Pakistan, the Subcontinent and U.S. Foreign Policy
by Gilles d'Aymery

June 1, 1998

The other evening, following the initial nuclear tests carried out by Pakistan in answer to the earlier Indian tests, President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel R. Berger, appeared on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer to explain the views of the Administration in regard to these events. In short, he asserted that the president had done everything in his power to offer incentives to Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, so that Mr. Sharif would cancel the forthcoming tests. Mr. Berger went on to relate the president's deep disappointment and his decision to impose immediate economic sanctions as required by law. He added that there was nothing the U.S. could have said or done to prevent this potentially dangerous escalation of the Indian Subcontinent arms race from occurring.

Following the second Pakistani test yesterday, Administration officials reacted with anger and a sense of frustration, saying, according to The New York Times, "they had few ideas about how to stop the arms race in South Asia." Quoting again the article of The New York Times (May 31, 1998, page A8), "After a while there's nothing left on the shelf," said one Administration official. "The president has said, 'there's not a lot I can do.'"

This tacit admission of a complete foreign policy failure and utter powerlessness of the government of the only remaining so-called superpower in the world speaks volumes on the limits of power. It also demonstrates once again that, while intensely pathetic, the U.S. foreign policy is a fascinating ballet to watch, where illusive carrots and uncoordinated sticks tango together.

Sticks and carrots? Carrots and sticks? Whichever comes first is unimportant. What counts here is that a relation between two countries is based upon control, upon power by one dominant country, bent to impose her own set of views and precepts, over a dominated one. In the post-Cold War era, this kind of conceptually and practically flawed relationship is increasingly being rejected by "medium" powers all over the world. You can bomb Iraq, a country of 22 million people, at will but you cannot impose your will on one billion people that easily... India simply ignored whatever carrots were offered by the Secretary of State, Madeleine K. Albright, in the Fall of 1997. The fact that she cut short her diplomatic visit to rush back to Europe did little to heed the Indian consideration that the U.S. is nothing more than a post-colonialist power. Likewise, Prime Minister Sharif listened politely and diplomatically to President Clinton's anguished and impassioned -- yet totally empty -- cajoling words, then proceeded to test Pakistan's nuclear devices.

There were some good reasons for the Pakistani Prime Minister to react as he did to Mr. Clinton's offers.

Mr. Clinton offered Mr. Sharif a changed relationship, a pledge to try to deliver 28 F-16 fighter jets that Pakistan has paid for but never received, and economic aid. "If you do this," he said, "we can do great things together, we can work on your economy, we can give you the tools you need to help defend your country" (NYT, May 29, 1998, front page). These were the carrots. Then, after his usual reference to the 21st century and the sky's-the-limit future of a great relationship à la Bogart, Mr. Clinton went on to apply the pressure, the stick: "If you do this [nuclear tests], Nawaz [Pakistan's Prime Minister], I have to do this [impose crippling economic sanctions], and it'll hurt you a lot more than it'll hurt India." According to the official who reported the conversation to the press, Mr. Clinton added, "if your hands are tied, mine are too."

Now, no one has ever doubted Mr. Clinton's intellect. So, it would be quite surprising if he had for one moment thought that Mr. Sharif would take the bait. Pakistan has good memories of past carrots and sticks. Pakistan once had a great relationship with the United States. That was in the Eighties when the CIA needed Pakistan's help to smuggle weapons worth billions to Afghanistan where the U.S. was engaged in the proxy war with the former Soviet Union, a.k.a. Reagan's Evil Empire. For its reward, Pakistan received annual aid packages of over half a billion dollars in cash and weapons. With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. turned its attention elsewhere and Pakistan ended up stranded with hordes of Afghan refugees, a destabilized economy, and of course no more aid, on the pretext that Pakistan was working on the development of a nuclear bomb, a fact that had been known but conveniently ignored when Pakistan was needed. Subsequently, Pakistan bought 28 F-16 fighter planes with the acquiescence of the U.S. Government, paid for them in full, only to see them denied under the Pressler Amendment. The planes remain on a Tarmac somewhere in the United States. Pakistan has never received them and has yet to get reimbursed for the full amount they paid (about $600 million). With inescapable logic, the U.S. Government has refused to pay back arguing that the planes had been bought from and built by a private corporation and therefore belong to Pakistan (a commercial matter). It's only that American law, under the Pressler Amendment, does not authorize export of high tech weapons to a country that is accused of developing a nuclear arsenal. QED. Sorry fellows! This logic is similar to this Alabama man who was condemned to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Twenty-five years later, the State Supreme Court overturned the verdict. So the man should be free. Problem is, during his 25 years in jail, he tried to escape three times. With the three strikes rule he is condemned to life in prison. QED again. American logic can be hard to grasp at times... (For the record, Pakistan has also been sanctioned by the U.S. on nuclear and missile issues in both 1991 and 1993 under the Defense Authorization and Arms Export Control Acts for the Missile Technology Control Regime violations.)

