There is now a wide recognition of the tie between Afghanistan and Pakistan - safe havens in the rugged Pakistan border area are greatly facilitating the operations of radical elements in Afghanistan. But little attention is being paid to the tie between Pakistan and India. Yet the threat from India is the core justification for the predominant position of the army in Pakistan, a position it has used to control Pakistani politics since the formation of the country, and to also insure its predominant position in the Pakistani economy. And the army has found Pakistani extremists to be useful tools in maintaining this predominance and for years there were close ties between the army and radical mosques. By maintaining tension in Kashmir, they have served to keep the specter of the Indian threat alive and vivid for the Pakistani public -- a constant reminder of the need for a strong army. Extremists also proved very useful, ironically with US help, in the defeat of Soviet forces in Afghanistan and the establishment of a friendly Taliban state there. Residual ties between the army and extremists now greatly complicate US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan as well as Pakistani government efforts to stabilize Pakistan itself and todevelop improved relations with India. It would be easy to characterize the army's focus on India as simply self-serving and cynical, but this focus also reflects a lifetime of indoctrination and deeply held beliefs.
India is hardly blameless in this impasse. It has fought three wars with Pakistan. The Second Indo-Pakistani War, in 1965, not only saw Pakistan's allies in the Central Treaty Organization fail to provide support, but also resulted in a close association of India with the Soviet Union and Pakistan with the United States. The Third Indo-Pakistani War resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan (East Pakistan emerging as Bangladesh) and threatened an Indian invasion of present-day (West) Pakistan. India's subsequent development of nuclear weapons made an answering Pakistani development inevitable, particularly in the absence of any Western commitment to the defense of Pakistan - in contrast to, say, Japan or Italy, it received no US "nuclear umbrella."
Due to India's close relations with the Soviet Union, US-Indian relations were minimal until the early 1990s when there were focused US efforts to encourage India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute and refrain from nuclear developments. Unfortunately, Indian skepticism of US support undermined these efforts; they foundered in the late 1990s when both India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons and Pakistan's civilian government was thrown out in a military coup. US relations with Pakistan rebounded in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks and a sudden requirement for support in Afghanistan. Relations with India rebounded much more slowly, only starting to revive as expanded commercial ties led to a US offer of nuclear assistance in 2005.
The Indian administration of multiethnic southern Kashmir has hardly been a model of regional administration. Kashmir has remained the focal point of Pakistani thrusts at India. The aftermath of the 1998 nuclear tests had brought some decided efforts to stabilize the situation, including a meeting of the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in Lahore in February 1999 and agreements to exchange information on nuclear forces to reduce the potential for accidental war. These meetings were barely finished when the Pakistani army instigated a major military incursion in May 1999. But more recently, President Musharraf led quiet talks which nearly resolved the dispute, failing only as his own position within Pakistan collapsed.
Some 150 million Muslims living in India proper have seen few benefits from India's economic development. Riots in 2002 resulted in the deaths of some 2000 Muslims in Gujarat state. The current Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, a leading force in the Hindu-chauvinist Bhartiya Janata (Indian People's) Party was in charge during these riots and has never expressed any remorse over them. India is not doing well at integrating its Muslim population. Complicating the situation, extremists based in Pakistan have mounted a number of attacks within India. Most recently, a November 2008 suicide attack in Mumbai killed 173 people and was attributed to Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba. The resultant turmoil brought to a halt all discussions at resolving the Kashmir issue and improving India-Pakistani relations. Indeed, that seems to have been a major objective of the attack.
China sits in the background. In 1962, India and China fought a short and limited war over the border area in the Himalayas. Ever since, the disputed border has been a source of friction. China's own development of nuclear weapons (in response to the Sino-Soviet split), with an initial test explosion in November 1964, and the subsequent instability of the Cultural Revolution provided the impetus for India's own nuclear weapons program. China, in turn, then provided broad support to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs. So this South Asian chain of instability naturally began with China, the predominant power in Asia, and spread through India and Pakistan into Afghanistan.
