Thursday, Sep 29, 2022

Recent U.S. Policy In South Asia

My point of departure is the sense that what we are seeing is that we have rewound the clock back to the beginnings of the Cold War, before the Soviet Union became a power capable of countering the United States.

Talk given at "After September 11: Paths to Peace, Justice and Security" Conference Organized by the American Friends Service Committee & Tufts University’s Peace and Justice Studies Program and Peace Coalition December 7 & 8, Medford, Massachusetts


I would like to start by saying that it is great to see everybody here. I bring you greetings from the Princeton Peace Network, our small group in Princeton, founded after September 11 to oppose the war and to find paths to peace, justice, and security based on common human values. I think that we need to reclaim a tradition that seems to have disappeared in the past decade as we have struggled with a whole series of other issues, which is that our enemy is war itself. It is not a particular war, or a particular cause of war, but the very social institutions and sensibilities that see war as an option.

What I want to do now is very briefly talk about some of the events that have started to unfold after September 11 and especially in South Asia. My point of departure is the sense that what we are seeing is that we have rewound the clock back to the beginnings of the Cold War, before the Soviet Union became a power capable of countering the United States. So, we're back to the late 1940s and the early 1950s. U.S. policy then was shaped by an imperial sensibility that believed "the absence of order among nations is becoming less and less tolerable," as a 1948 National Security Council report put it.

There were many things happening then, and I think it would do us all well to follow Noam Chomsky's advice to read some history books about what was going on then: the unchecked exercise of U.S. power in terms of destabilizing governments, undermining progressive social movements, and shaping the world not in its own image, but in an image that suited certain interests in the United States.

What we also saw in the early 1950s, and what we're seeing again now very clearly, is that as an empire establishes itself, it offers people and governments very few choices. Many governments in the 1950s and many governments now are seeing that there are advantages to inciting and inviting empire, to taking advantage of an empire to serve their own narrow, domestic, political and economic interests. Nowhere has that been more clear than in South Asia where, after September 11, the government of India rushed to the United States and said, you can use Indian military bases. You can use Indian ports. You can use Indian air strips. We will help you all the way in this war against terrorism.

Why, after 50 years of non-alignment and Indian notions of independence in the world and presenting itself as a counter to the notion of unchecked power, did the government of India rush to this new relationship and role? I think this action bears scrutiny.

If the U.S. had gone with India, as India tried to get them to do, it would have marginalized Pakistan. It would have consolidated India's role in the region. It would have provided India with the example and the opportunity to pursue its own narrow national interests, because the U.S. would have become the godfather to India.

Seeing this, Pakistan rushed to the U.S. and said, look, we trained the Taliban. We know where Osama is. You should use us. And, the reason Pakistan dumped the Taliban, which they worked so assiduously to create, was precisely the fact that they saw an even greater threat looming on the horizon. They could afford to lose Afghanistan, if they could get back into the good graces of the United States.

We're seeing a competition for who can be closest to the United States among ruling governments and elites in these and other countries. The dilemma that we face, not just in South Asia but around the world, is what happens to people when governments rush to cultivate the United States, when they rush to create their own lobbies in Washington and on Wall Street, when they rush to present themselves in a whole series of ways as loyal allies in the war against terrorism, when they rush to present themselves as potentially open markets, as sources of cheap labor, as guarantors of all kinds of stability.

In the cases of Pakistan and India, there are two specific dangers that we face. Those dangers are most clearly evident in a recent statement made by General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator. (Remember that famous moment when George Bush was a candidate for President, and he was asked about who is the dictator of Pakistan? He didn't know. Now he knows. He's now George's best friend.) General Musharraf has planted his flag securely next to the stars and stripes, and he recently went on television to explain to his people why Pakistan had supported the United States in its war against the Taliban, Pakistan's erstwhile clients. He said, look we have secured four key national interests. First, we have secured our sovereignty. If we'd gone up against the United States, we would have been bombed too. (The way the New York Times reported this was that after September 11, the United States told Pakistan "either you are with us, or against us." Pakistan was threatened, according to the Times, with "everything short of war.")

The second key interest Musharraf said had been protected by siding with the U.S. was the economy. By virtue of being loyal, the Americans would send money. For a bankrupt country, that's not a bad thing. The third national interest, he said, was that we have secured our nuclear weapons. And the fourth was that we have secured our position on the Kashmir dispute. So this is how narrow interests and larger interests merge in this crisis.

Over the last 10 years, we've seen the nuclearization of South Asia, with both India and Pakistan having tested nuclear weapons. And, they have fought yet another war over Kashmir, proving that nuclear-armed states are not always deterred by each other's nuclear weapons. Initially, the U.S. tried to restrict and restrain the development of nuclear weapons and tried to impose some kind of restraint on the tension over the Kashmir region. But, even before September 11, the U.S. had started the process of bringing South Asia back in from the cold. In March 2000, President Clinton made his famous visit in which he basically told India, you can keep your nuclear weapons. The intentions were clear: India is a market of a billion people. And to Pakistan, he said, look you have to behave.

