US and South Asia
Speaker: Dennis Kux, Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC
Ambassador Dennis Kux
How does the world look from Washington? The view is a troubled one. The US has come a long way since 2003 when the US administration won the first battle in the War against Terrorism in Afghanistan and then entered Iraq. The US committed many mistakes. However at the end, it was a worthwhile lesson, though learnt at a heavy price. The US administration has now changed its policies and attitudes and become more pragmatic and less dogmatic. But the damage has already been done.
When one sees the world from Washington, there are a series of troubled spots. In Latin America, after a relatively quiet time, democracy is on the move. The Left, under the leadership of Evo Morales is returning to power in Bolivia. In Cuba, Fidel Castro continues to reign supreme. Having been ignored, a balance needs to be arrived in these areas, and not overreact. Now this has become a problem area where things were relatively better for the US.
In Europe, a problem of disaffection and disarray exists. One had expected Europe's disaffection with the US due to the intense commercial competition after the end of Cold War. But, disarray in Europe is difficult to handle. The recent debacle to the European Constitution is an example. At the same time, Europe is expanding to include 25 nations. Integrating the nations of Eastern Europe marks the victory of democracy that would have an impact in that region. Undoubtedly, this is a difficult task. So Europe's energies are focused in dealing with these internal rather than the external problems. Though the European Commission exists, it finds it difficult to work on foreign policy matters.
In Russia, the hopes for democracy are not positive; now, it is moving towards becoming an authoritarian state. Historically, it is similar to the period between the 1905 revolution and World War I in which Russia started off as a democracy but gradually became authoritarian. However, the US is working with Russia and negotiations are proceeding on nuclear initiatives.
The problems are likely to persist in West Asia. In Palestine, problems existed even after the free elections. From the American perspective, the biggest issue is Iraq that will make or break Bush's legacy, where the US underestimated Iraqi nationalism. It has tarnished the US image at home and abroad. On the positive side, the US has learnt not to pursue military ventures without proper planning. Though the US can overwhelm any country militarily, managing the affairs of a defeated state is a tough task. Iran also remains a problem, and it was unwise to categorize it in the 'axis of evil frame'. According to the IAEA, Iran is playing a double game. The US will not allow Iran to pursue any reckless nuclear ambitions, though Washington is uncertain about its strategies.
The US has vast trade links with China, which has developed very fast. There have been successful efforts to manage bilateral relations, which have been difficult. China is already a big power which has a global role. However, military policy and defence expenditure remains a thorny issue between the two nations. The growing significance of China cannot be ignored, especially with regard to the Six-Party talks with North Korea. There is no consensus among the hardliners and negotiators in Washington on the North Korean nuclear issue, but China is expected to play a crucial role in preventing Pyongyang from going nuclear.
The situation in comparatively brighter in South Asia, particularly India. Afghanistan became a problem after 9/11. Washington was able to achieve in Kabul what it failed to do in Iraq by ousting the Taliban forces. The state of affairs in Afghanistan is better and there is global support for the same. The new process signed in London is significant with specific benchmarks. From an outsider's perspective, the situation in Afghanistan may appear as a glass half full or half empty. On the positive side, elections have been held; economy is growing; and Afghanistan is making all-round progress. On the negative side, the Taliban's movements across the border from Pakistan have unsettled security, particularly in the south. The development process is difficult, as Afghanistan is a poor country with little infrastructure; hence quick results are difficult to achieve. Finally, the drug problem continues irrespective of counter-actions, including moral appeals. Positive results need to be achieved, as many question the enormous subsidies being given to an area that breeds violence and terror globally. Despite the problems involved, the US will remain committed to resolve the problems in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is the most difficult country in South Asia. General Musharraf was in trouble after 9/11, and was prompted to support the US led 'War against Terrorism'. Yet, he plays a double game. He cooperates with Washington against the al Qaeda, but not the Taliban. This is partly because of the soft border between Afghanistan and Pakistan where Taliban militants are presently active, and partly due to the pro-Taliban government in Balochistan. Musharraf has managed to convince the US that it is better to deal with him than any unknown devil. The US may be repeating its mistakes of the 1980s when it promoted Zia-ul-Haq. The US should pressurize Musharraf privately and not publicly for a stable political system in Pakistan. Presently, Musharraf is not doing enough to improve the situation. The Pakistan military is entrenched; elections are a compromised affair and radicalism rampant. Musharraf has not made adequate overtures towards former Prime Ministers, Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto and he probably will not. The AQ Khan case also remains a weak spot in Pakistan's internal affairs. Finally, Pakistan has horrendous social indicators. Growth of madrassas has dealt a major blow to the political system in Pakistan and Musharraf has not addressed this crucial issue. He makes statements, but backs off later, which is very unfortunate. On the positive side, though the economy is improving, it has not addressed certain fundamental issues. The US cannot walk away from the prevailing situation now, as it will not be too good for Pakistan, India or the region.
