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May 13, 2003

India, Israel, USA

India's startling change of axis

NEW DELHI - Having preempted the efforts of the United States for peace in South Asia by its own offer of normalization of relations with Pakistan, India has renewed its bid for an axis with Washington and Israel to counter Pakistan, which Delhi describes as the hub of Islamic fundamentalism and international terrorism. The terminology being officially used for this proposed axis is rather innocuous - democratic alliance against terrorism.

While Washington's response is not known, this has created a storm in Indian politics itself, forcing the main opposition Congress party, which ruled India for its first 45 years of independence, to deplore the Hindu fundamentalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government for its "obsession with Israel" even at the cost of national interests.

India's national security adviser Brajesh Mishra outlined the proposal for a US-Israel-India axis against Islamic fundamentalism in Washington last Thursday. Mishra is perhaps the most trusted aide of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and served for several years as the head of the BJP's foreign affairs cell before the party came to power five years ago.

In an address to a meeting of the American Jewish Committee, Mishra argued that democratic countries that are the prime targets of international terrorism should form a "viable alliance" and develop multilateral mechanisms to counter the menace. He identified India, the US and Israel as countries fitting that description. "Such an alliance would have the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocation. It would not get bogged down in definitional and causal arguments about terrorism," he maintained.

Speaking after a meeting with his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice, Mishra hit out at the Pakistani bid to characterize Kashmiri militants as freedom fighters. The talk that terrorism can be eradicated only by addressing its root causes is "nonsense" he said amid applause. He said that preventive measures like blocking financial supplies, disrupting networks, sharing intelligence and simplifying extradition procedures can be effective only through international cooperation "based on trust and shared values".

At his meeting with Rice, Mishra is understood to have rebutted the claim of Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf that "nothing is happening across the Line of Control" that divides the Indian and Pakistani-administered areas of Kashmir. He acquainted her with an Indian perspective on the continuing incidents of terrorist violence in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). His meeting with Rice came within hours of Musharraf making the assertion to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in Islamabad.

Mishra gave Rice an update on the peace moves made by India. He also touched on some of the outstanding bilateral issues. He sought early US action on the "trinity" of issues: high-technology commerce, civilian nuclear energy cooperation and collaboration in space. India believes that early action on these issues could take the India-US relationship to a qualitatively new level of partnership. He pointed out in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday that he hoped the decks will be cleared for the flow of dual-use technologies between the countries since India has consistently followed responsible policies.

While the US has not come up with any response yet, Indian opposition parties have attacked the ruling coalition for its "strange and perverse" obsession with Israel. The most vocal among these has been the Congress. It attacked the BJP-led government on Saturday. "Obsession with Israel on the part of the coalition government is strange and perverse ... when Israel is facing international isolation. It shows the intellectual insolvency of the government," party spokesman S Jaipal Reddy said. MORE