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March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
policy, and global relations
The India-Pakistan Standoff
and the U.S. Agenda
intense pressure from Washington to curb terror and the threat
of war with India, the India-Pakistan crisis may yield an opportunity
to steer Pakistan away from extremism and toward positive change.
Haider, The Friday Times (independent weekly, Internet
edition), Lahore, Pakistan , Jan. 11-17, 2002
During his recent
visit to India, Prime Minister Tony Blair is reported to have
said that Britain supported Indias bid for a permanent
seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). A similar
statement, supporting Indias candidature, was issued by
the visiting Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres.
|At a newsstand in Lahore, Pakistan,
Earlier, on April 9, 2000, in an interview with Indias
state-run TV, the then-U.S. ambassador to India, Richard Celeste,
said that Washington supported New Delhis bid for a permanent
seat on the UNSC. The U.S. has to be prepared and will
be prepared to give India serious consideration for the permanent
membership of the Security Council, Celeste was quoted
as saying. Celestes remarks came in the wake of President
Clintons five-day, high-profile visit to India. However,
at the time U.S. officials denied that Celestes statement
reflected any institutional thinking in Washington.
Lots of things have changed since Celestes statement,
post-Sept. 11 and post-Dec. 13 [the date of a terrorist suicide
attack on Indias Parliament allegedly carried out by Pakistani
Islamist extremists that resulted in 13 deaths, including the
five attackersWPR]. Blairs statement has
to be seen in the backdrop of the standoff between India and
Pakistan and juxtaposed with his remarks about terrorist
groups (read, militant groups operating in Kashmir) that Islamabad
is expected to crack down on.
This is essential for two reasons: One, any support for Indias
candidature at the Security Council is significant only politically,
since procedurally it is near impossible for any country, even
the United States and the United Kingdom, to get India a seat
at the high tableas long as the United Nations is constituted
as it is.
Two, Blairs statements in India and elsewhere must be
read in the context of the role he has developed since Sept.
11, flying around the world and canvassing for Washington. Whatever
he has said is what Washington wanted him to say. In the ongoing
crisis, a similar statement was issued by the U.S. secretary
of state, Colin Powell, in an interview to the BBC, saying that
Pakistan needed to do more, the implication being
that it had not done enough vis-à-vis terrorism to defuse
the crisis with India.
Under the circumstances, Pakistan has two choices: One is to
draw the line and accept the challenge, having done everything
it could to de-escalate diplomatically while matching Indias
military buildup; two, to wriggle out of the present situation
and live to fight another day. Both choices are tough. In executing
its strategy to pressure Pakistan, India is relying not just
on its own conventional strength, but also on the international
environment in which the two adversaries are operating.
While counterfactual assessments are difficult to make, it will
be fair to assume, all other things being equal, that Indias
ability or willingness to execute this strategy in another scenario
would have been severely curtailed because of the nuclear dimension.
However, as things stand, it should be quite clear that while
ideally the United States and Britain would want the crisis
resolved without the two countries coming to blows, in the event
that a bout becomes inevitable, they would not be averse to
looking the other way to give New Delhi some room to teach
Pakistan a lesson.
The nuclear factor would of course be there, but in a real showdown
escalating to the nuclear level would require Pakistan to project
the threat credibly enough. Not only would that put immense
pressure on Islamabad, but the need to escalate to that level
also implies that Pakistan would have lost enough territory
for it to begin to think in terms of the final option. The pressure
of that decision itself could become unbearable, since by moving
in and capturing territory, India would have called the bluff.
There is also the possibility that were Pakistan to indeed escalate
to that level, the United States singly, or in tandem with Israel
and India, might seriously consider exfiltrating the Pakistani
arsenal. This is a possibility that Seymour Hersh has already
written about in detail in The New Yorker, though he dealt with
it in a different context. It is very risky, but not improbable.
Any thinking in Pakistan that Washington might be on Islamabads
side is not supported by recent events. The United States would
do what is necessary to achieve its own larger objectives. It
has managed, to a great extent, to cleanse Afghanistan of the
Islamist/fundamentalist elements. It now wants Pakistan to purge
itself of these groups. Gen. Musharrafs di-lemma is that
these elements have been part of Islamabads strategy to
put the squeeze on India. Getting rid of them runs the obvious
risk of losing the most amenable proxies to keep the heat on
India. But not doing so runs the greater risk of facing nearly
the same, perhaps worse, situation that forced Gen. Musharraf
in September 2001 to effect a volte-face on Afghanistan.
This essentially means only one thing: If Pakistan was to rethink
its role of a force multiplier in Kashmir, India will immediately
take advantage of the situation. It would move in to crack down
on the extremist elements, offer the olive branch to the moderates,
and get on with the task of governing. Even if it could not
immediately achieve a breakthrough, it would still be able to
contain the situation and allow it to fester in order for insurgency
fatigue to set in before alienating the extremists and reaching
out to the moderates. In this scenario, the role of the United
States is clear. Its objective is to retain the integrity of
Pakistan, but force it to shape up as a benign and militarily
weak state that does not punch around.
At this stage, a rethink of the traditional strategy feels very
painful. But the present situation, as well as other factors,
favors that course. For a start, Pakistan needs to do everything,
after a careful assessment of its capabilities in relation to
India, to get out of this situation and secure its military
strength. By all indications, it is trying its best to do that.
Secondly, Islamabad needs to objectively assess the ability
and the stamina of indigenous Kashmiri groups to sustain their
freedom struggle. In doing so it must beware that the contours
of a likely solution by third parties are fairly clear. None
of them envisages either a plebiscite or any major dislocation.
Therefore, a strategy that relied on pulling third parties into
the conflict for the purpose of mediation may be outmoded. Thirdly,
long spells of overt activity may not necessarily mean the end
of the freedom struggle. Through the 70s and 80s,
Kashmir remained quiet until it emerged on Islamabads
radar screen in a big way. That can and may still happen.
Recent events have made one thing very clear: Power and the
capability and will to project it make and break international
norms and set standards of behavior. Pakistan needs to use a
period of relative quiet to set its house in order and enhance
its military power. Economic strength is a pre-requisite for
this purpose. A case can be made that the present chaos could
in fact be used by Islamabad to its advantage if it can translate
into a period that can allow it to strengthen itself.
Pakistan finds itself in the current situation because of the
Islamist groups who broke all rules of objective analysis and
tried, Icarus-like, to overreach. The state must eschew a course
of action in the future that can lead to such chaos or where
elements in a strategy can grow bigger than the strategy itself.
This is a difficult situation but it also affords some important
lessons. It will be a shame if those lessons are