US View of Pakistan –– India Should Take Note

An IDC Report


New Delhi, 30 March 2005

USA took over from Britain the burden of the latter’s empire as it disintegrated after WW II. Hence the US policy towards India and Pakistan has been on the lines what the British had conceived at the time of granting independence to them –– namely to use Pakistan as a counterweight to India. This hyphenation of the two despite the imbalance in their size and potential has been a fact of US policy, which we in India should by now learn to live with. After 9/11, Pakistan continues to have a crucial importance for the US vis-à-vis India, due its interest in the oil reserves of the Middle East and Central Asia as also the need to have a picture card for dealing with the Muslim world.

The theory of India’s value as an emerging market and a regional force to assist USA’s long term interest for a possible counterweight to China and maritime security in the Indian Ocean as propagated by a section of Americans, is something that should be kept engaged without affecting the immediate requirement of the war on terror and consolidation of US position in Middle East and Central Asia. So for Pakistan, for some more time to come, at the least till India attains its economic pre-eminence, the US will continue to hold out carrots like F-16s and fiscal sustenance –– a cause of irritation to us notwithstanding.

Asked what the Bush administration’s motivation could be other than the popularly argued case that it was to reward Pakistan for supporting its war on terror, Larry Pressler has said: “The concept of rewarding a country for what any country should do is wrong... Pakistan has been rewarded enough. And in any case what have F-16s got to do with fighting terror?”…“I am not saying this because I want a good press in India but I think we are dancing with the devil,” he added. Further, senior US officials in a background briefing stated that the Bush administration had concluded that the future of South Asia is "simply vital to the future of the US" and that countries like India, Pakistan and Afghanistan will play a pivotal role in Washington's strategic perspective. “The strategic dialogue with India would be on levels one would discuss with a world power" and would include regional security issues and "things like the tsunami situation or Nepal. The United States is seeking a decisively broad strategic relationship with India, including in the military field, "to help India become a major world power". US will "respond positively" to the Indian request for information on next generation multi-role combat aircraft and will work with American companies that seek to sell this to India. "That's not just F-16s. It could be F-18s. But beyond that, the US is ready to discuss even more fundamental issues of defence transformation with India, including transformative systems in areas such as command and control, early warning and missile defense. Surely this is music to Indian ears!

While we must sincerely take on the US establishment on these offers and accept whatever is in our national and mutual interest, we would also do well to keep in mind Pakistan’s penchant for mischief whenever US has given it enough military hardware potential to threaten India. While in the case of Pakistan the latest US offer is restoration of an earlier arms supply relationship between Washington and Islamabad, for India the twin offers of combat aircraft and civilian nuclear reactors, prima facie, do constitute an unprecedented breakthrough in Indo–US relations. Hence we fully endorse Indian defence minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement –– India will “actively consider” Washington’s offer. “This is the first time we have received an offer of the kind from the US. Naturally, when the offer is there, it will have to be actively considered by the government keeping in view the requirements of our armed forces. Though earlier we used to have sometimes some equipment of high technology, never before an offer of such sophisticated equipment including planes and others were made which have been made now”.

In order to keep our engagement with US in perspective, we reproduce below an article by Praveen Swami, a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow, United States Institute of Peace, Washington, recently published in the South Asia Intelligence Review, that highlights the compulsions for US overtures to Pakistan.

The US Vision for Musharraf

By Praveen Swami

South Asia Intelligence Review

”[Turkey] had lost her leadership of Islam and Islam might now look to leadership to the Muslims of Russia. This would be a most dangerous attraction. There was therefore much to be said for the introduction of a new Muslim power supported by the science of Britain. It seemed to some of us very necessary to place Islam between Russian communism and Hindustan”. –– Sir Francis Tucker, General Officer-Commanding of the British Indian Eastern Command.

A little over half a century on, driven by the forces unleashed by the tragic events of September 11, 2001, imperial Britain's Pakistan project is being reinvented. It is hard to imagine a more unlikely caliph than Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, but that is precisely what the United States seems determined to anoint him. Pakistan, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Musharraf at their recent meeting in Islamabad, is "a model country for the Muslim world". Among other things, she praised Pakistan's president and chief of army staff, who came to power in a coup in 1999, for his "bold vision for South Asia and initiatives to promote peace and stability in the region".

Speaking in New Delhi, she emphasized the need to help Nepal –– where the monarch has seized power –– "get back on a democratic path". But evidently she felt no need to suggest something of the kind might be desirable in Pakistan as well. If the US felt any ire at Musharraf's inflammatory proclamation on his official website that the Kargil war of 1999 "proved a lesson to the Indians", it was not mentioned, at least not in public. All of which makes it necessary to ask the question: just what is the United States' own vision of stability in South Asia - and how precisely does it mean to go about achieving it? Casual readers of media reportage on Rice's recent visit to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan might be forgiven for thinking that the United States' principal interests in the region are arms sales and Iran, in that order. Much of the public discourse of Rice's visit focused on the prospect of the possible sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan, and the Patriot II anti-ballistic missile defense system to India.

