Dispelling the Spooks about Nukes—I

IN Media Monitoring | 10/09/2005
Media representations in India and Pakistan of Indo-US relations. This part looks at media representations of the Indo-US defence pact.
 

 

 

 

In 2005 the Hoot has done a fresh round of Indo-Pak media monitoring. This is the first part of an analysis of comparative coverage of events in July. A Panos funded project on the Hoot.

 

 

 

Subarno Chattarji

 

 

Overview:

 

Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US in July 2005 was, by all media accounts, a crucial one and seen as a turning point in Indo-US relations. Chidanand Rajghatta claimed that India and the US were now in a ‘geo-strategic and economic embrace that will set the course for the 21st century equations in India and beyond’ (‘India, US enter into strategic partnership’, Times of India, July 18). While reports did dwell on the specifics of the guard of honour and the dinner hosted by a President who hates late nights and official dos, most of the articles and editorial pieces concentrated on the Indo-US nuclear deal and its consequences. The media prequel to the visit took the form of reports on the Defence Minister’s visit to the US prior to Dr. Singh’s and agreements signed therein. At the same time that the media was preoccupied with such high profile events there was the continual coverage of India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (UNSC), a blow by blow account of machinations, dealings, and hopes. While I look at each event as a discrete one there are obvious interconnections which need to be highlighted. The analysis will consider articles on these subjects in the month of July 2005 appearing in three broadsheets - The Hindu, Indian Express, The Times of India - and three newsmagazines - Frontline, India Today, Outlook. Pakistan media responses as evident in The Dawn, The Nation, and Daily Times, and The Herald and Newsline provide a comparative framework of analysis.

 

In this part I look at media representations of the Indo-US defence pact.

 

Indo-US Defence Pact - the Indian media response:

The prequel and the sequel to the Prime Minister’s visit figured most prominently in The Hindu which carried 20 articles and/or editorials related to Indo-US defence agreements. Two opinion pieces, Sandeep Dikshit’s, ‘Decoding the Indo-U.S. defence tie-up’ (5 July) and Amit Baruah’s, ‘A Damage Control Exercise’ (7 July) berated Pranab Mukherjee, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the Congress Party in particular for signing the defence pact with the US. ‘If it was only an exploratory visit, how did the two countries end up signing a document obligating India to a defence relationship some of whose provisions go against the tenets of its foreign policy?’ asked Dikshit.

 

Baruah accuses the Congress of betraying the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) commitment to an independent foreign policy and multi-polarity. Baruah tied the deal to India’s bid for a UNSC seat: ‘With the Americans indicating that a decision on extending support for India’s case for a permanent United Nations Security Council seat was to be taken by Mr. Bush, the defence framework appears to be part of the quid pro quo offered by the Government of India.’ As a result of political opposition Mr. Mukherjee first tried to mollify his critics and then denied the deal: ‘There has been no defence agreement or pact with the United States of America’ (12 July). The Hindu carried no comment on this bizarre retraction of a deal entered into by two sovereign states. Dr. Singh modified the denial saying that the deal was not a ‘defence pact’ but ‘a framework for defence relationships’ that were an extension of a 1995 agreement (16 July). This seemed like semantic juggling and further queered the pitch as no details of the 1995 agreement were publicly available.

 

India’s value as US strategic partner:

Siddharth Varadarajan’s article, ‘America, India and outsourcing imperial overreach’ (13 July) was more analytical and less hectoring than Baruah’s or Dikshit’s. He looked in detail at a report commissioned by the Pentagon in October 2002. Juli A. MacDonald’s The Indo-U.S. Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions offers fascinating insights into the motivational logic underlying shifts in US policy towards India. Primarily this report sees India as a strategic counter to China, the ways in which India will help in the ‘tethering’ of China, as well as India’s usefulness for ‘low end’ strategic designs of the US.

 

India’s value as a strategic counter to China has been trumpeted by the strategic establishment in India and the US, but it seems to overlook a basic asymmetry between India and China in military and economic terms. The only expression of the absurdity of India as a counterweight to China was articulated by S. Enders Wimbush: ‘China is a global economic power, so where’s the containment?’ (‘Tech That, And That,’ Outlook, 1 August). The ‘tethering’ theory also ignores the burgeoning trade between the US and China as well as its recent joint opposition to the expansion of the UNSC.

 

Despite these inconsistencies, The Hindu editorialized on the need for India to maintain its independent foreign policy: ‘If the new framework is implemented the way Washington wants, India will undercut its international stature and generate misgivings through much of Asia and beyond’ (‘Friends yes, but not allies please,’ 16 July). What precisely defines the scope and extent of this ‘international stature’ was not spelt out although there seemed to be nostalgia for the heydays of the non-aligned movement.

 

Conclusion:

Indian media coverage of the defence pact was cursory, largely confined to The Hindu, and concerned with the ways in which India had compromised its sovereign and military interests in its bid to gain technology and hardware. The overall tone was one of suspicion and dismay.

