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The international politics of Southern Asia.


The conventions of a Hobbesian "state of nature" do not adequately describe the relations of India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, a grouping of states that partly constitutes a geopolitical subsystem sometimes called Southern Asia. The states of this subsystem do not exhaust their resources protecting their borders and heartlands against threats from each other. So, security is not the reason why such governments may or may not make "the lives of their inhabitants. . . solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Nor have they mined their economic fabric by investing scarce financial and human resources in war and preparations for war, although Pakistan may have come close to doing so in recent years. Contrary to Hobbesian expectations, these states possess standards of right and wrong in their mutual dealings, even if not all of those standards are mutually congruent or applied to particular situations in precisely the same way. But, like state relations elsewhere, international relations in this part of the world may be said to exist in a perpetual "state of war," insofar as these sovereign states "treat war as one the options open to them" (Bull, 1977: 8-13 and 41-52). Moreover, since 1971, an uneasy conventional peace has been accompanied by serious confrontations and clashes, as well as rebellions and terrorism.

Hedley Bull's conception of international politics as an "anarchical society" applies to Southern Asia in general, in that no component state has brought the region under its control, either directly or in some indirect fashion. Instead, a quite imperfect but generally stable international order is maintained by the constituent states of the subsystem. Those governments act on the strength of their own perceived interests, values, and rules, many of which are shared.

Security Definition

Security for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China and Myanmar (the former Burma) is defined by these states in political, military and economic terms, but the political and military dimensions have predominated. For the Indian government, and the elite which dominates it, security is thought to lie partly in deterring overt conventional and nuclear military attack from Pakistan, the one neighboring state that is often thought to be fundamentally hostile. The Indian state is also committed to preserving the territorial integrity of the nation from a secessionist drive in Kashmir, a drive that is supported diplomatically and semi-militarily by Pakistan. Secessionist movements are active in northeast India as well, and a Pakistani governmental agency is allegedly furthering the conflict while Myanmar and Bangladesh become involved (at least at the non-governmental level) if and when India's rebel groups operate across their frontiers. Another important part of the Indian security definition is being able to deter neighboring China, a massively armed power in both the nuclear and conventional senses, from trying to intimidate India, especially during some possible future crisis.

Mainstream security thinking in India is focused on the task of maintaining Indian autonomy in an international order that is thought to contain a would-be hegemonic power, the United States. A related security goal has been to limit the ability of the United States and China to intrude into the affairs of India and its immediate neighborhood. That neighborhood includes Myanmar, and India's policy has been the maintenance of Myanmar as a buffer between itself and China. Yet another goal has been achieving some sort of Indian primacy in what is called "South Asia" (i.e., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Indian Ocean and many of its smaller islands, and the Himalayan States). These goals suggest that Indian policy resembles a South Asian variant of the "Monroe Doctrine," and some observers have in fact claimed that there is an "India doctrine." The "India doctrine" seemed oppressive to India's neighbors especially during the 1980s when India tried to assert its status as the hegemonic South Asian actor, and perhaps had the military strength to do so. But, in the 1990s, lacking such strength (although remaining a heavily armed regional power), India seeks to be the primary but non-intimidating South Asian state acting in partnership with other nearby states.

The friendship and conditional military backing of one superpower, the Soviet Union, was once important to the Indian strategic vision, although no formal alliance was ever concluded by officially "nonaligned" India. But after the Soviet Union had indicated in the 1980s that it might no longer support India in a war with China, and once the USSR collapsed in 1991, India stood alone. As of 1997 India has established a bilateral strategic relationship with the Russian Federation, but that tie is with a state that can neither project a superpower image nor support India with a credible extended deterrent posture.

In order to keep India secure, the Indian government claims that it must do the following: possess the preponderance of conventional military strength in South Asia; employ its military and paramilitary forces to defeat internal insurgencies and other disturbances; and be capable of deterring any possible nuclear threat. As an undeclared nuclear power, seemingly possessing some clandestinely produced and maintained nuclear bombs, and openly capable of producing some more, India hopes (perhaps unrealistically) to counter the presence of nuclear weapons in nearby China and Pakistan. Additionally, the Indian government wishes to possess the "option" of formally declaring itself a nuclear-weapons power at some future date, if necessary. Keeping that option open, along with the option of engaging in nuclear-weapons testing, have been considered vital tasks by Indian decision-makers. A corollary is that India must resist what its foreign policy elite considers discriminatory Western (chiefly American) demands that India abandon or place limits on its nuclear options, while the five openly-declared nuclear powers in the world (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China) need not do so to the same degree (Cohen, 1992: 7-73; Bajpai and Cohen, 1993: 4-9; Sen Gupta lecture and interview, 1997).(1)

Pakistan's ruling establishment defines security primarily as preventing external and internal pressures from forcing the country to disintegrate and disappear. A belief "that India will attack, and that it is constantly scheming to undo Pakistan in order to incorporate that territory back into [India] itself" is a vital element in Pakistani official public discourse, and seems to be part of the orthodox pattern of Pakistani elite thought (Khattak, 1996: 344). Faced with India's edge in conventional military forces, the Pakistani state has seen its nuclear weapons as a vital deterrent to Indian attack and intimidation; and as a tool for achieving some degree of strategic parity.

