Don't Forget About India
Prime Minister Singh's visit was almost eclipsed by the silly Salahi story.
There are two ways in which the coverage of the contemptible Salahi couple makes one moan with shame to be a member of the "profession" of journalism. The first is the sheer amount of ink spilled and air time wasted on one of those easy-to-cover "breaking news" stories and the way in which many media outlets are disgracing themselves by begging for the first "exclusive" interview. The second and much more significant is the grave insult to an important guest of the United States. By the journalistic version of Gresham's Law that means junk reporting drives out serious journalism, the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was all but eclipsed in this torrent of tomfoolery. *
That would have been bad enough at any time, but the visit was of unusual importance. It took place very close to the first anniversary of the Islamic terrorist assault on Mumbai, an attack for which Pakistan has only just begun to place some of its own nationals on trial. We are entering a week in which discussion of a new strategy on Afghanistan will become the dominant theme, and we are doing so having given the opinions of India and Indians one-millionth of the consideration awarded to a pair of trashy socialites.
Monday's New York Timescarried an extensive report, based on deep-background diplomatic sources, of the likely contours of President Barack Obama's Tuesday night speech at West Point. A salient paragraph read as follows:
Officials of one allied nation who have been extensively briefed on the president's plan said that Mr. Obama would describe how the American presence would be ratcheted back after the buildup, while making clear that a significant American presence in Afghanistan would remain for a long while. That is designed in part to signal to Pakistan that the United States will not abandon the region and to allay Pakistani fears that India will fill the vacuum created as America pulls back. [Italics mine.]
If this interpretation is correct, then it is consistent with the report recently delivered to the president by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in which our senior in-country military official spoke of Indian influence in Afghanistan as a danger to be combated. The visit of Prime Minister Singh should have been the occasion for a vigorous public debate on whether this growing tendency—the Pakistanization of U.S. policy in the region—is the wise or correct one.
India was supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban long before the events of 9/11, and it has been providing a great deal of reconstruction aid since the Taliban were removed. It has excellent sources of intelligence in the region and is itself a frequent target of the very same forces against which we are committed to fight. Its national parliament, the multifariously pluralistic and democratic Lok Sabha, was the target of a massive car bomb attack in the fall of 2001, its large embassy in Kabul has been singled out for special attention from the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance, and of course we must never forget Mumbai. Nor ought we to forget that India's massive economic and military power on the subcontinent is accompanied by a system of regular elections, a free press, a secular constitution under which almost as many Muslims live as live in Pakistan, and a business class that extends all the way to Silicon Valley and uses the English language.
Of Pakistan, a state that has flirted with the word failure ever since its inception, it is not possible to speak in the same terms. Only with the greatest reluctance does it withdraw its troops from the front with India in Kashmir, the confrontation that is the main obsession of its overmighty and Punjabi-dominated officer corps. This same corps makes no secret of its second obsession, which is the attainment of a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul. (This objective, too, is determined by the desire to acquire Afghanistan for the purpose of "strategic depth" in the fight with India.) The original Talibanization of Afghanistan was itself an official project of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and the CIA has spent the last eight years admitting, or in some cases discovering, what everyone else already knew: that the Taliban still enjoy barely concealed support from the same highly placed Pakistani institutions.
The enormous subventions given to the Pakistani elite in the "war on terror" are thus partly a subsidy to the very forces we claim to be fighting and partly a bribe to make them at least pretend to stop. Meanwhile, Pakistan's press and the remnant of its education system are virtual machines for the mass production of anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda aimed at persuading people that the real enemy is the democratic secular West. And on top of all this, the country's "national hero" A.Q. Khan for many years enjoyed state collaboration in the running of a nuclear black market that shared fissile materials with countries like Libya and North Korea. Yet the Obama administration, phrasing its strategy for the crisis, cannot get beyond the silly and limited abbreviation Af-Pak. By excluding India from the equation, the political and military planners impose a tunnel vision upon themselves and dishearten the country that should be our major ally in the region (for other purposes, too, such as forming a counterweight to the increasingly promiscuous power of China).
When the throat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners come to the villagers of Pakistan and Afghanistan at dead of night, they have one great psychological advantage. "One day, the Americans and the Europeans will go," they say. "But we will always be here." There's some truth in this: Most of the talk in this country is now of an "exit strategy," and for all the good they are doing, most of the other NATO contingents might as well have shipped out already. But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one. There's much to be discussed under this heading, but for now—back to the studio for the latest on Tareq and Michaele.
Correction, Dec. 1, 2009: This piece originally misspelled Manmohan Singh's first name. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Indian Prime Minister Manmoham Singh by Ricardo Stuckert/PR courtesy of Dantadd/Wikipedia.