India Seethes as US Warms to Pakistan
India Seethes as US Warms to Pakistan
Less than a fortnight ago Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, proclaimed that India and the US were enjoying "perhaps the best relationship that has existed between our two great democracies in many, many years - if not in history".
Two days later he dropped the equivalent of a diplomatic bombshell on New Delhi when he announced that the US was designating neighbouring Pakistan a "major non-Nato ally".
The move, which gives Pakistan access to much cheaper US military equipment and puts it in the same category as Israel and South Korea, was accompanied by Washington's removal of the last remaining sanctions imposed after the military coup of 1999.
Few in India or elsewhere doubt the decision was driven by growing US worry about the lack of visible progress in the war on terrorism ahead of US presidential elections in November.
Mr Powell's announcement came as Gen Musharraf's deployed the Pakistan military for the first time in the sensitive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in search of "high-value" al-Qaeda targets.
But India is also seething because Mr Powell did not forewarn New Delhi of a move it fears could have significant repercussions for its relationship with Pakistan. US officials then worsened matters by saying Washington would consider New Delhi's application if it requested the same status as Pakistan.
"While Mr Powell was in India there was much emphasis on India-US strategic partnership," India's foreign ministry said. "It is disappointing that he did not share this with us."
The immediate effect is hard to gauge, but one clear casualty will be Washington's ability to continue playing honest broker in the peace process between India and Pakistan.
"The US has badly, if not irreparably, damaged its ability to influence the peace process between India and Pakistan in future," said Raja Mohan, an academic and an adviser to the Indian government. "It is up to New Delhi to minimise the consequences of Washington's decision."
New Delhi argues that Pakistan always turns recalcitrant towards India when it is enjoying a close military relationship with the US.
Although India and Pakistan are in the early stages of formal peace negotiations, Islamabad is already showing signs of revising the terms and conditions of the process, officials fear.
For example, Pakistan's delegates at the UN human rights convention in Geneva last week raised India's alleged human rights abuses in the disputed state of Kashmir. Pakistan stopped short of tabling a formal resolution condemning India, but the timing was puzzling: only two months before, India and Pakistan had agreed on a framework to discuss Kashmir.
India's misgivings were further stoked by the remarks of Gen Musharraf in a video-conference to an Indian audience this month in which he hinted strongly that Pakistan's crackdown on alleged cross-border terrorism to India was contingent on New Delhi solving the "central" issue of Kashmir within the next few months. This week he told a gathering that if the peace process did not make rapid progress, he would "not be a party to it".
This contradicted the statement signed by Gen Musharraf and Atal Behari Vajpayee, India's prime minister, in January in which Pakistan agreed to put an end to all forms of terrorism without condition.
Rightly or wrongly, many in Delhi say it is no coincidence Gen Musharraf has hardened his line just as Washington is offering more generous access to military hardware.
"It is hard to find any other explanation for Pakistan's sudden change of attitude," says one official.
For their part, US officials privately admit that the handling of the announcement of Pakistan's new status was inept. US diplomats also stress that ties with India are for the long-term, whereas Pakistan's status is driven by the more short-term goals of the war on terrorism. But there are also short-term consequences for US influence in Delhi, which - at least for the time being - has been sharply diminished.