If the core of the Pakistani security definition is the very survival of the nation, other elements include preservation of Pakistani sovereignty and honor in the face of pressures emanating not only from India but also from the nuclear nonproliferation policies of Pakistan's former ally and patron, the United States. Like India, Pakistan regards the pressure to renounce or cap its nuclear capacity as a security threat, although the official Pakistani demand for reciprocity in nuclear disarmament places more emphasis on India rather than on the international superpowers.

Islam also figures in the Pakistani view of national security. Pakistan's Muslim identity constitutes the ideological rationale for Pakistan's 1947 creation and continued existence, a rationale which has been related to the so-called "two-nation" theory. That theory held that two nations have existed historically on the Indian subcontinent, one Hindu and the other Muslim, and not just one undifferentiated "Indian" nation. The seeming validity of the two-nation theory was severely shaken in the 1970s by a rebellion in East Bengal (which was then officially East Pakistan) and the subsequent creation in 1971 of South Asia's second Muslim-majority country, Bangladesh. Pakistani efforts after 1971 to acquire all of Kashmir (a Muslim majority region) from India, whether by direct or indirect means, partly represent a drive to re-establish the legitimacy and raison d'etre of Pakistan, both as a nation and as a state.

Islam figures too in Pakistan's discourse on nuclear weapons, which "asserts that the [world-wide] Muslim Ummah (community) must possess the bomb for reasons of power, status, and equality with the non-Muslim [i.e., Western] world" (Khattak, 1996: 351). But, maintenance of some sort of a mutually supportive relationship with the United States, a Western state and one much opposed to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in South Asia, has been yet another component of the Pakistani definition of security. Caught between a perceived need to guarantee Pakistan's survival and identity by having a nuclear deterrent and an "Islamic bomb," on the one side, and a desire to have American support on the other, Pakistan's leadership has clearly opted for a national nuclear deterrent. That policy decision is quite understandable. Although Pakistan was once an ally of the United States, and still is a recipient of American weaponry, Washington failed to act as Pakistan's helpmate during Pakistan's 1965 war with India, and failed to rescue Pakistan from military defeat and partial dismemberment by India in 1971. The U.S. has also been an unreliable arms supplier over the long term.

China's security definition has, at its core, regime survival (Datta and Singh interviews, 1997; Malik, 1995).(2) The Chinese leadership has seen other communist systems destroyed by internal reform efforts, and (like Chinese ruling elites of earlier times) does not want China to disintegrate into warlordism. In order to deal with a possible legitimacy crisis linked, inter alia, to the eroding role of the dominant ideology, internal corruption, and the development of a more open economy, the ruling elite has been generating a nationalistic claim to superpower status for China. To allow for that status and the international recognition and respect that it entails, China prefers a multipolar world order to a unipolar one.

The major international obstacle to multipolarity, according to China, is "hegemonism." Presently that label is applied to efforts by the United States to dominate the international and internal affairs of other countries. China has had severe problems with the U.S. over such issues as transfers of military weapons or technology to other countries, including Pakistan. China further challenges American ambitions by refusing (as does India) to let the United States be the entity that defines the new post-Cold War "world order."

Maintaining China's national cohesion, in the view of the Chinese leadership, requires that Beijing retain control of frontier zones such as Tibet and Xingjiang, and secure the return of frontier territories that have been lost, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. The Chinese political elite, concerned about political system legitimacy and stability, feels that it must dominate frontier regions to check centrifugual forces and deal effectively with any foreign influences which may promote such forces.

The Bangladeshi definition of security depends heavily upon its relationship with India, the neighbor which nearly surrounds Bangladesh territorially. This is a country which would not have been created without Indian military intervention in 1971, but subsequently has had ample reason to perceive India as a hegemonic (or would-be hegemonic) power, willing to intervene in both the internal and external affairs of its smaller and weaker neighbors. Security, then, is largely defined as being able to engage in nation-building while enjoying the maximum degree of independence from India.

Among the demands the Indian state has made on Bangladesh in recent decades is that the latter "maintain a distance from China" and that Bangladesh (like the other South Asian states) deal with India bilaterally rather than forming or joining opposing coalitions (Islam, 1995: 332-333; Ghosh, 1994; Hussein, 1995). But the government in Dhaka must work with a China that has established a considerable presence in Bangladesh. That government must also deal effectively with its problems with internal ethnic dissidence, and any support for ethnic insurgents (in the Chittagong Hill Tracts) may receive from Indian territory.

