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A reply to Robert Hathaway

A reply to Robert Hathaway

Author: Koenraad Elst
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: August 30, 2002
URL: http://www.rediff.com/news/2002/aug/30guest.htm

The American South Asia scholar Robert M Hathaway has used the opinion page of the Chennai-based daily The Hindu (August 8, 2002) as a forum for tendering advice to his own government. Dr Hathaway is director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a famous think tank in Washington DC.

The beautiful think tank network in Washington DC should, to judge from the generous amounts of money oiling it, provide American policy-makers with the fullest information and analysis base available to any government in world history. And yet, American foreign policy is by no means the most intelligent even in the contemporary world scene.

Hathaway's article illustrates what the problem is. Instead of laying down general principles or specific American national interests, his advice concerning Washington's South Asia policy focuses on sectional demands whispered into his ear by a foreign lobby whose nature and motives he fails to comprehend. In particular, he wants his own employer to investigate and eventually to block fund- raising in the US by "groups implicated in the Gujarat violence." This is a demand recently pushed by US-based Indian Communists such as FOIL (Forum of Indian Leftists) as their latest weapon in their struggle against their nationalistic compatriots.

Hathaway correctly reminds us that "terrorism comes in many guises:" armed assaults, suicide bombings, assassinations and "yes, hate-consumed mobs butchering innocent women and children". The latter expression presumably refers to the Muslim attack on Hindu pilgrims, a majority of them women and children, in a train in Godhra, Gujarat? Well, no, unfortunately Hathaway is blind in one eye and exclusively refers to those phases in the conflagration when Muslims were the victims. I will charitably assume that this bias is not a matter of considered opinion on Hathaway's part, merely an unreflected borrowing from his Indian sources.

Terror in Kashmir

Apart from poetry about a "sore" to be "healed," Hathaway takes no interest whatsoever in India's main terrorist problem, Islamic armed separatism in Kashmir. He merely warns Hindus not to use Kashmir as an excuse for Gujarat, and denies that Hindu exasperation at Muslim violence in Kashmir has anything to do with the Hindu reaction in Gujarat, as if he had investigated the matter. Yet, it is precisely on the Kashmiri frontline that America is most directly concerned, for it has provided indirect support to the terrorists for more than a decade. Many Hindus have been killed with American-made weapons and bombs.

The only act of terrorism in Kashmir which has registered in his consciousness is "the assassination earlier this year of Abdul Ghani Lone, who opposed Indian rule in Kashmir but who in his final years had come to the realisation that violence and extremism offer Kashmiris no way out in their struggle with New Delhi," a struggle which Hathaway refuses to take distance from.

Outrageously, he insinuates that this murder is the handiwork of the Indian government or its much- maligned Hindutva allies. That indeed is the unmistakable implication of his statement: "The Gujarat violence, Lone's assassination, and most recently, the designation of L K Advani as deputy prime minister and most likely successor to Mr Vajpayee have all raised new concerns about India's future among India's friends in the US."

Misinformed by Indian "secularists," whose Communist background seems unknown to him, Hathaway assumes that the soft-spoken Advani is some kind of extremist, and he blames the Indian government for Advani's promotion as this is obviously a governmental decision. (It is of course none of America's business whom the democratic Indian government nominates; for months after his election, George W Bush rightly gave the cold shoulder to European politicians who had overstepped diplomatic decorum by openly supporting Bill Clinton and deploring Bush's victory.) Again leaning on secularist sources, Hathaway blames the Gujarat violence at least partly on the Indian government; why else should it "raise concerns" as potentially damaging the inter-state relations between India and the US?

Finally, in the same breath, in his list of blameworthy moves tainting the Indian Government, Hathaway claims that Lone's murder is a cause for worry about the course India is taking. This is simply despicable.

Lone was murdered by Islamic separatists more extreme than himself, by the very terrorists whom India has been fighting for over a decade. The murder was one more anti-Indian blow struck by the international Islamic terrorists against whom America claims to be waging a war. How should it be a cause for worry among pro-Indian Americans that India was targeted once more, now in the person of the relatively loyalist Opposition leader Lone, by the terrorists? Isn't the merciless hostility of the terrorists rather proving that India is doing something right?


Hathaway probably doesn't understand why the vast majority of the human race is fed up with American arrogance. And by this, I don't just mean the anti-American fanaticism and conspiracy theories in the Muslim world, but also the healthy skepticism about the boundless American self- centredness which you may encounter in India, China or Europe. He might do well to reread this statement of his: "Some Indians, of course, say that the tragic events in Gujarat are a domestic Indian affair, and that the United States and the rest of the world have no business intruding into a purely internal Indian matter. This is a self-serving falsehood."

