Problems in South Asia
CBS reporter Monday morning I didn't catch the name, coming in at the end
of the report was probably not conscious of implicitly endorsing a theory
of international relations and political action, and one without a whole lot of
evidence behind it. Discussing the fact that the presidents of India and Pakistan
would be at the same conference Monday but would not be talking directly to one
another, the reporter said (paraphrasing slightly) something like "that void
of diplomacy has been filled by violence and hatred."
imagine what a world it would be if we were to look at the assumptions that would
have to underlie such a comment and tease out the implications. Is it true that
whenever there is a dearth of diplomacy whenever the striped-pants set
is not gripping, grinning and laboring behind the scenes that violence
and hatred, always bubbling under the surface unless the sterling members of the
"international community" are being not just active but proactive, is
moment's reflection should reveal that this is not only not the case in every
instance, it is seldom the case. I live in a neighborhood that is almost completely
devoid of official supervision the police drift through only when called,
there's no flying squad of professional mediators, no particularly visible official
presence, a city council that would rather squabble and negotiate deals than try
to rule us day-to-day and almost completely devoid of conflict or hard
feelings. If the implicit assumption were true that violence flows in when there's
a "void" of diplomacy, I would be afraid to go home at night without
a weapon in my glove box.
suspect that's true of thousands of neighborhoods around the world. Hatred, violence
and political divisions are not the natural state of mankind, kept in check only
through the tireless exertions of wise rulers and diplomats. They have particular
roots in history, the exertions of political leaders using disreputable means
to gain support, attacks by others, and sometimes in ethnic or national differences.
we are to have any hope at all of building a more peaceful world, it is important
to acknowledge this. It is not simply a lack of diplomatic attention from wise
superpowers that leads to cross-border and ethnic conflict, at least not very
often. Concentrated attention from the representatives of the superpowers, therefore,
is seldom the sovereign cure for brewing hostility. Imagining that just a bit
more attention from the responsible members of the world community will ease the
latest tensions, then, is often a formula for disaster, making matters worse rather
would be helpful to keep all this in mind as U.S. Secretary of defense Donald
Rumsfeld is sent to India and Pakistan to defuse tensions this week.
the case of India and Pakistan, there is not only the tension perhaps an
understatement in that it has included three shooting wars that has existed
since the British left the subcontinent and the old Raj was partitioned between
predominantly Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India. There are genuine
disagreements over the future of Kashmir, the gorgeous mountain region. And the
sense of mutual tension rises very close to the level of each nation being seen
as an ever-present threat to the fundamental interests of the other. In a sense,
the very existence of one is a recurring or ongoing insult and irritant to the
India's perspective, as
Stratfor.com has recently pointed out, "Pakistan represents the only
serious national security challenge." To the east are thick jungles and weak
countries. To the north, the Himalayas offer fairly strong security from any realistic
threat from the Chinese. To the south is the Indian Ocean, dominated militarily
by the United States, which doesn't present a threat to India. Only Pakistan is
a real threat.
the Pakistani-Indian frontier is also, in a fairly real way, the border between
the Hindu and the Islamic worlds. If the Islamic world ever does unite politically
which Muslims are always talking about and so far haven't managed to do
and might never do the marginal irritant represented by Pakistan could
become a serious threat. Imagine a militant Pakistan actually united with Iran,
Saudi Arabia, et. al., and the money, power and military might such an alliance
might be able to muster. A nuke in the hands of Pervez Musharraf might start to
look like the good old days of easy challenges.
might think, given that India is so much larger and has so much more military
potential, that Pakistan would seek accommodation with India. But several circumstances
prevent this or at least have up to now. Pakistani governments have perceived
(and perhaps not just because of irrational fear) that India over the long haul
seeks to dismember Pakistan. Thus they view any concession to India as a step
toward accomplishing India's long-term goals, not Pakistan's, and also as steps
that would weaken Pakistani ability to resist the next step.
is also divided ethnically and religiously. At the time of partition its rulers
were religiously Muslim but essentially secular, as the first modern non-British
rulers of India were Hindu but secular in their philosophy of governance. But
a powerful Islamic fundamentalist movement has arisen, partly because of the Pakistani
government's involvement in Afghan politics and partly for other reasons. The
existence of that movement, which has already been somewhat destabilizing to Pakistani
governance, makes it even more difficult for a Pakistani government to reach accommodations
with India, even if it were inclined to do so, which it isn't.