For Myanmar the security definition now in vogue in ruling circles is based on securing both domestic and external legitimacy for a particular "model of governance" (Ahmed, 1996: 142; Bhaskar interview, February 1997).(3) The current military junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (the SLORC), seemingly wishes to move Myanmar in the direction of the authoritarian (but capitalist) systems found elsewhere in Asia. It also wants a strong political role for the military in any future political structure, as has been the case in places like Indonesia and Thailand.

The chief security challenges to the SLORC have been internal opposition from a pro-democratic opposition movement, led by an internationally respected political figure (Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi), and armed ethnic insurgency against governmental authority in a very multi-ethnic society. An additional challenge, now seemingly ended, was India's diplomatic and other activity in support of pro-democracy forces in Myanmar, including activity which constituted interference in Myanmar's "internal affairs," to use the words of a SLORC leader (Banerjee, 1996: 693). Myanmar's India problem apparently eased after a 1993 policy shift in New Delhi. Recently the Myanmar regime seems to have solved most of its ethnic dissidence problems through a mixture of diplomacy and force, but oppositional activity by students and other persons has been a problem at least through 1997.

Despite their different political-military definitions of what constitutes "security," economic growth has been a prominent concern to the Southern Asian states during the 1990s. But not every one of these governments links economic development and prosperity with military and political security as does China's government. China apparently believes in economic strength as a basis for both military power and diplomatic influence in the new world order, especially now that China is acquiring that kind of strength and is paying for military modernization and force acquisition. India's government has been pushing heavily for economic growth but Indian budgetary restraints have shrunk the percentage of the gross domestic product spent on defense in recent years (2.39% for 1995-1996 as compared to 3.05% for 1985). In India, politicians see "development projects as more vote-yielding than any weapons procurement or defense program" (Outlook (India), 29 January 1997:211).

Pakistan and Bangladesh are South Asian countries whose security positions are adversely affected by their lower level of economic development, when compared to India. For Pakistan, a time of severe financial troubles at the governmental level, and recession within the general economy, seem to have led to a softening of official policy toward India, so as to ease the perceived Indian threat (Hindustan Times, 20 February 1997, Dawn [Pakistan], 21 June 1997, and Siddiqui, 22 June 1997). Nevertheless, substantial arms imports continue to be desired by Pakistan (The Hindu, 26 March 1997; Reuters, 26 April 1997, and the Financial Times [London], 26 April 1997) and the effort by the newly elected Nawaz Sherif government to improve relations with India will not alter Pakistan's very costly anti-Indian security definition. Nor is it likely that Nawaz can control the actions against India taken by a semiautonomous arm of the Pakistani armed services, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence agency). Any Pakistani prime minister is also highly influenced by the wishes of an army leadership that has a vested interest in the continuation of conflict with India, and by Pakistan's president.

Bangladesh, for its part, has acute poverty problems which help to limit its military capacity, and an adverse trade balance with India. To achieve some modicum of autonomy from India, Bangladesh must seek economic aid and investment from sources outside South Asia. But Bangladesh's political and economic security picture depends as much on diplomatic dealings with India as on Bangladesh's other economic and diplomatic efforts. Bangladesh's overall situation can improve markedly if India remains willing to engage in the kind of concessionary bilateral diplomacy that produced a 1996 accord with Dhaka over the sharing of Ganga river waters, and if the two countries can cooperate in developing both Bangladesh itself and India's nearby northeastern states. For Bangladesh, diplomatic influence with India and with aid-giving sources is often the main precondition for economic development, and not the reverse.

Myanmar, too, links economics with security in its own distinctive fashion. Economic thinking in Myanmar is tied to security in that it is an important part of the SLORC regime's hopes for the kind of political system it wishes to build. By ending the government's earlier policy of economic isolation, which had made Myanmar one of the world's poorest countries, and by adopting the capitalist and trade-oriented expansionary model of the so-called Asian "tiger" economies, the SLORC has enabled at least some Myanmarese to prosper. Reportedly, successful economic growth policies are making more people willing to preserve the political status quo in Myanmar and "unwilling to take risks for democracy that could upset the stability of the country" (Ahmed, 1966: 133). Trading with, and receiving economic investment from other Asian countries, in the face of existing and proposed economic boycotts, mounted elsewhere (over the SLORC's domestic political practices) gives the Myanmar regime greater diplomatic cover. So does Myanmar's association with the economic and diplomatic association of Southeast Asian states known as ASEAN. Such activity, plus modeling the Myanmarese economy after those of neighbors like Singapore and Malaysia, makes the present and future political systems desired by the SLORC look more legitimate to both international and internal opinion, and further undercuts opposition at home.

Sources of Conflict and Cooperation

One of the most frequently cited causes of South Asian conflict during the Cold War was the exacerbation of intra-regional tensions by the United States and Soviet Union. Washington and Moscow sought South Asian partners and favorable balance-of-power arrangements in the region. Therefore disputes like Kashmir were intensified and prolonged as South Asian governments counted on extra-regional backing for their rigid positions and for their military capacities.

