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Return of the tilt - The Hindustan Times

Author: N. C. Menon ()
June 8, 1998

Title: Return of the tilt
Author: Author: N. C. Menon
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: June 8, 1998

In the early 1970s, when former Secretary of State Henry (Super
K) Kissinger first devised the tilt in order to favour Pakistan
over India, he contributed a new term to the lexicon of political
liturgy. The tilt also provided grist for cartoon mills around
the world. lie tilt in favour of Pakistan gradually became the
preferred mind-set in the State Department, the Pentagon and the
National Security Council. The clandestine CIA intervention in
the Afghan war, with Pakistan acting as a willing conduit for
arms, made the tilt even more pronounced. In the wake of the
liberalisation of the Indian economy and the realisation in
Washington that India is a "new emerging market," the tilt became
somewhat less pronounced with politics beginning to drive
economics. It did not disappear altogether, but lay dormant under
the surface.

When India conducted its series of five nuclear tests on May 11
and 13, America was chagrined at being caught unawares - and the
tilt blossomed forth once again, stronger than ever. Poor
Pakistan, provoked beyond measure by a hawkish India, became a
friend, whereas all that India deserved were the severest of
economic sanctions, sufficient to bring it to its nuclear knees.
It is ironic that Kissinger, the author of the tilt, is now
tilting in favour of India. Strangely, even after Islamabad
ignored President Clinton's repeated pleadings not to conduct tit-
for-tat tests, the tilt did not get diluted. Spokesmen continued
to find excuses for Pakistan. Unfortunately, the nuclear issue
is so vulnerable to charalatanry because it is laden with
lopsided arguments and sheer hypocrisy, mainly on the part of the

President Clinton's efforts to dissuade Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif from testing included such blandishments as the repeal of
the Pressler amendment - a piece of legislation that the
Pakistanis hated with visceral intensity - as well as offers of
fresh military and economic aid and, it is presumed, security
guarantees as well. Clinton even climbed down from his
presidential heights and telephoned Nawaz Sharif several times,
at all parts of night and day, ultimately, alas, to no avail.

Referring to the president's persistent bid to battle for "sanity
on the subcontinent," White House spokesman Mike McCurry had this
comment on May 28: "I think it would be accurate to say that the
Prime Minister clearly struggled with what was apparently, for
him, a very difficult decision. He knew the costs, he understood
exactly the President's argument... but I think he clearly felt
the pressure and the burden of both domestic political opinion
and also the reality of the pressure he faced in the region
because of the decision by the Government of India. He sounded,
in short, like someone who is very pained by a very difficult
decision." And the administration, on its part, sounded as if it
were about to burst into tears at Pakistan's sorry plight.

The White House spokesman also sounded' quite sad that the
sanctions mandated by the Glenn amendment would apply with equal
severity to India and Pakistan. Although both countries had
conducted nuclear tests, McCurry felt there was a qualitative
difference in the way the two had handled their nuclear
compulsions. "The tonal quality of the way we have addressed this
decision by Pakistan, I would suggest to you is a different, and
we would acknowledge that there is a difference in the way these
two governments have dealt with the United States with respect to
this test," McCurry told newsmen "Prime Minister Sharif was
honest and straightforward in the description of the decision
that he was wrestling with and in his own internal deliberations,
and the Government of India was manifestly not."

It did not seem to occur to the spokesman that Pakistan had been
less than "straightforward" over the past several years when it
clandestinely acquired from China nuclear material, missiles and
relevant technology - the transfer of which was specifically
banned by the US law and global treaties and understandings - and
went about constructing its bomb in the basement. Not that the US
was unaware of the fact: intelligence agencies had been warning
for years that Pakistan was acquiring a nuclear weapon capability
through Chinese assistance.

State Department spokesman James Rubin also turned out to be an
expert practitioner of the tilt. He displayed a tilt not only in
favour of Pakistan, but also its benefactor, China, which for
long had been the holy cow of American foreign policy. Asked
about the China angle complicating the Indo-Pak nuclear matrix,
Rubin admitted that there had been serious concerns in the past
about Beijing's cooperation with Pakistan. "But we all have to
bear in mind the evolution that has occurred in China's policies,
including a commitment that we believe they are honouring not to
assist unsafeguarded nuclear facilities, especially those in
Pakistan and other countries of concern."

