Did President Bush Play Cricket in South Asia?
By Ras H. Siddiqui

A great deal has already been written on the visit of President George W. Bush to South Asia (read Afghanistan, India and Pakistan) recently. The actual outcome may be different from published media reports that have been circulated, but after reading them it appears that Afghanistan received the carrot, Pakistan the stick and India half of a desirable nuclear cake.
President Hamid Karzai must have been happy to be assured of continued US support for Afghanistan and for a bigger future role for his government in a country which has had a historic problem accepting any type of rule. Karzai’s writ will (God willing!) one day reach beyond the city of Kabul without the presence of a few thousand US troops.
That the Afghans deserve as much assistance as possible is not going to find many doubters. The sacrifices that these people have made to end the Cold War in America’s favor (with Pakistani assistance) cannot be easily overlooked. It was the lack of control on American and Pakistani proxies in the lawless landscape left behind by the former Soviet Union that drove policy planners to seek extreme solutions like their initial support for the Taliban.
Pipeline politics also played a key role in this quick-fix seeking world after some of our former radical Islamist friends celebrated freedom and victory by demolishing a great deal of what was left of a once beautiful Kabul. Afghanistan it seems is back to square one again but this time wisdom has prevailed in Washington. The bitter lesson that the world has learned through 9/11 is that declaring victory and leaving the scene was never a good option.
Next, President Bush visited India and made history. Not only did he appear to be following up on the opening made by President Bill Clinton in the year 2000, but this was possibly the first such warm and friendly visit by a Republican US President to Delhi since the new India gained independence. Support for India now appears to be bipartisan in Washington. And why should it not be? Trade between the United States and India has been steadily rising (although not anywhere nears the Chinese level yet). India has played its cards wisely by remaining Non-Aligned or sympathizing with the Soviets in a number of instances during the Cold War. But with its democratic tradition (sans Kashmir), secular image and now as a team player in the global economy, India has made a place for itself on the world map as a force to be reckoned with. And on Kashmir it has landed on the correct side of the current international momentum as a victim of terrorist violence.
President Bush spent several days in India as a leader of a country which would like to do more business with an emerging power and to share a bright economic future with it. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself received him on his arrival at the airport and the media in both countries could do little except highlight the positive nature of this relationship. In actuality, in spite of the Nixon years, India has been groomed as the democratic (and military?) counterweight to Communist China since 1962 after a war in Aksai Chin during which India lost a substantial part of what it thought was its Kashmiri territory. That was the first time that the Kashmir dispute helped India (as it became a victim of Communist aggression). Now it appears to be helping it for the second time as it finds itself on the same side as America in the new cold war against radical Islam. And that brings us to the final leg of this visit.
President Bush visited Pakistan under the cover of darkness and secrecy. Although he stayed longer than President Clinton in 2000 and received a full “progress report” on what often appears to be an ally on probation, he did not mince many words in projecting his desire to see more done by General Musharraf against terrorist groups that are creating nuisance worldwide. And nowhere did he mention America’s own past role in the creation of these groups. And he did not dispute the fact the United States now views its relationship with India and Pakistan differently and that it was not going to be mediating on Kashmir between the two. But as a saving grace (for Pakistanis) he did get a chance to play the game of cricket during his stay and in the process learned what a “googly” was.
In cricket, a googly is a deceptive ball bowled or “pitched” (for American readers here) in a way that a batsman will expect it to spin in a certain direction but it does just the opposite after it hits the ground. Some, who are somewhat familiar with the game will describe it as a ball pitched as a leg break but one that turns into an off break due to a last minute finger and wrist maneuver by an experienced bowler or pitcher.
The media worldwide showed President Bush batting to this deceptive ball. What it may have overlooked is the googlies that he delivered to South Asian leaders during this visit.
If one leaves out Afghanistan for a moment (a country not known for playing cricket), both India and Pakistan received a mixed message during this visit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India was happy to talk trade and be recognized as a “Half-Nuclear power when he expects to be a full member of the club. And General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan ended up receiving a message on his “Half-Democracy” when he thought that he was well on his way to full democracy. Either way googlies were pitched during the Bush visit to both these countries. The only question now is which way this ball will turn once it hits the ground?
One is sure that Iran will be closely watching the new Indian nuclear status. And Pakistani democratic opposition leaders in exile, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, will both be studying events that may lead to their inclusion or exclusion from possible elections next year in Pakistan.
In either case both Indian and Pakistani leaders need to revisit their expectations after this Bush visit. And maybe it would be better to hold off on predictions until the Bush-American ball that has been pitched actually hits the ground? “Howzzat?”


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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