How the Future of South Asia Can Change!

Since Pakistan’s inception, its relationship with India has been mired by insecurity, hostility, suspicion and mistrust. Independence in 1947 was followed by conflict over the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmir dispute eventually led to the 1965 war, and that episode was subsequently followed by the Tashkent Declaration. Yet, the Tashkent Declaration was a short-lived attempt at forging amiable ties between both States as six years later, amid political and ethnic turmoil in Pakistan, in 1971 a second war took place. East Pakistan had declared independence, and West Pakistan lost its Eastern arm, partly due to Indian intervention in what was largely seen as an internal matter, in Pakistan. Pakistan blamed India for facilitating Bangladeshi nationalists and their quest for independence after being politically and ethnically discriminated. Despite Bangladesh gaining independence, enmity between the two States ratcheted up further, as India flexed its muscles and tested its nuclear weapons capability in 1974, and again in 1998. In response, Pakistan conducted its own nuclear weapons tests in 1998, which subsequently heightened tensions in the already volatile relationship between both countries.

The relationship between the United States and Pakistan have largely been viewed through a contextual global prism since the country’s inception in 1947. The US was one of the first countries to set up diplomatic ties with Pakistan, yet relations soured with the advent of the Cold War which shaped the former to pursue a relationship with Pakistan, as a balancing power against China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Economic aid provided to Pakistan has been largely, military in nature and Pakistan continues to remain as an important Non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally today.

After 1970, with the election of the leftist Pakistan People’s Party government, the already transactional relationship found itself in troubled waters, due to outright condemnation of war atrocities committed by the Pakistan military during the Bangladesh Liberation War. The relationship took another turn in the 1980s, after the Soviet coup in Afghanistan, and saw the US, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Zia-ul Haq-led government cooperate to curb the Soviet expansion in Afghanistan, a view to helping Afghan insurgents stave off the USSR.

Yet in the 1990s, Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons led to economic and military sanctions from the US, which were later lifted, after the US-led war on terror in 9/11, as the US sought the country as a vital ally in the War on Terror, given its geographical proximity to the restive country. Unlike Pakistan, whose military and economic security concerns necessitated and alignment with Russia or China, India sought no such alliance, and was in fact one of the pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement. However, India’s implementation of socialist policies led it to form a cooperative relationship with the USSR, which frayed its relations with the US.

The US, however, still sought improvements in their relationship with the country, primarily because it saw India as an effective counterweight against China, if not the USSR (and even supported India in the 1962 Sino-Indian war). The US support for Pakistan also led to tensions between India and the US. After India’s nuclear tests in the 1990s, sanctions were imposed by the US (though they were ineffective in ensuring that proliferation activities were abated). Recent relations between India and the US have considerably strengthened, particularly in the late 2000s, due to India’s economic liberalization; with substantive cooperation in sectors such as IT, the signing of a 10-year defence framework agreement along with the Nuclear Suppliers Group, signed in 2008. After 9/11, the US primarily sought Pakistan, as its strongest ally in the War on Terror. However, the US’s global strategic concerns still factored China’s increasing economic and military might as the biggest threat to its superpower status, which mean that India was subsequently viewed as the greatest foil to China. Shared concerns over China, Islamic terrorism and energy security ensured increased cooperation between the two countries. The relationship also strengthened over the US’s desire to ensure that Indian ingress in Afghanistan expands.

On the other hand, the Pakistani establishment feared Indian involvement in the country, more so when India started to pour in development money and opened up many consulates throughout Afghanistan. Pakistan’s concerns seem to be well founded as influential opinion in the US continues to argue for increased Indian involvement in rebuilding Afghanistan. Despite the Taliban being important to Pakistan’s historical policy of ‘strategic depth’ within the region, the country sided with the US over the latter’s involvement in Afghanistan. This led to sanctions against Pakistan being lifted, along with increased military and economic aid. The relationship, however, has swayed considerably. Many in the US believe that Pakistan is duplicitous in its relation-ship with the US by continuing to support the Taliban, an allegation that Pakistan categorically denies and has continued to deny. Subsequently, US officials often accused Pakistan of not doing enough with regards to its efforts in capturing the Taliban within the country’s North West restive belt. Even more devastatingly however, have been events such as the operation to kill Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad and its subsequent fallout (primarily about whether Pakistan knew about his presence in the country), along with the Salala incident where Pakistani soldiers were victims of a drone attack.