Pakistan has spent the last 50-plus years rather consciously avoiding anything
that might lead to a comprehensive settlement with India.
has pursued this course largely through military means. It has created a military
designed to make it tough for India to invade. Terrain has been an advantage here,
but the kinds of forces and weapons have been chosen with deterrence to India
in mind. It has also developed nuclear weapons, not only to counter India's nuclear
capability but as a kind of deterrent of last resort. Should an Indian invasion
start to succeed and splitting the Kashmir frontier might be militarily
feasible the nuke would be the ultimate trump card.
Islamabad has both allowed paramilitary groups to operate from Kashmir and elsewhere
against Indian interests, and probably has subsidized and/or supported them. It
is unclear (at least to me) to what extent the Pakistani government actually controls
these groups. It does seem clear that really clamping down on them, as both India
and the United States insist Islamabad must do, would risk serious domestic opposition
and perhaps even destabilization.
problem with this implicit support for guerrilla operations against India is that
the operations significantly increase the likelihood of Indian military action.
Pakistan doesn't really want to provoke an attack by India, so its leaders alternate
between tough talk and sweet talk.
entrance of the United States as a big player in the region after September 11
actually complicated what had been a tense but essentially stable situation. The
U.S. considered it important to get Pakistani support for the war to oust the
Taliban (which had to a great extent been installed by Pakistani intelligence
but had become uppity), and Musharraf made all the right noises. Now that al Qaida
and other fighters have apparently retreated into mountain fastnesses in Pakistan,
the United States considers Pakistani cooperation at least to the point
of letting U.S. forces operate without raising an overt fuss more important
U.S. used Indian outrage over an attack on the Indian parliament in December to
gain more leverage in Pakistan, while appearing in public to be trying to defuse
the situation. The U.S. has also made it known that it might be prepared to take
over physical control of or destroy Pakistan's nukes. All this has given Musharraf
less and less room to maneuver, both domestically and internationally, at a time
when the Islamic groups' interest is to destabilize the region, and ideally to
precipitate an Indo-Pak war.
this has weakened Pakistan vis-à-vis India and helped to make a lot more
Indian officials think that if India is ever going to act militarily against Pakistan,
it is unlikely to have more favorable circumstances than it does now. So to some
extent, at least, the imminent current tensions the United States is trying to
address have been caused by U.S. meddling in the area all well-intentioned,
of course, but unintended consequences are one of the few constants in an inconstant
The Pakistani interest is to keep needling India without provoking a war. The
Indian interest is to handle the Pakistani problem perhaps by counterguerrilla
activities against militant Pakistani-backed-or-tolerated groups in Kashmir, perhaps
by an attack that would divide and dismember Pakistan. But the United States has
no interest in Pakistan (which is already fragmented and only loosely controlled
from Islamabad) being dismembered, which would make parts of the country virtual
safe havens for al Qaida fighters.
India were to attack, it would almost certainly want to launch a pre-emptive strike
against Pakistan's nuclear capability. That would be easier with U.S. cooperation,
but the U.S. might not have any interest in an Indian attack, especially since
it would probably strengthen al Qaida.
we have three countries armed with nuclear weapons (no, I don't think the U.S.
is the least bit likely to use them in that part of the world, but it does have
them) and profoundly conflicting interests. It isn't just a matter of being a
place where there is a "void" of diplomatic contact. The void of diplomatic
contact is a symptom, not a cause, of more fundamental underlying strategic conflicts.
will be fascinating to see if Mr. Rumsfeld can sweet-talk and bluster the situation
into anything resembling even a stable stalemate, which seems the most optimistic
projection about now.
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