In March 2000, U.S. president Bill Clinton visited India for several days, and while returning made a perfunctory stop of a few hours in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Clinton refused being seen publicly with the newly minted dictator—General Pervez Musharaff had seized power the previous October, dispatching an elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to prison followed by exile in Saudi Arabia. After delivering a pithy admonishment to the assembled dignitaries, the U.S. president departed in haste from a country exemplifying the meaning of a rogue state.
Pakistan was then patron and partner of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In 1998, the country had gone nuclear in response to India’s nuclear tests.
Last week, six years after Clinton’s visit, President George Bush, making the same journey, was publicly courteous in meeting with Musharraf. Bush’s visit to India was more substantial than Clinton’s, forging a strategic alliance with New Delhi that is consistent with India’s emergent place and role in the world as its largest democracy.
Through 11 administrations and over a half-century, the U.S. has provided support to Pakistan’s ruling elite and vital aid to its people. It might be argued such assistance was misplaced. But without it, what remained of Pakistan after its breakup in 1971 might have disintegrated.
Geography was Pakistan’s strategic asset in its relationship with the U.S. during the Cold War years, as it is now in the war on radical Islamist terror. Neither Bush, nor anyone with a sense of history, is fooled by Musharraf and his army’s about-turn following 9/11 to join the U.S. in dismantling the Taliban regime and hunting for terror masters of al-Qaida.
The Bush administration’s support for Musharraf reminds me of Churchill’s remark, “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
It is only in the confused lib-left thinking evident in such publications as the Toronto Star that Bush, and not Clinton, gets ridiculed for stating the obvious: “Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories.”
India has its problems of poverty and caste, and its phalanx of intellectuals and polemicists still pathetically loyal to the miserably failed ideology of Marx/Lenin/Mao. But despite an unending list of difficulties, the story of India is its people’s remarkable commitment to democracy, their capacity to be self-critical, and an eagerness of a segment of its population to become open and engaged with the world.
The formerly halting and partially closed economy of an India once ideologically committed to Soviet-style planning now displays a surprising vigour of innovation and growth in opening itself to free-market capitalism. This newfound vitality provides a sense of confidence to a new generation of Indians competing in the global market.
Hence, Bush’s offer of nuclear assistance to India, which requires an abundance of clean energy for future growth, can only be interpreted as a double standard by those who do not accept the argument that developing countries such as India, with a long consistent record of commitment to democracy, stand apart from countries like Pakistan. Countries like India deserve treatment entirely different from what rogue states—e.g., Iran or North Korea—merit.
The perception that we are perhaps witnessing the making of an “Asian century” could well become a reality. If so, India will be a significant player in its making, and Bush’s visit to the subcontinent has displayed a greater sense of history and politics in Asia than Clinton’s visit did six years ago.