The Subcontinent: Internal Constraints and External Demands; U.S. Policy in South Asia

By M, M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Subcontinent: Internal Constraints and External Demands; U.S. Policy in South Asia


M, M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


THE SUBCONTINENT: Internal Constraints and External Demands; U.S. Policy in South Asia

M.M. Ali is a consultant and a specialist on South Asia. He is a Fellow with the Center for Planning & Policy Studies based in the Washington, DC area.

U.S. policy on South Asia was spelled out in elaborate detail by Under-Secretary of State Thomas Pickering in an April 27 speech at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

Pickering is a brilliant career diplomat called back from retirement early in the Clinton administration. His wealth of experience sometimes contrasts jarringly with many of his relatively inexperienced political appointee colleagues.

He described the present U.S.-Indian relationship as one of "cooperation" in several fields and that with Pakistan as one of "engagement" to keep lines of communications open. He underlined, however, that the United States is looking forward to developing a new Asian policy, and that as part of it all options are open in South Asia.

Pickering said that although the past decade has seen some positive changes in the internal and external policies of India, this has not been the case in Pakistan. He regretted, also, that there has been no visible change in the nuclear non-proliferation issue in either India or Pakistan.

"There are just four countries, including India and Pakistan, that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," Pickering said. "They have still to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as well." Repeating President Bill Clinton's rhetorical question to the two countries, Pickering asked: "Are you any safer today than you were three years ago [before India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons in May 1998]?"

In fact answers to the question are different in Delhi and in Islamabad. The tests boosted the political standing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and perhaps helped him consolidate his position in India's precarious governing coalition. Nor have the tests put any visible smudge on India's budding relations with the United States.

By contrast, although it was a political imperative for any incumbent Pakistani leader to respond in kind to the tests by Pakistan's unfriendly and much larger neighbor, the result has been a great increase in respect from other Muslim nations, but little understanding from the United States, even after Pakistan said it would be willing to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if India does.

Pickering's speech painted a hopeful picture of U.S.-Indian cooperation on the economic front, where fresh opportunities have opened for American investors in India, and for Indians to find employment in the computer software industry in the United States. On the question of political cooperation between the U.S. and India, the Soviet Union's Cold War ally for two generations, Pickering cited several meetings between Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot to share information and devise joint methods to combat international terrorism.

Pickering also welcomed the government of India's decision to allow the FBI to set up an office in New Delhi, and cited continued cooperation between India and the United States to help reduce and eventually eradicate factors contributing to environmental degradation.

With regard to U.S. relations with Pakistan, the under-secretary of state observed that President Clinton's brief visit under heavy security to Islamabad was part of "our policy to stay engaged" with an old ally. He acknowledged, however, that U.S.-Pakistani relations had taken a downward turn over the past 10 years or so. (And he avoided mentioning that this is also the period when democracy was restored in Pakistan.)

Among the areas in which he urged change in Pakistan were return to democracy, restructuring of the economy, respect for the Line Of Control (LOC) in Kashmir and the end of support to militant groups there, and adherence to a policy of nuclear non-proliferation. …

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