Triangle of Tension: India, Pakistan and the United States What are you afraid of?: Triangle of Tension: India, Pakistan and the United States

By Reese on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 - 04:55 pm:

    Historical distrust and tensions between India and Pakistan have reached practically unsustainable levels. New Delhi cannot tolerate paramilitary attacks such as the one against its parliament in December, but the regime of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf simply may not be able to rein in the militants. Any concession on Islamabad's part could set off a destabilizing political backlash, but this reality also moves the countries closer to a war footing. The United States, meanwhile, has willingly used the threat of war to pressure Islamabad for cooperation in its battle against al Qaeda. Washington realizes that actual war between India and Pakistan would harm its own interests, but for New Delhi there has never been a better time to act.
    Tension between India and Pakistan has been a feature of the international system since Britain withdrew from the subcontinent and its imperium was partitioned between predominantly Muslim Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India. The rhetoric has concerned Kashmir, but the reality is that each nation deeply distrusts the intentions of the other. As with other conflicts, the litanies of injustice on both sides are real but ultimately irrelevant. India and Pakistan are two nations that regard the very existence of the other as a threat to their fundamental interests.
    From India's viewpoint, Pakistan represents the only serious national security challenge. However bad Sino-Indian relations might become, China's ability to sustain an invasion deep into India, with a supply line running over the Himalayas, is negligible. To the east, India is buffered by deep jungles and weak nations. To the south lies the Indian Ocean, which is militarily dominated by the United States, a country whose interests frequently have diverged from India's but which never has threatened India's existence. In other words, India is effectively an island except on its western frontier. There lies Pakistan: insecure, fragmented and therefore unpredictable.
    If Pakistan were to cease to exist, India's strategic situation would shift to invulnerability on land, thus opening up strategic opportunities at sea.
    On a deeper level, the Pakistani-Indian frontier represents the borderland between the Islamic and Hindu worlds. Whatever the current condition of India, the broad historical threat is that the Islamic world one day might unite. In that case, the manageable threat posed by Pakistan would become a potentially unmanageable situation, in which the weight of re-emergent Islamic power would thrust up against an India that might not be able to resist. These are hypothetical fears, far in the future, but they are not trivial.
    Islamabad is acutely aware of India's hopes and fears. Given India's enormously greater size and military potential, logic would dictate that it would be in Pakistan's strategic interest to reach a stable accommodation with its neighbor, but two problems prevent this.
    First, Islamabad perceives -- not irrationally -- that India's ultimate goal is the dismemberment of Pakistan. Rather than stabilizing the situation, any concession to India would simply increase the disadvantage at which Pakistan is already operating.
    Second, Pakistan as a nation is fragile. It is divided by ethnic group as well as by worldviews. The essentially secular Pakistan of the founders and their heirs collides with the profoundly religious Pakistan that has re-emerged. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a Pakistani government to make substantial concessions to India. Any concession -- in Kashmir, for example -- would come at the expense of an ethnic group and a religious perspective that has the potential to destabilize the entire regime if displeased, thereby increasing the danger to national survival.
    Under these conditions, it has been Pakistan's historical imperative to avoid engaging India in any negotiations that might lead to a comprehensive settlement. This is because of both reasonable fears of India's long-term intentions and even more reasonable fears of the domestic response to any concession. For instance, if Pakistan were to accept the current Line of Control in Kashmir, the consequences would be destabilizing.
    Pakistan has therefore adopted a three-part strategy that is essentially military in nature.
    First, it has created a military force designed to impose heavy costs on any Indian offensive. While this has strained Pakistan's economy in comparison with India's, the country has had, as force multipliers, the advantages both of terrain and of being on the defensive.
    Second, it has developed nuclear weapons -- not only to counter India's nuclear force but also to deter India from threatening its existence. In the central region of the front, where terrain is less defensible, Islamabad is aware that India potentially could launch an attack that would split the country in half. Pakistan's nuclear force, like that of Israel, is designed to prevent conventional defeat by making the risk of success too high for its foe.
    Third and most risky, Islamabad has adopted a strategy of permitting paramilitary operations by various groups against Indian installations, such as that against its parliament in December. It might be overstating it to say this is part of a strategy. Rather, these well may be groups whose operations the government can't control or, alternatively, whose operations it chooses not to control for domestic reasons. Clamping down on these groups might pose political challenges at home.
    The paradox is that the domestic benefits of permitting these operations inevitably increase the risk of Indian military action. It has been Pakistan's strategy to present a substantial defense along the frontier while using the nuclear threat as the final deterrent. If India were to penetrate the frontier to any depth, it is not clear whether Pakistani forces would fall back, regroup and allow guerrillas to operate to the rear of the Indian forces or whether they would rapidly grow nuclear. This is precisely the indeterminacy Islamabad wants to create.
    The situation was fairly stable, if noisy, until the United States entered the picture after Sept. 11. For Washington, the essential strategic problem in the region has been Pakistan, not Afghanistan. After the defeat of the Taliban regime, al Qaeda redeployed into Pakistan, joining forces that were already there. In the same way that Islamabad found it less risky to permit paramilitary operations against India than to prevent them, it found it less risky to permit al Qaeda forces sanctuary than to close them down -- not to mention permitting U.S. forces to take on al Qaeda in Pakistani territory.
