President Clinton is now on a much-publicized six-day state visit to South Asia. By reading this visit as a communicative sign we can derive many messages for the countries and communities involved. Indeed, this Clinton visit tells a lot more about India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the U.S. itself, and the Muslim community.
Look at the architecture of the sign -- the visit. It is essentially a visit to India that includes a 12-hour business trip to Bangladesh and a four-hour stopover in Pakistan. Clinton is not staying a single night in Bangladesh or Pakistan. The absence of even a night's stay in Bangladesh or Pakistan says a lot about where the heart and soul of the visit is in--India.
The visit of the U.S. president, first in 22 years, reflects recognition of India's achievement in various fields--such as politics, economy, industry, defense capability, scholarship, and technology. It is recognition of India, next to China, as the main power broker in the region and as the major business partner of the U.S.
After all, India has compelled this recognition. Despite having mounting economic, social and communal problems, India has sustained a democratic system for more than half a century now. According to Amartya Sen, the 1999 Nobel laureate in economics, the social accountability of governance emanating from democracy has prevented all potential famines in India--the types of famine that decimated the population of northern Bangladesh in 1974. Beyond preventing famines, India has developed a modern education system that has continues to produce quality human resources for both export and domestic support. Human resources have been the most influential of India's exports. For quite some time now, the Indian immigrants have played a leadership role American academia, business, agriculture, and industry. Their influence is now reflected in U.S. foreign policy shift in favor of India.
Compared to India, the political system of Pakistan has almost always been in shambles. Inordinate greed of the elected politicians and power hunger of the military have always thwarted Pakistan's political stability and possibilities for economic and educational progress. Lacking in political stability, governance with public accountability, and concomitant intellectual and economic development, Pakistan has allowed herself to be used as a U.S. instrument to court India and fight the Cold War with the USSR. The U.S. has never accepted Pakistan as an ally from the heart. That is why the U.S. stopped military aid to Pakistan when India began invading Pakistan in September 1965, even as India received arms shipments from the USSR. At the end or the Cold War, Pakistan has lost its strategic importance to the U.S.
Compared to this five-day visit to the ally of the Cold War foe, the four-hour stopover in Pakistan is bold-faced slap on the face of the Pakistani leaders, if not of the nation as a whole. Clinton has categorically and rightly said his stopover is not an endorsement of the military junta that toppled the corrupt government of Newaz Sharif recently. India will benefit from this unpaid publicity projecting Pakistan as a failed state governed by a ruling class that does not represent the people. For in this short visit of a U.S. president, first since 1969, Clinton will give Pakistan sermons on curbing "terrorism," on reducing tension with India over Kashmir, and on signing the CTBT.
The situation of Bangladesh is similar to, if not worse than Pakistan's. Like Pakistan, Bangladesh has been in a political chaos ever since 1971 when, with India's help, she seceded from Pakistan. In the past three decades, Bangladesh has had three coups, some 18 aborted coups, two fairly long military regimes, and several short-lived elected governments. Now Bangladesh has become too democratic to maintain a civic order in society. The elected governments in power cannot be and are not entrusted to hold free and fair elections. Opposition politicians find no other way to press their agenda than holding periodic hartals (strikes to shut down public activity) ranging from one to several days. Both government and corrupt politicians and the equally corrupt educators and their students have "socially" constructed an environment in which politicking thrives at the expense of fairness and scholarship. The politicians and teachers send their kids to India and other countries for education and use those of the masses as unpaid or low-paid gangsters in their dirty political games.
Yet, the Clinton visit, the first ever of a sitting U.S. president, is somewhat of a boost for Bangladesh. It projects Bangladesh in a fairly better light than Pakistan. Here the president will say nice words about the government, though unfortunately endorsing the one of the most corrupt and ruthless governments Bangladesh has ever had.
As a whole, the Clinton visit reinforces the pragmatic and expedient nature of the U.S. government. The 900 million people of India, with a 70 million competitive consumer middle class, certainly weigh more heavily than the 125 million people of Pakistan. Despite having a similar population, Bangladesh deserves a slightly better consideration than Pakistan because she has recently discovered oil and natural gas, good resources for U.S. companies to exploit.
As a member of the interpretive community, you can read into the Clinton visit a lot more than what I have just outlined in this brief space. The bottom line, however, is that we are living in a world of increasing complexity with possibilities for changing our predicament, our socioeconomic and community conditions. Unfortunately, as a community we the Muslims are still in slumber and suffering from a wishful nostalgia.
We have yet to realize the sociology, politics, and pragmatics of change. We have to realize why the U.S. now adores China and India despite their dismal records of human rights. Because the U.S. cannot ignore the strength of unity that both China and India have gathered--one billion people in each offering tremendous opportunities for innovation and trade. In addition, both the Chinese and the Indian immigrant communities are flexing their political muscles in the U.S. domestic politics.
We have yet to realize this strength of unity. One billion people of China or India can live together. But we the one plus billion Muslims have to live in 56 mostly tiny and failed states under despicable monarchies and dictatorships of various breeds, who cannot even agree to a common market. The sooner we realize that there is strength in unity, education, political activism, and collaboration, the earlier will we command respect and recognition throughout the world.
Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for iviews.com