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Pushing South Asia towards the Brink

Pushing South Asia towards the Brink

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed interested only in increasing business for US companies and cementing a new defence relationship during her India visit. But a basic reordering of US priorities in south Asia is long overdue. This means that the US has to stop feeding the fire between India and Pakistan. Only an end to the south Asian arms race can begin to undo the structures that have sustained the conflict in the subcontinent.




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Pushing South Asia towards the Brink

Zia Mian

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed interested only in increasing business for US companies and cementing a new defence relationship during her India visit. But a basic reordering of US priorities in south Asia is long overdue. This means that the US has to stop feeding the fire between India and Pakistan. Only an end to the south Asian arms race can begin to undo the structures that have sustained the conflict in the subcontinent.

A version of this essay was published in “Foreign Policy in Focus”, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, Washington DC.

Zia Mian ( is at Princeton University, United States.

Economic & Political Weekly

august 8, 2009

he contradictions and confusions in United States policy in south Asia were on full display during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to India. US interests in India now centre on making money and recruiting India as a strategic ally, which, in turn, involve selling weapons and turning a blind eye to the country’s nuclear weapons. This is fatally at odds with US policy and concerns about Pakistan.

By enabling an India-Pakistan arms race, rather than focusing on resolving the conflict and helping them make peace, the United States is driving Pakistan towards the very collapse it fears.

America’s New India

In an article in The Times of India just before the start of her visit, Clinton laid out US interests in India. The first item on Clinton’s list was “The 300 million members of India’s burgeoning middle class”, that she identified as “a vast new market and opportunity”.1

There is no doubt the emerging Indian middle class is large – for comparison, the current total US population is also about 300 million. And, this new class is greedy

vol xliv no 32

for a more American lifestyle. But the focus on India as fundamentally a market for US goods and services, and a source of cheap labour for US corporations, marks a remarkable shift. The United States and other western countries have traditionally seen India as the home of the desperately

poor deserving charity and needing development. But no more. Clinton’s article made no mention of India’s poor, which the World Bank recently estimated as including over 450 million people living on less than $1.25 a day.2

India is also seen as a new emerging power of the 21st century, one that can be an ally of the United States and help it balance and contain the rise of China. This perception took hold under the Clinton Administration, and started to become evident during President Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000. The joint US-India statement, signed by Clinton and Vajpayee, observed that

There have been times in the past when our relationship drifted without a steady course. As we now look towards the future, we are convinced that it is time to chart a new and purposeful direction in our relationship… In the new century, India and the United States will be partners in peace, with a common interest in and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security. We will engage in regular consultations on, and work together for, strategic stability in Asia and beyond.3

The Bush Administration pushed this agenda forward forcefully. In 2004, the US and India signed an agreement called the


“Next Steps in Strategic Partnership”.4 To make India a fitting strategic partner, a senior State Department official later explained the US “goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century” and left no doubt what this meant, saying “we understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement”.5

India has ambitions of its own to become a great power and is seeking both to modernise and expand its military forces. It has dramatically increased its military budget, up over 34% alone this year.6 India now has the 10th highest military spending in the world.7 It is eager to buy hi-tech US arms. US weapons makers Lockheed Martin and Boeing have already racked up deals worth billions of dollars.8 But the real bonanza is still to come. India is said to be planning to spend as much $55 billion on weapons over the next five years.9

But the big news of the Clinton visit was the announcement of an India-US Strategic Dialogue.10 This will include an annual formal meeting of key officials, co-chaired by the secretary of state and by India’s external affairs minister, and including on the US side the secretaries of agriculture, trade, energy, education, finance, health and human services, homeland security, and others. But given the difference in the power and range of interests of the two states, this will be no dialogue of equals. It is a process intended to align Indian interests and policies in a wide range of areas with those of the United States.

Nuclear India

In her press conference with India’s minister of external affairs, Clinton said, “We discussed our common vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the practical steps that our countries can take to strengthen the goal of nonproliferation”.11 But there was no mention here of India’s nuclear build-up or of the US asking India to slow down or to end its programme. In fact, one would never guess from Clinton’s remarks that India even had a nuclear weapons programme. She seemed interested only in the prospect of US sales of nuclear reactors to India worth $10 billion or more.12

India is one of only three countries still making material for new nuclear weapons.13 The others are Pakistan and Israel (with North Korea threatening to resume production). India is building a fast-breeder reactor that is expected to begin operation in 2010 and is outside International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. It could increase threeto fivefold India’s current capacity to make plutonium for nuclear weapons.14

