Asia Society San Francisco Panel Discusses US, Pakistan and India
By Ras H. Siddiqui

 

L to R: Dr. Steven Simon, Dr. Stephen Cohen, Dr. Lloyd Rudolph and Amanda Liberatore

The Asia Society held a panel discussion in San Francisco, California on April 11, 2006 on the topic of “To the Brink? Nuclear Weapons, Religious Extremism, and US Foreign Policy in South Asia.” Invited speakers included Stephen Cohen, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Ambassador Husain Haqqani, Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC; and Steven Simon, an expert on US security policy in the Middle East and South Asia (and a senior analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations). Ambassador Haqqani could not make it to the event due to illness but panel moderator Lloyd Rudolph, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Chicago filled in for him in a befitting manner in spite of his dual role.
After a brief reception, Amanda Liberatore kicked off the formal program by providing a brief history of the Asia Society (founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd) and by introducing the panel to the audience. The Society is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year with dinner events under the “Asia on My Mind” theme in a number of cities and countries around the world.

L to R: Dr. Ahmad Faruqui, Dr. Stephen Cohen, Ras Siddiqui and Dr. Steven Simon
A section of the participants

The first speaker was Lloyd Rudolph. Considered by many as one of the leading experts on South Asian politics today, Lloyd has been a prolific writer on the topic of cultural and identity politics in that region. A number of his writings have been co-authored with his wife and fellow scholar, Susanne Hoeber Rudolph. He started off by saying that the US has for the past 50 years, been playing a destabilizing role in South Asia, using what he calls an “Offshore Balancing” method (mainly between India and Pakistan). He said that this fact has enabled Pakistan to play parity politics with India for quite some time. He highlighted events of the past and the why and the how of this “Offshore Balancing” starting with Sir Olaf Careo, the last Foreign Secretary for the British Raj (1939-1945) in South Asia. “In the dying days of the Raj” the term “The Wells of Power” was coined by Caroe referring to the oil resources of the Middle East, and especially the Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula. For securing these supplies he (Caroe) welcomed the creation of Pakistan. From that time in history till now, according to Lloyd, this offshore balancing, continued by the United States, has been in place until just recently when the term “Pipelines of Power” has gained prominence.
Touching briefly upon the US-India and US-Pakistan relationship, Lloyd described the visit by President Bush to India and Pakistan in interesting terms. He said that in India “Bush blinked” and a nuclear deal was announced. “President Bush was faced with another failure,” he said. He gave the examples of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, Prescription Drugs as previous Bush failures. In Pakistan, according to Lloyd, the US blinked again by not clearly objecting to the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. A great deal has been written on the transformation that has taken place in South Asia since Sir Olaf Careo’s “Wells of Power” to today’s “Pipelines of Power,” but if the end-game is peaceful, who can object? And that is what brings us to the next speaker.
Stephen Cohen is one of the foremost American experts on South Asia and especially the Pakistan Army today. He said that he was honored to be invited to this Asia Society event. He painted an alarming picture of the South Asian region which he described as a place where nuclear weapons, terrorism (Islamic, Hindu Christian and Buddhist) and religious extremism coexist. But on another note he said that India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (unfortunately not Pakistan) also contained the largest population living under democracy anywhere. “India still has the world’s largest population of poor people,” he said. But he added that the number of people pulled out of poverty there is also very large. Cohen described briefly what he called four “India-Pakistan crises” since 1987. Starting with “Operation Brass Tacks” when India tried to defeat Pakistan before it went nuclear, then again in 1990 when the Kashmiri uprising happened, in 1999 during the Kargil War and most recently in 2000-2001 when India reacted to a terrorist attack in New Delhi. He said that he had just given the audience a preview to an upcoming book “Four Crises and a Peace Process.” US intervention in each of these cases helped prevent these crises from escalating. He said that Pakistan had its own reasons for feeling insecure in