NEW DELHI - This week, India’s feisty press was gleefully speculating that Pakistan’s embattled President Pervez Musharraf, better known here as `Mush,’ was about to be kicked out by his erstwhile patrons in Washington and replaced by another senior general deemed even more responsive to US policy.
There is indeed growing anger at Musharraf in Washington. The Bush Administration, stuck in an aimless war in Afghanistan, blames Musharraf for its problems and for not crushing Pashtun resistance in Pakistan’s tribal belt. But he has already pushed Pakistan close to civil war in an effort to answer US demands. It’s getting hard to tell who is angrier at the beleaguered general, his own people or Washington.
This week, in an amazingly obtuse move, Musharraf sacked his nation’s respected chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, for daring to inquire into the fate of political prisoners. This disgraceful act, and new press restrictions, ended any democratic pretenses by Musharraf’s regime and left Pakistan looking like a banana republic. It also stood in glaring contrast to India’s vibrant democracy, free press and independent judiciary.
High level sources here tell me Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s able government feels there’s little point conducting serious negotiations with Musharraf over divided Kashmir since he is on the defensive and in deep disfavor with the US. In any event, India has no intention whatsoever of acceding to Musharraf’s latest idea for some sort of autonomy in its portion of Kashmir.
India already has what it wants in Kashmir and sees no reason to negotiate it away. With Musharraf and Pakistan now in the US dog house, Delhi is even less inclined to offer meaningful concessions to Pakistan beyond more confidence building measures and making the Line of Control more porous to trade and travel.
Significantly, Delhi has also concluded that the US and NATO war to dominate Afghanistan has failed. The western powers will withdraw their troops, sooner, think Indian strategists, than later.
India should know. It has hundreds of agents from its intelligence agency, RAW, inside Afghanistan and has spent nearly $1 billion there for `reconstruction,’ a euphemism for renting influence with anti-Pakistani Tajiks, Hazara, and Uzbeks.
Interestingly, in spite of thawing political relations between Delhi and Beijing, Indian military sources still harbor deep concerns over China’s steady expansion of military, economic and political influence into Pakistan, Burma, Central Asia, and the Indian Ocean. India’s military vividly recalls its sharp defeat by China in their 1962 mountain war.
By contrast to backsliding Pakistan, old rival India is full of pep and optimism. Its still-to-be confirmed strategic alliance with the US, and George Bush’s blessing of India’s hitherto `rogue’ nuclear arsenal, was greeted by Indians as their coming of age as a world power. China met the news with quiet anger and concern. The US has made plain that old ally Pakistan will not be accorded the same preferential treatment given to India.
Right on cue, the new Delhi-Washington alliance produced glowing stories about India in the US establishment media. India is the latest gold rush site for western businessmen and a must-go for trendy tourists.
But behind all the media hoopla over India, this vast continent remains two distinct nations. The smaller one is the vibrant, westernized urban India. The other is still a vast collection of disparate peoples, faiths and languages that remains mired in rural poverty. Nearly 400 million of India’s one billion people subsist on less than $1 daily, and another 200 million are only slightly better off. Health care and education are a shambles. India’s $728 per capita income ranks just above sub-Saharan Africa.
Bollywood, space programs and nuclear Viagra notwithstanding, India cannot advance as far and rapidly as it desires until it solves the awesome problems of rural poverty, dilapidated infrastructure, and the malign, ingrained caste system which relegates darker-skinned Indians to a life of serfdom, malnutrition, abuse, and widespread child labor.
China conquered its social ills by enforcing drastic reforms and is way ahead of India by most measures – except in democracy and personal freedoms. India’s democratic governments struggles to advance reforms through a morass of squabbling federal and state politicians and armies of nasty petty bureaucrats.
Fortunately, India’s recent governments, both Congress and BJP, finally ditched 1950’s British socialism and crippling regulations that hobbled this great nation for so long, releasing India’s latent economic power and productivity.
Small wonder Indians are feeling so confident these days while Pakistanis are down in the dumps.