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INDIA: Seeking China's Support in Dealing With Pakistan

Analysis by Indranil Banerjie

NEW DELHI, Dec 29 2008 (IPS) - As the Pakistani government digs its heels in against India’s demands for action on the suspected masterminds of the November terrorist strikes in Mumbai, the Indian foreign policy establishment is looking to China and other regional powers, besides the United States, for support.

Despite vociferous demands by senior Bush Administration officials that the Pakistani government take action against terrorist organisations and individuals linked to the Mumbai massacre, Islamabad has gotten away with doing precious little.

A month after U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice travelled to the sub-continent with the message "that Pakistan needs to act with resolve and urgency and cooperate fully and transparently,’’ Pakistan has gone back to claiming that no group or persons from the country was responsible for the Mumbai attacks.

Initial reports about a few of key terrorist leaders being detained inside Pakistan are also now being denied. With Islamabad in deep denial, Washington has fallen back to urging the two nuclear armed neighbours to avoid talk of going to war over the issue.

India’s foreign minister Pranab Mukerjee accuses Pakistan of going back on a pledge to stop cross-border terrorism. "Not once, but twice Pakistan had made a commitment, once by Musharraf and now by President [Asif Ali] Zardari. Where is the commitment? Where is the action against terrorists?" Mukherjee said, speaking to reporters on Sunday.

"We have evidence and given the names [of wanted terrorist leaders in Pakistan], not once but 10 times. Pakistan had earlier accepted that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack emanated from there. But now they are contradicting it," Mukherjee said. He denied that India had delivered any ultimatum to Pakistan.

What Mukherjee did not say publicly is that the U.S. and Britain have failed to get Pakistan to take action against the terrorist trainers. This despite the fact that Rice had publicly admitted that the perpetrators of the Mumbai strikes were in Pakistan and that Islamabad had a responsibility to act against them.

According to sources, Mukherjee has conveyed New Delhi's dissatisfaction to Washington.

"With six American citizens killed in the Mumbai attack, we expected that Washington would apply effective pressure on the Pakistani military,’’ Uday Bhaskar, leading strategic analyst and former deputy director of the Indian ministry of defence -funded Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.

"That Washington could not act beyond a point proves that the U.S. dependency on the Pakistani military for the safety of its supply convoys to support its troops in Afghanistan is a greater priority,’’ Bhaskar said. ‘’There is "an understanding on both sides that there are limits to the extent to which the U.S. can prevail upon the Pakistani military to deliver apropos of terrorism.’’

Bhaskar said the degree of dependence by the U.S. on Pakistan can be measured by the fact that ‘’Daniel Pearl's killers are running free inside Pakistan". Pearl, South Asia bureau chief of the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ was kidnapped and executed on video in Karachi, in February 2002, while investigating alleged links between Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence and the al-Qaeda.

Lt. Gen. (Retd) Shantanu Choudhry, vice-president of the independent think tank SAPRA India Foundation, says U.S. dependence is rooted in Pakistan’s strategic location.

‘’It’s one thing to make noises about cracking down on the Pakistani military establishment, but the bottom line is that without the support of the Pakistani military it would be impossible for the U.S. to sustain its operations within Afghanistan.’’

Choudhry says that as of today there is no alternative for the U.S. but to use Karachi port in Pakistan as the landing point for U.S. and NATO supplies to be carried across that country to the Afghan border.

It is no coincidence, Choudhry said, that the Taliban stepped up attacks on NATO convoys and dumps in and around Peshawar before and after the Mumbai massacre.

India has now turned to unlikely mediators in the crisis: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. All three countries have far better relations with Pakistan than India, but have acted with alacrity to New Delhi’s requests for mediation.

Although India has rarely turned to neighbouring communist China for support on any foreign policy issue, Beijing was the first to respond.

China's vice foreign minister He Yafei arrived in Pakistan on Sunday and met Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. "He is visiting in the context of this current situation between India and Pakistan. China is playing a very positive role,’’ an official note said.

One tangible result of this visit has been direct talks between the Directors General of Military Operations of the armies of the two South Asian countries that are armed with nuclear weapons.

Observers here said Beijing was delighted that it had been called in to mediate a crisis in South Asia. Symbolically, they said, this could not but have been a significant moment for China which aspires to have an overarching role in Asia, but often finds India in the way.

The Iranians, though unhappy with New Delhi’s warming ties with Washington, appear to have been equally eager to respond to India's call for help. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki called on his Indian counterpart on Friday and conveyed Tehran's support to New Delhi against terrorism in the region.

Mottaki said Iran would ask the powers-that-be in Islamabad to intensify efforts to crack down on terror outfits. The leading Pakistani daily ‘The Dawn,’ quoted the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan Mashallah Shakeri as saying: "Our diplomacy has become very active to defuse the tension. Iranian authorities will not desist from going to any length to help normalise India-Pakistan relations."

The Indian establishment has also roped in Saudi Arabia, one of Pakistan's principal patrons. Mukherjee requested visiting Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal on Friday to pressure Pakistan to stop allowing the use of its territory for terrorist attacks against India.

The Saudi minister responded by saying: "Terrorism is a cancer, we need to cut it out and destroy it completely so that tragedies like Mumbai are not repeated.’’

According to Wilson John, senior fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, what is happening suggests a steady erosion of U.S. influence. "The U.S. is still the strongest player in South Asia, but today we can say that the American influence in this region is not as strong as Washington would like it to be.’’

Some analysts in India believe that the Mumbai terrorist strikes were designed to help the Pakistani military’s standing at home.

A front page article carried by a leading Indian daily ‘The Indian Express,’ claims that the Indian national security establishment has concluded that the Mumbai attack was planned and carried out by the Pakistani military establishment and that the expected Indian response has triggered patriotic fervour in Pakistan and increased the relevance of the armed forces.

Choudhry said that what India could do is ‘’broker an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to allow military supplies to Afghanistan be brought in through the Caucacus and Central Asia".

"Once this alternative route is in place, the U.S. can ignore Pakistan and bring financial and other pressure on it,’’ Choudhry, former vice-chief of the Indian army told IPS.

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