**OT** The elephant and the pekinese (From the Economist)|
( Bill Clinton's visit, beginning on March 19th, is being seen as a proof of the emergence of India as an economic and strategic powerhouse in Asia. There's just one problem-Pakistan )
SHIV NADAR is a bicontinental billionaire. His firm, HCL Technologies, writes Internet software and manages networks for western companies, a business that has Mr Nadar shuttling between Noida, a business park near Delhi, and Sunnyvale, California. A video link between Noida and one of his American customers, a Connecticut-based dot.com company, is turned off and on as casually as a light switch, says Mr Nadar. Connecticut "has to feel like the next room."
Mr Nadar's high-tech light switch tells you a lot about why Bill Clinton is going to the subcontinent, the first visit by an American president in 22 years. Mr Clinton will spend part of a day in Bangladesh and a tense few hours with Pakistan's new military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, but the focus is India. There he will spend five days celebrating India's democracy, appreciating its high-tech prowess and posing before its monuments. The message will be that India matters in a way it did not when it was merely a democratic but impoverished giant. India is that still, but in the past decade it has opened up its economy and raised its growth rate. More recently it has added the pzazz of high-tech mastery and the chilling majesty of a nuclear-weapons capability. A geopolitical orphan for too long, India now seeks a leading role in Asian and global councils. It expects to be recognised as "a factor for stability in Asia", says its foreign minister, Jaswant Singh.
It is not that simple. For India is also fighting a low-level proxy war with Pakistan in Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state that both countries claim. On both sides there are threats of escalation, which could lead to the world's first full-scale war between nuclear powers. Pakistan?s military-led government is tolerated by the United States only because it is thought to be an alternative to something far worse, rule by Islamic extremists. As Mr Clinton remarked ten days before heading to Delhi, South Asia is "the most dangerous place in the world right now."
India has more or less told him to shut up in public about the subcontinent's perils. The discontent with Indian rule in Kashmir is an internal matter, the dispute with Pakistan a bilateral one. When Mr Clinton meets General Musharraf, India expects him to dress the general down. The president will not be asked to mediate, and it seems that his appeals for new talks with Pakistan will be resisted. The American Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has undermined efforts to get India to sign it. Most of what Mr Clinton has to say about Kashmir and India's nuclear weapons will have to be said in private.
Both sides say the visit is for building trust rather than making breakthroughs. The Americans evidently hope that by biting their tongues now, at least in public, they can make gradual progress on headline issues such as non-proliferation and the Indo-Pakistan conflict. Progress on issues such as energy, health and the environment "can help create space for constructive activity in other areas over time," says the American ambassador to India, Richard Celeste. But can India, Pakistan and the world afford to wait?
From non-alignment to convergence
Trust between the United States and India was an early casualty of the cold war. In 1956 the American secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, called India?s position of non-alignment "immoral", and the United States then went on to find sound geopolitical reasons for cosying up to Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, India became a good friend of the Soviet Union. But since the early 1990s, despite the setback of India?s 1998 nuclear tests, Indian and American interests have slowly converged.
The public reason, about which there will be much hullaballoo during this visit, is economic. Since 1991, when a balance-of-payments crisis threatened, India has been shedding its socialist legacies. It has opened up its economy to world trade and started to privatise, albeit too slowly in both respects. The coming to power two years ago of Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the coalition government, has probably hastened that process. Although the Hindu-nationalist party has a xenophobic streak, it has also been friendlier to business and more hostile to communism than the opposition Congress party, which dominated Indian politics for most of its past 50 years of independence. High-tech businesses like HCL Technologies help enormously by showing that India has more to gain than lose from competing in the global marketplace. Perhaps for the first time since inventing the zero, India has a hot product to sell and can keep the profits for itself.
All this is entwining India with the rest of the world, and especially with the United States, in new ways. Software exports are growing at a rate of 50% a year, and around two-thirds of them go to the United States. Much of that is serviced by Indians on temporary work visas; India gets about a third of these, and hopes that Mr Clinton will increase them. Indian companies are listing on American stock exchanges; Indian Americans, an increasingly rich community, are lobbying on behalf of India in their adopted country and investing in their native land. A global bidding war has broken out for Indian brains.
Increasingly, these days, India is being treated with more respect in economic councils. When new-economy issues, such as e-commerce, come up at the World Trade Organisation, India and the United States find themselves on the same side. On old-economy issues, ideological clashes have given way to tough-minded bargaining. India supports a Millennium Round of trade talks, but rejects the United States' linkage of trade to labour standards. The Indians want faster liberalisation of the textile and clothing trades; the United States wants better enforcement of intellectual- property protection.
