November 4, 2007 / 9:06 AM / 11 years ago

Cautious India hopes Pakistan crisis won't rock ties

By Alistair Scrutton

NEW DELHI, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Some of the most muted international reaction to Pakistan’s emergency rule has come from India, reflecting New Delhi’s need for stability with a nuclear-armed rival and neighbour amid a fragile peace process.

While the United States said it was "deeply disturbed" by President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule — echoing similar condemnations from former colonial power Britain and the Commonwealth — India was far more cautious.

"We regret the difficult times that Pakistan is passing through. We trust that conditions of normalcy will soon return permitting Pakistan’s transition to stability and democracy to continue," an Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, deployed troops, shut down privately-run television stations and sacked a top judge on Saturday night, saying the action was needed to counter rising militancy and a hostile judiciary.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh consulted with his Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the crisis, the Press Trust of India said, but no more details were available.

Washington and many Western allies view Pakistan as a bulwark in the U.S.’s "War on Terror" after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Pakistan is seen as key to a victory of Western allies against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

But for India, the issue is far more about ensuring that any instability in Pakistan does not spill over its own borders and lead to increased militant attacks in Indian-ruled Kashmir or bombings of Indian cities

Indian and Pakistan have been involved in talks since 2004 to solve several territorial flashpoints, bringing hope of peace between the two states that have been to war three times and nearly fought each other in 2002.

"India has different priorities than the West," said C. Raja Mohan, a Singapore-based Indian strategic affairs expert.

"India cannot afford the luxury of preaching democracy to a nuclear neighbour. Relations with Pakistan are historically at their best. So why spoil that?"

Infiltration by militants from Pakistan into Indian Kashmir have fallen in the past three years after international pressure on Pakistan to rein in guerrilla groups. Regular exchanges of fire across the line separating India and Pakistan in Kashmir have stopped since late 2003.

"For the United States and the West their worries about Pakistan are related to their worries about Afghanistan. For India it’s basically about Kashmir," Mohan added.

EGGS IN ONE BASKET?

However, while India’s priorities may be different from the West, India will still be just as worried that Musharraf’s emergency rule could lead to more political chaos.

Just as with neighbouring Myanmar on its eastern border, India has focused its diplomatic ties with a military government and will do so as long as it remains in power.

Traditionally, India has said it has to do business with whoever is in power in Pakistan.

"Just like the United States, India has put all its eggs in one basket in hoping Musharraf will wiggle his way out of these crises," said Ajai Sahni of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management.

"India has no Plan B if Musharraf fails. As a neighbour, India fears it could be the first to feel the heat if Pakistan implodes."

The peace process has been frozen this year amid the political turmoil in Pakistan. But the dialogue has still managed to reduce tensions, help maintain a military truce and led to a fall in violence in Kashmir, the main dispute between the rivals.

The worry for India would be signs the army was no longer able to keep order in Pakistan.

"The government sees stability in Pakistan in the hands of the military. An implosion in Pakistan would be a nightmare for India," said Sukh Deo Muni, a South Asia expert at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"Now all India can do is wait and see."




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