U.S. straddles fractured line between India, Pakistan

By Lee Hamilton
Jan 25 2009

 Six decades, three wars and multiple nuclear weapons tests after partition, India-Pakistan relations are once more under stress. As long as India and Pakistan remain at loggerheads, our interests in the region will suffer.


An escalation of existing tensions could jeopardize U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, especially if Islamabad were to withdraw even more forces from its western frontier.

November's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 163 people, squelched recent progress toward a healing process, including: a push for more economic exchanges, a potential no-first-use nuclear-weapons agreement, and increased cross-border travel.

India has stated publicly that the 10 terrorists were Pakistanis trained by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani extremist organization—with historic ties to Islamabad's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency—that has waged an insurgency in India-controlled Kashmir since the early 1990s.

This accusation has riled Pakistan's leadership. Prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani fired his national security adviser after he confirmed media reports that the operation's lone surviving attacker was Pakistani.

Feeling threatened in the attack's aftermath, Pakistan has reportedly moved one of six regular army divisions from the northwest, where they were helping the U.S. and NATO combat the Taliban and al-Qaida, to its border with India.

It is beyond the power of the United States to transform Indian-Pakistani relations. Both societies are rightfully proud, and perceptions of U.S. meddling in internal affairs will undermine our interests. Still, President Barack Obama will have to convince Pakistan's leadership that the single most dangerous threat to the country is not India, but radicals on both sides of its border with Afghanistan who seek to destabilize, or overthrow, the government. Sustainable peace and security in the region will remain elusive as long as India and Pakistan view national security issues through the prism of their rivalry and fail to resolve their dispute over Kashmir.

The U.S. relationship with both countries has changed dramatically since Sept. 11.

In 2001, then-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, but high levels of distrust permeate bilateral relations. Unsatisfied with Pakistani counter-terrorism measures, the U.S. has increased pilotless drone missile strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan over the last year, drawing Islamabad's protestations and ire. U.S. and Pakistani troops even have exchanged fire.

A key question for the U.S. is whether Pakistan wants to—or even can—control these areas.

Meanwhile, ties between Washington and New Delhi have improved greatly. In 2005, the countries agreed to a 10-year defense cooperation program. Last October, both countries approved a civilian-nuclear-technology sharing agreement that de facto legitimizes India's nuclear-weapons status, despite it not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The U.S. should aim to shift Indian and Pakistani perceptions from a view of the U.S.-India-Pakistan triangle as a zero-sum game.

Pragmatically, the U.S. can strengthen both countries' commitments to a peaceful solution in Kashmir, support Pakistan's crackdown on extremist groups undermining Kashmir's stability, support greater freedom of movement and goods across the border, and promote tangible civil and economic gains for Kashmiris in India-controlled Jammu and Kashmir.

The Obama administration should increase non-military aid to Pakistan, especially in education and health services, to build trust, demonstrate America's commitment and provide young Pakistanis alternatives to extremism.

Such measures would benefit both Islamabad and New Delhi, allowing each to devote greater resources to the serious challenges they face in the 21st century.

(Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University and Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.)