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Paper No. 1175                                                                                   01/12/2004

by Dr Subhash Kapila 

Introductory observations:

 The Indian sub-continent less Pakistan has generally been at peace except for some manageable irritants. South Asia, however, an American construct, has been in a state of conflict ever since Pakistan was created by Britain as a parting kick while liquidating its empire in the Indian sub-continent. 

The United States has been loathe to concede the terming of the region as the “Indian sub-continent”, primarily because it would be a recognition of India’s natural pre-eminence. It would also displease Pakistan considerably. Hence for decades now, the United States has officially termed the region as South Asia in deference to Pakistan and its own long-term perception in which uncertainties prevail over India’s ambitions and inclinations on its ultimate emergence as a powerful economic and military power. 

The above has distorted United States strategic perceptions of the Indian sub-continent and in the process distorting American policies towards the region. 

Further elaboration of the above is required and which needs to be read in the context of this author’s last paper: “South Asia’s External Inputs in Conflict Generation” (SAAG Paper no. 1170 dated 22/11/2004). 

United States Distorted Strategic Perceptions of South Asia as a Conflictual Flashpoint:

Irrespective of whichever political dispensation was in power in the United States, the misperceptions that have continued to prevail in American strategic perceptions till date have been that:

  • Kashmir. It is a conflictual flashpoint between India and Pakistan and that the resolution of this dispute is  imperative for peace in the region. 
  • Nuclear Conflict between India and Pakistan: Since both countries are armed with nuclear weapons, Kashmir emerges as a nuclear flashpoint.

Successive United States Administrations, as a result of distorted strategic perceptions, have conveniently chosen to ignore the following historical facts:

  • Kashmir, as a dispute, was not generated by India. It was peevishly generated by Pakistan within two months of coming into existence.
  • Pakistan resorted to its first proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947 and followed thereafter by a full scale military aggression.
  • Pakistan, thereafter, has consistently resorted to capture Kashmir by armed conflicts in 1965, 1971 and 1999. These were all pre-emptive aggressive strikes.
  • Nuclear blackmail  has been resorted to by Pakistan against India both before Kargil War, during Kargil War and after Kargil War.

The United States  forgets conveniently the following strategic factors:

  • Propensity for conflict in South Asia stands consistently demonstrated by Pakistan.
  • Strategic restraint in South Asia has been consistently displayed by India against repeated Pakistani military adventurism.
  • Propensity for nuclear conflict in South Asia arises from Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal being under control of the Pakistani Army and the military ruler of Pakistan.

The United States is ill-advised to equate India with Pakistan in terms of conflict generation potential in South Asia. 

South Asian Peace Cannot be Externally Scripted by the United States:

United States by virtue of its historically demonstrated record of strategic and political patronage of Pakistan is ill-equipped to externally script peace in South Asia. 

The United States is not perceived by the Indian public as a “honest broker” for peace, due to the following reasons:

  • United States political responses in South Asia, hyphenated or de-hyphenated, weigh heavily in favour of Pakistan.
  • United States espousal and advocacy of Pakistani postures on Kashmir creates resentment in the minds of the Indian public.
  • United States critical approaches to India’s nuclear arsenal (under civilian political control) and equating it to Pakistan’s nuclear waywardness and WMD proliferation condoned by United States makes the Indian public mad at American double standards.

The United States needs to recognize that its efforts to externally script peace in South Asia, because of the above reasons, has not led to success in the following initiatives:

  • Track II diplomacy and the Neemrana dialogue.
  • Agra Summit. US prevailed over India to invite General Musharraf for a dialogue so that in the process he gets a proxy political legitimacy, failed. miserably .
  • Armitage’s Espousal of General Musharraf’s “Options on Kashmir: The latest snafu of official American espousal of General Musharraf’s “ options on Kashmir” (October/November 2004) is the most recent example. It has created an impression in the minds of the Indian public that General Musharraf would not have raised these proposals without prior clearance from USA. Hence a very prompt American official response that Pakistan’s military ruler’s proposals were “very forward looking”.

The United States first official reaction after the Bush re-election through US Deputy of State Richard Armitage was: “ I think he (General Musharraf) has caused a great deal of thinking both in India and here in Pakistan about the way forward”. 

Well, the American official statement was not much off the mark. It has caused a great deal of thinking in India to the following effect:

  • Whether it is advisable to continue a peace dialogue with a military ruler of Pakistan lacking both strategic realism and political consistency.
  • Whether the strategic partnership envisaged with the United States would ever be in India’s national security interests keeping the American “narcisstic obsession” with Pakistan.
  • Whether India should seriously think and work with others towards “ multi polarity” in global affairs.

As for Pakistan’s thinking “ about the way forward”, there is only one way forward. Pakistan’s military ruler and the Pakistan Army gleefully welcome such official American statements which implicitly carry the message that the United States will underwrite the continuance of military rule in Pakistan and “Congratulate” the fulminations of the Pakistan General. Hence Pakistan can keep on moving forward with its ill-begotten policies insured by United States. 

Concluding Observations: 

The United States is ill-served by its foreign policy planners where they distort the  strategic ground realities in their so called South Asia heavily in favour of Pakistan. It should be galling to every American citizen with their passion for Democracy and Human Rights that the United States officially espouses a Pakistan run by the Pakistan Army; a Pakistan which courtesy the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies was involved in the furtherance of 9/11 bombings in New York and Washington; and a Pakistan which provided WMD technology and components to nations termed by its current President as  “ axis of evil ” 

The United States may have its strategic compulsions to adopt double standards vis-à-vis Pakistan. India has no such strategic compulsions and therefore is in a position to ignore externally scripted peace proposals, whose sole aim is to ensure the continuance in power of General Musharraf. 

South Asian peace will emerge as soon as this region is allowed to settle in its own natural equilibrium without external inputs leading to conflict generation and perpetuation by United States of Pakistani military regimes, inherently unstable, and not in the interests of Pakistani citizens or regional peace.

(The author is an International Relations and Strategic Affairs analyst. He is the Consultant, Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. Email drsubhashkapila