Internal, External Challenges for Pakistan’s New Premier

For the first time in its independent history, Pakistan witnessed a democratic transition of power last week. Despite Taliban bombings and scattered gun violence, millions turned out to vote in a powerful demonstration of democracy. That in itself was extraordinary, even if the outcome was unsurprising.

Opinion polls had predicted a conservative Pakistan Muslim League victory since February. The outgoing People’s Party government was marred in corruption scandals while former cricket player Imran Khan’s anti-establishment party proved unable to stage a major win based on the charisma of one man, winning even less seats than the former ruling party. Read more “Internal, External Challenges for Pakistan’s New Premier”

Calculated Political Tension at China-India Mountain Border

In the Himalayas, two great powers are blaming each other for stirring tension. India says Chinese troops crossed the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border there. China claims it was merely responding to earlier intrusions carried out by Indian border guards. We don’t know who is speaking the truth. But “calculated” political tension has emerged.

The root of the Sino-Indian border dispute lies in the 1914 Simla Accord, signed by India’s British rulers and demarcating the border with Tibet. This “McMahon Line,” named after India’s foreign secretary at the time, is recognized by India but disputed by China which insists that Tibet was not a sovereign power. China invaded and conquered Tibet in 1950. Read more “Calculated Political Tension at China-India Mountain Border”

Uniquely, Pakistan’s Army Not Involved in Political Transition

Defying predictions about its continuity in office and amid all sorts of political troubles, Pakistan’s ruling People’s Party led by President Asif Ali Zardari successfully completed its fixed term in office this week.

In the beginning and middle of its term, the administration faced resistance from various quarters. That made many political pundits wonder about the future of Pakistani democracy. But things did not become worse and visceral situations for democracy were politically managed by the parties. The Muslim country has found a new form of democratic competition: ideologically different political groups joined hands against their common enemy, the army. The leading parties acted in unison to protect Pakistan’s democracy against the possibility of another military coup. Read more “Uniquely, Pakistan’s Army Not Involved in Political Transition”

Border Incident Sparks India-Pakistan War of Words

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India participates in the East Asia Summit in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, November 20, 2012
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India participates in the East Asia Summit in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, November 20, 2012 (MEA)

As usual, after the military tension at Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir earlier this month, India and Pakistan have reengaged in a verbal spat.

The first causalities of the recent tension were senior citizens from Pakistan who wanted to pay a visit to India. Their visa request was put on “hold,” which in pragmatic terms means denied by the government of India.

The second victims were Pakistani hockey players who were in India for games. They were sent back to their country due to ruckus created by right-wing fringe elements during the opening ceremony of a tournament in Mumbai.

The third mistake was committed by Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik who suggested that India should provide better security for its famous film star Shahrukh Khan who was invited to Pakistan by a known terrorist. “We are capable of looking at the security of our own citizens,” said India’s home secretary, Raj Kumar Singh, in response. “Let him worry about his own.”

Khan wrote in Outlook magazine that he had sometimes “become the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India.” The actor also expressed his concern about the rising sectarian sentiments in India where the majority Hindu and minority Muslim populations seem to be growing further and further apart.

Rehman Malik’s statement revealed that the Pakistani establishment, 65 years after the partition of India, still thinks of itself as custodians of India’s Muslims — an affront to the leaders in New Delhi.

The recent tension began with a border incident in early January when Indian and Pakistani army forces opened fire on each other at the Line of Control. The situation seemed on the brink of escalation when Indian media reported that a solider had been decapitated and abused by Pakistani troops. Nationalist and right-wing commentators and politicians in India demanded that Pakistan be taught a “lesson.”

One person who kept her cool was Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. She proposed bilateral talks almost immediately to prevent the situation from escalating further. She also demanded third party mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute which many, including herself, seem to believe is the “core” of Indo-Pakistani bellicosity.

However, even if the Kashmir dispute were resolved, decades of antagonism and warmongering on both sides are unlikely to simply go away. India and Pakistan have been rivals since partition. In order to reach a long-term peace, Kashmir is but one issue that has to be solved.

Khar’s offer to talk was rejected by India, specifically because of the demand for third party mediation in the Kashmir dispute. The two countries agreed in Simla in 1972 to resolve the issue bilaterally. But Pakistan is now in a much weaker position. It has lost three wars against India and copes with a tribal insurgency in its western frontier region. It insists on the involvement of a third party in peace talks to provide a necessary balance.

India-Pakistan Engagement Set Back by Border Dispute

In modern international relations, states are expected to act rationally and responsibly. Looking into the behavior of South Asia’s great powers, however, it can hardly be said that the two act rationally and certainly not responsibly.

The region is in turmoil. The United States are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. The Taliban are hoping to return to power there. But instead of trying to meet those challenges, India and Pakistan were at it again in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir.

The arguments are familiar. Pakistan wants the United Nations to look into an alleged breach of the ceasefire agreement. India does not. While the present standoff may not lead to another war, it does affect the pace of bilateral engagement between the two countries.