The end of the Cold War, military misfortune in Afghanistan, and the end of the Soviet Union has led to a withdrawal of Moscow from heavy involvement in South Asian affairs, while American concerns over nuclear proliferation and even the possibility of nuclear war in South Asia have produced repeated American efforts to reduce tensions in South Asia rather than raise them. But if there has been any noticeable reduction in South Asian regional tensions, it is hard to explain such a reduction by the end of the Cold War and the absence of American and Russian competition.

Yet there is a strong possibility that the end of the Cold War has in fact reduced the intensity the major Southern Asian (rather than South Asian) conflict. Although the Sino-Indian border conflict was already being managed quite well by the parties concerned by the mid-1980s, China may have become increasingly well disposed toward tension reduction with India thereafter at least partly because India was no longer seen in Beijing as making common cause with a Russian empire.

The root causes of continued tensions in South Asia are many. Any reasonably complete list would include what one author has called "divergent security perspectives" among countries (Sabur, 1995: 16). A number of those divergences have been described earlier, but any analysis must emphasize the Indocentric nature of South Asia. The presence of one centrally-located regional power, interested in asserting some form of regional primacy, results in a pattern of bilateral conflicts between that state and its smaller neighbors. The fact that most of the less powerful South Asian countries are geographically close to India but not to each other, means that they more likely to have disputes with India than with each other.

Within South Asia (as distinct from Southern Asia) other issues that create conflict can be listed in the following (condensed) fashion:

i) territorial disputes inherited from the colonial past and the demarcation of land and maritime boundaries;

ii) the sharing of the water resources of common rivers, including that of the Ganges;

iii) intra-state conflict involving ethno-linguistic and religious groups with cross-border affiliation; iv) conflicting economic interests;

v) smuggling, illegal cross-border activities and a number of other [related] issues (Sabur, 1995: 20).

Yet another such issue is what one obeserver has called "illegal immigration and demographic drift," which includes migration of Bangladeshi refugees into India and the presence in Pakistan of a large Afghan refugee population (Bhaskar interview, June 1997). Moreover, if the example of Europe during and after the Cold War is any guide, the lack of any common conception of an external threat to the region, is another factor that allows South Asian intra-regional conflict to fester (Rizvi, 1995: 98).

But, despite the potential for trouble that such a broad range of problems can create, that potential can at least be reduced if Indian policy shifts away from being overly assertive. Since the end of the 1980s there has in fact been an Indian foreign policy move toward more reticence and toward non-interference in the affairs of nearby states. A further Indian step in that direction has been taken with the advent of the so-called "Gujral doctrine," named after the foreign minister and (1997) prime minister (Inder Kumar Gujral) who has served at the pleasure of the successive coalition governments formed after the 1996 general elections. That doctrine does not forswear all notions of Indian primacy, since geography, population and other indelible facts mean that India remains the major factor in South Asian affairs. Nevertheless, India is no longer brandishing power, and no longer making concessions to its neighbors mainly on the basis of quid pro quo demands. Instead it is prepared to be forthcoming on the strength of sensitivity to the sensitivities of each neighbor. Gujral's doctrine is also based on the assumption that growing bilateral trust between India and each of its neighbors, plus the objective interests of each neighbor, will bring about joint action with India on matters of mutual benefit (Sen Gupta interview, 1997; Aiyer, 1997: 8-10; Frontline [India] 4 April 1997: 4-21).(4)

On the level of Southern Asian (as opposed to South Asian) affairs, the current Indian government is prepared to extend the Gujral doctrine to Myanmar quite fully, but to China only partially and formalistically. The divergence between the Chinese and Indian security perspectives is probably too wide, and the resulting underlying distrust between them is probably too great, to allow for heavy reliance on the Gujral doctrinal approach. Nor can India afford concessions based on a sense of having greater military and economic power than the other side, because China is clearly more powerful than India.

China claims to be a "superpower on the rise," (Pye, 1996) whereas India still defines itself primarily as a regional power. In the past, China has intervened in South and Southeast Asia to provide various kinds of support to countries that might wish to counter Indian power. Although Beijing has softened that policy recently, China remains Pakistan's most important arms and military technology supplier. China is causing India some further concern with its close relationship with Myanmar and with its professed interest in having some sort of naval presence in the Indian Ocean. China also maintains the capacity to stage nuclear strikes on South and Southeast Asia, and apparently wishes to exempt its nuclear weapons from any discussion of nuclear arms reduction in Southern Asia.

Among the dissonances between the Indian and Chinese strategic outlooks is the fact that the Indian armed forces are having trouble maintaining themselves, while China is engaged in a military buildup. Moreover, both of these major Asian states have concerns about Tibet, with India probably still wishing for less Chinese control and greater local autonomy there, while China maintains rigid supervision over what it regards as a vital frontier zone, and views with suspicion and antagonism the functioning of the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile, both of them based on Indian soil.