China now is a rising global power. Its economy has been growing at a rate of over 8% for years and is now the third largest in the world. This economic spurt resulted in significant population movements with some 160 million undocumented workers moving from the countryside into cities. Development, though was also very unbalanced, with over 400 million Chinese still living in poverty. Unbalanced development has also made the Chinese environment one of the worst in the world, resulting in widespread public health problems and regional unrest. This has been particularly troubling for the authorities as the legitimacy of the government has come to depend increasingly on continued economic development.
Internationally, this economic surge has had major impacts. In 2008, foreign direct investment reached $90 million, making China the top destination of foreign investment among developing countries for 17 years in a row. Trade with the United States, its biggest trading partner, topped $300 billion in 2008, as a trade deficit of over $250 billion and concerns over exchange rates led to considerable friction. At the same time, a clear Chinese effort to secure access to raw materials was a major factor in the 2008 rise of oil prices to record levels and one of the reasons that China has greatly expanded its overseas presence in Africa and the Middle East.
The economic spurt has also funded major military increases. In particular, the Chinese navy has expanded significantly. This has facilitated an aggressive Chinese presence in disputed areas of the western Pacific and expansion into the Indian Ocean protecting sea lanes for oil supply. In support of this advancement, China has invested in ports in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; in particular, it has helped fund development of the Pakistani port at Gwadar. Although its naval presence in the area has so far been largely commercial, it has recently sent warships to join in a multi-national effort to suppress piracy off the Somali coast.
However, the current global economic recession has badly disrupted this Chinese economic surge. Hundreds of factories have been closed, some 20 million migrant workers have lost their jobs, many of them returning to the countryside. China has also expressed concern over the large amounts of US debt it holds. It has come to a realization that its economic growth cannot depend primarily on export markets, but must also develop its internal market. It an effort to address these issues it has begun its own major economic stimulus program.
Today, Indian relations with China are ambivalent. Trade is up, but the Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean is troubling and the border issue remains unresolved. And India has no great power supporter; relations with the United States are also ambivalent. The widely publicized nuclear agreement has had strong critics both in the United States and in India; its ultimate fate remains uncertain. The recession is also slowing India's own economic development, making it harder to address the development of minority groups, particularly Muslims, increasing their susceptibility to overtures from radical groups. Overall, India sees an unsettled security situation, one hardly conducive to peace agreements with Pakistan. And it is now in the middle of elections which feature almost no discussion of major national issues, including Pakistan, economic development, or national integration; rather the debate rarely rises above the battle tactics between a bewildering array of regional and ethnic based parties.
Pakistan, in turn, is in a crisis situation. The army remains focused on India, reluctant to shift its efforts to combating internal radical elements, many of which it supported for years and with whom there apparently remain residual ties. The civilian government is not only weak, but has been plagued with accusations of corruption and inefficiency. Despite the clear national crisis, the political parties and their leaders are more focused on their own parochial concerns than the needs of the nation. The Taliban and other Islamic fundamentalists, essentially controlling the border areas, are now formalizing an agreement with the government to adopt Islamic sharia law in the entire Swat region. The government vacillates between asserting its authority and making concessions to the fundamentalists, including the release only days ago of the leader of the Red Mosque uprising which was finally quelled by security forces in July 2007.
Many citizens are repelled by the excesses of the Taliban in the name of Islam, but they are also intimidated by the violence of the extremists and undoubtedly distressed by the apparent inablility of the army to reign them in. There is a natural reluctance to focus on fellow Muslims as the problem, especially since this is the position of the United States, which is viewed very skeptically by many if not most Pakistanis. And there is sympathy for wider application of sharia law, particularly in light of the long and often corrupt civil legal processes. Overall, there is no vision of what the nation could be, how it could be invigorated. No one is prepared to lead Pakistan into the future.
