'A reactive exercise'

The renewed American entente with Pakistan has clearly irritated India. And, it has been reflected in the Vajpayee Government agreeing to a substantive resolution in the Lok Sabha demanding a quick withdrawal of the ``coalition'' troops from Iraq.

In February, before the war began, the Government made it known that it would not agree to bind itself to any Parliamentary resolution restricting its scope for diplomatic manoeuvre.

But, strikingly, the Government was willing to show a degree of compromise in agreeing to the ``unanimous'' resolution passed after much quibbling over words on Tuesday. The resolution has come as some predict that the war is winding down and the much-promised defence of Baghdad hasn't materialised and that America and Britain plot and plan for a ``post-Saddam'' scenario.

While the Government can certainly claim ``victory'' over the Opposition in that the word ``condemn'' was not used (but then the resolution was in Hindi), the opening words of the resolution said it was an expression of ``national sentiment''. The demand for a quick withdrawal of troops, the call for an immediate end to war, as opposed to the milder ``cessation of hostilities'', are all concessions that the Government has made to a determined Opposition.

Given the single-minded determination with which this Government has pursued the task of improving relations with Washington, and the care taken not to alienate the Americans over Iraq, the ``unanimous'' resolution does go against the spirit of that larger enterprise.

Why did the Government choose to meet Opposition concerns a little more than half way now? If one looks at the statements from Ministers in the past few days, their dissatisfaction with the U.S. on Pakistan is evident. It was even stated that India had a better case to act against Pakistan than the U.S. had against Iraq.

Some amends were made with the Powell-Straw joint statement, but India's concerns about the U.S. cozying up to Pakistan, at a time when massacres continue, will remain an issue in the Indo-U.S. relations. It is this sense of dissatisfaction with the U.S. that seems to have propelled the Government to move away from the ``middle path'' approach, which was about expressing concern at the failure of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council failing to resolve their differences. When the invasion of Iraq began, the Government said the war was unjustified and avoidable.

India expected the U.S. to do more on the issue of cross-border terrorism, but the latter is busy writing off Pakistani loans, a development that is seen as a conduct certificate at a time when terrorist groups continue to operate from Pakistan against India. By agreeing to a stronger language in the resolution, New Delhi is signalling that if Washington is going to be determined solely by its immediate interest, then New Delhi can do the same. On Tuesday, the BJP spokesman, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, accused the U.S. of encouraging terrorism by writing off the $1 billion in Pakistani debt and alleged that the U.S. had gone back on its promise to tackle Pakistan after dealing with Afghanistan.

Mr. Malhotra feels none of the constraints that shackle Indian policy-makers. And, that is the sentiment not just in the largest member of the ruling coalition, but in the Government as well. Only that it is not expressed in such stark terms.

Pakistan is now a respected member of the coalition against terrorism in post-September 11, with Pervez Musharraf being repeatedly showered with praise by Washington for doing a great job against the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The Vajpayee Government's unstated provocation for agreeing to a resolution on Iraq is Pakistan. It would appear to be a ``reactive'' exercise, one intended to send out a message to the U.S.