US and South Asia

US positive vibes about India is nothing new, it has been in existence since 1947 but the relationship has had its ups and downs, particularly during the period India was an ardent anti-US champion as leader of the “non-aligned” countries basically an anti-west pro-soviet Russian bloc. The pro-India is lobby’s views were best expressed by then US Ambassador (to India) Chester Bowles in his May 25, 1965 Memo annunciating that India should be the main US partner in Asia for containing China. The times may have changed, the policy has been revamped to reflect the same aim. Earlier to the SAARC event in January 2004, an Independent Task Force co-sponsored by the “Council on Foreign Relations” and the “Asia Society” took out a report, viz “New Priorities in South Asia: US Policy towards India, Pakistan and Afghanistan”. As the Task Force states “India represents a partner of great value” for the US, being one of the world’s largest economies and its increasing security presence in the Indian Ocean region. Despite policy disagreements there are many converging issues of consequence that encourages the US to “transform this relationship into a genuine partnership”.

The Independent Task Force recommended that the US and India must, viz (1) expand political security, military and intelligence cooperation (2) intensify dialogue on economic and trade issues (3) negotiate a trade agreement in services. Further that the US should, viz (1) ease restrictions on cooperation with India in the civilian satellite sector (2) grant India “friendly” country status in export licenses for transfers of defense equipment (3) ease restrictions on the export to India of dual-use items of civilian and military uses and (4) encourage US official and private entities to expand and develop cooperative programs with Indian counterparts. It encouraged India to viz (1) implement domestic economic reforms with greater vigor (2) open its economy by reducing administrative restrictions and other barriers to foreign trade and investment and (3) reduce administrative restrictions impeding cooperative, academic and foundation activities. This has now been expressed as a policy statement by President Bush in offering India a “Strategic Alliance”. It may be noted that when the new US administration took over in January 2001 and annunciated its National Security Strategy, China was labeled as a “strategic competitor” and India an ally to contain China, 9/11 had made US change its course but it seems that the Bush Administration is now returning to its original policy statement.

The Task Force recognized that US-Pakistan relations have improved considerably since 9/11 because of Pakistan’s important geo-political role in the “war against terrorism” but noted that the interests of the two nations only partially coincide, mainly because of differing perceptions of the two countries about freedom fighters and militants in Kashmir, and while the US faults Pakistan for failing to restrain from Talibaan elements in using the tribal territories as a safe sanctuary, it worries that continuing India-Pakistan tension may hamper US relations with India. Despite Pakistan’s laudable goal of making (in Musharraf’s words) “Pakistan a modern, progressive and dynamic State”, the Task Force opined it cannot be achieved given “unstable political institutions, weak economic and social development”, and “an uncertain military commitment to reform”. The Pakistan policy recommended states that US should viz (1) obtain early congressional approval for a five-year, $ 3 billion assistance package with two-thirds ($ 400 million annually) allocated for economic and on-third ($ 200 million annually) for security assistance (2) condition the release of aid on Pakistan’s progress in political, economic and social reform implementation, cooperation in the “war on terrorism” and prevention of leakage of sensitive nuclear technology and material (3) make education the principal focus of US assistance with high priority for projects that develop Pashtun areas (4) boost economic and technical support for institutions of good governance -” the courts, parliament, police, democratic political parties and revenue collection (5) use appropriated funds to buy back Pakistan’s official debt to the US and (6) ease restrictions on Pakistani textile imports into the US, avoiding new barriers after the multifibre agreement comes into effect in 2005. In contrast to the unfettered positive recommendations made by the Task Force for India, Pakistan must view with concern that almost all the recommendations for Pakistan were conditional. Obviously we cannot equate ourselves with India economically and politically but then again we have been a consistent ally to the US while India remained vocally in the opposite Soviet camp. This “India first” policy of the US should not only be regarded with concern but with consternation.

To live amicably with one another, India and Pakistan will have to address the core issues, contain the inherent dangers and pursue a settlement actively. Kashmir remains the greatest single threat to regional stability and the possibility of a nuclear confrontation all too real. The US has been engaging in crisis management. Given the dangers inherent the inability if India-Pakistan to achieve progress on their own, this approach was judged inadequate by the Task Force. There should be a long term US diplomatic effort to facilitate and sustain a bilateral process that will gradually lead to resolution of bilateral differences, including the core dispute over Kashmir. The Task Force feels the US should stress on Pakistan the need to (1) permanently prevent infiltration across the LOC and (2) modify its present negotiating stance, which makes progress on Kashmir a pre-condition for dealing with other India-Pakistan issues. As for India, the US pressure is perfunctory, they need to (1) actively engage in trying to reach an understanding with the elected Jammu and Kashmir State Government to better address the aspirations of Kashmiris and increase the pace of economic development and (2) reduce the level of activity by Indian security forces and improve their human rights record. US diplomacy should help India and Pakistan develop a framework that will enable them to address more constructively issues such as nuclear confidence -” building measures (CBMs), de-escalation along the LOC and the Siachen Glacier, expanded trade relations, easing movement of people and reducing hate propaganda.

US lives with a recurring fear (shared by the developed world) that the possibility of a conventional India-Pakistan conflict becoming a nuclear conflagration remains very real. The Untied States is advised by the Task Force to, viz (1) urge India and Pakistan to initiate nuclear discussions without holding these hostage to progress on the Kashmir dispute, seeking agreement on nuclear CBMs, including establishment of nuclear risk reduction centers, to lessen the chance that accidents, misperceptions, or misunderstandings might trigger a nuclear response. The US government is urged to search for ways to find a place for a nuclear India and Pakistan within the global nonproliferation system. At the same time, it is essential that more rigorous controls to prevent the export of sensitive nuclear technology or material be implemented.

The US has always been deeply interested in South Asia, both for economic and political reasons. No sooner had the SAARC Summit concluded successfully, a whole bunch of analysts opined that US pressure was the major reason for the resumption of India-Pakistan talks. Even though US officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell denied being an “unseen presence” in Islamabad, they made no secret about actively encouraging peace measures between the sub-continent’s two nuclear rivals and a readiness to facilitate further dialogue to ensure that the present “peace mood” persisted in both the near and distant future. In the end, both India and Pakistan probably opted for talks both because of domestic compulsions and external pressures. If the US can get India and Pakistan to a working arrangement that brings enduring peace, the US policy in South Asia will be a resounding success and act as a model for other potential trouble-spots where US policy is ambivalent at this time.