Emboldened by their successes in the Pakistani border areas, Islamic fundamentalists are providing strong support to the insurgents in Afghanistan, as well as supporting radical groups in Kashmir which were associated with the recent attacks in Mumbai and a subsequent attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. These aggressive efforts naturally have Indian authorities concerned about the potential for radical views to spread among dissatisfied Indian Muslims.
The military situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly in the past year. The resurgent Taliban, using their border sanctuaries, have taken control of broad areas, fueled partly by high levels of opium production. India has also increased its efforts in Afghanistan, to the distress of Pakistan. One result was a July 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul which killed over 40 people, including the Indian defense attache, an incident widely attributed to elements of the Pakistani military intelligence.
Responding to the deteriorating security situation, the United States is surging fresh military forces into the area, and also trying to energize economic development in stable areas, though having trouble finding qualified civil specialists. The increased levels of US military and civil efforts in Afghanistan will certainly improve the security situation, but it is unclear to what extent the additional military operations will alienate Afghani civilians. The increase also mean increased logistics requirements, supplied largely through Pakistan. Alternate routes through Russia and Central Asia have inadequate capacity, increasing both the leverage that radicals in the Pakistani border areas have as well as the importance of Pakistani cooperation with the United States.
The United States has partially addressed the sanctuary problem with a series of missile strikes by unmanned drones against radical elements in the Pakistani border area. The strikes have taken out a number of critical commanders, but the radicals have proved adept at picturing these strikes as not only infringing on Pakistani sovereignty but as also claiming innocent children and women as victims. This has raised considerable resentment within the wider Pakistani public which has become increasingly reluctant to support US objectives. The strikes have the potential to help the United States to win in Afghanistan and lose in Pakistan.
So all links of the Afghan-Pakistan-India-China chain are presently in turmoil. They all need to be addressed simultaneously, but the most critical one is the starting one, the first link - China, a rising global power intent on growing its influence. The key to turning this chain into a chain of stability is a responsible China with a stake in a stable international order. Historically, China has been less likely to emphasize military force, though the current expansion in capabilities is worrying. But the global recession also makes the Chinese leadership well aware that China's own economic development, prosperity and stability is intertwined with the global economy. So it is critical for the United States and its allies to encourage and support Chinese economic development and the resolution of outstanding international disputes, including territorial issues in the western Pacific and most importantly peaceful resolution of the Taiwan challenge. Indeed, issues with this potential flash point have been evolving positively in recent years. Direct economic relations between Taiwan and the mainland have increased; trade is now over $60 billion a year and Taiwanese investment in China proper has been over $100 billion. Continued mellowing relations can go a long way in discouraging any Chinese military option. China really stands at a crossroads, will it put more emphasis on military or economic development. Economic pressures alone can not eliminate a military direction. But internal pressures of rising popular demand and deteriorating environment coupled with cooperative US relations and prospects of renewed economic growth can solidify this critical first link in a new chain of stability.
Despite the border issue, relations between China and India have been generally cordial in recent years, with bilateral trade expanding almost 40% in 2008 to over $50 billion, though difficult economic times have brought on some recent trade disputes. China's developing economic relations with the Middle East and Africa have resulted in a much larger Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. As mentioned above, this has been almost exclusively a commercial presence up to now, but may well expand to include some naval presence.
Strengthening US ties can be important to buttressing India's sense of security. This includes not only trade increases, but increases in commercial ties between US and Indian companies, as well as movement on the 2005 nuclear support agreement. Rapid support by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and US pressure on Pakistan to acknowledge the involvement to Pakistani elements certainly helped to solidify relations. Economic ties have suffered with the global economic recession but will certainly rebound as economies rebound. Growing Indian prosperity is also an inducement to Pakistan to re-fashion its policies and focus on its own economic development. Mutual economic development can be a powerful incentive to resolve outstanding areas of dispute. Economic development can also ease the problems of minorities, helping to put into practice Ghandian principles that the numerically dominant Hindus should not ignore or trample the rights of tens of millions of Muslims; the greatest good principle necessitated that the conscience of the new nation and the ruling Congress Party be avowedly secular.