Trying to lay responsibility for the recent fray is like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Certainly on both sides of the border there are stakeholders who benefit from perpetuating the enmity between the two nations. As happened in the past, whenever there was a chance of engagement or a peace deal, some untoward incident derailed the frontier. Read more “India-Pakistan Engagement Set Back by Border Dispute”

War’s Legacy Still Frustrates Sino-Indian Relations

Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Manmohan Singh of India in New Delhi, December 16, 2010 (AP)
Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Manmohan Singh of India in New Delhi, December 16, 2010 (AP)

There is a popular Marxist axiom that says history repeats itself. That may be the case in many social sciences but a challenging proposition in international relations because of the constant changes that take place in the structure of the world system.

Many analysts consider the future of Sino-Indian relations through the prism of the Marxist theory. Foreign policy hawks and nationalists in both countries maintain that the two rising powers will reengage in war at some point. On the other hand, there are liberals and supposedly pacifists who do not buy this argument and claim that the two Asian giants will rise peacefully.

The debate has raged since the mid 1990s when both China and India started showing high economic growth. Fifty years after the two went to war, questions about the future Sino-Indian relationship are increasingly relevant. Hence the war itself is subject to intense historical scrutiny.

Many theories, indeed some conspiracy theories, have emerged into the reasons of the 1962 conflict. Almost all of them point to the border dispute as the war’s impetus. But that was rather an excuse than a cause.

Chinese ambitions of regional hegemony reemerged after the Communist Party had firmly established itself in Beijing. Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia were seen as hurdles to such a position but not an outright challenge. India, due to its sheer size and political clout, was. To claim a leadership position in Asia, China had to check India’s own aspirations through political or military means.

China’s unilateral ceasefire declaration without putting up serious terms or conditions suggests that its only wish indeed was to remind India of its power. Secondly, there was the clash of personalities between India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw himself as the leader of the Nonaligned Movement, and China’s Mao Zedong, who contested for the leadership of the communist bloc. Mao’s willingness to go to war may at least in part have stemmed from his desire to degrade Nehru’s status on the world stage.

China and India reestablished diplomatic relations in the late 1970s. Trade has since increased between them. By 2015, the volume of Sino-Indian commerce is expected to top $100 billion per year.

Yet all is not well. Despite engagement for more than two decades, the two nations have yet to resolve their border disputes. They have also, intermittently, engaged in spats over political issues.

The present combination of cooperative economic engagement and political instability explains why questions over the future of Sino-Indian relations remain relevant. In the near term, economic necessity will preserve the cooperation that is seen in that sphere but even if another war seems unlikely, unresolved political disputes continue to frustrate a truly “peaceful rise” of both nations.

Singh, Zardari Deserve Admiration for Détente

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India meet in New Delhi, April 8
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India meet in New Delhi, April 8 (MEA)

The leaders of India and Pakistan are embroiled in scandals at home but can be applauded for at least keeping the dialogue between the two rivaling nations going.

Various scams have been unearthed during the most recent months of Manmohan Singh’s premiership in India. Several of his cabinet ministers are deeply involved. In Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari is in conflict with the judiciary for allegedly siphoning off public money.

Nevertheless, their governments have kept up negotiations, particularly about trade instead of more contentious and time consuming issues like terrorism and Kashmir.

In February, India’s commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma visisted Pakistan to finalize a trade agreement with his Pakistani counterpart. As a result, integrated border checks have been set up to facilitate and increase commerce. This month, the government of India allowed Pakistani investment, albeit in limited sectors of the economy.

No unfortunatele incidents have taken place since India’s external affairs minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Qureshi engaged in a verbal duel on the former’s first visit to Islamabad in 2010. Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s incumbent foreign affairs minister, paid a visit to New Delhi soon after assuming her post and received a warm welcome there. The two explored the possibility of engagement on commercial instead of security issues which appears to be bearing fruit.

This month, Krishna paid his second, much anticipated second visit to the Pakistani capital, again focusing on trade issues but also hinting that Indo-Pakistani relations would not be held hostage by disputes over the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks which India suspects were carried out with Pakistani assistance.

The main problem in Indo-Pakistani relations is not terrorism or border disputes, rather a lack of trust and, sometimes, outright hatred between the two sides. Tension will remain, no matter how many issues are resolved, if this mutual suspicion persists. Public debate in both countries unfortunately fuels the distrust, tempting politicians to toe the line of nationalists and radicals instead of improving bilateral relations through compromise.

Changing Indian and Pakistani perceptions of their neighbors is no simply task. The relationship has been marked by conflict since independence. But it is the only way to stabilize ties for the long term. It is the responsibility of leaders in both countries to take the first steps toward peaceful coexistence.

Central Asia: India’s New Strategic Neighborhood

Indian foreign policy has started to morph in recent years from the idealistic and sometimes naive notions of Cold War nonalignment into a more realistic strategy that recognizes the country’s changing interests. India’s alliance building in Central Asia is emblematic of this policy shift.