spite of recent warming of relations with India. “The peace process will stagger on for some time,” he said. He added that India would like “to kill Pakistan with kindness,” and that it is not giving up anything. Cohen gave Musharraf full credit for starting the debate on the India-Pakistan relationship within Pakistan. He said that the US and India now have a new relationship emerging and that this relationship has “economic roots.” And he predicted that the recent nuclear deal announced between the two will go through Congress with a few changes. Cohen, being a long-time supporter of the Pakistan Army, surprised the audience by saying that he has come to the conclusion that Pakistan cannot be correctly governed by its armed forces and that the same forces are not allowing a civilian leadership to emerge there either. He spoke of the possibility that Musharraf may have to become a nastier ruler or that he may be replaced by one. He added that in his opinion authoritarian rule will not work in Pakistan in the long run. On the India-Pakistan peace process he said that the US should play the role of a facilitator (not mediator), while keeping in mind the dangers of miscalculations along the way and prepare itself for the worst case scenario.
The last speaker Steven Simon has specialized in Middle Eastern Affairs at the Rand Corporation. He has co-authored and edited a number of books, the most recent of which, “The Next Attack” (2005) examines the evolution of extremism since 9/11/2001. Simon said that it was a pleasure to be at this event and that he would confine himself to talking on Pakistan, a country that fills Americans with some foreboding. He said that Pakistan is a religion-based country but that religion may not have been the best rationale for establishing a Pakistani identity. He said that Pakistan during the authoritarian regime of General Zia-ul-Haq incorporated a particular strain of Sunni Islam and that a long running chain of events since then had been playing itself out, bringing the country to Musharraf’s rule. “Musharraf’s rule is not shaky,” he said. “It has some degree of popularity in the country,” he added. “Nevertheless he is not democratically elected.”
Simon said that President Musharraf has sought legitimacy by aligning himself to religious parties. He added that this has helped him but at some cost to Pakistan’s future. He called Pakistan’s religious parties “vertically integrated enterprises.” He also commented on weapons availability in the country, madrassas and the poor state of public education in Pakistan. He said that the use of religious forces in pursuing geopolitical goals (e.g. Kashmir) and the emergence of sectarian violence were big problems there. The scenario that he painted was not an easy one to accept but Simon appeared to be sympathetic to the Musharraf government. He examined America’s possible options there too. “It puts the US in a very difficult situation,” he said. He added that preference should be given to democracy in Pakistan and towards the lessening of the possibility of conflict in the region. He also said that under the current circumstances, the US cannot really pressure Musharraf too much. “The US needs Musharraf to keep a lid on this,” he said. His advice was that that the US should be cautious while pressing Musharraf to liberalize.
A lively Question & Answer program concluded the event. Issues highlighted included Pakistan after Musharraf, India-Pakistan trade, the Iran pipeline project, Daniel Pearl’s murder, Balochistan, the India-Pakistan relationship, and Pakistan’s internal politics, just to mention a few. Stephen Cohen commented that most of the $ 3-4 billion trade between India and Pakistan goes through the Gulf countries, especially Dubai and that “some people would like to keep it that way.” He said that Pakistan is suspicious of India’s attempts to economically and culturally dominate it. Steven Simon added a nice twist to international policy and America today. “The US is a country in need of allies,” he said. Somehow we listeners do not get that impression from Washington, but it is great that the experts are still thinking along those lines. “The old era of parity in South Asia is over,” said Lloyd Rudolph, referring to Pakistan’s attempts to equate itself with its much larger neighbor.
In conclusion, this reporter asked the panel to identify the largest political party in Pakistan today. Stephen Cohen replied in humor, “The Pakistan Army.” Though this is somewhat accurate, he corrected his answer to say that in the civilian realm, “the Pakistan People’s Party,” lead by Benazir Bhutto is the largest. American think tanks know that very well. Why the current rulers in Islamabad choose to ignore this fact is anybody’s guess.

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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