India seeks to become a major nuclear power. On 26 July, it launched its first nuclear-powered submarine.15 India plans to deploy several of these submarines and arm them with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Last year, it carried out its first successful underwater launch of a 700 km range ballistic missile, Sagarika, intended for the submarine.16 India joins the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China in the club of those owning such nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered submarines. Israel is

Call for Papers International Conference on Economics & Finance Theme: “Achieving Stability in Growth”

Venue: IBS Bangalore, India Date: January 7-8, 2010

Economies across the globe have exhibited inherent weaknesses, as unfolded by the recent economic crisis. Although the magnitude of it differs from one country to another, the revelation is that the economic growth is featured by instable tendencies and efforts are required for mitigating the deleterious effects of the crisis. While the policy response could be country-specific, the need for concerted collective efforts of global community cannot be underscored.

This Conference aims to deliberate upon issues related to economic crisis at the global, national and sectoral level, and devising of appropriate policy instruments. Considering this, original papers on various sub-themes, as outlined below, are solicited.

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In the area of Economics: In the area of Finance:
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Publication of Papers:

All papers submitted will be reviewed through double blind review process and papers accepted for presentation will be published in the Conference Proceedings. Subsequently, a few selected papers will be published in an edited volume, subject to the transfer of copyright by the author.

Important Dates:

Submission of Abstract : September 25, 2009 Submission of Full Paper : November 1, 2009 Intimation of Acceptance of Paper : November 8, 2009 Conference Dates : January 7-8, 2010

Registration Fee: INR 1500/- (For participants from India) USD 150/- (For participants from Abroad)

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august 8, 2009 vol xliv no 32


believed to have nuclear-armed cruise missiles on diesel-powered submarines.17

India is also developing an array of land-based missiles. In May 2008, it tested the 3,500 KM-range Agni-III missile, which was subsequently reported to have been approved for deployment with the army, and is working on a missile with a range of over 5,000 km.18 In November 2008, India also tested a 600 km-range silo-based missile, Shourya.19 In 2009, India carried out several tests of its cruise missile, Brahmos, which the army and navy are inducting into service.20

The US silence on India’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes is all the more telling given that it was the US during the term of President Bill Clinton that proposed United Nations Security Council resolution 1172. In 1998, this unanimous Security Council resolution called on India and Pakistan to “immediately stop their nuclear weapon development programmes, to refrain from the deployment of nuclear weapons, to cease development of ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and any further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons”.21 The Bush Administration ignored it. It seems the Obama Administration will too.

Pakistan vs India

Pakistan was noticeable for its near absence from Clinton’s agenda in India. It came up only in the context of the need to fight terrorism. Forgotten was the brute fact that India and Pakistan are straining harder than ever in their nuclear and conventional arms race. A Pakistani diplomat responded to the Clinton visit to India by telling The Washington Post that “What Hillary is doing there is probably again going to start an arms race”.22 This arms race is already well underway and is driving Pakistan towards collapse, the very thing the United States fears.

Pakistan is buying US weapons as fast as it can, some paid for with US military aid, with arms sales agreements worth over $6 billion since 2001, including for new F-16 jet-fighters.23 China, an old ally, is also supplying the country with weapons, including jet fighters.24 Pakistan is boosting its nuclear programme. It is building two new reactors to make plutonium for nuclear weapons.25 It continues to test

Economic & Political Weekly

august 8, 2009

both ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to carry nuclear weapons.

In response to the launch of India’s nuclear submarine, a Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman warned “Pakistan will take all appropriate steps to safeguard its security and maintain strategic balance in South Asia”.26 Pakistan’s navy, the only service without a nuclear weapons mission, will want a piece of the action. It may seek to put nuclear-armed cruise missiles on its submarines.

An expansion of the nuclear arms race to the oceans seems inevitable, and will be costly, especially for Pakistan. In an editorial, Dawn, a leading Pakistani newspaper, warned “A knee-jerk ‘we must have whatever India has’ game must be avoided. More to the point, can Pakistan afford such a competition?” and cautioned that “The real danger India’s nuclear submarines pose to Pakistan... could well be their capacity to lure us into an arms race we simply cannot afford”.27 It is a simple logic to which the US and Pakistan’s generals seem blind.

The principal US concern about Pakistan, apart from the country collapsing and its nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamists, is the war against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the border areas of Pakistan. It has been telling Pakistan to focus its military forces and strategic concerns on this battle, which requires moving more soldiers away from the border with India. The generals who command Pakistan’s army were bound to resist such redeployment. They worry about the new US-India strategic relationship and what it may mean for them when the war on the Taliban is over and the US no longer needs Pakistan.

