Courtesy Reuters

India's Fine Balance


When September 11 came, India responded rapidly and decisively. On learning of the terrorist attacks on the United States, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee convened his key advisers and they quickly decided that India would offer its full support for the U.S. war on terrorism.

Their decision was driven in part by India's own problems with terrorism. For a decade, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) had been orchestrating a nasty proxy war against India in Kashmir. Although the insurgency there was rooted in Kashmiri opposition to Indian rule, the ISI helped militant groups train, equip, and move jihadis, or "freedom fighters," across the Line of Control, which separates Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir. In joining with Washington, New Delhi hoped to transform this latest and bloodiest chapter of 50 years of Indo-Pakistani conflict into part of the global war against terrorism -- with Pakistan's ISI cast in the role of al Qaeda and India as the victim.

Seizing an opportunity to outmaneuver Pakistan while improving India's relationship with the United States, however, is not the only item on Vajpayee's post-9/11 agenda. He and his government must also handle domestic political crises and deadly communal violence while recharging India's faltering economy. Failure to balance these various challenges could risk the government's electoral mandate and slow India's rise to great-power status.


New Delhi's prompt support for the war on terrorism marked a further step in the rapprochement with Washington that had begun in the final years of Bill Clinton's presidency. For most of the last 50 years, the world's two largest democracies have been far from friendly. Ties between them had plummeted only recently, when the United States imposed sanctions after India conducted nuclear tests in May 1998. Nine rounds of talks between Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh soon followed, helping to clear the air. The real turning point, however, came in mid-1999 when Clinton forcefully intervened to get Pakistan to withdraw the forces it had

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