In India, the Bush administration has had relative success. Bill Clinton's stand on the Kargil War, followed by his visit to India, marked a turning point in bilateral relations. The Bush administration has further broadened the relationship. There is an agreement for military cooperation, which was previously a no-no area between the two countries. Both countries are also engaging in the economic and commercial spheres. Earlier, they used to talk at each other, now they talk with one another. There are significant reasons for this. The end of Cold War has brought about a significant change in the US attitude towards India. Besides, the two million plus Indian Americans have effected an image makeover and built a bridge between the two democracies. The upswing in trade has resulted in the serendipitous development of information technology. At this point, it would be wrong to talk about strategic alliances between India and the US because what India is looking for is a mature partnership. As both countries move along there will not only be many convergences but also divergences which they have to work on towards reaching a positive relationship.
On the nuclear issue, the former BJP government laid certain benchmarks for the US. It wanted the easing of restrictions, high-tech dual use, space and nuclear cooperation. Though the last issue is a difficult one (as the US law requires to be amended), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been able to revive the nuclear issue. India has emerged a winner in the nuclear deal and has made Bush commit on access to nuclear technology. Also, India has successfully acquired the status of a responsible nuclear power. The US has conceded that the non-proliferation regime will benefit from the support of India. The Indo-US deal is not a devious way of capping India's nuclear power. If the nuclear deal is to work out before Bush's visit to India, it will be a successful trip; if not it will still be a good visit. If the US does not overplay its hand and India does not misread the US intentions, Indo-US relations will evolve into better understanding.
On the Indo-US nuclear energy deal, senior political leaders and technical experts have said that it will cap India's nuclear programme. However, governmental officials do not make such public statements to the media. Does the US think there is a feeling in India that the nuclear deal is not as voluntary as it was made out on July 18?
How far is Pakistan's involvement with Taliban tenable? America wants to continue with the developmental process. Once al Qaeda is dismantled, the Taliban will continue to remain a big problem. They will enlarge the drug problem, which will further exacerbate instability in the region. When the US tries to put pressure on Pakistan to go against the Taliban, Musharraf will definitely seek the aid of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto to tide over the crisis. Muharraf's capacity to go against the Taliban is limited because of the ISI involvement with them.
The nuclear issue was a psychological barrier towards better relations for over 30 years. India is at present in a negotiating mood. If the US can use the press, India can also do the same at the level of deniability. This is very normal. The ultimate solution will be reached when India talks to Nicholas Burns from the other side. How far will the Bush administration - which is in favour of the deal - push it in the Congress? How much political capital will the Bush administration consider worthwhile to stake on the nuclear deal?
Is it likely that Pakistani policy will ultimately determine US policy against the Taliban in the Afghanistan region? How important is this issue?
On the cartoon row issue, its effect is felt more strongly outside than what we assess in India. There are reports on this issue in the media, but significantly no agitations or demonstrations. How do you think the US will handle the cartoon row issue even though it is not directly involved it? How will this affect the US interests in the region?
The diplomatic and military establishments must tread very lightly as far as Musharraf is concerned. But, this has its own insidious influence, especially when India is concerned.
The intent is not clear whether it is the Indo-US nuclear deal or bilateral relations that are dominant. The RAND Corporation report by Ashley Tellis projects India as a balancer to China. However, if India is to get into that mode it will be detrimental to it.
The US will be as much a winner as India. India will gain technology and energy. But so Bush can say that better relations can wait for another ten years, since presently, he is involved with more pressing issues.
Afghans are not a problem in Afghanistan. It is the Pashtuns who do not want peace in the region.
In practical terms, what India puts on the table is final. But there is a reaction on the other side. To get the US Congress to vote positively, (which is a very difficult process as it calls for amendment of laws existing since 1978) it requires something that is presentable. It would not be realistic to say that this is what we declare in the civilian list and that is final. The safeguards list placed before the Congress must be reasonable and not eyewash.
One big impact of the Indo-US nuclear deal is the removal of psychological barriers. It is thus important to think big and not small to get the deal implemented.
How hard will the Bush administration push the deal? The administration will push very hard once the negotiations begin. The Bush administration wants the deal to come through and they can override the opposition.
The intent is clear on the US side just as it is clear on the Indian side. The intent to move along with other.
One cannot forget the years of estrangement. The July 18 agreement happened overnight. Everything else being equal Bush wants to push this deal through. But, everything is not equal in the sense that Bush has elections coming up, combined with pressing domestic issues like Iraq. Bush will try to push the passage of the deal but it may not be as pressing as it is projected to be considering the problems Bush is facing at present.
President Bush is very keen on getting the nuclear deal through, as it would look bad for his administration if this does not to work out.
The vast majority of the Afghans want peace in the region.
Efforts are on to build the educational system in Pakistan. The moderate forces within Pakistan have to help themselves. We are letting the natural political forces work its way through, but more pressure should be exerted on Musharraf for a stable political order