Few, if any, of these disputes will be solved during Mr Clinton's visit. There is some heady talk of an Indo-American free-trade agreement, an idea Mr Singh thinks worth exploring. But there are limits to any economic partnership. Like dot.com shares, India's economy is more exciting for its potential than for its current performance. Though it is the world's fifth-largest economy in terms of purchasing power, it accounts for less than 1% of world trade and attracted just $2.5 billion in foreign direct investment in 1998, about a twentieth of China?s. The United States has a bigger economic stake in India than any other single country, but would barely notice if that commerce dried up.
The second point of convergence between Indian and American interests is one that may get no public mention on this visit. It is this: that some strategists are beginning to think of India as a counterweight to China. The world is beginning to notice that India has nearly the same number of people as China, plus a more benign system of government and no designs on its neighbours. China-hawks in both India and America dream of a "strategic partnership" between the two great democracies.
That will not happen, at least not soon. Both countries have reason to be wary of China. It supplied much of Pakistan's nuclear-weapons technology and beat India in a 1962 war; in places their borders are still disputed. China menaces Taiwan, an American friend, and could someday threaten other allies. Yet neither India nor the United States wants their friendship to be seen as the start of an anti-China axis. India is trying to end the chill that set in after 1998, when it declared China to be the main target of its nuclear weapons. The United States wants to "engage" China, not isolate it. Some people, such as Richard Haass, of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank, wonder whether India and the United States can agree on an approach to Asia, and thus to China. Maybe not. Nonetheless, both must be aware that today's friendship could become tomorrow's alliance if China turns hostile, a relationship "that's there in time of need", as Mr Haass obliquely puts it.
Thanks to its economic and strategic potential, India has become something of a belle at the geopolitical ball less than two years after offending the world by declaring itself a nuclear power. Pascal Lamy, the European Union's new trade commissioner, made India his first stop this month outside the three biggest of the EU's trading partners. Mr Vajpayee is to attend an EU summit in Lisbon in June. Mr Haass, who is tipped for a top job should the Republicans win the American presidential election, says that the Indo-American relationship "will be more important to the next administration." There is speculation that the Republican candidate-apparent, George W. Bush, will visit India before the election.
India's foreign minister, Mr Singh, would like to parlay this attention into a bigger role for India abroad. India has links to ASEAN and APEC, the two main Asian country groupings, but is a full member of neither. Mr Singh thinks India ought to belong to the "six-plus-two" group of countries trying to settle Afghanistan's civil war. And of course he has his eye on the ultimate prize, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The United States may be amenable to some of this. Mr Haass, for one, thinks councils of "countries that count" could be expanded to include India. But the burden of history is not so easily shed. Mr Haass points out that the Indian-American relationship lacks the "warm, vague feelings" that sustain older friendships. He expects Japan and Korea to remain the basis of stability in Asia. Many Indians do not see a strategic embrace as a result of this visit. Mr Singh calls the trip "directional, not so much destinational".
Nuclear weapons will remain the biggest inhibition. The two countries have agreed to disagree about India's nuclear status; India will not sign the CTBT quickly (and some scientists are urging more tests, which would be a diplomatic disaster), but it is co-operating with the United States on issues such as the control of nuclear exports. There is much international scepticism about India's ability to manage a nuclear arsenal safely, and it is Indian and Pakistani nukes that stop the Kashmir conflict from being a little local difficulty. These issues will brake India's geopolitical progress. One American diplomat describes permanent membership of the Security Council as a "very big carrot". To support India's bid with enthusiasm "would require a much cooler situation in South Asia."
The Kashmir tussle
President Clinton will be lucky to have any influence on the impasse over Kashmir. This is not Kosovo, where the United States could lead an intervention to end a civil war, nor is it Chechnya, where outsiders can only wring their hands. In the Middle East, Israel has come to value peace more highly than land, and so has been willing to strike bargains with its enemies. That is not so in Kashmir, whose fate is bound up in the founding principles of India and Pakistan.
India is basically satisfied with the two-thirds of the state it held on to after its first war with Pakistan in October 1947. To surrender it would undermine India's idea of itself as a multi-religious, secular state. Pakistan wants "self-determination" for the Muslim-majority state, in effect a choice between itself and India (though many Kashmiris might prefer neither). The proxy war it sponsors there is ruinous to its economy, bad for its diplomacy and has little prospect of dislodging India. Yet it perseveres because to stop would mean surrender.
These contradictions were briefly finessed a year ago, when Mr Vajpayee took a bus to Lahore and agreed with Pakistan's then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to settle all their disputes, including Kashmir, peacefully. Whether India really intended to negotiate about Kashmir, which it regards as an integral part of its territory, may never be known because, even before Lahore, Pakistan had secretly sent "freedom fighters" and its own troops to occupy positions near Kargil, well inside India's part of Kashmir, in effect shifting the "line of control" that had been the provisional border. India dislodged them last summer with a combination of force and diplomatic pressure. Mr Sharif has since been ousted in a coup by General Musharraf, whom Indians regard as the mastermind of the Kargil occupation.
