Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

India-Pakistan Relations Show Little Promise for 1995

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

India-Pakistan Relations Show Little Promise for 1995

Article excerpt

India-Pakistan Relations Show Little Promise for 1995

By M.M. Ali

Past tensions between India and Pakistan could be attributed in part to the fact that the two subcontinental neighbors took both inspiration and sustenance from two mutually unfriendly sources--India from the former Soviet Union and Pakistan from the United States. It is sad and ironic, however, that the end of the Cold War has done little to dispel those Indo-Pak tensions, as attested by the dismal record of 1994.

After allegations of a Pakistani role in the bombings that rocked Bombay more than a year ago, the Indian government ordered the closure of the Pakistani consulate there. In turn, following serious disorder in Karachi, the Pakistani government accused India of fomenting the violence, and ordered it to close its consulate in that city. India responded by ordering Pakistan to cut the size of its embassy staff in Delhi.

To most Americans, this diplomatic titfor-tat between two major South Asian powers may appear ridiculous. Unfortunately, however, this is one of the less destructive ways in which civilized countries express discomfort in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, between India and Pakistan such ruptures create major inconvenience. Hundreds of thousands of people have personal ties across the India-Pakistan borders. Many travel each year to maintain those links while their personal allegiance remains firmly with their own country. Such travel necessitates visas, and the closures of consulates make it difficult, if not impossible, to get them.

In the subcontinent, such incremental erosion of bilateral relations leads to an accumulation of tensions that have a propensity to spin out of control. This is attested by the history of three fierce wars that settled nothing between India and Pakistan in the second half of this century.

Perry and Brown Visits

It was in this political climate that U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry and Commerce Secretary Ronald Brown visited the subcontinent. The potential for embarrassment posed by Indo-Pak rivalries and deeprooted suspicions was not lost on either of the visiting American officials. Every effort was made by the U.S. Departments of Defense and State to depict the trips as essentially exploratory and non-political, oriented toward closer commercial and military ties. While Perry visited both countries, Brown's trip was confined to India.

Secretary Brown, who took with him a party of American investors, found the red carpet rolled out for him wherever he went in India. The Indian media gleefully reported that close to $7 billion worth of deals were struck between India and the United States, all in the private sector.

Secretary Perry had to tread much more carefully. He knew that, notwithstanding his early and repeated pronouncements of U.S. evenhandedness, tension-charged issues would arise such as current U.S. thinking on nuclear non-proliferation, U.S. military assistance to the two countries, the U.S. holdup of delivery to Pakistan of F-16s it already has paid for, and the Kashmir dispute. All of that happened.

Press reports that appeared coincidentally during the Perry visit on a U.S.-Russian agreement to share nuclear data did not help in counseling India and Pakistan on non-proliferation. The releases quoted the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in Washington as estimating that "the U.S. military is planning to keep as many as 3,500 strategic or longrange nuclear weapons on reserve, in addition to the 3,500 weapons it is allowed to retain in an active arsenal of missiles, bombers and submarines under existing arms treaties." NRDC added: "Each nation [Russia and America] is estimated to have 7,000 to 9,500 nuclear weapons activated now."

Perry skirted the issue by saying that the U.S. position on the non-proliferation treaty remains "unchanged." In Pakistan he revived the 1984 U.S.-Pak Consultative Group--a forum for the discussion of security issues. …

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