Institution of Army

The Pakistan army, which rules the country even when civilians are in office, will not easily shift its view of India. The army and those who lead it see the threat from India as their very reason for being. The army has grown in size, influence, and power to the point where it dwarfs all other institutions in society and would lose much if there was peace with India. But there is a personal dimension as well. The Partition of the subcontinent 62 years ago that created Pakistan is in the living memory of many who make decisions in Pakistan.

vol xliv no 32

Pervez Musharraf, who was chief of army staff before he seized power in 1999 and ruled for nine years, was born in India, in Delhi, before Partition. Musharraf, along with the current chief of army staff, General Kayani, and others in Pakistan’s high command, fought as young officers in the 1971 war against India. The war ended with Pakistan itself partitioned, as East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh, with India’s help, and 90,000 Pakistani soldiers captured by India as prisoners of war. One of those prisoners was Khalid Kidwai, who is now the general in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.

As Graham Usher notes in the new issue of the Middle East Report, before becoming president, Barack Obama seemed to understand that resolving the conflict between India and Pakistan, especially over Kashmir, was critical to dealing with the problems in Afghanistan and with the Taliban.28 In a 2007 essay in Foreign Affairs Obama claimed “I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work towards resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look towards the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.”29 There is little evidence that this view has yet informed US policy.

Breakdown in Pakistan

In their rush to make money and to preserve American power in the world by crafting an alliance with India, US policymakers seem to have averted their eyes from the reality that stares them in the face in Pakistan. In March 2009, Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, summed up the situation in Pakistan as seen by the US intelligence agencies:

The government is losing authority in parts of the North-West Frontier Province and has less control of its semi-autonomous tribal areas: even in the more developed parts of the country, mounting economic hardships and frustration over poor governance have given rise to greater radicalisation… Economic hardships are intense, and the country is now facing a major balance of payments challenge. Islamabad needs to make painful reforms to improve overall macroeconomic stability. Pakistan’s law-and-order situation is dismal, affecting


even Pakistani elites, and violence between various sectarian, ethnic, and political groups threatens to escalate. Pakistan’s population is growing rapidly at a rate of about 2% a year, and roughly half of the country’s 172 million residents are illiterate, under the age of 20, and live near or below the poverty line.30

Things have worsened since then. Islamist groups linked to the Taliban have started to assert themselves in the southern parts of Punjab, Pakistan’s political and economic heartland.31 US drone attacks in the tribal areas and major assaults by the Pakistan army are also driving the Taliban to seek refuge, especially in Pakistan’s teeming cities.32 There are already no-go areas in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, where at night the Taliban control the streets.33 Meanwhile electricity riots have exploded in cities across the country, with mobs attacking public buildings, including police stations, blocking highways, and damaging trains and buses.34 Each day seems to bring news of some new failure of the state to provide basic social services.

The Obama Administration believes that an increase in US aid to Pakistan can help solve the problem. The Kerry-Lugar Bill (the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act) approved by the Senate in June would triple economic aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year for five years.35 But as the Congressional Research Service noted in its recent report on Pakistan, the US has given Pakistan about $16.5 billion in “direct, overt US aid” up to 2007.36 More of the same offers little hope for change.

A basic reordering of US priorities in South Asia is long overdue. The first principle of US policy in the region should be to do no more harm. This means it has to stop feeding the fire between India and Pakistan. Only an end to the south Asian arms race can begin to undo the structures of fear, hostility and violence that have sustained the conflict in the subcontinent for so long. The search for peace may then have at least a chance of success.


1 Hillary Rodham Clinton, “Encourage Pakistan as it Confronts Extremism”, Times of India, 17 July 2009.

2 World Bank, “New Data Show 1.4 Billion Live on Less Than $1.25 a Day, But Progress Against Poverty Remains Strong”, 26 August 2008, http://

3 Joint India-US Statement, “India-US Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century”, New Delhi, 21 March 2000.

