India not the enemy, U.S. tells Pakistan

April 6, 2009

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reports from Washington that the United States is seeking fundamental change in Pakistan: it wants Pakistan, presumably the military most of all,  to stop thinking of India as the enemy.

And linked with this, it wants Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, accused of sponsoring militant groups to advance its security interests in the region, brought under effective civilian control.

Dawn says the Americans are offering Pakistan a new enemy as replacement : the militants operating along the border with Afghanistan who are increasingly striking deeper within Pakistan.

On Sunday a suicide bomber struck in a religious centre in Punjab kiling 22 people, continuing an expansion of the militant campaign into the heartland which seems to have gathered momentum over the past month.

Can it work? India as no longer the existential threat to its very identity as many in Pakistan believe?

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke has begun a fresh trip to the region  this week that will also take him to New Delhi, and a report released by the Asia Society just before that trip suggests ways through which America can begin reshaping perceptions in Pakistan so that it feels less threatened by its bigger neighbour.

Holbrooke and National Security Adviser General James Jones were part of the task force that worked on the report “Back from the Brink: A strategy for stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan” before they stepped down following their appointment in the Obama administration. A PDF of the report is here.

Very broadly it calls for addressing Pakistan’s security concerns on Afghanistan, Kashmir and nuclear weapons so that “it no longer requires the use of covertly supported guerrilla forces against neighbours.” 

The recommendations of the task force are: support dialogue between India and Paklstan so that they find a lasting solution to Kashmir, address Afghan-Pakistan disputes so that Afghanistan recognizes the Durand Line as the border between the two countries, and finally begin a dialogue with Pakistan over its nuclear  programme including perhaps recognising the reality of  its nuclear weapons.

But what about the mood over the border in India? Since the attacks in Mumbai blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, India has set its face against a resumption of dialogue that was in any case making fitful progress.

It is now in election mode, and if you follow the debate the mood has clearly hardened with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party promising a more muscular Pakistan policy.

But by making Pakistan the overarching element of its security strategy and expecting India to play its part, is the United States  running the risk of ignoring the interests of New Delhi which not long ago was being celebrated as a strategic partner? Is it back to re-hyphenating india and Pakistan, as an Indian analyst here suggests?

[Reuters photo of protest in Lahore against a suicide bombing and U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai]

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