The United States' concerns about the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India, passing through Pakistan, ranked second in terms of the space it occupied. Little was said, unless it figured behind closed doors, about continued terrorism directed at India, nuclear proliferation, the persistence of jihadi infrastructure in Pakistan, and, yes, democracy. F-16 aircraft and missile defense issues are, of course, important, and have a vital bearing on the security environment in South Asia. Neither, however, is a cause of instability; both are, rather, a consequence of a long-running disputation between India and Pakistan. Historically, the US has seen such sales, or their denial, as a way of addressing the security anxieties of the antagonists - principally, of Pakistan. It is quite obvious that the strategy, if it can be called one, has failed. The provision of weapons to Pakistan did not deter it from initiating wars in 1965 and 1999; nor, notably, have its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities meant an end to its fears about India's superior conventional capabilities. A few F-16s or a missile defense system will change little.

What, then, are we too make of Rice's pronouncements? Part of the problem is the Washington policy establishment's mode of understanding South Asia. Pakistan is cast within the frame of what is called "the Muslim World", and the United States' relations with that country are seen as integral to engagement with other countries where the bulk of the population happens to be of Islamic persuasion. Much policy production in the US rests on the a priori assumption that an entity called "the Muslim World" in fact exists, and that the cooptation of elements of this transnational entity is central to containing terrorism. Among the key corollaries of this credo is the notion that Islamist terrorism is the product of a confrontation between two immutable adversaries, "the West" and "the Muslims". In this vision, Musharraf's perceived "enlightened moderation" is the key not just to securing a purely tactical set of interests - in Afghanistan, for example - but to a far larger ideological project. Perhaps as a consequence, Musharraf has never been pressed to explain the content of his "enlightened moderation": the words themselves, evidently, are adequate.

In the vision of the United States' policy establishment, this enlightened moderation stands opposed to the Islamist postures of al-Qaeda, notwithstanding the considerable evidence that exists of cooperation and accommodation between the two. In essence, the US has thrown its weight behind the fabrication of an ummah, or community of believers, from a welter of peoples with different, often adversarial, histories, cultures and interests. It is a project that closely resembles that of the Islamists, even if its projected outcome is, of course, very different. Where might India fit into this vision? Although Rice's area of scholarly expertise is the former Eastern Bloc, she had articulated at least the outlines of a position on South Asia before her current assignment. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs in 2000, Rice suggested that the US ought to "pay closer attention to India's role in the regional balance". "There is a strong tendency," she pointed out, "conceptually to connect India with Pakistan and to think only of Kashmir or the nuclear competition between the two states. But India is [also] an element in China's calculation, and it should be in America's, too. India is not a great power yet, but it has the potential to emerge as one."

Put simply, Rice and the policy establishment she represents see India as a potential strategic counterweight to China. Many in India, notably former defense minister George Fernandes, have characterized its relationship with the US in much the same terms. This position, it needs to be noted, is not new. Until the US began a cautious detente with China in the 1970s, it underwrote Indian covert and sub-conventional military activities targeting Tibet. Among other things, the US supplied aircraft and technological equipment to what became the aviation research center of the Research and Analysis Wing, and provided training and weapons to the ethnic-Tibetan irregular force called Establishment 22, which fought with great distinction in the 1971 war. It is hard to miss the limitations of an India-US relationship founded mainly on a common set of concerns about China, however. Speaking prior to her arrival in New Delhi, Rice placed emphasis on "opportunities - economic, in terms of security, in terms of energy cooperation - that we can pursue with India".

The United States' alarm at the prospect of an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline illustrates the problems that arise from the fact that India must of necessity look west and north, and not just to its east. On the face of it, the sharing of assets between the three countries would be a factor for stability, something in which the US has a common interest. Criticism of the pipeline project has mainly emanated from a section of analysts in India, where some see enriching a hostile Islamabad as an exercise in folly, and not in the US. US reactions to the proposed pipeline deal, however, show the ways in which concerns about West Asia, in fact, shape policy toward South Asia, just as they did a half-century ago - and the problems that inevitably arise. Almost unnoticed is the fact that Rice's visit marks a step toward what critics in both India and Pakistan have long demanded - the end of hyphenation, or the removal of the implicit linkages of policy on one country and policy toward the other.

Yet Pakistan is not just part of "the Muslim World", whatever this might be, nor India merely a piece of a non-Muslim Asia that has China at its center. The destinies of both countries are intimately linked. The future of their relationship depends on Pakistan's ability to re-imagine itself as a secular, progressive and democratic state, not as a carriage-bearer for an Islamist ideological enterprise. Should Pakistan be encouraged to move in this direction, India will benefit - and so too would the authoritarian states to its west. The administration of President George W Bush has repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to the processes of democracy, and yet seems curiously bereft of the conceptual wherewithal to bring this about.

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