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America's India Problem

January 27, 2002|SELIG S. HARRISON | Selig S. Harrison has reported on South Asia since 1951 and written five books on the region. He is director of the National Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

WASHINGTON — "If Pakistan is an ally of the United States of America ... good luck to the United States of America."

When Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh made this caustic remark to an American journalist recently, he was sending multiple messages to Washington. The most obvious one was that Pakistan remains a hotbed of Islamic extremists, despite President Pervez Musharraf's promised crackdown, and cannot be trusted. But at a deeper level, his words also serve as a powerful reminder that Indian anger over Pakistani provocations in Kashmir is directed not only at Islamabad, but also at the United States.

Behind the polite diplomatic exchanges now taking place between New Delhi and Washington lies the Indian belief that America's unconditional embrace of Musharraf since Sept. 11 has emboldened Pakistani hawks to step up their pressure in Kashmir. More broadly, in this view, U.S. military aid to Pakistan (some $7.3 billion over the past five decades) has encouraged Pakistan to twist India's tail, and there is no sign yet that Washington is ready for a showdown with Musharraf if he fails to stop cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

If the United States wants to restrain Indian hawks and help prevent another India-Pakistan war, the Bush administration should send a threefold message back to New Delhi: first, that it regards India, some seven times bigger than Pakistan, as the focus of U.S. interests in South Asia; second, that it will gradually phase out U.S. military cooperation with Islamabad now that the need for it is declining; and finally, that it will make economic aid to Musharraf conditional on an end to Pakistani army support for Islamic militants infiltrating Kashmir.

Until Sept. 11, the White House was moving toward a long-overdue reversal of Cold War policies, in which Washington either tilted toward Islamabad or, at best, treated India on a par with Pakistan--notwithstanding its superior size and its growing importance to the United States as a counterweight to China in the Asian balance of power.

Since the World Trade Center and Pentagon tragedies, in the hopes of getting military and intelligence cooperation in Afghanistan, the United States has lionized Musharraf, showering him with a cornucopia of economic aid--no strings attached--that has so far included $600 million in immediate cash infusions, $2.1 billion in projected grants and credits, $1.5 billion in International Monetary Fund credits (which had previously been blocked by the United States because Pakistan had not met IMF criteria) and a rescheduling of $12.2 billion in Pakistan's debt to a U.S.-led consortium of aid donors (including $3.75 billion owed directly to the United States). This aid was possible only after sanctions imposed on Pakistan after its 1998 nuclear test were lifted in the wake of Sept. 11.

With budgetary sleight of hand, much of this economic aid can be used to subsidize military spending. More important, Pentagon statements increasingly envisage the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Pakistan, closer Pakistani ties with the U.S. Central Command, the supplying of spare parts and components for U.S. weapons already in Pakistani hands and a possible resumption of grants and sales of military hardware.

To balance out its growing ties with Islamabad, the United States is offering to sell sophisticated defense equipment to New Delhi. Since India wants to get as much as it can while the getting is good, New Delhi is not making a public fuss, for the moment, over the U.S. embrace of Pakistan. If a U.S. military role there temporarily serves Indian interests, New Delhi will swallow it. But the test in Indian eyes will be whether Musharraf's crackdown on Islamic extremists extends to Kashmir, and whether it will last or is merely a tactical gambit.

New trouble in Kashmir would quickly bring to the surface sublimated Indian anxieties over a long-term U.S. military role in Pakistan. In any case, Musharraf has strongly advised against such a role, warning that Pakistani anger over U.S. policy in the Middle East would make U.S. forces a divisive issue. To the extent that a continuing U.S. military role is needed in Afghanistan to back up peacekeeping forces, it can be adequately supported by the new U.S. military base now being established in Kandahar.

The Pentagon spin that the U.S. military role in Pakistan relates only to the "war on terrorism" rekindles Indian memories of earlier reassurances by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 that the program of "limited" weapons aid to Pakistan then unfolding was solely for use against communist aggression. By 1965, the United States had provided $3.8 billion in military hardware to Pakistan. This led the military dictator then ruling in Islamabad, Gen. Ayub Khan, to launch cross-border raids in Kashmir that triggered a broader war, in which Pakistan, predictably, relied primarily on its U.S. planes and tanks.

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