Vol. 5 Num 630 Tue. March 07, 2006  

The Horizon This Week
Bush in South Asia

Although the visit of President George W. Bush was designed to cover an important part of South Asia, the thrust has undoubtedly been India. The President has spent most of his time there and what is more is that the most powerful country of the world has paid special attention to the rising power of India.

The visit of President Bush began with what looked like a clandestine visit to Kabul. It is supposed to be the sanctuary of Osama Bin Laden and Taleban noises are still heard within earshot of Kabul. Afghanistan is the country where President Bush started his anti-terror campaign, which has by now assumed global proportion. President Bush ousted the 'terrorist' regime of Taleban from Afghanistan and installed their chosen man Hamid Karzai to rule the land. President Bush has installed an 'elected' government in the inhospitable soil of Afghanistan. From all accounts the writ of the Karzai regime does not go much beyond Kabul. Since by all accounts Afghanistan has become a kind of US protectorate President Bush had to make a mandatory stop. Yet the security situation is so delicate in Afghanistan that no announcement of the visit was made.

The second leg and by far the centre piece of the visit of President Bush was India. He received a warm official welcome from the Indian authorities, who spread the red carpet in the real sense. Equally warm and noisy were the protests of many Indian demonstrators, a sure sign that Indian democracy is in good health. The Indian authorities managed to keep at bay the demonstrators and President Bush had ample public contact. The most important event was the unusual importance that President Bush attached to India, which along with the United States, he described as the two largest democracies of the world. This is sweet music in Indian ears. He heaped praise on the Indians' remarkable progress in virtually all fields of human endeavour including its buoyant economy, technological breakthroughs and its near readiness to join the big league of the world. The Indians succeded in offering him the public grand stand to address the people, an honour reserved for the few. It must have pleased President Bush enormously for lately thanks to non stop demonstrations against him within the country and abroad, he does not have much opportunity for public interaction.

India and US managed to overcome the last hurdle of removal by the US of the barrier for assistance from the US on nuclear technology for facing the burgeoning demand for oil by India. Thus the US has accepted that India separates her civilian and military nuclear activity and her nuclear power for military use remains entirely in her hands. President Bush has declared categorically that he will succeed to convince the doubters within the Congress the useful nature of the deal.

One matter that has been hanging fire is India's long standing effort to become a Permanent Member of the Security Council of the UN. Although it does not figure in any of the announcements it is inconceivable that the matter did not come up for discussion. It is well known that prior to the last UN General Assembly Session, Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed sweeping reforms within the UN. The simple argument is that, since its birth in 1945 with less than fifty members the Organisation has reached the figure of 191 although its basic structure of a five Permanent Member of the Security Council has remained unchanged. Kofi Annan proposed a six-member expansion including India, Japan, Germany and Brazil. It is understandable that the five Permanent Members may not wish to share power with newcomers. Yet the truth is that the ground reality pushes the leading members to take a positive decision. Of all the Permanent Members the US weighs heaviest. Will they be ready to back India? Only time will tell.

President George W. Bush had to include Pakistan in his itinerary if for no other reason that Pakistanis would be deeply hurt and the US continues to need her in her global War on Terror. Otherwise the visit sits uneasily specially since he has been singing the praise of the 'two largest democracies' and he sets foot on a country which is an avowed military dictatorship'. It is all the more difficult for President Bush because he has been exporting democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq, with uncertain results.

President George W. Bush has been singing the praise of 'strategic partnership' with India. The expression was coined by his predecessor Bill Clinton, who had made a landmark visit to India. President Bush has taken that initiative forward. It is the forerunner of more interesting developments in South Asia.

Arshad-uz Zaman is former Ambassador and Acting Secretary General, OIC.