A related problem, the Sino-Indian border dispute (which includes parts of the Tibet-India border), has been effectively sidelined but not yet fully and formally resolved. For both India and China the frontier dispute may now be just a minor matter, but it is still one that has emotional overtones for the major opposition party in India (the BJP) and many other Indians as well. From the Chinese perspective, the border dispute with India involves questions of keeping India out of Tibetan affairs, and far away from Xinjiang. The China-India border may presently be non-problematical in the military sense, thanks to Sino-Indian confidence building agreements and arrangements contracted in the 1990s. But that situation could change if political power in either Delhi or Beijing (or both) comes to be wielded by people who differ from the moderates in leadership positions now.

Important grounds for India-China cooperation do exist, just as they exist for cooperation between the rest of the Southern Asian states. Chinese and Indian spokespersons like to emphasize their respective country's preference for a multipolar international political order, rather than American hegemony or unipolarity. They both find the U.S. to be acting intrusively on certain issues of inter-state and domestic significance. China's commitment to economic development, international trade, and securing foreign investment presently leads it to desire stable relationships with its neighbors (and with regional associations or organizations of those neighbors) in all directions (See Wang, 1995: 548-551). Such a China is a welcome partner for India and these two Asian powers have steadily improved the bilateral ties between them, but the major question for both sides in future months and years will be whether the hopes attached to their detente process will triumph over the underlying layer of mutual suspicion between them.

Prospects for cooperation and even coalition formation in Southern Asia are clearly being affected by the outward looking spirit in not just China's foreign policy, but India's as well. India's so-called "look east" orientation of the last several years has been heavily focused on forging economic ties and security dialogues, both bilateral and multilateral, with countries in Southeast Asia and along the Pacific Rim. India and China have each shown a keen interest in Asian areas where expanded trade and other contacts are desirable. Thus, China and India are establishing various sorts of links with (and sometimes membership in) regional economic and/or security associations like ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations - soon to include Myanmar), ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum - the security arm of ASEAN), and APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation).

But China and India must each act with restraint in the wider Asian arena. Neither can afford to be overbearing or allow themselves to be drawn into a game of counterbalancing each other, even if countries in areas like Southeast Asia may want them to do so. Beyond adding to whatever apprehensions about China that may exist in Delhi, and doubts about India that may exist in Beijing, apprehensions directed against China or India or both could also be aroused or reinforced within the smaller Asian states. While such apprehensions can enhance the size and cohesion of an ASEAN, they might eventually (by affecting the flow of international investment capital) threaten the substantial economic and diplomatic gains that a multilateral body like ASEAN, and its individual members, have already achieved.

Within South Asia an international organization in which India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have all been involved is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). SAARC was designed to pursue economic, and other functional gains and not a political and security agenda, but it has had at least one political role to play -

its existence has certainly provided an opportunity for the policy-makers, administrators, and experts to meet regularly and hold important dialogues on important bilateral and regional issues. This practice of informalism and behind the scenes discussions among the political leaders on various SAARC forums has helped contain many difficult situations in the region and has contributed to the beginning of a confidence building process. . . (Dash, 1996: 185).

Yet the success of SAARC has been quite limited when compared to ASEAN, primarily because bilateral conflicts between individual South Asian states (very often between one of the smaller countries and India) prevents either the initiation or the implementation of multilateral arrangements which would benefit all of the members. The India-Pakistan political and military conflicts are the most important ones, in this context, with Pakistan being reluctant to deal with India on the kinds of economic matters to which SAARC has mainly confined itself so far. Perceived Indian hegemonism (by all of India's South Asian neighbors) has been another obstacle. Yet another important problem is "economic asymmetry" in South Asia, that is, the inequality (in India's favor) of market size, technological development, and other variables within the area (Sabbir Ahmed, 1995: 166).

Nevertheless, the SAARC countries have agreed to establish a multilateral trade arrangement structure known as SAPTA (South Asian Preferential Trading Arrangement). SAPTA began as "a contractual agreement" providing only a set of rules and "modalities" for gradual trade liberalization among the SAARC members, but the intention was to remove tariff and other barriers against "exportable/importable commodities" in a "negotiated step-by-step" fashion (Ahmed, 1995: 167-168). Two such negotiation exercises have taken place in the last two years, with some degree of success and another is being planned. Moreover, an agreement has recently been reached to try to turn SAPTA into SAFTA (a South Asian Free Trade Area). That agreement has generated some optimism about SAARC's future as has another development, the December 1996 agreement by the SAARC foreign ministers that cooperation between member states could take place not just at the level of the region as a whole, but at the sub-regional level as well. It is still true, however, that "most of the programs and achievements of SAARC exist [only] on paper" (Dash, 1996: 188; Aiyer, 1997: 9).

