Bobby Jindal isn’t the only one fretting over hyphenation. But unlike him, the Pakistan establishment wants that bit of punctuation to return to American dialogue, in terms of how Washington approaches New Delhi.
It’s been six years since it became part of the Af-Pak paradigm for the US, replacing the subcontinental India-Pakistan equivalence, some would say ambivalence. That was a MAD doctrine of its own — Mutually Assured Denomination. But then came the rift, the most symbolic of which is that US President Barack Obama has visited India twice, and his Air Force One has yet to touch down in Islamabad.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to New York for the 70th anniversary of the United Nations this September, he is also expected to have a third bilateral with Obama. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s PM Nawaz Sharif is pleading for a similar dialogue to be dished out to him. A meeting in Washington was sought this summer, and in its absence, an expected autumn summit has been requested.
But, as the NSAs of India and Pakistan may well keep their tryst in a fortnight, the US is paying attention. Tension is playing up in Afghanistan, with the Taliban splitting heirs over who will succeed Mullah Omar, even as the Isis has snuck into the nation. Obama would rather that Kabul stays relatively calm till he can kick the explosive canister down the road to his successor in 18 months. Islamabad certainly figures in that formula, but Washington is hoping for a reaction that’s inert.
That’s possibly why there’s been some polite ear service being paid this year to Pakistan’s propaganda about the Indian ‘hand’ in terror in its territory. Once again, it’s that yearning for America to return to that splicing of yore.
Pakistan’s ISI director general Rizwan Akhtar did his American tour in 2015 complaining about India’s ‘support’ to the Tehreek-e-Taliban. The conspiracy state has even attempted to tie India to the Peshawar attack. Akhtar’s boss, army chief Raheel Sharif dossed out dossiers about India’s ‘inimical actions’.
Pakistan’s defence minister Khwaja Asif sees India backing separatist groups in Balochistan, since some attackers apparently carried Indian passports. Pakistani television teems with conspiracy theories centred on one sentence from a February 2014 Ajit Doval speech, when he said, "You can do one Mumbai, you may lose Balochistan." Similarly, the NSA’s doctrine of ‘offensive defence’ has left people fuming across the border. In June, #AtankwadiIndia trended in Pakistan, as its foreign secretary Aizaz Chaudhry went with ‘fresh evidence’ of the R&AW’s raw work. Meanwhile, their fertile minds have led to planting stories about the Muttahida Qaumi Movement being funded by New Delhi. Even Pakistan’s interior minister Nisar Ali Khan joined the chorus on the sidelines of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. Through that ongoing effort, there’s an attempt to colour India as a co-sponsor of terror in the region, though the effort has had all the impact of a sponge hitting a wet blanket. Despite the yearlong fishing expedition, Washington hasn’t even nibbled at the bait. Those twinges for twinning remain.
Meanwhile, the mounds of evidence that Pakistan’s been peddling as proof of India’s perfidy haven’t quite amounted to a molehill. India’s version, though, has been generally accepted. That’s why the US has a bounty on Hafiz Saeed, and several officials have spoken up about export of terror from Pakistani soil to India and Afghanistan. Even the former director general of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, Tariq Khosa, has added to that paperwork, as he wrote this week: "Pakistan has to deal with the Mumbai mayhem, planned and launched from its soil." The capture of an infiltrator in India adds to the body count.
But all that is unlikely to prevent the next Pakistani delegation to the US from trying to drag India down to its level, because of this unbalanced liking for being linked to India. In the end, Pakistan remains engaged in this questionable quest of staying a hyphen nation.
(Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs. The views expressed are personal)