For 55 years, US relations with Pakistan and India have been seesaw – as one goes up, the other goes down. But since September 11, 2001, US relations with Pakistan have blossomed. And over the past few years, India and the US have also been getting on better than ever.
So, for the first time, America’s relationship with both sides is on the upswing at the same time, and also for the first time, both Pakistan and India are US allies in the war on terrorism. This gives Washington real leverage.
The US cannot abandon a strategically important nation like Pakistan. Millions of dollars have been pumped in as a gift for its support for the US attack on Afghanistan.
US Special Forces in Pakistan are still hunting for Al-Qaeda militants, while President Pervez Musharraf has already cracked down on madrassas (religious schools) and changed the country’s election system.
Washington hopes that Pakistan under Musharraf will not only help its war efforts, but will also back away from being a centre of militant and political Islam.
Nor can America ignore India, the world’s biggest democracy. There have been joint exercises between the US and Indian forces near Agra recently. The US has also indicated it will supply modern military equipment to India.
With a total active armed force exceeding 600,000 and a reserve of more than half a million, Pakistan has one of the ten largest armed forces in the world. It also has the world’s eighth largest nuclear weapons capability, with its Ghauri missile having a range of 1500 kilometres. However, its nuclear command and control system is fairly primitive – it is vulnerable, has little redundancy and poor technical capability, and invites pre-emption in a crisis situation. It also raises the spectre of inadvertent or unauthorised use of nuclear weapons.
There is no denying the fact that anti-US sentiments prevail in Pakistan stemming from a belief that the Americans have been unreliable allies. There is also widespread resentment against US support for Israel and the US-led bombing of Iraq.
Thus, co-operating with the US in the war on terrorism is unpopular in many parts of Pakistan, greatly adding to the political stress within the country.
Yet Pakistan’s military regime appears to be stable. There is no imminent danger of the Islamists taking power or even significantly undermining the existing power structure. But years of bad governance, coupled with corruption and a feudal mentality, have created fissures within Pakistani society that could be exacerbated by the present conflict.
General Musharraf holds the liberal view that Pakistan’s ills are as a result of the presence of fundamentalists and a corrupt ruling class. The remedies are to disperse power, crack down on extremists, establish the rule of law and encourage private enterprise.
He probably shares the Western worry that, if reforms fail, extremists will take over. So the the pressing need is to control huge numbers of Islamic militants within Pakistan.
These groups initially were part of a conscious Pakistani policy of encouraging Jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Educated in their respective brands of Islam, these groups have presented Islam as an alternative model of political organisation to Pakistani youth. Unable to find employment, a number of these are listening to the message and joining militant groups.
General Musharraf has taken steps to combat Islamic extremism, targeting key leaders and moving against the madrassas, which were a breeding ground for fighters in Kashmir and Afghanistan under the Taliban.
He has also banned many extremist Jihadi bodies, and changed the country’s election system. More recently, the military regime has begun to impose some controls on groups supporting Jihad in Kashmir with prohibition of public fundraising.
The fact that Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies have been working in unison with their American counterparts in search of terrorists is a source of immense satisfaction for those who value freedom.
Considering Pakistan’s meagre resources and its relatively less sophisticated law-enforcement apparatus, its Government should consider the American offer of assistance as a blessing. It will go a long way towards the establishment of a terror-free society in Pakistan and should serve the national security interests of both countries.
Despite Pakistan’s support for the United States in the war on terrorism and President George W. Bush’s continuing public expressions of support for Musharraf, Islamabad faces mounting criticism from within the Bush Administration.
For now, a rift between the US and Pakistan is unlikely as long as the US faces threats from Al-Qaeda and tensions between India and Pakistan exist.
The United States will continue to figure importantly in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The general feeling seems to be that Pakistan would like to have even closer relations with Washington. The latter can, after all, guarantee Pakistan’s security as well as its economic wellbeing.
The South Asian region has witnessed a high level of insecurity ever since the region became independent from colonial rule. This condition has persisted even after the events of September 11. The main problem in Indo-Pakistan relations has been that of the security dilemma, a condition where any increase in a country’s security arouses fear in the hearts of its adversaries, thereby leading to a reduction in its security.