No, this is purely a matter of national sovereignty. India wants no foreign interference, a principle which America not only endorses but takes to inordinate lengths. Just recently, President Bush has declared he will not tolerate the arrest and sentencing of American intervention personnel by a non-American court, not even the UN-sponsored international tribunal in The Hague. He even reserved the right to invade the Netherlands to free American citizens brought before that court. India's insistence on managing its own communal problems is far more modest than the bullying American conception of national sovereignty.

America and the Muslim world

While not providing any reason whatsoever why India should have an interest in conceding to America a right to intervene, Hathaway focuses on America's own self-interest in supporting the Muslim pogromchik side in the Gujarat carnage: "Important American interests, including the global war against terrorism, can be directly impacted by what the US says -- and fails to say -- about Gujarat. At this particular moment in history, the US cannot allow the impression to take hold that Americans somehow value a Muslim life less than the life of a person of another religion."

In the Indian subcontinent, there is no danger whatsoever that anyone will get this impression, for the reality is too obviously the opposite. American meddlers, Hathaway among them, consistently turn a blind eye towards Hindu victims of Muslim violence, in India as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh. America has consistently given material and diplomatic support to the very forces which have been butchering Hindus.

Hathaway insists strongly on this point, that America is not at all anti-Muslim: "Sadly, there are those in the Islamic world who assert that the present conflict is a war directed not against terrorism, but against Islam. That the US does not care about Muslims. That Washington seeks to hijack the tragedies of 9/11 to carry out long-held plans to repress the Islamic world. These are detestable lies, but many in the Muslim world are prepared to believe them."

If Muslims believe these "detestable lies," it must be because of America's anti-Palestinian position in the Middle East, or because of its tacit support to Russia's campaign in Chechnya. It seems that Muslims just want to have it all and are ungrateful for the American support to the Muslim side in many other conflicts: against the Greeks in Turkish northern Cyprus, against the Soviets in Afghanistan, against the Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo, against India in Kashmir. No further pro-Muslim gesture is going to convince those who attribute anti-Muslim motives to an American government which has already so consistently supported Muslim interests on many fronts.

What anti-American Muslims also fail to understand, is the structural economic reason for America's preferring the Muslim world over the fledgling infidel superpower India. The Muslim world is not very dynamic and has a lot of purchasing power, so it is the perfect market for American hi-tech (and low- tech, eg, agricultural) products. India, by contrast, has only limited purchasing power but is a very dynamic competitor in all advanced industrial sectors. For this reason, and also to compensate the Muslim world for the permanent grievance over American support to "the Zionist entity," America is bound to take the Muslim side in purportedly peripheral conflicts, especially against India. The peptalk about India and the US being "natural allies" as "the biggest and the oldest democracy" has little impact on real-life policies.

War against terrorism

Hathaway's concept of a "war against terrorism" is flawed: terrorism is a strategy, not an enemy. As Daniel Pipes has remarked, "war against terrorism" makes as much sense as "war against trenches" or "war against carpet-bombing". If American policy-makers cannot define their enemy more properly, their mindless muscle-flexing dooms them to misdirected aggression and ultimately to humiliation and defeat. You can bomb only so many Afghan wedding parties by mistake without paying a price.

But at least Hathaway is aware of India's consistent stand against terrorism: "Following the trauma Americans experienced on September 11, India was one of the first countries in the world to step forward with a pledge of unconditional and unambivalent support for the US in its quest to bring to justice those responsible for the terror attacks in New York and Washington. The administration of George W Bush, already keen to upgrade relations with Delhi, took notice."

Unfortunately, it is unclear to what this "notice" has amounted in practice. True, the US has lifted the sanctioned imposed against India for conducting nuclear tests in May 1998. But this gesture of goodwill toward an anti-terrorist frontline state was counterbalanced by the same gesture towards Pakistan, the prime sponsor and organiser of terrorism, eventhough Pakistani links have been proven in a number of terrorist attacks against not only Indian but also American targets. Just recently, the US has resumed the delivery of advanced weaponry to the Pakistani army, whose prime target is not terrorism but India.

(Dr Koenraad Elst is a Belgian author who has written more than 15 books on Indian nationalism, history, politics, religious conflict.)

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