    Following the attack on India's Parliament, New Delhi created the first post-Sept. 11 crisis. The United States used that crisis to back the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf into a corner: While publicly seeking to defuse the crisis, Washington used the Indian threat to change the equation for Pakistan. Officials made it clear that, in fact, permitting al Qaeda to operate in Pakistan is a greater threat to regime survival than permitting U.S. forces to operate against al Qaeda. If India attacked Pakistan and the United States remained neutral or actively participated, the consequences for Pakistan would be catastrophic.
    Musharraf publicly conceded, and U.S. forces entered Pakistan. Obviously, with India and the United States involved, Musharraf had to re-evaluate the value of his nuclear capability. The United States clearly had the ability to destroy Pakistan's nuclear facilities more effectively than India might. When Washington announced a shift in its nuclear policy to permit first strikes, Pakistan was the unmentioned audience. Musharraf clearly heard and understood. Unconfirmed rumors have persisted in the region for several months that Pakistan's nuclear arsenals already are in U.S. hands or that U.S. observers are at least positioned at various facilities. The Times of India recently published an article to this effect, without providing evidence.
    Musharraf, however, has limited control, whatever his desires might be. Operations against al Qaeda in Pakistan clearly have been less than successful because of limits on Pakistani cooperation. Musharraf's ability to control anti-Indian groups is similarly limited. Thus, the recent attack on an Indian facility by Pakistan-based paramilitaries has reignited the crisis with India -- at the same time that the United States is revisiting the issue of Pakistan's support for U.S. operations against al Qaeda.
    Washington has been moving steadily closer to India, particularly in the area of military cooperation. This is partly out of recognition that the two countries have similar interests in combating Islamic groups in Pakistan. It also is because the United States wants to replicate its maneuvers of earlier this year, using India as the lever to compel cooperation from Pakistan.
    Washington expects it can manage the India-Pakistan confrontation effectively, but there are two reasons this might not be the case this time. First, Musharraf simply may have reached the limits of his power. He just may not be able to provide the United States and India with the degree of control over Islamic factions that they seek.
    Indeed, Musharraf has known his limits all along and has been playing for time, hoping the crisis can be defused. The Islamic groups do not want to see the crisis defused, since their goal is to create a cauldron that draws in U.S. forces on the ground, sucking them into a war of attrition that will, in the long run, enhance their own position. Since Musharraf cannot deliver what is demanded, he is being forced to consider alternative solutions to the crisis. The solution is to increase the fearsomeness of his military --in short, brush aside U.S. threats and brandish Pakistan's nuclear capability.
    The second problem is India. New Delhi understands that there will never be a better time to deal with Pakistan. Paramilitary attacks are genuinely intolerable to India. They also provide an excuse for war to which the United States cannot ultimately object, given its views on al Qaeda and its support for Israel. Washington is neither politically nor militarily in a position to block New Delhi. Therefore, if India ever intends to deal with Pakistan, now is the time to act.
    There are two problems with action. First, from the Indian standpoint, the Pakistani nuclear threat must be treated as real and likely to be used in the event of war. This leaves New Delhi with two options. One is a non-regime threatening strategy of special operations against Islamic groups in Pakistan, but this would not solve the core problem. The second option is a broader attack into Pakistan, designed to shatter the country. That attack could be carried out only with a pre-emptive strike against Pakistani nuclear facilities. The issue is the degree of confidence India has in its own surgical nuclear capabilities -- or the United States' willingness to take out Pakistani weapons in order to prevent nuclear escalation.
    This brings us to the second problem. The dismemberment of Pakistan would compound rather than solve the United States' problem. The chaos that would follow would create precisely the conditions al Qaeda needs for its own security. Entire areas of the country, in the least hospitable terrain, would become more secure for al Qaeda than before. Therefore, from the U.S. standpoint, using the threat of an Indian attack is ideal; a successful Indian attack would be harmful.
    India's calculus is not the same, however. If it is accepted that Pakistan represents a permanent strategic threat to India, the question of war is not whether but when. Given the current political situation and correlation of forces, if this isn't the perfect time, what is?
    If war is inevitable, it is difficult to see how India can act without taking out Pakistan's nuclear capability. It is unclear how India could take those out without nuclear weapons, or without U.S. precision-guided munitions, Special Operations and other covert forces. But at the end of the day, the United States does not want Pakistan in chaos, it does not want an Indian nuclear strike and it certainly doesn't want Pakistan -- facing a use-it-or-lose-it scenario --to launch its own nuclear strike.
    The United States probably could paralyze Pakistan's nuclear force. That, however, would open the door to Indian attack, since the United States could not prevent paramilitary operations and cannot permit India to achieve its historical goal -- at least not until al Qaeda has been dealt with. On the other hand, India cannot afford to miss this historic opportunity.
    We are therefore in an extraordinarily difficult crisis. The three players each have strategic interests that simply don't mesh. If Washington convinces New Delhi to wait, it will have to convince Islamabad to stay in India's crosshairs and India to put up with intolerable attacks. If India proceeds, it essentially would save al Qaeda by shattering Pakistan. In the event of complete mismanagement, a nuclear exchange costing millions of lives is a genuine possibility.
    India has given Pakistan a small window of opportunity to solve the problem it cannot solve. It gives the United States a period of time to defuse a situation that, my view at leaste, could suddenly and catastrophically get out of hand.

