South Asia, 'Stiffed'

Before Bush went to the United Nations, he promised that he would "tell the world" that Saddam Hussein was "stiffing the world". But isn't that what the US is doing to South Asia?
South Asia, 'Stiffed'

With terror feeding terror all over the world, with the United States preparing to escalate a war against Iraq that has killed hundreds of thousands over the past ten years, to think of the kind of voice, the kind of force, India should have been in the world compared to what it is, is tragic. Indeed both India and Pakistan have played a pivotal role in the war on terror, and everyone is worse off as a result. 

Bush went to the United Nations on September 13 and threatened it with 'irrelevance' if it did not go along with the US's plans for war. And what did India have to say, by way of response, to this huge crime in the making? India's Prime Minister Vajpayee made a remark worthy of Bush himself: "Those who speak of underlying or root causes of terrorism offer alibis to the terrorists and absolve them of responsibilities for their heinous actions such as the September 11 attacks on the United States" 

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Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Musharraf spent their time at the UN trading insults before the world, about Kashmir, of course. The last time the countries were at the brink of war over Kashmir was June. Back then Arundhati Roy wrote that "For the governments of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is not a problem, it's their perennial and spectacularly successful solution. Kashmir is the rabbit they pull out of their hats every time they need a rabbit." 

There are elections going on in Kashmir-- staggered polls, right now, that were boycotted by the militants but which still had high turnouts. There, too, is an old conflict with a long history, but not one that is beyond solution if the powers involved were serious about one.

Instead of making their peace with one another, however, Pakistan and more recently India now look to the US to settle their differences. In Tariq Ali's words "the policy-makers in New Delhi are ready to accept Washington's dictates globally if they are permitted to mimic the empire locally. So far permission has been refused and the presence of US soldiers and pilots in Pakistan acts as a safeguard. But for how long?" 

Pakistan has done so from the beginning, choosing to be a client state rather than to try to come to some sensible arrangement with its bigger and more powerful neighbour. There, the regime of President Musharraf is worrying about everything from trying to rig polls so he can extend his term in office, to trying to control or quietly support the militants who it never really stopped supporting in Kashmir, to dealing with the repercussions of having destroyed the Taliban (at US orders) in Afghanistan, which Pakistan helped to create (at US orders), to the suppression of peasants in Okara who are struggling for rights to land. 

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Two stories can tell more about the relationship between the South Asian countries and the United States than reams of statistics. In 1980, Pakistan asked the United States for F-16 fighter aircraft. The deal that Pakistan and the United States had had until then was simple: the US supported Pakistan's military as its South Asian Cold War ally, and Pakistan used the weapons to threaten India. The US, not particularly interested in aggression against India, would try to strike a balance between arming Pakistan for its own purposes and not arming Pakistan so much that it would upset India unduly. The US decided in 1980 that giving Pakistan F-16s was too much of a provocation to India. And then changed its mind and offered the aircraft. But in 1990, Pakistan with its nuclear program was caught in a ban, and the $564 million economic and military aid program planned for 1991 was frozen. The F-16s were caught, too. The planes sat in Arizona. 

But "to help the financially troubled General Dynamics Corporation, with whom Pakistan had contracted to purchase the aircraft, the Pentagon urged Islamabad not to stop payments-- even though deliveries were frozen by the Pressler amendment… After considering various options, including invoking a penalty clause to avoid further payments, Pakistan followed the Pentagon's advice. As a result, even though the F-16s remained mothballed on the western desert sands of Arizona, the US supplier received an additional several hundred million dollars before Pakistan finally suspended disbursements in 1993." 

The story of the F-16s does not end there. In 1994 the US offered to deliver the F-16s if Pakistan would freeze its nuclear program. Pakistan talked tough in reply: it would not "bargain away Pakistan's nuclear programme for F-16s or anything else." Later that year Pakistan's prime minister put her foot down: "We want either the planes or the money back… we think this is all very unfair." President Clinton agreed-- to start looking for a third party to sell the planes to, from the sale of which the funds could go to Pakistan. The original plan was to sell the F-16s to Indonesia, but there was too much publicity about the human rights record of that regime for the sale to go through in 1996 when the opportunity arose. 

In December of 1998, the Pakistanis began legal action against the US government to recover their money. The lawsuit empowered the administration to "tap a special fund used to pay judgments against the US government. Since the Justice Department had assessed the chances of losing at 70 percent, the administration could tap the special fund for this percentage of the $470 million that was owed to Pakistan for the F-16s. To cover the remaining amount, the president accepted a Pakistani suggestion that the US government make a 'best effort' to provide $140 million of wheat and other commodities on a grant basis over the coming two years." (the whole story is from Dennis Kux, "The US and Pakistan 1947-2000: Estranged Allies")

What is the opportunity cost of several hundred million dollars being paid out over years and years and never fully recovered, for one of the poorest countries in the world? Expressed in nutrition, or health care, or water quality, what was the cost of those stupid fighter jets that never came?

In India, the story is one of a US company called Union Carbide (now called Dow Chemical) and it starts in 1984.

"The night of Dec 2-3, 1984, cannot and should not be forgotten. That night, 40 tons of the deadly gas Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) spewed from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal-the cloud of gas engulfed entire wards of the city; thousands of people died horrible deaths, drowning in their own bodily fluids, lungs and eyes aflame. Tens of thousands were maimed that night itself. As time passed, ailments developed and the drinking water in the gas-affected wards became toxic, thus producing a continuous and constant set of wracking health risks. Over the last 18 years, the number of people whose lives and bodies have been shattered exceeds 200,000. As of today, 30 people die monthly as a result of gas-related ailments and over 120,000 people are in need of urgent medical care. Of these, 80,000 are too ill to perform manual labor, thereby rendering them unable to support their families."

The gas leaked because the refrigeration unit was turned off, to save $40 a day, and because the plant was of shoddy construction. Union Carbide denied responsibility for years. And then paid, interestingly, in an out-of-court settlement, $470 million to the government of India. Warren Anderson, the CEO of the company at the time, has been declared a fugitive by Indian authorities and there is a criminal case against him for culpable homicide that began in 1992. 

His lawyer says "We never agreed to submit to the criminal jurisdiction of the Indian courts. The civil case was settled long ago. You can't undo injury. The best that could be done was done… Warren Anderson is not dodging due process. He's not hiding from anybody. He leads a normal retired life. He has places in Florida and New York where he resides. He plays golf every day, he socialises with people." He was actually 'found', on Long Island, by an activist from Greenpeace.

Before Bush went to the United Nations, he promised that he would "tell the world" that Saddam Hussein was "stiffing the world." But if being 'stiffed' means fighting over the scraps of someone's table while they eat more than their fill, if it means dancing while someone else calls the tune, then it's South Asians who are being stiffed and it is the United States doing the stiffing.

(Justin Podur lives in Toronto and is a columnist and developer for ZNet and maintains their South Asia Watch)

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