A few months ago, trucks loaded with goods crossed
a border. All over the world, this kind of thing happens every day, but not
here. October marked the first time in 60 years that Indian trucks loaded with
apples and walnuts traveled to Pakistan. The trucks returned carrying a shipment
of Pakistani rice and raisins.
Around the same time, India and Pakistan increased the number of goods the
two nations could trade from just 13 to nearly 2,000. They opened new freight
train lines and refurbished custom houses in anticipation of vigorous cross
All of this goodwill is now frozen, stopped by a hail of bullets and the deafening
crash of bombs in Mumbai. The attacks shocking in their lethality and
their high level of coordination left more than 170 people dead. Beginning
on November 26, heavily armed gunmen fanned out in the city of Mumbai
India's hub of international finance and communication. They fired indiscriminately
into crowds on the street, in a train station and at a hospital for women and
children. At the luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, a Jewish cultural center and other
sites, the attackers took and killed hostages, set off grenades, lit fires and
On Tuesday, the Indian government released the names of the nine dead gunmen,
announcing that they were all Pakistani and that they were part of a larger
cell of more than 20 men committed to carrying out these attacks. A tenth gunman
Pakistani villager Mohammed Ajmal Kasab was apprehended and
remains in custody. This new information strengthens allegations that the attacks
were the work of the Pakistani-based Laskar-e-Taiba organization, which has
in the past received training and support from Pakistan's intelligence services.
In early December, Pakistani security forces raided the group's training camps
and offices and arrested members.
Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their
highest levels since 2001, when a suicide attack on the Indian parliament was
carried out allegedly by groups based in Pakistan. Prime Minister Manmohan
that India would "go after" those responsible and called the attacks
"well planned with external linkages."
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari responded to these threats and the allegations
of Pakistani involvement in the attacks with a New York Times op-ed,
in which he asserted that "Pakistan will take action against the non-state
actors found within our territory, treating them as criminals, terrorists and
murderers." As an indication of his government's seriousness, Zardari described
how his air force has been striking militant targets with F-16 fighter planes
for the past two months.
The addition of this specific detail is not accidental or incidental. Those
F-16 fighters are made in the USA, long promised to and coveted by
Islamabad. The fact that Pakistan is now flying them as it cooperates in the
global war on terror is a sign of how close relations between these two countries
have grown in the past decade.
Against the backdrop of this latest wave of brutal violence (and as both sides
brandish their military might) an examination of Washington's policies of military
support and arms exports to these rivals is long overdue.
Sixty Years, Three Wars
Both nations have fought three wars in their 60-year
history and continue to clash over the Kashmir region they both claim. In 1989,
Pakistan began supporting an Islamist insurgency in its mission to drive out
the 500,000 Indian troops deployed in Kashmir. It is here that Laskar-e-Taiba
got its start (and its support from Pakistani security forces). For its part,
India constructed a huge electrified fence along the Line
of Control in an effort to stop these Pakistani-backed incursions.
An estimated 68,000 people have died in Kashmir since 1989, and tens of thousands
more have been displaced by violence. India and Pakistan entered into wide-ranging
peace talks in June 2004 and agreed to a series of steps aimed at resolving
their disputes. Among other things, the nuclear-armed rivals agreed to notify
each other before testing missiles, to open consulates, and to work toward a
peace agreement regarding Kashmir.
Even before the Mumbai attacks, the peace process was dragging. This fall in
Kashmir huge pro-independence demonstrations the largest since 1989
triggering a violent crackdown by Indian security forces which led to
the death of more than 45 people and injured hundreds.
With a huge population and a burgeoning middle class, India is often referred
to as the "world's largest democracy." But India's aggressive actions
in Kashmir and its human rights record more generally contradict
this moniker. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is particularly fond of this
phrase despite the fact that her department's
Human Rights Report cites "numerous serious problems," including
"extrajudicial killings of persons in custody, disappearances, and torture
and rape by police and other security forces."
India is at the beginning of a major military upgrade that could cost $100
billion, and US-based defense contractors are eager for a big slice of the
business. After decades of looking to the Soviet Union and then to Russia for
geostrategic support, India has now turned to the United States to feed its
appetite for high-tech weaponry. In September alone, the United States offered
India more than half a billion dollars in weapons systems, including HARPOON
missiles. And in October, India signed a major civilian
nuclear cooperation deal with the Bush administration and is looking forward
to increased investment from US corporations as a result.
US Military Aid
Despite continued violent political upheaval,
a dismal human rights record and a long legacy of dictatorship, Pakistan enjoys
billions of dollars in US military aid as a close ally in the "Global
War on Terror." In 2006 alone, Pakistan signed agreements with the United
States for more than $3.5 billion in weaponry and military material, making
it the single largest recipient that year. In the past six months, Washington
has offered $190 million in weapons, including eight refurbished Cobra helicopters
worth $115 million.
In the wake of the Mumbai attacks and continued violence along the Pakistan-Afghanistan
border, these "all the weapons you want" policies are now under review.
In a new classified assessment of U.S strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan,
the Bush administration seems ready to admit that the money and weapons haven't
had the intended impact. An official involved in drafting the report
which will be presented to President-elect Barack Obama told
The New York Times that despite "seven long years" of "proclaiming
that Pakistan was an ally... the truth is that $10 billion later" Pakistan
still doesn't "have the basic capacity for counterinsurgency operations."
US weapons and military aid haven't transformed that nation into a bastion
of democracy and human rights either; the State Department's own Human
Rights Report highlights a worsening situation with major human rights problems
that included "extrajudicial killings, torture, and disappearances."
With US weapons and aid, the subcontinent's two nuclear-armed nations are
increasing the size and sophistication of their arsenals, even as they continue
to spar over territory, religion, and regional dominance.
These alarming developments could bear bitter and dangerous fruit for years
to come. How the incoming Obama administration chooses to respond will have
broad implications across a range of issues: affecting ongoing relations between
the two competitors, fanning or dampening tensions along Pakistan's border with
Afghanistan, provoking or discouraging nuclear proliferation concerns, and impacting
how the United States succeeds or fails in the broader war on terrorism. As
a start, perhaps the Obama administration should encourage New Delhi and Islamabad
to focus on trading apples for rice and walnuts for raisins, and stop adding
US weapons to an already volatile mix.