Two other developments that impact on questions of conflict and cooperation in Southern Asia need at least brief coverage: the so-called "Track II" diplomacy that has been conducted during the last several years between India and China, and India and Pakistan; and the interest in Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs) that some Southern Asian countries have demonstrated, with encouragement from the United States and with the sanction of the United Nations (Poulose, 1996: 53-54).(5) If formal diplomatic meetings held by civilian and military officials and leaders of two or more governments can be called Track I diplomacy, Track II refers to meetings of persons many (if not all) of whom do not presently hold positions in government but have some influence on governmental policies nonetheless. Such people include retired officials and officers, senior and junior intellectuals and strategic thinkers, and members of foreign and security policy "think tanks."

India-Pakistan Track II discussions have been conducted by a mixed team which includes retired military men, and such influential senior civilian personages as the security strategist K. Subrahmanyam and the foreign affairs academician and commentator Bhabani Sen Gupta. China-India sessions, called "seminars" by some observers (rather than Track II) are held between representatives of Indian and Chinese government sponsored "think tanks."(6) Track II type meetings have also been held among representatives of countries in the Indian ocean region.

Does the Track II dimension of Southern Asian diplomacy do any good? If, as one source has indicated, Mr. Gujral is "Track-IIs gift to Track I" (Aiyer, 1997: 10), presumably because of some Track II participation by Mr. Gujral when he was out of power, the answer to that question must be yes. That impression is reinforced by reports from members of India's IDSA think tank (Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses) that certain understandings of Chinese thinking, not available from Chinese public statements, come from meetings with their Chinese counterparts.(7) But a pessimistic note about the impact of India-Pakistan Track II communications has recently been struck by K. Subrahmanyam. He has written that the "non-official dialogues, between like-minded liberals on both sides, had very little influence [in the past] on the real decision-makers, especially on the Pakistani side." He now urges India to establish a dialogue with the new Pakistani prime minister, and even more importantly, with the "president and armed forces leadership" who also control Pakistan's national security policy (Subrahmanyam, 1997).

Confidence-building measures have arguably achieved some definite successes on the India-Pakistan and India-China fronts. They are intended, in the words of one observer,

to minimize the possibilities of accidental wars, diffusing the charged atmosphere, creating congenial conditions, and preventing a further drift towards undesired stockpiling and improvisation of dreaded weapons (Cheema, 1996: 134).

Although the CBMs and CSBMs in force in Southern Asia do not yet match such intentions, they include some highly significant measures. Pakistan and India have installed a telephone hot-line arrangement designed to handle provocative incidents. They have agreed to give each other prior notification about military exercises, troop movements, and maneuvers to be staged near their borders. In force since 1991 is a formal agreement not to attack each others' nuclear installations, including "power and research reactors, fuel fabrication, uranium enrichment, isotope separation and reprocessing plants, and storage facilities." Another bilateral agreement covers prevention of air space violations while permitting "Overflights and Landings by Military Aircrafts." There is also an Indo-Pak "Joint Declaration on Prohibition of Chemical Weapons" (Cheema, 1996: 134-139; Poulose, 1996: 54; Kumar, 1996: 179).

Confidence building steps taken by India and China along their disputed border include a ceiling on the deployment of border troops, "non-emplacement of offensive weapons along the border," a mutual commitment "to abjure the use of force to change the existing border position," as well as "prior notification of troop movements" (Kumar, 1996: 190). These measures are clearly more far reaching than their Indo-Pak counterparts, and reflect the desire of the two sides to forge a better working relationship between themselves, rather than just keeping a hostile relationship under control. But, while Southern Asian CBMs and CSBMs generally allow for greater military transparency, along with tension reduction and prevention, and better communication, they are at best only temporary substitutes for effective conflict-resolution.

The Balancing Roles of External Actors

The external international actor having the greatest impact on Southern Asia, as has already been shown by numerous references to it in these pages, is the United States.s A heavy U.S. military presence (both conventional and nuclear) in the Indian Ocean, Washington's propensity to treat Pakistan as a long-time partner and front-line state, and the strong possibility that the world's pre-eminent nuclear and conventional military power is willing to counterbalance, and if necessary contain, China on a global scale, makes the United States a key player in Southern Asian affairs, particularly when combined with the activism of American diplomacy.

American involvement can have both stabilizing and destabilizing effects. Overall, American policy is to help maintain the present distribution of power between India and Pakistan, a distribution that is actually weighted more heavily toward India. In other words, Washington finds acceptable the reality that India has an edge in terms of conventional strength, even if this is not an edge that would necessarily bring India decisive victory in a conventionally-fought war. But American transfers of weapons and technology to Pakistan have contributed to a South Asian arms race, as have China's. American decisions to make such transfers are based on numerous and sometimes mutually conflicting concerns. These are concerns possessed by a superpower determined to create and sustain an international status quo that allows for significant growth and widespread prosperity within its gigantic capitalist economy.