Mr. Sharif knew how much trust could be placed in Mr. Clinton's highly conditional if not disingenuous carrots, and one should presume that Mr. Clinton knew that Mr. Sharif knew. (Had the Administration seriously wanted the Pakistani government to forego nuclear testing, the possibly only acceptable offer to Mr. Sharif would have been a nuclear umbrella guarantee and a very substantial annual economic package, neither of which would have mustered any votes in Congress.) So Pakistan answered India's move by setting off her own underground nuclear tests. And the U.S. Administration imposed new strident economic sanctions against Pakistan.

Carrots, sticks? Great results indeed!

The fact of the matter is that the international community has started to reap the seeds of old religious and tribal or ethnic conflicts all over the world that have been too long neglected in the name of the Cold War. More particularly, in the Indian Subcontinent, India, officially a non-aligned country, had a close relationship with the Soviet Union from the day of its independence and remains close to Russia today. Pakistan became a pawn of the U.S. in its ideological war against the great Satan. Left unattended in the midst of this global East-West struggle were the subcontinent itself and its internal strife and deeply violent turmoil ever since the independence of India and Pakistan (Western and Eastern parts, the latter known as Bangladesh after violently seceding from Pakistan in 1971). The unresolved status of the Northern State of Jammud and Kashmir (the "Forgotten Nation") and the present serious risks of the disintegration of India by implosion should deserve deeper intellectual attention from the U.S. Administration and more creative proposals and remedies.

While now a moot point, one should reaffirm that offering more and always more conventional arms to Pakistan so that she would not officially become what she unofficially has been for almost a decade, that is, a nuclear state, would have had no positive effect whatsoever on the roots of the Indo-Pakistani conflict.

Let's quote an excerpt of the Czech Diplomat Josef Korbel's book, Danger in Kashmir (Princeton, N.J. Princeton University Press 1966. 401 p.):

"If the struggle for Kashmir were a struggle for territory, if it were a struggle for national resources, or for manpower, or for strategic position, or for any of the other prizes for which nations traditionally contest, it might well have been solved some years ago; it might no longer constitute for the entire Subcontinent the menace that today it remains.

"But it is none of these. At least, not primarily. The real cause of all the bitterness and bloodshed that characterized the Kashmir dispute is the uncompromising and perhaps uncompromisable struggle of two ways of life, two concepts of political organization, two spiritual attitudes, that find themselves locked in deadly conflict, a conflict in which Kashmir has become both symbol and battleground.

"Simply, these two irrevocably opposed positions may be characterized thus: To India the Subcontinent is inescapably one nation. To Pakistan it is, just as inescapably, two."

Add to Jammu and Kashmir the states of Hyderabad and Junagadh and you have the only three states who, out of a total of 584 princely states in the subcontinent, did not join either India or Pakistan in 1947 and have paid a heavy price ever since.

This book is worth reading for anyone aware of the present powder keg that exists in the Subcontinent.

Let's hope the present U.S. Administration can lick its wounds, stop its sterile policies of sanctioning at the drop of a hat -- the imposition of sanctions has become a standard practice of post-Cold War America -- and devise a more positive set of policies. It would be particularly welcome were the changes spearheaded by Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. She should know and understand. Josef Korbel was her father.

Published June 1, 1998
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