I’m told that when the events of 1971 are addressed in Bangladeshi cinema, they necessarily have to include plenty of violence and a mandatory rape scene, the sort a leering Prem Chopra once made a Bollywood staple. In that sense, Dhaka-based director Zahidur Rahim Anjan’s Meghmallar, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last month and is heading to the Mumbai Film Festival, is far too contemplative to be commercial. But one scene from this brooding film that stayed with me is a line delivered by the protagonist, the most timid of academics, who reads a newspaper and says, “Mr Kissinger has said this is an internal matter of Pakistan,” referring to the ongoing massacre in East Pakistan.
Given that former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger is now considered a foreign policy giant, you wonder why he’s never been called to account for facilitating genocide, despite America’s own consul general in Dacca, Archer Blood, opposing the position taken at the State Department.
But then you realise that Washington’s wonks have been getting Pakistan so wrong for decades it’s become a fundamental right for them. The latest in that folio of folly is evidently the ‘blockbuster’ nuclear deal that the Obama administration is going to reward Pakistan with when its Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif drops in. Perhaps it’s a reward for fostering both AQs — al-Qaeda and its offshoots, and Abdul Qadir Khan, nuclear proliferator nonpareil. At the very least, you can congratulate Washington for continuity.
India’s troubles seem to have evolved since the 1970s from the spectre of the foreign hand to foreign handouts. US aid to Pakistan since 9/11 has amounted to over $31 billion, according to a September count by the bipartisan Congressional Research Service. Sharif will probably return with a little more largesse. American officials have argued that India should never view bankrolling Pakistan as a zero-sum game. It isn’t. America has been gamed into dispersing sums that end with multiple zeros. That’s not accounting for the IMF loan melas that the US routinely organises for Islamabad.
In inviting US President Barack Obama to this year’s Republic Day, the Narendra Modi government showed a shift in India’s stance. Institutional anti-Amercanism is obsolete. Modi has also met Obama three times already.
The American President also professed great respect for former PM Manmohan Singh, honouring the Indian leader with the first state dinner of his tenure. But if Modi appears enamoured of palling around with his ‘friend’ Barack, the latter is often distant, if not disdainful.
Among the US objectives in exercising its nuclear option with Pakistan is placing a ceiling on Pakistan’s armoury, particularly restricting the range of its missiles. A version of cap and trade that’s fine with the range encompassing India as long as America is immune. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.
Modi may have made waves by his attitude towards his Pakistani counterpart in New York, but with Obama those handshakes could turn once again to hand-wringing.
The bankrolling of bad behaviour by Islamabad and, more importantly, Rawalpindi, over successive American administrations has allowed them to develop skin that’s thicker than that of an armour-plated rhinoceros. It may be time to acknowledge that our cross-border crisis has developed with American aid.
Indian diplomacy is supposedly growing an economic arm, and it may be time for India to leverage its status of a global growth engine (as China sputters) to make Washington’s policy punditry see the light. Perhaps India-US economic engagement should be predicated on our disenchantment with the trajectory of US-Pakistan ties.
When I met Anjan, he told me that during a recent visit to Pakistan, his host informed him that he was being shadowed by intelligence officers. The cause apparently was that Anjan’s wife was dressed in a sari, thereby raising the question of their possible Indianness. If that kind of paranoia has seized that country’s establishment, you can well argue the needle of suspicion has been honed in Washington.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs. The views expressed are personal.