“History repeats itself, that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” -Clarence Darrow

South Asian Security and US Policy Management

Vijay K. Sazawal, Ph.D.

20 May 2004

Speech delivered at the National Advisory Council on South Asian Affairs (NACSAA) event at the Cosmos Club in Washington, DC. The meeting consisted of South Asian born policy experts, Washington Think Tanks, and U.S. State Department officials.

I was planning to address the absurdity and politics of Roadmaps, especially the one prepared by the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) which claims to have authored and discussed their roadmap with the American Embassy in New Delhi. A considerable hoopla was generated in the valley when APHC announced a few weeks back that the American blessed Roadmap will be made public on May 21, 2004 in Srinagar, with militants threatening disruption and denouncing APHC (Ansari group) as a tool of Indian and American intelligence agencies. Sadly, the APHC Roadmap is yet another causality of the Indian elections that has been shelved for the time being. So I will respond to the query posed by the moderator dealing with the U.S. policy.

Specifically, I will address how the US Policy management has fared in regards to internal and regional security threats in South Asia?

  • The policy is ambiguous and inconsistent.
  • The policy emphasizes expediency over principle.
  • The policy may achieve tactical objectives at the expense of harming US strategic goals in the Subcontinent.
  • The tale of the last two ambassadors to India is a case in point.

First came the Vulcan (Robert Blackwill) and he was big on national security. But he became as frustrated with the US policy of appeasing Pakistanis as did India. It puzzled him and it created big doubts in India. The Press reports at the time of his departure last year indicated that he had resigned because the White House did not back aggressively enough his agenda for closer ties with India. Indians keep wondering what the strategic partnership with the US means?

Then came the Pioneer (David Mulford). His financial background gave a clue as to what the White House wanted in order to speed up closer ties with India – even greater economic reform and open access to American products and services. Ambassador Mulford has kept a constant drumbeat on liberalization and elimination of import barriers. Socialists and Communists (and even some hardcore nationalists within BJP) have come to believe that India is losing some of its sovereign authority by “soft peddling” to American commercial interests.

The overall effect is that while the US-India ties are strong in general terms, there has been a slow erosion of trust between the Indian civil society and the U.S. This chasm was skillfully exploited by the Congress Party which noted in its election manifesto on Security, Defense and Foreign Policy that, “Sadly, a great country like India has been reduced to having a subordinate relationship with the USA where the USA takes India for granted.” Mr. Vajpayee himself added to this uncertainty during an election rally in Ghaziabad on May 7 when he stated that “Americans wanted us to give away some land in Kashmir to Pakistan as part of the settlement at the height of the Kargil conflict and we successfully resisted it.”

The BJP lead government in India has paid a heavy price for its “special relationship” with the Bush Administration. The Indian government’s “flip-flops” on major foreign policy issues were perceived to be due to foreign influence. It was not the only issue or even the main issue with the Indian electorate, but there is no denying of the consequences that indicated to the Indian electorate that the US-India relationship was mostly one-sided.

Even though both Ambassadors Subasinghe (Sri Lanka) and Sood (India) gave their views about the unexpected election results in their respective countries today, neither for obvious reasons chose to connect it to the relations with the U.S. It was left to Jim Hoagland, the columnist for the Washington Post who said (on May 16) that, “Incumbents abroad with an American connection gain no advantage by brandishing it before voters.”

Let me now turn to Pakistan. The two immediate threats to global security and world peace are nuclear proliferation and terrorism. There is only one “proven case” where resources of one nation have been used, time and again, to promote these twin evils. How the American government is letting Pakistanis off the hook is a tragedy that will one day come back to haunt us. Pakistan continues to raise the ante in securing maximum benefits for supporting the US policy on the war against terrorism (at its own terms) while curtailing secular political freedom and secular free speech at home.

There is a dire need to end duplicity and “dual messaging” that seems to uniquely define the US-Pakistan relationship. Should we continue to reward Pakistan with monetary ($3 billion and counting) and diplomatic (“non-NATO Ally”) rewards in public, while playing “hardball” in private? The US policy is destroying Pakistani civil society and turning it into another Saudi Arabia. Pakistani populace is being slowing reduced to two constituencies, a minority which consists of the despised pro-American ruling class (military junta and surrogates) and majority who are Islamists and hate America to the core. This is a classical case of putting expediency ahead of long-term ramifications.

In summary, the US policy towards the subcontinent is not working well. It needs a correction. Ambassador Teresita Schaffer mentioned how a change in the U.S. administration would bring about a change in the U.S. policy towards South Asia, but I hope that even without a change in the Administration there is a change in the approach towards the Indian subcontinent. The present Administration, in my opinion, should also cut down on the rhetoric to describe the US-India relationship in grandiose terms (“Strategic Partnership”) when in fact it is not. There is no doubt that the relationship between the US and India has improved considerably in the last few years, especially during the BJP led government in New Delhi, but let us not raise the expectations to the level where words are not matched by deeds. It may work in Pakistan where the military junta runs the show, but in India it is the general public that decides on such issues. And they just did.

This article also appeared in the iakf.org Please click here to view the same.


About Me

Dr. Vijay Sazawal is a policy analyst and a commentator who specializes in local governance and intra-community issues affecting political dynamics within the Kashmir valley. He has written extensively on the current political turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir (commonly referred to as Kashmir), arguing for new and innovative approaches in understanding and resolving the simmering discontent in all communities and regions of the State.


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