Pakistan also remains on the edge. More than ever there is a need for some vision of Pakistan, a vision that the nation never developed. concepts of what Pakistan could be have been purposefully kept ambiguous to facilitate the incorporation of the wide variety of cultural groups within Pakistan. Now, frictions are certainly visible with the more fundamentalist border regions and Pakistan proper. The border regions were never administratively integrated into Pakistan, and some other areas, notable Baluchistan, have been generally alienated. But as the world has become more globalized, Pakistanis have also become more mobile and people from different regions have increasingly had to interact. Now, more than ever, there is a need to develop a sense of how an integrated Pakistan can benefit everyone.
New US efforts to focus on Pakistani economic and social development can be important in this. In fact, US aid to Pakistan after the devastating Kashmir earthquake in October 2005 brought an immediate improvement in Pakistani attitudes toward the United States. Unfortunately there was little follow up to the initial US aid, while the civil arms of radical Islamic groups continued to provide support. What began as a highly successful lift in attitudes toward the United States faded into another boost for radical elements. US aid to Pakistan has historically been aid to the government, often a military government, but even when a civilian government, typically a corrupt or ineffective one. This is a major reason why Pakistanis have a very skeptical view of the United States. Aid now has to be focused on programs benefiting everyday Pakistanis and not tied to support of a specific government.
The United States has to continue promoting Pakistani dialogue with India over Kashmir. This has to be done in such a way that it does not undermine the Pakistani civil government or discredit the effort as being against Pakistan's own interests. One approach is to build on the tentative agreements developed during General Musharraf's quiet talks in 2008. And it seems that the radical elements overreached with the November 2008 attack in Mumbai. The incident was so flagrant that it left the Pakistani government no choice but to acknowledge involvement of Pakistani elements and express a willingness to cooperate in an investigation. International pressure can help push the Pakistani government to finally address these disruptive elements.
In this regard, it is critical that the Pakistani public come to see that the real enemy facing Pakistan is no longer an Indian threat but the threat of radical fundamentalists. The Pakistani army has to acknowledge the critical state that the country is in, recognizing that promoting enmity with India and supporting Islamic radicals can no longer be a solid basis for the army's own position in Pakistani society. An apparent expectation by some elements within the military that radical elements are opposing the government because of its ties with the United States and that these ties will eventually diminish and then radical elements will be content to return to a former benign status is unrealistic. The prior situation in which border areas were not incorporated into the central Pakistani government is one reason the problems have festered so badly. But now that the individual fundamentalist groups have experienced the potential of cooperative efforts, it is highly unlikely that they would revert to a more fragmented and subservient status.
A more self confident and prosperous Pakistan would also be able to develop truly cooperative ties with an elected Afghan government. It would have a real stake in the stability of the country and its social and economic development.
Overall, the Afghan-Pakistan-India-China chain has four transitional government, all unsure of where to lead their countries and all of them buffeted by the current global economic recession.
- China has the most stable government, but one facing huge challenges in economic development and choices on how to play a more active role on the global stage.
- India, now in the middle of elections, has an uncertain security situation and faces daunting economic challenges, in particular how to integrate its own minorities, paricularly Muslims, into a vibrant and cohesive state.
- Pakistan, with an uncertain division of power between an elected civil government, a politically powerful army, and Islamic fundamentalists determined to control broad areas of the country, faces a challenge of integrating its own multiethnic population into a cohesive and prosperous nation.
- Afghanistan, also facing elections as well as a determined insurgency by Islamic fundamentalists, faces an even more difficult task of developing a sense of nation and implementing peaceful economic and social development.
The problems each of these countries faces can be addressed individually, but must be solved regionally. The challenge of Islamic fundamentalism overlays southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, but also spreads into Kashmir and supports violent incursions and potential radical recruitments in India. All of these challenges have a major economic dimension and none of them can be solved in short order. The United States critically needs to develop an integrated, long-term strategy which can address the entire chain of instability and be flexible enough to continually adjust to changing situations.