    Century 10, Quatrain 72
    In the year 1999 and seven months
    The Great King of Terror will come from the sky,
    He will bring back to life the great king of the Mongols.
    Before and after Mars [the God of war] reigns happily.

    It could be he had the wrong year.

By M on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 - 05:19 pm:

    What is this, It's a windy, sophomoric analysis with a shallow and often incorrect understanding of the area. And the use of Nostradamus BS strips the last shreds of credibility away.

    To use just one example, before I stopped reading: threats to India. Relations with China are acceptable, but if that changed, it would be a formidable adversary, both on land, with strategic forces, and even on sea. (The US certainly doesn't dominate the IO; take it from a former USN officer). But the main threat to India, as partially exposed by the Kashmir terrorists, is internal. It was a Sikh who blew up Indira Gandhi, after all. And the Indian military has been concerned enough to send troops to fight the Tamil Tigers. You say that Pakistan is a fragile country riven by different ethnic groups and worldviews; that is far more true of India. And the population, agricultural and environmental bombs are also destabilizing.

By eri on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 - 05:30 pm:

    Reese, I would like to have finished reading this but my brain is full, so may I please be excused?

By semillama on Tuesday, May 28, 2002 - 08:51 pm:

    It's generally considered good form to post

    otherwise, interesting.

    how does the new face of NATO figure into
    this, you suppose?

By LoneStranger on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 10:52 am:

    World War Fucking Three.


By Reese on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 01:15 pm:

    Alliance against the Mideast. Maybe.
    India and Pakistan figures to be a huge problem.
    I really fear what it could bring.

By spunky on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 01:43 pm:

    Fox News has obtained several line-items that will be FBI priorities:

    Protect the United States from terrorist attack

    Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage

    Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes

    Combat public corruption at all levels

    Combat transnational and national criminal organizations and enterprises

    Combat major white-collar crime

    Combat significant violent crime

    Support federal, state, local, and international partners

    Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI's mission

    Protect civil rights
    Marching towards that police state Patrick wants.

By patrick on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 01:46 pm:

    yes spunk. ive always wanted a police state.

    *insert weird puzzled look directed at military-employeed god fearing middle american man coming from a leftist, liberally employeed, god eating middle american man.*

By spunky on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 01:58 pm:

    Maybe they will institute those bed inspections to make sure there is no bomb under it, in order to, what was the last thing they listed, ah yes, protect civil rights.

By semillama on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 04:03 pm:

    Inspecting beds sounds like something htat
    would occur during a republican

    If it were a democratic one, they would look
    into the people who were making the beds.

By wisper on Wednesday, May 29, 2002 - 06:41 pm:

    watching Gandhi right now is sad.
    (well, okay, it's ALWAYS sad)

    back then it was enough that this one man was willing to starve for the fighting to stop, and they did. It's like they've all forgotten.

By LoneStranger on Thursday, May 30, 2002 - 12:01 am:

    Gimmie a steak, medium-rare!


By J on Thursday, May 30, 2002 - 02:26 am:

    I'm rolling another one,just like the other one.

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