Walter Russell Mead recently blogged that in the past, Indian policymakers would list three enemies: Pakistan, Pakistan and Pakistan. But the old rivalry of South Asia now only has an emotional, not a rational connection with either the present or the future. India and Pakistan are working to improve their bilateral relationship. During his second visit to Islamabad last week, India’s foreign minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna reiterated his country’s wish to see a peaceful and prosperous neighbor.

One of the reasons for India’s continuous engagement with Pakistan is that it is on the road to Central Asia. The former Soviet satellite states in the region possess vast energy reserves and have attracted the attention of nearby great powers. Read more “Central Asia: India’s New Strategic Neighborhood”

Coup Unlikely After Pakistani Prime Minister’s Dismissal

Pakistan’s supreme court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani because he refused to investigate corruption charges against the president, Asif Ali Zardari. The decision was the outcome of a months long struggle between parliament and the judiciary.

President Zardari is known as “Mr 10 percent” because that is what he used to charge for local investments. He was also involved in blatant corruption during the premiership of his wife, the late Benazir Bhuttoo. By accident or choice, he became the head of the state in 2008 after Bhuttoo’s assassination the previous year.

For all the negative press surrounding corruption charges, the Zardari-Gilani years have also seen a major accomplishment for Pakistani democracy in the eighteenth amendment to the Muslim nation’s constitution which prevents the president from unilaterally disbanding parliament. For a country that has seen four military coups since independence and an extremely powerful executive, it marked a break with the past.

Power has also shifted during this government from the central province of Punjab to other parts of the countries which have traditionally regarded Punjabi dominance warily.

Another military takeover after Gilani’s ouster is unlikely. Chief of Army Staff General Parvez Kayani may be ambitious but the current political environment in Pakistan is not in his favor. The parties are determined to keep the army at bay. Elections are due in Pakistan and no party will like to destroy its prospect of coming to power. Pakistani civil society, which has struggled hard to rid itself of the legacy of President Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, won’t like to see a return to old ways either.

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party and its allies continue to support President Zardari and favor a democratic solution to the present crisis. Shortly after the supreme court’s ruling was announced, representatives of the coalition met at the president’s house where they expressed their confidence in Zardari’s leadership. They are expected to nominate the incumbent textile minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin to replace the discredited prime minister.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the conservative Muslim League, has also called for a democratic transition. The centrist Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricketer Imran Khan and popular with the country’s middle class, is expected to do so as well.

Pakistanis recognize the shortcomings of the current government but they also recognize the benefits of having a democracy. The majority would rather live under a democratic government, however imperfect, than see a return to military dictatorship.

Nuclear Weapons Still Shape India-Pakistan Relations

Fourteen years ago this May, India and Pakistan overtly conducted nuclear tests and declared themselves nuclear powers.

India conducted its first test in 1974 and termed it a “peaceful nuclear explosion” while by the late 1980s, Pakistan had acquired the technological capacity to produce a bomb as well. Although many opposed and still oppose the tests due to various reasons and on many grounds, at least the two countries let the world and each other know that they had the bomb.

Nuclear weapons played the role of deterrent and helped in the deescalation of tensions which could otherwise have resulted in war.

For the first time in a war against Pakistan, in 1999 at Kargil, the Indian army did not cross the Line of Control. Even after the attack on the Indian parliament in 2002 and the Mumbai massacre that was carried out by militants based in Pakistan, war was averted. The regular exchange of fire along the Indo-Pakistani border has not resulted in an escalation of hostilities.

As it is, India and Pakistan are nuclear powers and this cannot be reversed or changed despite anti-nuclear protests and a global push for denuclearization. Hence, it’s better to adapt to the situation.

The two countries have taken many measures to prevent accidental use of their atomic weapons. Chief among them is that India and Pakistan since 1988 are regularly exchanging information about their weapons. They also inform the other side before carrying out military exercises near the border areas or testing their missiles.

The real challenge is to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. Whereas states behave in a rational and responsible way, this cannot be expected from nonstate actors.

The weapons in both countries are kept in disassembled form and physically apart. They have each set up commanding hierarchies to take decisions about its assemblage and use. Any effort to steal or capture even a single part cannot go unnoticed by the security agencies nor the political leadership. To take possession of a nuclear weapon, a terrorist group would help from the inside, as Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, had.

The presence of Taliban and other Islamic extremists in Pakistan complicates the challenge of securing the nation’s nuclear weapons. To check this, the credentials of defense staff and scientists responsible for providing security and maintenance of nuclear technologies must be properly scanned.

The bomb has acted as deterrence but that does not mean it will always be that way. High escalation of bilateral tension may become a reason to trigger nuclear war. Hence, as responsible nuclear powers, India and Pakistan must continue to build confidence between them, if only to avert the accidental use of a nuclear weapon.