Over the past decade many diplomatic and military con-flicts have arisen between the two nations, where consider-able disagreement exists over the involvement of the Inter-services Intelligence in terror networks spread throughout Afghanistan, US drone strikes, the presence of CIA operatives in Pakistan or the ISI’s involvement in extrajudicial killings.

Pakistan’s relationship with the US has always been fairly complicated, but ostensibly one of the few constants has been the Pakistan public’s perception of its relationship. A recent Pew survey suggests that only 11 percent of Pakistanis have a favourable view of the US, down from 12 percent last year and 23 percent in 2000. Much of the Pakistani public’s opinion is shaped by media narratives, but occasionally US floundering in Pakistan – such as the Raymond Davis debacle – helps cement anti-American narratives.

Similarly, while both the military and political establishment continue to seek and rely on US aid, they are loath to admit so in public. Drone strikes within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, for example, do not occur without tacit con-sent from the Pakistani establishment; yet every drone strike is condemned by the military and political leaders, giving rise to increasing anti-American sentiment. With US troops on a tight timeline of withdrawal from Afghanistan, questions remain about the viability of a post-withdrawal Afghan government. Though Pakistan is invariably vital in how the region progresses after US troops withdrawal, Secretary Kerry’s statements about the significance of India’s involvement has raised flags in Pakistan. The US view is understandable, (particularly with regard to India helping set up and strengthen the Afghan democratic progress), it shows little regard for Pakistan’s concerns about Indian involvement in Afghanistan.

Peddled by the media and occasionally by the political establishment itself, conspiracy theories regarding the India-US alliance have become alarmingly common amongst Pakistani discourse on the region’s politics. The CIA often gets credit for terrorism in FATA – as it continues to be done so for Malala Yousufzai – and India’s intelligence services are routinely declared as the funding and services behind terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s major cities.

For many, the India-US alliance exists purely to facilitate the fall of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – a State feared for being the only Islamic nuclear power in the world. Hence too, the US’s emphasis and concern for the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The fear of denuclearisation feeds off of the pride of Pakistan being the world’s only Islamic State with nuclear technology and prowess. Though US concern for Pakistan’s nuclear warheads has never been secret, the extent of that fear and their efforts to keep tabs on it has never been fully made public till now. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that intelligence concentration on Pakistan is unparalleled,with special emphasis placed on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, and the risks associated with it. Both India and the US have considerable fears over Pakistan’s nuclear program, worrying that increasing radicalisation in Pakistan, as well as militant organizations such as the Taliban, might gain access to the weaponry.

Pakistan’s history of proliferation (ostensibly led by individuals such as Dr A Q Khan) adds substance to these worries. The Afghanistan issue, even more so with US withdrawal or drawdown (the plan seems woefully unclear) in 2014, is an incredibly complex and contentious one. Both India and Pakistan seek involvement in the country, for very different self-serving and geopolitical reasons. Pakistan often accuses India, as a result, of unnecessary involvement in the region and of using India’s intelligence services to operate along the Durand Line and trying to pry Pakistani soldiers from its Eastern front towards FATA.

India offering to train Afghan armed forces and police, Pakistan fears ins-urgent movements separate from the Taliban, trained by India and aimed at bogging the Pakistani armed forces down. Pakistan believes that by doing so, India would be able to focus on its own greater regional power concerns, without having to focus significantly on itself. India has a history to contend with too. Under the Taliban regime, Afghan soil was used against India as well. But these misgivings are not intractable. Pakistan’s new government under the civilian Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif aims to reset the relations with India.

Modest progress was made during the previous government in terms of trade and visa liberalization. The two countries can start talking about Afghanistan to begin with. The US will leave the region, but India and Pakistan are permanent neighbours and the dictates of geography demand a saner policy course. The future of South Asia and the course of India-Pakistan-US relations can change if all power re-imagine the future and work towards building solid areas of convergence. India-China trade is growing and US-China trade relations are well known. Pakistan can enter into the post-2014 phase as an energy hub with two ports and access to Central Asian energy reserves.

It is still not too late to do that.

First published on September 27, 2013

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