George W. Bush, Terrorism and Policy Towards South Asia

Dr. Parama Sinha Palit

The US President George W. Bush’s re-election poses at least one major question with regard to his foreign policy initiatives in his second term—whether the administration will see an overhaul in foreign policy-making or not. The President’s involvement with India-Pakistan has not been a major foreign policy priority for the administration during his first term. The issue, nevertheless, is an important strategic concern for the US. Both Bush and his Democratic rival John Kerry, sidelined the two South Asian countries in their election debates except over the issue of outsourcing. However, the two countries will occupy center stage once the President settles himself and focuses on South Asia—the hub of terrorism.

Historically, there has always been a strong tendency to connect India and Pakistan and in turn their equation with the United States. The immediate pre-election period witnessed Indo-US relations plunge to a low with the Jaswant-Powell disagreement (October 2004) over US facilitating the restoration of peace process between India and Pakistan. The two ‘estranged democracies’ had come close after Bush became the US President in 2000, but once again Pakistan factored in the relationship after President Bush announced the ‘global war against terrorism’ in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Pakistan subsequently emerged as a ‘frontline’ state of this US led war given its strategic location. Ever since Islamabad joined the bandwagon, Washington has tried to please President Pervez Musharraf in every single way. Not only has the Major non NATO Ally (MNNA) status been granted to Pakistan, but also during Musharraf's visit to Washington in July 2003, US President announced an economic development and defense-aid package of $3 billion over the next five years.

With respect to India the Next Step in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) remains at a consultation level until now. In so far as putting pressure on Musharraf to come down heavily on the fundamentalists is concerned, there is little coming through for India. Pakistan continues to pose as a ‘rogue’ state as far as terrorism and proliferation is concerned. In August, Musharraf declared that Pakistan was upgrading weapons and refining its nukes arsenal. While he continues to be the Army Chief, he has done nothing to restore democracy as he had earlier promised. The recent visit of Richard Armitage to Pakistan is yet another evidence of President Bush’s endeavor to strengthen ties with the country which has transformed Pakistan from the ‘pariah state’ on the verge of bankruptcy to a strategic, and prospering ally of the US.

In the meantime, Osama bin Laden remains elusive. According to reports Bin Laden is living in a safe abode in South Waziristan, a tribal area along Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The region is believed to be dominated by Taliban and Al Qaeda members and it is impossible to get a hold over Laden here. The Al Qaeda in the meanwhile is acquiring a new face. President Musharraf’s crackdown on Al Qaeda’s command structure is breeding new militant Islamist threats in Pakistan. A terrorist organization, Jundullah (Army of God), was set up in 2003 by middle class professionals signaling Pakistani people’s disillusionment with President Musharraf’s pro-US policies. The organization’s composition further reflects the urban character of the new terrorist groupings. According to an article in the Far Eastern Economic Review (August 26, 2004), there are some 20 such terrorist cells operating in Karachi.

If United States’ security is of paramount importance for the re-elected President, his second term has to be more focused on fighting terrorism. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s congratulatory letter to President Bush for his re-election to the Oval office refers to exactly this—continuation to denial of ‘any comfort or encouragement to religious extremism or terrorism, and resolve to ensure their complete elimination as an acceptable instrument of state policy.’ An effective anti-terrorism policy calls for restoration of democracy in Pakistan as an initial step for bringing peace in the region. Washington needs to give up its archaic policy of playing one country against the other for its own national interest.

The next few months will see the world scrutinizing the US President in his handling of many new challenges, till he is able to prove himself to the American people and the international community. President Bush requires to consider his second term as a new opportunity to serve the international community as a true leader and not as vindication of his earlier position.

Author Note
Dr. Parama Sinha Palit is a Foreign Policy Analyst based in New Delhi