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Where Democracy Does Not Suit New Delhi

Where Democracy Does Not Suit New Delhi

By J. Sri Raman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Guess the place from where President Pervez Musharraf, or General (Retired) Musharraf as jeering opponents refer to him these days, has received unexpected support against Pakistan's pro-democracy struggle? Answer: New Delhi, capital of the neighbor often billed as a leading democracy of the world and an almost lone one in South Asia.

India's National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan has extended support, of an egregious if indirect kind, by making a statement against former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), even as she was campaigning for the general election due on January 8. In a television interview the other day, he voiced a clear preference for the President, pressured into doffing his uniform and doggedly resisting demands for fully free and fair elections, over the leader of Pakistan's largest political party.

Narayanan claimed - implied - that he was campaigning in India's interest. He said Bhutto's "track record is not necessarily something that would make us believe that she will follow to the letter and the spirit what she has said," obviously about mending ties with India. He also expressed doubt whether she would have a "free hand in doing all the things that she wishes to do."

Evidently, it was Musharraf whom Narayanan expected to deny a "free hand" to Bhutto, if and when returned to power. This, however, did not prevent him - or the rest of India's external affairs policy establishment - from sounding as partisan a spectator of Pakistan's polls as the Pakistan Muslim League (Qaid-e Azam) or the PML(Q), the President's puppet party.

The primary rationale offered for this stance presumes that Musharraf is the best bet for the India-Pakistan peace process. Shorn of all frills, the argument is that only a military dictator can steer Pakistan into accepting peace with India. More than self-righteousness mars this argument. What flaws it more fundamentally is the practical experience of the peace-loving people of both the countries during the peace process to which Narayanan and other official saviors of national security claim to be devoutly committed.

As the director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, retired Indian army major general Dipankar Banerjee, puts it: "In recent years Musharraf was seen in India as somebody who was constructive on the critical issues between India and Pakistan, and especially on Kashmir, and therefore somebody that India could do business with." The suggestion in such statements, again, is that compulsions of democracy will not allow any elected rulers of Pakistan to be so "constructive."

All this misses the main point about the peace process. While the process has given the two countries more railway and road transport links, it has not spelled any drop in defense expenditures and, more importantly, any scaling down of nuclear militarism on either side. The process, in fact, has always appeared to rest on an unsigned pact of presenting a common front as "responsible nuclear-weapon states" that can be trusted with their arsenals of mass destruction weapons and their arms race of the most reckless kind.

Even as Narayanan and company were talking about the major importance of Musharraf, the subcontinent has witnessed yet another stage in this arms race. On November 26, India made a bid to join the missile defense club. It successfully test-fired a medium range nuclear-capable missile to intercept another in the air. The missile shot down a Prithvi-II missile of a similar range, fired a minute later over the Bay of Bengal. The surface-to-surface missile with a range of 250 km and a capacity to carry nuclear warheads had been tested a week before.

On December 11, Pakistan test-fired a new cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons. The missile named Hatf-VII (or Babur), has a range of 700 km. On December 15, India replied with a successful test of a surface-to-air, nuclear-capable Akash missile. Both India and Pakistan claim that they have proven themselves as "responsible" nuclear powers by informing each other in advance of such missile tests, and both swear that the arms race does not affect the "peace process," distancing themselves from the common people's idea of what constitutes peace.

India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has often claimed that his government does not believe in "export of our ideology of democracy," though New Delhi does not disagree when Washington talks of a US-India "strategic partnership" in the cause of democracy. Non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, however, cannot be equated with the policy of taking sides against pro-democracy forces in the country's neighborhood. Narayanan has been pulled up for talking out of turn before but, notably, his pronouncement on Pakistan has not provoked a rebuke or clarification from higher quarters.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has not sided with the pro-democracy camp in Bangladesh either. Not only has it not raised its voice against the re-emergence of military rule in this country under the cover of a caretaker government, New Delhi has continued to maintain a discreet silence even when two former prime ministers of Bangladesh, including Sheikh Haseena Wajed of a pro-India political reputation, are languishing in prison. The custodians of India's security actually argue that as in Pakistan's case, military rule in Bangladesh may not be incompatible with India's interests.

New Delhi was to host Bangladesh army chief Moeen U Ahmed, who proclaimed not long ago that his country would not return to "electoral democracy." His visit has been postponed, but India's security think-tank sticks to its stand that the army in Bangladesh will do more to deny sanctuaries to the separatists of India's northeast than any elected government in Dhaka.

Friendship with military rulers is expected to further India's interests, primarily economic in this case, in Burma as well. New Delhi showed utter disdain for the long-oppressed Burmese people, when it sent its Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to Rangoon on September 23, at the height of the pro-democracy struggle there, in order to witness the signing of contracts between Indian and Myanmar oil firms for three deep-water exploration blocks.

Similarly insensitive has been the timing of an honor conferred in New Delhi the other day upon Nepal's army chief Rookmangal Katawal. The controversial officer was given the rank of an Indian army general, regardless of the inevitable repercussions in the Himalayan state. The investiture ceremony in the palace of India's president coincided with a campaign by several political parties in Nepal against the attempts of royalists to resurface, reassert themselves, and reverse the process of democracy.

In South Asia as elsewhere, peace cannot coexist with anti-democracy policies any more than with nuclear weapons. This is self-evident to millions, for whom Narayanan and other mandarins of Manmohan Singh do not speak. India, however, needs a campaign to be convinced of this truth.


A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.

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