To Pakistanis, the general is still a cipher. When seizing power last October, he promised to restore "true democracy" and to renovate Pakistan's corroded institutions. He has made some progress, by prosecuting corrupt figures from past regimes and moving towards local elections at the end of this year. Civil servants are showing up to work on time, a sign of at least some improvement in administration. But the military-led government often blights its claim to be liberal. This week, for example, it charged the wife of the deposed prime minister with treason for speaking against the government.
There are worries, as well, about the economy. Although exports and imports are both rising, the government has not done enough, especially on widening the tax base, to attract a long-awaited team from the IMF. Without an IMF imprimatur, Pakistan will face another cash crisis when its current debt-rescheduling agreements run out. Many Pakistanis read Mr Clinton's decision to stop by, however briefly, as a vote of confidence in the government and hence in the economy. That is a mistake. Mr Clinton is more likely to scold General Musharraf, and he could threaten to link IMF funds to regional good behaviour.
The dislodging of the Kargil fighters has not brought peace. Instead, the Pakistan-sponsored militancy has intensified; more members of India's security forces died in Kashmir last year than in any year since the insurgency began a decade ago. India refuses to talk to Pakistan until it ends its backing for violence. Pakistan is willing to talk, but disclaims responsibility for the violence and has distanced itself from earlier agreements, which pledge the two sides to settle their differences peacefully and bilaterally.
This looks like a stalemate, but could easily become something worse. Pakistan could step up the insurgency once spring clears the mountain passes of snow, or perhaps even try another Kargil. Or Indian patience could snap. India's defence minister, George Fernandes, who has talked of the possibility of a limited conventional war against Pakistan, says that, at the current level of provocation, India will not cross the line of control. In the case of another Kargil, though, he "cannot completely rule it out." Other top Indian officials downplay this tough military talk. But the logic of escalation has no certain terminus short of nuclear war.
Mr Clinton is unlikely to observe strictly the Indian ban on third-party involvement. "We can facilitate without being facilitators" and without "in any way going beyond the wishes of India and Pakistan," says one American diplomat. America's fondest wish is to resurrect the Lahore commitment to settle matters with talks, not guns. Failing that, Mr Clinton may push for more limited talks on ways to avoid accidental war, conventional or nuclear. Perhaps he will privately solicit a commitment by India to reduce its armed strength in Kashmir in return for a marked de-escalation of the Pakistan-backed insurgency. He will certainly urge India to maintain its policy of restraint in responding to Pakistan's provocations.
But no one on the subcontinent can breathe easily as long as those provocations continue. India did not want the president to stop in Islamabad, but his message to General Musharraf is likely to be one India would endorse: rein in the Kashmiri militancy, resume the Lahore process and chart a course for restoring democracy. (Mr Clinton also wants the general to push Afghanistan's Taliban government to hand over an alleged terrorist, Osama bin Laden, an item lower down on India's wish-list.)
General Musharraf's willingness to do any of this depends partly on his conscience but largely on how he weighs up various threats to his rule. The United States has leverage, largely in the form of western aid to prop up Pakistan's economy, but the country's hawks, including Islamic fundamentalists, seem to have more. They put a quick stop to talk of Pakistan signing the CTBT, for example. General Musharraf seems to be betting that the United States will indulge him because the alternative is worse. As for curbing the Kashmiri insurgency, General Musharraf claims to be unable to (the militant groups do what they want), is probably afraid to (lest the militants take revenge) and probably does not want to. Peace, he realises, can only strengthen India's hold on Kashmir.
If India were wise, it would seek to reconcile Pakistan and the Kashmiri people to that outcome. Instead, the alienation is deepening. According to Ravi Nair of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre in Delhi, incidents of torture and "extra-judicial killing" have gone up since Kargil. Cordon-and-search operations, which had been narrowed to spare civilians, have again become less discriminate, says Mr Nair. If General Musharraf had any inclination to discourage insurgency, tales of Indian repression would make it harder.
There are rumours in Delhi that the government is seeking to open a dialogue with separatist Kashmiri leaders, most of whom are in jail. They are said by Indian sources to be tired of insurgency and of Pakistan's overweening role in it. The idea of a separate peace with the Kashmiri people faces countless obstacles: among them, the Indian government's alliance with a state government widely regarded as corrupt and ineffectual, and the repression-breeding insurgency. The better the atmosphere within Kashmir, however, the harder it will be for Pakistan to justify its reckless proxy war.
Mr Clinton may well leave the subcontinent uncertain whether to feel hope, anxiety or despair. The challenge of doing justice to India's strengths while curbing, without seeming to, its disruptive impulses would test anyone's acumen. It is even harder to make any headway with Pakistan, a country that is unstable in every sense. The two nuclear neighbours, so keen to show the president their good sides, are locked in a spiral of bad behaviour that Mr Clinton can do very little to change. He will soon know the truth of that at first hand.