It is, of course, another matter that such touching faith in
Beijing's commitments had turned out in the past to be unwise.
But Rubin's point was that India had no business holding out
Beijing-Islamabad nuclear and missile cooperation as a
justification for its own efforts. "What is incorrect is to make
that problem the proximate cause of the current crisis," Rubin
asserted. "The cause was the nationalist government in India
determined to explode nuclear weapons, which forced Pakistan to

Rubin's convoluted logic is merely a hand-me-down version of the
thinking in the Oval Office. President Clinton has an incurable
blind spot where Beijing is concerned. Despite dozens of
intelligence reports about China's nuclear and missile
transgressions, notwithstanding a rising crescendo of criticism
>from members of Congress. Clinton is determined to renew most-
favoured-nation trade status for China, favour it with lucrative
commercial satellite launching contracts, and quite willing,
during his forthcoming trip, to be welcomed in Tiananmen Square,
a location that has gone down in history with the infamy of
bloody.. oppression.

Another significant sign of the tilt was Washington's reaction to
the "aggressive rhetoric" emanating from New Delhi and Islamabad.
When Home Minister L. K. Advani warned Pakistan to halt
intervening in Kashmir, the State Department went ballistic and
called in Ambassador Naresh Chandra to express unhappiness. But
there was not much reaction when Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar
Ayub Khan went around making incendiary statements, including a
pointed threat that since Indian cities were bigger, their
casualties in a missile attack would be larger.

Unfortunately for the Clinton administration, Islamabad did not
know when to leave well enough alone. Although President Clinton
was unable to prevent sanctions automatically mandated by law
>from clicking in after Pakistan conducted its initial series of
tests, Islamabad still had the advantage of being considered an
unwilling "accessory" after the Indian act. But then came
Pakistan's sixth test, to even the score with India. Many senior
US officials who had attempted to justify the Pak tests as an
inevitable response to India's tests felt betrayed. President
Clinton who was awakened before dawn to be informed about
Pakistan's "perfidy," was deeply distressed and disillusioned.
The tilt, for all practical purposes, wilted.

That was evident in the even-handed statement from Clinton.
Condemning the new test, Clinton said "Pakistan and India are
contributing to a self-defeating cycle of escalation." State
Department spokesman Rubin said: "We are very disappointed that
Pakistan continues to ignore the calls to exercise restraint that
were made by the international community after its first tests."
Rubin has also not hesitated in recent days to ridicule Islamabad
- something that would have been unthinkable earlier. Referring
to Pakistani hysteria about an intended air strike by India and
Israel, Rubin said: "We had no information about this scenario.
We have no information that it was ever a realistic danger. So
therefore, to the extent that people cried wolf about a
particular threat, their credibility has been damaged."

All that is not to say that occasional lapses do not occur, with
the apparition of the tilt putting in brief appearances. The US
is clearly using the projected danger from two nuclear-armed
adversaries in South Asia to highlight the Kashmir dispute.
America has for long been eager to mediate the dispute, egged on
by Pakistan which feels it has nothing to lose and everything to
gain from any kind of intervention. Islamabad is certain that
even if nothing concrete occurs, it would achieve a propaganda
victory, Washington has so far been stymied by New Delhi, which
has steadfastly set its face against third party intervention.

Speaking of the Foreign Minister level meeting of the five
permanent members of the UN Security Council organised by
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to discuss the "grave
situation in South Asia," Rubin said the basic goal was "to
reduce the possibility of conflict in Kashmir and to deal with
the underlying dispute in Kashmir... and to urge them
successfully to do more to see that their underlying dispute does
not cause the kind of horrifying conflict that is now

No one really believes that India or Pakistan would ever launch a
nuclear attack, given the fact that the resulting radiation would
be a grave and real danger for the entire region. The nuclear war
bogey is being raised only to bring in Kashmir mediation through
the back door. It is worth noting how White House spokesman
McCurry described the purpose of the P-5 meeting: "To coordinate
the work we are doing with other governments to bring the right
kind of pressure to bear on both Pakistan and India to turn back
>from this dangerous direction in which both countries have now
moved." Fine, but senior US officials have been increasingly
tilting to the Pakistani view that there can never be peace and
stability on the subcontinent unless the Kashmir problem is
solved. It is clear that the US is orchestrating a global gang-
up with the ultimate aim of pushing itself into the Kashmir

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