The concerns or imperatives perceived by the U.S. government in its Southern Asian role are sometimes mutually contradictory. Such contradictions, and their inhibiting effects on U.S. actions, are often under-appreciated by Indian commentators and analysts. For example, one American imperative is to provide naval protection for those shipping routes to and from the Persian Gulf oil zone that pass through the Indian Ocean. This is one mission of the fleet that the U.S. now maintains in the Indian Ocean (5th Fleet). 5th Fleet's primary mission is to help implement Washington's "dual containment" policy against Iraq and Iran. But its presence (and that of 7th Fleet which places ships in the Indian Ocean too) effectively denies India's navy, and the Chinese navy of the foreseeable future, any hope of predominance in these waters. Yet the United States cannot readily use its Indian Ocean power to take on a hegemonic role vis-a-vis India, China, or Pakistan, given the existence of several other U.S. foreign policy imperatives.

One of them is the absence of any political consensus in the American political elite, press, or attentive public (especially now that the bogey of international communism has vanished) for going beyond "dual containment" to more ambitious foreign diplomatic and military projects. Another American imperative, namely the need for the United States to conduct its foreign, military, and security policies "on the cheap," comes largely from budget constraints, a current American preference for diplomacy that does not disrupt the international economy and extreme reluctance to incur American casualties. This imperative also limits what American military power can and will do in the Indian Ocean.

Two additional American foreign affairs imperatives (or principles) tend to conflict with each other, at least in South Asia. One is the idea of the U.S. practicing strategic deterrence against "hostile and non-democratic powers" (but not friendly powers like Germany and Japan) that seek to dominate critically important regions, by having the U.S. either lead or join "regional alliances" and "ad hoc coalitions" or act unilaterally when necessary. The other is the U.S. commitment to the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons states.

Despite a hint in the early 1990s that the U.S. might want to thwart any Indian hegemonic ambitions in South Asia, Washington's current targets for strategic deterrence via alliances or other measures lie in the Middle East (Southwest Asia), and not in South Asia or Southern Asia. Southern Asia's only possible candidate for inclusion in a U.S. alliance or ad hoc coalition against Iran, Iraq, or Islamic fundamentalism is Pakistan. But U.S. reliance on Pakistan has, in the last decade, been made highly problematical by the U.S. concern for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Despite warnings and ultimately sanctions (by the U.S.) in the form of lost American aid, Pakistan has become a semi-declared nuclear power. The U.S. now is extremely concerned about two dangers: possible nuclear holocaust in South Asia, and the possibility of a spillover of nuclear technology from South Asia to rogue states and/or terrorists. Indian analysts think that the U.S. has greatly exaggerated the potential for an India-Pakistan nuclear shooting match resulting (either accidently or purposefully) from the tensions between them, and also contend that the extreme care India takes with its nuclear technology prevents that technology from going to any terrorist or rogue. But these matters are taken very seriously by the U.S.

The U.S. has not given up on Pakistan, which can still be a useful partner in various U.S. endeavors (including getting access to oil-rich Central Asia). Washington also wants friendlier relations with India. But clearly the U.S. is caught in a contradictory situation of its own devising. The seemingly dangerous nuclear weapons situation in South Asia will have to be resolved satisfactorily for the U.S. before Pakistan can really be a U.S. partner, and India and the U.S. can be comfortable with each other. Thus, partly to extricate itself from a "bind," the U.S. has undertaken active (and to many Indians) unwelcome diplomatic intervention in the Kashmir affair, apparently with the hope of goading the interested parties into talks under conditions that might at least ease tensions, if not end their dispute.

Plainly U.S. foreign affairs imperatives make it interested in various kinds of "balance of power" arrangements in Southern Asia, and not just one. It favors the current "balance" (i.e., the distribution of power) between India and Pakistan, it would "balance" out Chinese power not only in Southern Asia but all of Asia, if that extreme step were ever thought necessary within the American policy-setting elite in general, and it seeks a "balanced" (i.e., stable and even controllable) India-Pakistan nuclear situation. But this posture is explained rather differently in Southern Asia itself. Chinese and Indians both see the U.S. seeking to remain the international hegemonic power and the world's only superpower by refusing to tolerate the rise of great powers (like India), or would-be superpowers (like China). I would submit that the various American "balancing" acts being played out in Southern Asia must be explained in a more complex fashion.

Russia, for its part, seems to have adopted the position of "balancer" in a rather uncomplicated way. Although Yeltsin's Russia will now make major arms deals with China, and will no longer pledge to assist India in any armed confrontation with a third party, as the Soviet Union once did, the Russian Federation has come to regard India as its strategic partner in South Asia. This means that Russia will work to prevent Pakistan from reversing the Indo-Pakistani distribution of power, as was just openly demonstrated in February 1997. A Pakistani effort to make a massive purchase of advanced tanks from the Ukraine was vetoed by Moscow, via Russia's refusal to let the Ukraine have high technology parts needed for those tanks (Radyuhin, 1997).