Pakistan is now showing that it knows how to behave. With September 11 and the war in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military government has started to believe that they don't really need to take democracy very seriously, because they've proved that they are allies. So, General Musharraf announced that even though elections are scheduled for next year, he will make himself President and stay as President for at least five years.

There was no comment from the United States. And, the sanctions that were imposed on Pakistan after his coup in 1999 have been lifted. So Musharraf has gotten away with it. And he's going to get away with it again, because he's proven his loyalty.

The same is true for nuclear weapons. The sanctions that were imposed on both Pakistan and India have been lifted. India is now emerging as a potential major U.S. military ally in the region. There is talk now of U.S. military sales to India, of joint military planning, and of joint military operations between the United States and India on counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and who knows what else.

Which of India's interests are served by this? The answer is relatively straightforward. Indians feel that their role in the region has not been appropriately understood. They're the biggest power in South Asia, and therefore they should dominate in the same way that the US, being the biggest power, feels that it should dominate not only South Asia, but the whole world.

So there is this kind of tier system that is very clearly emerging, as was the case back in the 1950s, not of big fish eating little fish but tiers of gangsterism, tiers of a willingness to exploit and use force, tiers of those who are tied to each other by crude notions of loyalty and dependability.

Where does that leave us? If we go back to where I said this all started, in the late 1940s when Pakistan and India were founded, they went to war over Kashmir. After that, the first thing the Pakistanis did was to go to the U.S. to ask for $4 billion of aid, which didn't come. But as the Cold War developed, it did come and for ten years, Pakistan had a military dictator supported by the U.S., financed by the U.S., given political legitimacy by the United States. And armed with U.S. weapons he got us into a war with India over Kashmir.

In the 1980s, we had another military dictator and we had the last great battle of the Cold War in Afghanistan. Again, the U.S. gave military support, the U.S. gave money, the U.S. gave political legitimacy. The U.S. also set an example and taught a lesson about how to create and use a proxy army of Islamic militants - the Mujahedeen - in its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. And what happened? We ended up with a decade-long proxy Jihad in Kashmir as Pakistan tried to follow the U.S. playbook. Now we're in a third version of this. We have a military dictator; the U.S. is giving money; the U.S. will give guns. And, we will probably have yet another war, and this time we have nuclear weapons.

India has its own role in this, of course. India is now following the U.S. example set since September 11 with its response to the attack on India's Parliament on December 13. (Israel followed the same example even earlier in its war against the Palestinians.) India has claimed to have evidence establishing Pakistani responsibility for December 13 but refuses to share this with Pakistan. Instead, it has chosen to share the evidence with a few key states (U.S., UK) who it hopes will be allies. India then issued a threat and an ultimatum and prepared for war. As with the U.S., there has been no effort to use international institutions like the United Nations or World Court or international law to deal with the issue. Instead, India and Pakistan have mobilized their armed forces and over a million soldiers now confront each other on the border. Both sides deny they want war but have prepared for it. War is only a mistake away.

We are talking about a billion people and the prospect of nuclear war. The U.S. is basically saying "We can live with this." President Bush has made a few phone calls urging restraint but not much more. One reason it doesn't seem to matter to U.S. policy makers is because the India-Pakistan conflict and their weapons don't have global reach. It's OK for the tribes to kill each other; recall President Bush's statement about the war on terrorism, the enemy, he said, is terrorism with "global reach." Touch us, and we will kill you. Your own wars, well, going back to the world view of Julius Caesar, the tribes are supposed to be restless. That's proof that they're not civilized.

What we face is an unprecedented historical moment. The pattern and the process of domination have reached a new standard and a qualitatively new stage. Empire has become a way of life for many Americans and many leaders and elites in the Third World. The arts of resistance, their organization and mobilization, have not evolved in a way to counter this. While there are new global social movements about environmentalism, about human rights, about globalization, et cetera, they lack that genuine internationalist, globalized depth that we need for activism beyond borders.

What we need to do is to find ways where the pattern and the recognition of what you could call rightful resistance needs to be established world-wide. People here need to know that there are peace groups and activists on the ground in all countries. What people in other countries need to know is that all Americans are not ugly. All Americans don't stand there like Rumsfeld. (See, he hovers whenever he speaks - arms outspread like a human B-52 bomber.) It's important because that's the image many people have of Americans. So what I would urge you all to do is get visas.

Go out and find the world. Because then you bring the world home with you, not in clothes and commodities from tourism, but in terms of politics, in terms of ideas, in terms of cultures, of struggle and resistance, so that people here know that there are others out there who are struggling up the same mountain towards peace and justice and security and that this is not your battle alone or their battle alone. Without genuine internationalist resistance, we will be caught in a world dominated by men without mercy. And, in such a world, innocence is always the first and greatest casualty.

Thank you.

Recommended Reading: William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life - An essay on the causes of America's present predicament along with a few thoughts about an alternative (Oxford University Press, 1980).