4 Statement on the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership 19 T S Subramanian, “Missile Success”, Frontline,
with India, 12 January 2004, 20 December 2008.
fdsys/pkg/WCPD-2004-01-19/pdf/WCPD-2004-01 20 “Brahmos Ready for Induction: Army”, Times of
19-Pg61-2.pdf. India, 31 March 2009.
5 “US Plan to Make India World Power”, 28 March 21 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172,
2005, 6 June 1998,
news16.html. RES-1172(1998).pdf.
6 “Funds Allocation for Defence Sector Up 34%”, 22 Joshua Partlow, “Pakistan Seeks More US Military
The Hindu, 8 July 2009. Aid”, Washington Post, 23 July 2009.
7 Petter Stålenheim, Noel Kelly, Catalina Perdomo, 23 K Alan Kronstadt, Pakistan-US Relations, Con-
Sam Perlo-Freeman and Elisabeth Sköns, “Military gressional Research Service, 6 February 2009.
Expenditure Data, 1999-2008”, Stockholm Inter 24 Yacoob Malik, “Assembling of First JF-17 Fighter
national Peace Research Institute, http://www. Aircraft Begins”, Dawn, 1 July 2009. 25 David Albright and Paul Brannan, “Update on
8 Bappa Majumdar, “US Pact Speeds Trials for India’s Plutonium Production Reactor Construction
$10.4 billion Jet Buy”, Washington Post, 22 July 2009. Projects in Pakistan”, Institute for Science and
9 Sonya Misquitta, “Defense Contractors Target Big International Security, 23 April 2009, http://www.
Jump in India’s Military Spending”, Wall Street
Journal, 17 July 2009. 23April2009.pdf.
10 Glenn Kessler, “US, India Set Up ‘Strategic Dialogue’”, 26 “Indian N-sub Detrimental to Regional Peace”,
Washington Post, 21 July 2009. Dawn, 28 July 2009.
11 “Remarks with Indian Minister of External Affairs 27 Editorial, “Nuclear Submarines”, Dawn, 29 July
S M Krishna” (New Delhi: Hyderabad House), 20 2009.
July 2009, 28 Graham Usher, “The Afghan Triangle: Kashmir, India,
2009a/july/126259.htm. Pakistan”, Middle East Report, No 251, Summer 2009,
12 Robert Burns, “Clinton Prepares to Sign India Co
operation Deals”, Washington Post, 20 July 2009. 29 Barack Obama, “Renewing American Leader
13 Global Fissile Material Report 2008, International ship”, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007.
Panel on Fissile Materials, Princeton NJ, 2008, 30 Dennis C Blair, Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Armed
gfmr08.pdf. Services Committee, 10 March 2009, http://www.
14 Zia Mian, A H Nayyar, R Rajaraman and M V Ramana,
Fissile Materials in South Asia: The Implications 31 Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A Oppel Jr and Eric
of the US-India Nuclear Deal, International Panel Schmitt, “United Militants Threaten Pakistan’s
on Fissile Materials, September 2006, http:// Populous Heart”, New York Times, 13 April 2009. 32 “Fear of Taliban Influx Looms in Karachi”, Dawn,
researchreport01.pdf. 17 May 2009.
15 BBC, “India Launches Nuclear Submarine”, 33 Imran Khan, “Karachi’s War on the Taliban”, Al
26 July 2009. Jazeera, 1 July 2009,
16 T S Subramanian, “Strike Power”, Frontline, focus/2009/07/20097174112823610.html
15 March 2008. 34 Nasir Jamal, “Ferocious Protests over Power Out
17 Peter Beaumont and Conal Urquhart, “Israel Deploys ages Shake Punjab”, Dawn, 22 July 2009.
Nuclear Arms in Submarines”, The Observer, 35 Daniel Dombey, “US Senate Approves $1.5bn
12 October 2003. Pakistan Aid Bill”, Financial Times, 25 June 2009.
18 Y Mallikarjun, “Agni-III Gets Nod for Induction”, 36 K Alan Kronstadt, Pakistan-US Relations, Con-
The Hindu, 23 September 2008. gressional Research Service, 6 February 2009.

Bharat Ratna Dr B.R.

Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD)

announces a Course on

Curriculum Studies and Critical Theory

The main component of the Course is a Workshop to be conducted by Professor Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, U.S.A. during 19-23 October 2009 at the AUD Campus, Sector 9, Dwarka, New Delhi.

The course is intended for educators (teachers, teacher educators), researchers and activists in the field of education. In addition to the workshop, the course will also include a pre-workshop reading module and a post-workshop project work. It will be equivalent to a 2 credit coursework at the Master’s level and will be acknowledged with a certificate from AUD.

There is no course fee. The participants will have to arrange for stay (in the case of outstation participants) and local transport. For more information and for downloading application forms, please visit AUD’s website: in. Completed application forms with CV, and Expression of Interest should be sent by post to Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD), Sector-9, Dwarka, New Delhi 110075 or by email to Last date of submission of application is 25 August 2009.

august 8, 2009 vol xliv no 32

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