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India's coercive diplomacy' flounders
Masood Haider  New York

New York 29th June 2002 - When Mexico's representative to the UN Security Council two weeks ago sought an informal meeting of the council to discuss the Kashmir issue, the Indian foreign ministry went into action to thwart any such meeting. It contacted the capitals of the all the 15 member-states of the council. Under immense pressure from Russia, in particular, Mexico backed out from convening such a meeting.

It is, of course, possible that the council may not have been able to take a categorical decision upholding the Kashmiris' right to self-determination as laid down in previous resolutions, because of Russia's veto and the British and the US deference to India. But one thing is clear: India will no longer be able to argue that Kashmir is a bilateral issue. Indeed, the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, made that clear while echoing President Bush's commitment that the US would try to "inspire" a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

When the tragic events of Sept 11 brought many nations together to fight international terrorism, India saw this as an opportunity to exploit the tragedy for its own objective of de-legitimizing the freedom struggle of the Kashmiri people by equating it with terrorism. However, the exercise of "coercive diplomacy" has proved to be a costly affair for India - economically, politically and strategically rather than a diplomatic victory.

Besides "internationalizing" Kashmir, India has ended up validating the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and eroded the repeated threats of a limited war espoused repeatedly by Indian leaders and generals in recent months.

When Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations, Munir Akram, refused to endorse India's hollow commitment of "no first use " of nuclear weapons at a recent press conference, the issue went on the front burner of the international community which made intense diplomatic efforts to avoid a war between the two countries where nuclear weapons could be conceivably used.

The possible threat of use of nuclear weapons prompted studies by Pentagon which warned that at any first strike more than 17 million people could die and another 12 million be impacted by the fallout. It prompted Mr Bush to send Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region preceded by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who followed British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Indian columnist Anurag Sinha wrote in the Indian Express: "This is a classic deterrence theory." Even the most hardcore foreign policymakers and military personnel have suggested that there is no cause worthy of a nuclear confrontation. The BJP's presidential candidate A. P. J. Abdul Kalam admitted that addition of the nuclear dimension had diminished the chances of a war in South Asia.

To underscore the nuclear dimension and its impact, the US ambassador to India said: "It is no doubt that the nuclear dimension accelerated our decision-making and did accelerate the departure of Americans from India, including from the US government part of the American citizens there."

But it cannot be overstated that the biggest cost of India's standoff with Pakistan has been to the Indian economy. It resulted in reversal of foreign investment, crash of India's stock exchanges, depressed businesses and decrease in exports. The compound economic impact of this standoff on India would easily mount to several billion dollars and consequently slow down India's economic development and growth prospects for several years.

The primary objective of India's macho posturing was to elevate the electoral prospects of the BJP in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. However, if the recent provincial elections and by- elections are any barometer, the BJP's electoral chances have not increased by the present coercive posture.

It is quite possible that India may revive its bluff in September to give cover to the elections in Kashmir or in the hope of again coercing Pakistan to abandon its principled stand on Kashmir. Such manoeuvring may once again push the region to the brink of war.

India's claim that Pakistan has still not been able to stop cross-border terrorism is a ploy to keep the pressure on Pakistan. Since the intense diplomatic activity by the United States and the United Kingdom, the top diplomats there have noted that the cross-border activity has almost stopped.

Mr Armitage said the other day that there were strong signs that alleged infiltrations from Pakistan into occupied Kashmir had decreased sharply in the last few weeks. But India continues to mass its forces on the borders, with no let-up in tensions.

Given the fact that the "fighting season " in South Asia begins in September, India's hostile posture could trigger a conflict by design or by accident, which could have devastating effect for both.

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