to infuse new meaning into a term that has been overused and abused by the political class.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2013.
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