 

Pakistan broadsheets on the Indo-US defence pact:

Broadsheets under survey in Pakistan covered the Indo-US defence pact in far greater detail and frequency and ‘generate[d] misgivings’ aplenty. Dawn carried 22 pieces including a series of edits and opinion columns on the defence deal as well as nuclear cooperation, The Nation and Daily Times 11 pieces each. Considering that Pakistan was not directly involved in either event this saturation coverage might seem odd, but the two deals were perceived as crucial to Pakistan’s interests, foreign policy, and place vis-à-vis India in particular and emerging geopolitical scenarios. Pakistani media concerns can be analyzed under some broad categories as follows.

 

Multilateralism:

The anxiety and nostalgia expressed by The Hindu found an echo in Pakistan media. Aziz-ud-din Ahmad in ‘Will India take the bait?’ wrote, ‘In case India agrees to act as an American satrap in the region, it will lose the moral high ground it has frequently claimed’ (The Nation, July 14). Multi-polarity, or lack thereof, was one axis on which the Indo-US pact was justifiably critiqued.

 

Agha Shahi’s opinion piece, ‘Indo-US strategic pact’ (Dawn, July 28), began with the argument that Pakistan was entitled to the same benefits as India. Shahi also stressed the need for Pakistan to strengthen its relations with China, Russia, Iran, and Afghanistan. ‘All these countries have a common interest in a multi-polar world order in preference to global or regional hegemonism for establishing "strategic stability in the world."’ Pakistan’s insecurity in the midst of ‘regional hegemonism’ is transformed here into a strategic occupation of the moral high ground of multilateralism. Since India seems to have abandoned that high platform Pakistan can now fill the vacuum and simultaneously secure its borders.

 

Multilateralism, betrayal, insecurity, and Kashmir:

The Indo-US pact is constructed as a moment of national peril when internal solidarity rather than critical insight is the need of the hour. The sense of peril is heightened by the Pakistan media portraying a foreign policy establishment that had been outplayed by India and betrayed by the US. The anxiety of isolation (evident in repeated references to Pakistan’s ‘special relationship’ with China) coalesced with the desire for diplomatic and military parity with India.

 

An editorial in The Nation, ‘Left high and dry’ (July 1) expressed this idea of betrayal. ‘The US-India defence agreement indicates that all this [Musharraf being acclaimed by the Bush administration, Pakistan a major non-NATO ally] was no more than smoke and mirrors. While the government benefited in the sense that it came out of the international isolation that had been imposed on it, and was widely praised for collaboration, Pakistan’s strategic concerns remain unaddressed.’ These ‘strategic concerns’ centre on Kashmir and the US refusal to intervene.

 

Pakistan foreign policy makers are berated for depending too heavily on the US. ‘Unlike Pakistan, which has put all eggs in one basket, India still keeps its options open. The agreement with the US comes within weeks of India’s first "stand-alone" meeting with China and Russia at Vladivostok. The trilateral move was widely interpreted as a step toward promoting multi-polarity and countering US influence.’ This led to the conclusion: ‘Unless Pakistan has cordial relations with all major international players, it will find it difficult to cope with a large and hostile neighbour with hegemonic designs.’ The sense of having been out-maneuvered diplomatically by India creates a siege mentality.

 

Another Nation editorial on July 22, ‘US-India accords’, repeated this theme of betrayal: ‘It [Pakistan] has already paid a heavy price for cooperation with the US without gaining any assurance on some of its most vital concerns, notably Kashmir.’ It referred to ‘Kashmiri freedom fighters, with whom Pakistan enjoys little clout’ and blamed India for the failure of peace talks: ‘Despite the initiation of the composite dialogue, the first round spread over a whole year and the next one currently going on, no understanding whatsoever has been reached on any of the disputes, simply on account of Indian pigheadedness.’ A seeming analysis of the fallout of an Indo-US defence deal ends up as a catalogue of frustrations at lack of peace in the subcontinent. It reiterates a shopworn and coded rhetoric related to Kashmir with little analysis and less self-reflection.

 

Strategic disparity:

Ghayoor Ahmed’s ‘India’s defence ties with US’ (Dawn, July 7) cites Alan Kronstadt of the Congressional Research Center who avers that ‘"India and Pakistan are no longer perceived as equals in Washington. Pakistan is viewed as a middle power and India has the much greater strategic potential down the road. You won’t hear ‘strategic partner’ being used much with Pakistan but you will hear it with India." It’s thus clear that Washington’s foreign policy has now changed in India’s favour and the doctrine of parity between the two nations of South Asia has been abandoned.’

 

Afzaal Mahmood, a former ambassador, makes the same point in his opinion piece, ‘A Strategic Defence Pact’ (Dawn, July 9): ‘Pakistan is a valued US ally in the war against terrorism and continues to be even a major non-NATO ally. But the US has a deeper and a more meaningful strategic relationship with India. […] India now enjoys the unique distinction of being the "strategic partner" of both the US and China. It will be a feat of Indian diplomacy if it can manage to maintain this contradictory posture for long.’

