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Pakistan divides U.S. and India

Washington should stop providing Islamabad with weaponry that can be used against India and take a realistic view of the reasons for Indian-Pakistani tensions.

November 08, 2010|By Selig S. Harrison

" Obama Mission: Billions to Pakistan, Billions From India" — This screaming headline in the Times of India ahead of President Obama's visit to New Delhi explains why a quiet crisis is developing in what seems, on the surface, to be an increasingly promising relationship between the world's two largest democracies.

Calling for a strategic partnership, Washington has pressed New Delhi to buy $11 billion in U.S. fighter aircraft and to sign defense agreements permitting U.S. military aircraft to refuel at Indian airfields and for U.S. naval vessels to dock in Indian ports. But New Delhi responds that the United States can hardly be a strategic partner if it continues to build up the military capabilities of a hostile Pakistan that sponsors Islamist terrorists dedicated to India's destruction.

The Obama visit this weekend will no doubt strengthen growing cooperation between the United States and India in trade, investment and high technology that contrasts strikingly with the mutual suspicions of the Cold War decades. Promising plans explored at recent G-20 meetings for a new global currency exchange rate regime were also on the agenda.

But the full potential of U.S.-Indian cooperation, including naval cooperation in the face of an increasingly ambitious China, will not be realized until Washington stops providing Islamabad with weaponry that can be used against India and takes a realistic view of the reasons for Indian-Pakistani tensions.

Since 9/11, the U.S. has showered $13.5 billion in military hardware on Islamabad, and it pledged another $2 billion last month. The Pentagon justifies this buildup in the name of combating terrorism. But the big-ticket items have all strengthened Pakistani air and naval capabilities needed for potential combat with India, not for counterinsurgency mountain warfare against the Taliban.

For example, post-2001 U.S. military aid has more than doubled Pakistan's fleet of nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets, equipping them with state-of-the-art missiles and laser-guided bombs, and has tripled the number of its anti-submarine helicopters and anti-ship missiles. Before 2001, Pakistan had 200 TOW antitank missiles, crucial in plains warfare with India but of little use in mountain warfare against tribal jihadis. Now it has 5,250.

The message from Islamabad is that Pakistan's "insecurity" in the face of Indian power explains why it aids the Taliban in Afghanistan, and that a settlement over the disputed Kashmir region would lead Pakistan to abandon support for Islamist forces. Bob Woodward's book, "Obama's Wars," shows in detail that the U.S. intelligence community has accepted this argument uncritically and that it has impressed the president.

But the reason Pakistan supports the Taliban is that it wants to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan with its own surrogates. This objective would not be altered by a Kashmir settlement. More important, the underlying reason for Pakistan's feelings of insecurity is that it is an artificial entity hastily patched together by the British Raj in the 1947 partition.

The Muslim League movement that campaigned in then-undivided India to create Pakistan had limited mass support in the areas that were to constitute the new state. Recent historical studies have conclusively established that Pakistan came into being primarily because league leaders had agreed to give Britain military bases there, while India's Jawaharlal Nehru had declared his intention to pursue a nonaligned foreign policy.

No state had ever combined the four incompatible ethnic regions that make up Pakistan today, encompassing the dominant Punjabi and large Baluchi, Pashtun and Sindhi minorities, each with their own ancestral territory. The minorities had fought throughout history to resist domination by the Punjabi, but it was a Punjabi-dominated army that took over the new state.

The U.S. has held Pakistan together for the last half-century by pouring billions in military aid into a series of military dictatorships, initially in return for intelligence-monitoring facilities to spy on Soviet missile sites, later for helping to aid the Afghan resistance and, since 2001, to compensate for cooperation in the "war on terror."

The army has become a bloated behemoth that dominates Pakistani politics and fans tensions with India to justify the huge defense budgets that underlie its privileged position in Pakistani society. Apart from their dominant position in real estate, current and retired generals run army-linked business conglomerates with net assets totaling $38 billion.

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