A popular story in Pakistan tells of the Muslim priest who delivered an hour-long lecture during Friday services to convince worshippers it would be sinful for Pakistan to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Asked just which aspects of the treaty were sinful, the clergyman replied that he didn’t care for the details—but he was certain it was sinful.
It is that way with India and Bush’s Nuclear Missile Defense (NMD). Indians seem convinced that opposing it would anger Shiva, the Hindu God of war. Never mind the details.
It is ironic that a proposed new weapons system has been able to deliver what a Democratic U.S. administration could not—friendly overtures between Washington and India.
The Clinton administration wanted India as a hi-tech partner, but ran into conflicts with Prime Minister Vajpayee over India’s nuclear tests and its refusal to sign the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. Now, with a government that wants to build another version of the Star Wars system, Washington and India are at long last on the same wavelength.
The Indian press is going gaga over Bush, because it is run by an elite—Oxford and Cambridge graduates—who have not outgrown the colonial mentality, fawning to white men, the inventors of Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s, microchips, and missiles.
So India will take American friendship at any cost, even if it means being used as a pawn in Washington’s game of International Shatranj (chess, which was invented in India).
But many Indian Americans realize that this new relationship is hardly destined to bring lasting peace or prosperity for their native country. They see the Bush administration using India in its dangerous game of expanding America’s weapons capability one way or another.
The administration is friendly to India at this juncture because it sees it as expedient. It wants to exploit India to flare up old conflicts with neighboring Pakistan and China so the U.S. can justify its new era of arms expansion.
For the U.S., whether or not it happens to be on the side of India is quite incidental. But in this particular situation—with several members of NATO skeptical of NMD, and Russia and China on the sidelines—the U.S. would like to bolster support for its new military hardware by labeling Pakistan a “rogue state,” and India a democratic ally of the U.S.
One can’t but wonder if Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice would have called India a rogue state, if they could have. The catch is that India is the second largest country in the world and its largest democracy, and the NMD is based on the notion that smaller, rogue states will attack the U.S., however ridiculous that idea might seem.
Hence, Pakistan, a former ally of America, is about to be named a rogue state. Its harboring of some terrorists in recent years has made such labeling all too easy.
Indian Americans know that although the Bush administration is using India as an ally, in the long run Missile Defense will further increase animosity between their native country and Pakistan, and perhaps keep the war in Kashmir brewing for many more decades to come.
There is some irony in the contrast between Clinton’s view of India as a high-tech superpower whose brains the U.S. could not live without and Bush’s desire to use India’s brawn.
Sadly, the lingering energy crisis and faltering tech stocks mean the Bush government needs NMD, just as the Reagan administration needed supply side economics, simply as a belief system to keep the faith of its citizenry.
So Indians have joined the ranks of the believers. And although Indian Americans at large are aware of the unreality of Star Wars, powerful business interests within the community are likely to support it, just to keep the visas and the capital flowing to India, and the workers and the software from India flowing back to America.
The only thing left for the Indian populace is to start praying to Lord Shiva to ensure that the Bush Missile Defense actually delivers something fruitful for India.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.