 

Arms race and poverty:

An editorial, ‘An arms race in the offing?’ (Dawn, July 3), begins with the idea that the Indo-US defence deal (the Mukherjee-Rumsfeld prelude) will undermine the fragile peace process between two neighbours. It then makes the entirely valid point of wasted resources: ‘Already, Pakistan and India are spending more money on arms that they could possibly afford. This is a tragedy for their people, given the grinding poverty in the two countries. […] The people of Pakistan and India need a better life, and this could be ensured if their governments were less profligate with missiles and arms spending.’

 

This point was repeated in The Nation in an editorial, ‘Perpetuating Misery’ (July 2) and an opinion column by Farrukh Khan Pitafi, ‘Mocking Buddha’ (July 21). The former stated that the Indo-US pact ‘will perpetuate the pervasive misery in the region, letting it maintain the lamentable distinction of housing the largest mass of poverty-stricken people in the world’.

 

While this is true the edit implies that the blame for this rests entirely with India: ‘The history of bitterness and active hostility, and existing bilateral disputes, especially Kashmir, that have continued to fester because of India’s hegemonistic attitude, would compel Pakistan to divert its precious resources to defence preparedness, resources which otherwise would have been used to remove the evils of illiteracy, disease and poverty.’ Rhetorically Pakistan is absolved of all responsibility and there is no mention of decades of military rule or the corruption of power elites within Pakistan who may also have contributed to ‘illiteracy, disease and poverty’.

 

Pitafi begins with a long diatribe against India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and ends by blaming Pakistan’s backwardness on Indian policy. ‘India in my view then instead of trying to join the nuclear club officially as it already is a de facto power should have taken more time to seek western assistance to end the poverty of its downtrodden people. Such an effort would have granted Pakistan more breathing space to focus on the betterment of its own people too. […] What a pity then that a potential like India is being wasted owing only to the imperial hubris.’

 

India’s ‘imperial hubris’, its ‘delusions of becoming a superpower’ (Mohammad Jamil, ‘Convergence of Interests’ The Nation, July 23) are valid analytical observations. The emphasis on regional poverty and backwardness serves, however, as a mode of rhetorical displacement and precludes analysis of Pakistan’s own domestic and foreign policy.

 

Need for internal consolidation to counter India:

Occasionally opinion columns mention the need for national improvement and consolidation, but primarily to counter India’s hegemony. The formulations are monolithic and there is no analysis of the ills that plague Pakistan. Tariq Fatemi’s ‘Changing Equations in Asia’ (The Nation, July 10) embodies this idea: ‘Foreign policy can only enhance and improve what we have: it cannot make up for domestic deficiencies and shortcomings.’ Fatemi’s nostalgia for a time when the US ‘tilted’ towards Pakistan provides the context for stiffening the national spine: ‘The Nixon era saw the American president refer to the Indian prime minister as "a witch". Now India is the darling of the West.’ He also refers to the bonhomie between India and China as well as India and Russia: ‘We thus have this strange spectacle of India being courted by all the three major powers, all offering India special concessions to gain its friendship. This is not only proof of India’s current strength, but its estimated future potential as well.’

 

Maqbool Ahmad Bhatty in ‘Indo-US pact & our response’ (The Nation, July 25) repeats Fatemi’s anxiety about the need to strengthen Pakistan’s ‘all-weather friendship with China’ and concludes: ‘The effectiveness of our response will be determined by our internal strength and stability that will come from democratic institutions, economic dynamism, and national unity.’ The subtext is clear: that lack of democracy and unity affect Pakistan adversely.

 

Conclusions:

The broadsheets surveyed in Pakistani and Indian media reveal hierarchies of power and desire for power. In Pakistani media the Indo-US pact was also seen as a setback against the context of the London bombings and the subsequent battering of its national image in the western media. Simultaneous with editorials and opinion pieces on Indo-US defence deals were pieces on the need to reform Pakistan and move away from obscurantist politics. Sections of the Indian media (India Today in particular) have consistently highlighted the idea that Pakistan is a haven for jehadis, and that militant Islamism combined with the shenanigans of Abdul Qadir Khan make it a ‘rogue’ and ‘failed state’. Post 7/7 the Pakistan links of three of the London suicide bombers has again enabled sections of the British, US, and Indian press to reiterate the idea of a state barely under control. This would be one reason and context why the Indo-US pact received the kind of interest it did in Pakistan. While the Indian defence minister was busy denying the pact (to suit his domestic constituencies), Pakistan media saw it through the prism of its own anxieties and took this deal as well as the nuclear pact very seriously. In fact Pakistani media saw the Indo-US defence pact and the nuclear agreement as one seamless entity, which was analytically sound but revealed compounded domestic anxieties at the same time.

 

Subarno Chattarji teaches English at the university of Delhi and frequently analyses media coverage for the Hoot. Contact: chattarji_s@yahoo.com
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