Rising on Barmecide's yeast
By M J Akbar
Third Eye - In India Today
November 12, 2010
Never underestimate the nutritional value of Barmecide's feast, even if it feeds the senses rather than the stomach. For those unfamiliar with the psychological weapons used in the medieval Abbasid court at Baghdad, Barmecide would invite the impoverished to a fictitious repast filled with platitudes from an ardent host and gratitude from the fervent guest.
Obama cannot afford to upset the only functioning mercenary force at the service of the Pentagon, the Pakistan army.Illusion has its place in statecraft; at least it nudges a promise towards the end of a rainbow. Is cynicism appropriate, even if Barack Obama's promise to support India's demand for a permanent place for India in the Security Council was heavily qualified by his spokesman within hours of his departure from Delhi? The spokesman merely stressed the obvious: there was neither a calendar for, nor a route map to, the promised land. But, as grandmother has told us, something is better than nothing.
On the eve of the crucial New Hampshire primary for the 2008 American presidential election, an exasperated Bill Clinton exploded in public, telling an astonished audience that Obama had spun "the biggest fairy tale". Like all good fairy tales, it had a happy ending. Obama is in the White House. But fairies can be addictive. Obama rationed his fairies as he responded to Indian public opinion. Before the visit, his position was UN reform was "complicated", to quote the precise word. When he realised the need for a "return gift" after picking up 76,000 jobs from the Indian private and public sectors, he calmly handed over something that just might get on to his successor's agenda if Obama is lucky enough to survive in the White House till 2018.
Obama mentioned Pakistan for the first time at 12.32 p.m. on Sunday in response to a student's question in Mumbai. [The students were far better than the selected journalists authorised to lob soft questions at Obama at the official press conference.] Obama called Pakistan a vast country; perhaps he was thinking of a vast battlefield. His initial formula for eternal peace on the subcontinent was the sort of thing that looks eminently reasonable on paper until you begin to parse the sentences. India, he parried, should have a vested interest in poor, troubled Pakistan's stability.
This is the sort of sentiment that can win you a premature Nobel Prize but disintegrates before evidence. Pakistan is tremor-neutral when it comes to inflicting damage upon India. If Pakistan was not stable in October 1947 then it will never be stable as long as it exists. Instead of negotiating over Jammu and Kashmir across the table, leaders as eminent as Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan sent thousands of terrorists to seize Srinagar. Pakistan began Indo-Pak relations with a declaration of a war that has never ceased. Self-appointed Field Marshal Ayub Khan crowned his highly stable career with the two-pronged 1965 war, in which both irregulars and regulars were sent to battle. Pakistan may have been unstable when it lost half the country in 1971, but that was its own doing. It was certainly perfectly stable when General Zia ul Haq armed, funded and sheltered partisans of the secessionist Khalistan movement. Terrorism in Kashmir is endless. For six decades, the destabilisation of India through terror has been the motif of Pakistan policy. So how does it matter to India whether Pakistan is stable or unstable?
Obama's visit was perfect from his point of view. He wobbled a bit on a slippery tightrope, but did not fall. With one eye on Islamabad and the other on Delhi, it was hardly surprising that he looked cross-eyed occasionally. The moot point is obvious: Pakistan is Obama's wartime ally, India merely a peacetime friend. Obama cannot afford to upset the only functioning mercenary force at the service of the Pentagon, the Pakistan army. The Pak army's annual pay grade of about $3.5 billion is a blip on the $700 billion the Pentagon spends yearly. Israel and Egypt get as much in aid for far less work. Come to think of it, the outsourcing of IT jobs to India probably costs America more than outsourcing the Afghan war to Pakistan.
Did Delhi get anything more substantial than the illusory comfort of a piece of paper reiterating known positions? Obama has done nothing substantive about India-centric terrorism from Pak havens in two years. What are the odds that he will do anything in the next two, despite a patronising pat on India's back with talk of equality? Since floating on illusion is our preferred hobby,we lapped up this rubbish. India is not an equal of America, and will not be for some time. Illusion served Barmecide well enough.
Note: Barmecide's feast never works without cooperation from the victim.