Nehru and Bhutto*

By A G Noorani

ARE they relevant today? Also, is it not odd to mention together two persons of dissimilar traits and values? The reader would be justified in asking these questions.

He would be surprised when reminded that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto praised Jawaharlal Nehru’s “historic contribution to the evolution of world affairs by articulating the principle of non-alignment”. He criticised Nehru for his denunciation of those who “for compelling reasons” opted for an alliance.

On Oct 31, 1976, Prime Minister Bhutto published an unusual article. To it were appended 17 documents supplied by the cabinet division and the ministries of foreign affairs and information. He published them with their permission, he quaintly acknowledged. Its theme was bilateralism as “the guiding principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy”.

Zafrulla Khan and Ghulam Mohammed were Anglophiles who transferred their affections to the United States. They did not admire Nehru. Bhutto, a Third World nationalist, did. Circumstances compelled Pakistan to forge alliances but he yearned for independence while remaining allied. Nehru’s non-alignment was shorthand for freedom to choose. This solid core of that credo which Bhutto shared is very relevant in 2009.

John Foster Dulles famously denounced non-alignment as “immoral” on June 9, 1956. But why did Condoleezza Rice have to assert that non-alignment “has lost its meaning” in a speech to the US-India Business Council on June 27, 2007? For the same reason that prompted her to ridicule the very concept of “an international community” as “illusory” and tell a European audience in London at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on June 26, 2003 that the ideas of “a unified Europe to balance America” and of “multipolarity” are irrelevant.

The conclusion is obvious. The US wants to preserve a unipolar world with itself as the sole fount of power. Despite their differences, Russia and China prize the American connection. So do India and Pakistan. But America seeks camp followers.

Bhutto’s lament in 1969 has a contemporary ring: “India and Pakistan have already given the equivalent of the Diwani of Bengal, bestowed by the Mughal emperor on Clive, in order to obtain foreign economic and military assistance. It seems that neither country has learnt the lesson from that part of our inglorious past that brought about the subjugation of our people for almost 200 years.”

In the October 1976 article he held: “A prerequisite of clean and consistent bilateral relations is the substance of non-alignment in the sense that the relations are confined to the limits of the common national interests of the two powers concerned and do not exceed these limits inimically to the interest of a third country.”

He desperately drove the square peg of alliance into the round hole of non-alignment. “The idea of conducting and developing our relations with each of the great powers on a bilateral basis identifying areas of cooperation with one without repudiating an alliance with another and thus evolving an internally

consistent and integrated policy requires no justification and implies no moral pretence.” On this Bhutto was right. Nehru was wrong in covering a policy based on the national interest with the halo of superior morality.

What were “the compelling reasons” that drove Pakistan to seek US support? Estrangement from India, of course. Archival disclosures establish that initially Nehru saw the US as a desirable ally. In 1948, he sought a “long-term military collaboration” through the military attaché in the Indian embassy, Col. B.M. Kaul, behind the back of Ambassador Asaf Ali. The State Department was assured on April 2, 1948 that “India would under no circumstances align itself with the Soviet Union in a war between the latter and the US”.

There was another factor. In 1949, Nehru told C.L. Sulzberger of The New York Times that “more and more” the Soviet Union was following a “nationalistic expansionist policy”. When in 1950 the ambassador to the USSR, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, counselled a friendship treaty, Nehru sharply rejected the advice. India concluded a more potent treaty in 1971.

By then, the policies of India and Pakistan had changed a lot. They had voted much the same way in the UN General Assembly from 1947 till 1951 when Pakistan began to sound the US for military aid. In truth non-alignment prevails only so long as there is no major dispute between practitioners. If it arises, the weaker of the two will seek external support driving the other to the rival bloc.

The state which opts for an alliance no more barters away its freedom than one which is non-aligned. Denmark refused to accept US troops on its soil. Norway, often enough, votes differently from most Nato members. Pakistan ignored US advice and forged an entente with China. The restraints which alliances impose are self-imposed; in self-interest. The non-aligned impose similar discipline on themselves when they deem it necessary in their self-interest; on Hungary and Afghanistan for example. In 1968, India and Pakistan, as members of the Security Council refused to denounce the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

India and Pakistan have traversed a chequered route since 1951. Both need America’s friendship but not its umpire-ship. Yet, in 1990, 1999 (Kargil), 2002 and in 2008, US intervention was eagerly sought and readily given.

A piece of advice given 85 years ago retains its relevance although it was given in a different context. Addressing the All India Muslim League session at the Globe Theatre in Lahore on May 24, 1924, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah said, “If we wish to be free people, let us unite; but if we wish to continue (as) slaves of the bureaucracy, let us fight amongst ourselves and gratify our vanity over petty matters, an Englishman being our arbiter”.

The writer is an Indian lawyer and an author.

* First published in Dawn


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