The long-running dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir threatened last year to bring the two nuclear-armed countries to war. The Indian government took an aggressive posture and deployed more than a million troops, backed by heavy artillery and a formidable array of air power, along the 2880 kilometre Line of Control.
Pakistan responded by doing the same. As India threatened war, Pakistan declared its readiness to retaliate.
India has declared a nuclear “no-first-use” policy, but Pakistan has indicated it is prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory. In other words, the message clearly indicates that if Pakistan’s existence is threatened, it is likely to use nuclear weapons. Neither nation has a well-developed nuclear doctrine; neither knows what would provoke a nuclear response from the other.
Alarmed by the rapid escalation in tensions, the United States and the international community have called for restraint on both sides. US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, visited India and Pakistan in July 2002 to reassure South Asian leaders that Washington has their interests in mind.
Powell met with the leaders of both countries, but came away with no concrete agreement to bring the two together. He acknowledged it would take a long-term effort by the US to help the two neighbouring countries bridge their differences over Kashmir.
The causes of the underlying hostility are political, not military or nuclear.
Only by first shifting the political foundations of this situation can we hope to decrease nuclear tensions, not the other way round. High-ranking military officers in Pakistan recognise that peace with India is a necessity. Indeed, it is often heard that only peace can enable both countries to develop to their full potential.
Three schools of thought on India have existed in Pakistan’s decision-making circles.
1) Those belonging to the orthodox school of thought view India as being unconditionally hostile to Pakistan. Drawing upon examples from the tortured history of Indo-Pakistan relations, they argue that India has never accepted the reality of Pakistan. Nor is it willing to accept Pakistan as an ‘equal’ in the region.
2) The Islamists in Pakistani decision-making circles have shared the notion of unconditional Indian hostility with the orthodox group. But their perspective expands to include the idea of a Hindu India collaborating with the Christian West and Jewish Israel to weaken Muslim states. Pakistan, as one of the most populous Muslim states with a nuclear capability, is seen as a primary target for this collusion.
Countering this threat, in their view, requires multiple strategies at various levels. They advocate alliances among Muslim states at the international level.
The Islamists argue that Pakistan has a religious and moral responsibility to support the Kashmiri struggle against the Indian occupation so that they can finally join Pakistan.
Meanwhile, however, the support for the ‘freedom struggle’ is seen as providing strategic value to Pakistan as well. Keeping India engaged and bogged down in Kashmir is expected to reduce its ability to pose a threat to Pakistan’s security.
3) These views stand in marked contrast to those held by the moderate/liberal elements in Pakistani decision-making circles. They do not consider India to be “unconditionally hostile” towards Pakistan.
Rather, in their view, Indian hostility can be modified and controlled by a mix of appropriate military capability and engagement with New Delhi. These groups have urged cooperation and engagement with India.
The need for such engagement, in their opinion, has increased as Pakistan’s economic situation has deteriorated. These groups have been concerned about the increased defence spending at the expense of social-welfare sectors of the economy, as well as the deterioration of the Pakistani economy and its repercussions for the stability of the state.
Focusing on the agenda of economic reconstruction, they have encouraged policies aimed at reducing the level of tension between the two states.
In this context, they have supported increasing the frequency and scope of people-to-people contacts between the two societies. More importantly, they have suggested the need to amicably resolve the Kashmir dispute.
These views of the moderate/liberal groups on the nature of Indian hostility draw attention to Indian analysts. For a number of years, some Indian analysts have been arguing that a linkage exists between Pakistani and Indian security. A weakening Pakistan, in their view, could have repercussions for India including the revival of fissiparous tendencies among some states.
Such a view is supported by business groups, which highlight the economic complementarity between the two states. They argue that an economically integrated or cooperative South Asia would be able to play a stronger role in the global economy than a divided region. These considerations have emerged as India is poised now to take up its role as an aspiring great power.
- Dr Sharif Shuja lectures at the University of Melbourne