Steve Cohen: Normalizing Pakistan-India relations vital for United States

By Ali Imran

Shooting For a Century  By Stephen Cohen Photo: MGCT

Shooting for a Century
By Stephen Cohen
Photo: MGCT

WASHINGTON, June 15: Stephen P Cohen’s new book on PakistanIndia equation,  long-term benefits of a detente between the two nations, and ominous implications of a conflict between them for the United States, offers a profound but pragmatic analysis based on his half-a-century long experience with the region. Yet, in the highly charged political climate of South Asia, direct main stake-holders Pakistan, India and the people of Jammu and Kashmiris will all likely see the author’s assessment from sharply different angles.

Delving into the policies espoused by Islamabad and New Delhi on some of the sensitive and politically hyped up issues including Kashmir, the eminent scholar comes out with five major proposals conclusions in his book  “Shooting for a Century: The India-Pakistan Conundrum.”

These include : Washington’s recognition that it has high stakes in de-escalation, a kind of rapprochement or subsequent normalization of relations between nuclear powers Pakistan and India; that the policy of de-hyphenation in U.S. approach to the countries is vague and needs to be reformed; that Islamabad’s nuclear power status be duly acknowledged with civilian nuclear cooperation ; that Kashmir – the bone of contention and considered a major cause of militancy– should not be central focus of the U.S. policy; and that acceptance of the Line of Control be seen as the de facto border looks a viable solution for the moment.

On legitimizing Islamabad’s nuclear program, the United States, he writes , should formally endorse Pakistan’s nuclear power status through civilian cooperation as it had done for India about a decade ago. This should include cooperation between scientists on best protection practices.

Secondly, Cohen argues that normalization of relations between nuclear Pakistan and India is the more vital interest for the United States than stabilizing Afghanistan or using India as a barrier to Chinese expansion..

“The United States has a strong interest in the normalization of India-Pakistan relations that goes far beyond normal “good” ties to each of them. Their normalization is more important than Afghanistan’s stabilization or building India up as a barrier to an expanding China,” Cohen writes.

Discussing some of the most contentious underlying causes of tensions between the two South Asian countries, Cohen, who is associated with Washington’s Brookings Institution, looks at the possible implications of these, particularly the longstanding Kashmir dispute.

The political scientist’s proposal that the current line of control in the disputed Kashmir region be turned into a border will be a hard sell in Pakistan, India as well as among the people of Jammu and Kashmir.  

The author of “The Idea of Pakistan” and “The Future of Pakistan,” urges Washington to craft a new U.S. approach to Pakistan-India normalization and the South Asian region as a whole.

New Delhi, which sees Pakistan as the only country impeding its hegemony in South Asia, is averse to any U.S. role in rapprochement and, as noted at a discussion, would resist Islamabad’s overtures to normalization of ties on terms of equality. Although, several experts see the US-Pakistan-India triangle as eternal and inevitable, India remains opposed to the idea of hyphenation.

English: The evening flag lowering ceremony at...

English: The evening flag lowering ceremony at the India-Pakistan International Border near Wagah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The book has come out at an important time of democratic transition in Pakistan, where after May 11 historic election, the head of new Pakistan’s new democratic government, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has affirmed his commitment to improve relations with India through resolution of outstanding disputes. 

But New Delhi, where according to Cohen, the top leaders of ruling Indian National Congress have different approaches to the issue, has not responded with concrete reciprocity. Indian general election is due next year.

Cohen notes in the book that ironically, the one fear that steered U.S. policy after the end of the cold war—nuclear proliferation— turns out to have important implications for India-Pakistan normalization and “suggests further modification” in American policy.

The United States, he says, should encourage the two neighboring competing states and to take advantage of the reality of deterrence and work toward a stable nuclear regime, while maintaining the tightest control over the use of the weapons.

“Washington went part way down this road when it entered into a civilian nuclear deal with India that legitimized New Delhi’s nuclear status ; it should find a formula that does the same for Pakistan, with the caveat that being a full member of the nuclear club means that Pakistan— and India— must assume the obligations set forth for nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).”

Analyzing the U.S. policy of de-hyphenation in its relations with Pakistan and India, Cohen sees the need for clarification.

Kashmir map Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Kashmir map
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

De-hyphenation clearly needs to be redefined. I would not go so far as to call for “re-hyphenation,” but selective engagement in regional issues is called for.”

The de-hyphenation policy, he faults, said nothing about India-Pakistan relations. “There was merely a non-policy of hope that the two would not push their crises very far. Kashmir was off bounds, except for diplomatic urgings for normalcy, while other regional issues were addressed through a dysfunctional division of responsibility.”

The expert is critical of Washington’s policy toward Pakistan, saying “events in Afghanistan have unduly shaped America’s Pakistan policy,” and urges that Pakistan’s concerns about Indian role in Afghanistan must be worked into American policy calculations.

He proposes to the Obama Administration’s South Asia policy needs to address the organizational dysfunctionality that handicaps American policy toward this quarter of the world.  Although, Cohen devotes a lot of attention to the lingering Kashmir conflict in the book, he feels the issue should not be at the center of America’s regional policy.

A U.S. policy on these lines should, among other things, also explore the possibility of India-Pakistan strategic cooperation in Afghanistan, and retain some elements of de-hyphenation.

The expert notes that some in India might greet a new American initiative with skepticism, but the recently completed American policy document on India actually encourages regional cooperation, and a carefully crafted U.S. initiative might be more welcome in New Delhi than previous efforts.

Doubts will exist on the Pakistan side, but America has stuck by Pakistan and its interest, like that of India’s, is to see a stable democratic Pakistan emerge over the next decade, he says.

“Part of the new approach would be to confirm Pakistan’s identity as a South Asian state,” Cohen says.

At the same time, Cohen points out that for normalization to work, it must happen in both countries, not just one. Furthermore, the right people have to be talking to each other.

The U.S., for its part, should do everything it can to use its current cooperative programs with each state to encourage them to work together, and it should support all measures to bring about regional economic agreement and cooperation.

“Its guiding principle should be this: the pace of normalization and cooperation must be dictated by the two regional states, not by America. At the same time, all parties must understand that American help is a necessary but not sufficient condition for regional normalization to come about.”

Cohen criticizes the Obama administration’s approach to South Asia, saying it “failed to develop a South Asia policy that would have encompassed both India-Pakistan relations (including Kashmir) and the grinding war in Afghanistan.”

In this context, he reveals that in mid-2012 President Obama approved a classified national decision directive for India, but there was no such directive for South Asia, or for Pakistan.

“The foreign policy process could not manage more: too many Pakistan policies were (and still are) circulating in the government with no coherent view of South Asia in the background,” he claims.


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