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U.S. Should Press India as Well as Pakistan

June 02, 2002|ROBERT G. WIRSING | Robert G. Wirsing is a South Asia specialist at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. The views expressed here are his own.

India and Pakistan already have fought three wars with each other. Now they're hurtling toward another--and potentially horrible--armed clash. The only undecided issue seems to be whether this conflict is days, weeks or months ahead.

Yet in the face of this palpable menace, the Bush administration has been making seemingly endless one-sided appeals that focus on Pakistan and only compound President Pervez Musharraf's dilemma. This has forced Musharraf further into a corner from which he can extricate himself only by belligerent military gestures.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration's appeals for restraint have been met not with compliance but with defiance. Witness, for example, Pakistan's provocative recent testing of the Ghauri and Ghaznavi ballistic missiles.

What President Bush must do instead is commit the U.S. to a sustained diplomatic initiative that takes as its core principle the application of pressure equally to both sides. This means recognizing that India also is responsible for the escalating crisis. It's not just Musharraf failing to stop infiltration across the Line of Control in Kashmir.

In fact, India has been playing the U.S. like a violin throughout this crisis. It is getting from Washington the carte blanche it seeks, which is to advance the agenda in regard to Kashmir that India has sought for years. The war on terrorism has provided New Delhi with a bus, and it has clambered on board.

How can it be that the world's sole superpower--the acknowledged leader of a global counter-terrorist coalition that includes both India and Pakistan--can't bring enough pressure to bear on them to head off potential catastrophe? This despite the Bush administration's remarkable achievement of having developed, in the space of less than a year, simultaneous and collaborative government-to-government and military-to-military relationships with both of these states?

There are three reasons for this frustrating and dangerous predicament, two of which arise from the subcontinent's own internal dynamics.

One of these pertains to India. Militarily much mightier than Pakistan, it is currently ruled by a weak and increasingly unpopular coalition government. Its public has been outraged by terrorist atrocities committed on Indian soil by so-called jihadists, who New Delhi insists are supported and guided by Islamabad.

An enthusiastic supporter of Washington's war on terrorism, New Delhi is understandably disappointed that the Bush administration has held back from applying the same standard of terrorist sponsorship to Pakistan's support of insurgent activity in Kashmir as was applied to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. As a result, appeals by right-wing Hindu nationalists that India should "crush" Pakistan are getting an increasingly receptive audience in India.

The second reason pertains to Pakistan. Its government, the result of a 1999 coup, has lost much of the public support it initially possessed. Now faced with widespread public resentment over the government's apparent kowtowing to Washington--about whose long-range intentions in the subcontinent there is massive public distrust--Islamabad is extremely reluctant to make concessions demanded by New Delhi as a quid pro quo for India's backing off militarily.

Most Pakistanis are likely to view any such concessions not only as an abject surrender to India's months-long campaign of coercive diplomacy but also as a serious blow to the nation's long-standing Kashmir cause.

The third reason for the Bush administration's current frustration is a byproduct of Washington's own policy shortcomings. One major mistake has been to pin U.S. hopes for preventing the war on the naive belief that, whether by bullying or the offer to help extricate Pakistan from its economic straits, Washington could eventually extract enough concessions from Musharraf to pacify India.

This belief, unfortunately, runs up against the wall of Musharraf's determination neither to commit political suicide with his own people nor to jeopardize his nation's long-term interests.

Most mistaken, however, has been the Bush administration's unwillingness to break loose from Washington's refusal--except in the extremely unlikely event that both sides demand it--to take an active role in efforts to reduce tensions and work toward peace in the region.

What is needed is more evenhanded U.S. pressure on both sides to come to their senses about the gravity of the situation they now face.

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