ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Goodbye to Non-Alignment and All That

The national interest, if defined narrowly, does not make for very good foreign policy. It might make sense, here and now, to try to enlist America on the Indian side of the dispute over Kashmir and to celebrate the turn of events in Afghanistan as a vindication of India's own support for the 'Northern Alliance'. In the long term, however, it demonstrates a shocking combination of strategic myopia and cynicism.

After the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, India was one of the first countries to declare its uncondi-tional support of America’s new ‘war on terrorism’. Not in the least embarrassed by the raised eyebrows in India and abroad, Jaswant Singh offered the US access to Indian airfields, without even waiting for a request. The prime minister of India took out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to declare his sense of identification with Americans. Since then the Vajpayee administration has proceeded to provide moral and logistical support to the US. In one stroke, a senior scholar on south Asian security issues told me jubilantly, 50 years of non-alignment have been wiped away. The only blot on this happy picture, apparently, is that Pakistan has managed to upstage India in the grovelling game, and earned more rewards in the short term: a billion dollars in aid, Apache helicopter gunships, and so on.

It is not difficult to understand why Vajpayee, Jaswant and Advani have taken the line they did. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been deeply implicated in the insurgency in Kashmir. The humiliating and extremely successful hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814, which was taken to Kandahar in 1999, is presumably fresh in the mind of Jaswant Singh, who personally travelled to Afghanistan to underline the Indian capitulation. Moreover, the calculation in Delhi that American anger against the Taliban would also burn the Taliban’s patrons in Pakistan, was not altogether unreasonable in September. Since then, India has gained a measure of diplomatic support: for what these gestures are worth, the US has ‘banned’ the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, bombed a house full of Harkat mujahedeen, and forced Pervez Musharraf to sideline the most pro-Taliban members of his regime. The replacement of the Taliban in Kabul by the so-called Northern Alliance is the culmination of a policy that the Indian government has pursued since the mid-1990s. As such, the line that it is the US that has joined India’s war, rather than the other way around, is only somewhat ludicrous.

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