A general Russian coolness or mere 'correctness' toward Pakistan stems, at least in part, from sharing India's apprehensions about Islamic fundamentalism. If India is encountering it in Kashmir, Russia worries about it causing tensions in former Soviet Central Asia and disagrees with Pakistan's relationship with the ultra-Islamic Taliban movement in Afghanistan. But if Russia takes India's side in dealing with Pakistan, Russia will not necessarily help India resist pressures coming from the United States and other Western powers. This is so even though Russia now wants to follow a more nationalistic and self-protective foreign policy in dealing with the West than it did earlier in the Yeltsin era.

Russia still shares the American commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation and halting nuclear testing, despite Moscow's distaste at being pressured by the U.S. not to transfer suspect nuclear technology to India. Moreover, President Yeltsin once said himself that Russia would desist from playing "the India card" against the United States and China (New York Times, 30 January 1993; Banerjee, 1994: 544; Bazhanov and Bazhanov, 1994: 87-95).(9) Thus, Russia's involvement in South Asia may favor India, but also leans in the direction of dealing constructively with the dangers that may arise out of South Asian tensions. In the broader Southern Asian context, Russia wants to be friendly with Beijing as well as India, and even make China a strategic partner too.

One other actor playing a balancing role in Southern Asia is ASEAN. Most ASEAN countries apparently want a security relationship with India, out of growing concern over China's possible ambitions and actions in the next several decades. Although ASEAN governments are not saying so publicly, security is allegedly the principle reason for ASEAN's giving India the status of "full dialoque partner of ASEAN" in 1996, and membership in the ARF. A member of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Singapore reports that think thanks in his region are

coming round to the view that it will be increasingly difficult to make China focus exclusively on the economic front beyond 10 to 15 years. Strategies and initiatives have to be worked out to ensure that Beijing does not shift from economic development, after realizing its potential, to phase of "strategic consolidation" (Jayanth, 1997).

China also allegedly figures in ASEAN's policy toward Myanmar. ASEAN is willing to go against Washington's wishes by absorbing Myanmar and "constructively" engaging the SLORC, on the strength of the following realization:

unless it [ASEAN] engages the military junta and integrates Myanmar with South East Asia, the country could certainly slip into the hands of China. . . If ASEAN joins the U.S. condemning Myanmar and its junta, it is possible that the Generals will inevitably turn to China for a new partnership that has the potential of converting it into a province for practical purposes and defence interests (Jayanth, 1997).(10)


Southern Asia is, as of 1997, influenced by a major policy convergence. The foreign policies of China, the United States, India, Myanmar, and the nearby countries of ASEAN, are all pro-economic growth, pro-international trade, against the retention of excessive governmentally-imposed barriers to trade and growth, and generally against tensions and conflicts that may inhibit trade and growth. These policies are backed by commitments by governments to economic liberalization at home, and to achieving high economic growth through market-oriented methods. The fact that China and the ASEAN countries have been strongly rewarded for adopting these foreign and domestic economic strategies, while India and Myanmar have reaped at least some more modest rewards, augurs well for the long-term continuation of these particular policies, and works against things that might substantially alter or negate them. So do the economic travails of Pakistan.

Among the things which could disrupt the convergence would be new or renewed efforts by an India, China, or U.S. to practice military and political hegemonism, and thereby generate diplomatic and military resistance by smaller countries. Another dangerous item would be takeovers by extreme nationalist leaders of key governments that are either inside Southern Asia or are closely involved in Southern Asian affairs. These would be Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, American or Russian leaders that are interested in military and diplomatic status more than trade. Whether such things will happen is more dependent on the internal political dynamics of these countries than anything else. Those dynamics are not predictable, and no calculation of seeming national economic self-interest and rationality by either current decision-makers or foreign observers can make them so. But perhaps one may venture the optimistic opinion that nationalist extremism is highly unlikely to be in power in all of these countries at any one time, and that the nefarious influences of one government's extremism might well be checked by the practice of moderation elsewhere.


1 This summary of the Indian view of security was inspired by the Indian scholar, Bhabani Sen Gupta (lecture at Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi, 5 February 1997, and interview, New Delhi, 6 February 1997), but there is enough deviation from Mr. Gupta's views here that I should be held responsible for any problems with this section, and not Mr. Gupta.

2 I have also drawn on interviews with Sujit Datta, Senior Fellow, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, 23 February 1997, and Swaran Singh, Research Officer, IDSA, New Delhi, 26 February 1997.

3 Information on Myanmar is also drawn from interview with C. Uday Bhaskar, Deputy Director, IDSA, New Delhi, 21 February 1997. Commodore Bhaskar was interviewed again on June 25, 1997 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. I am also grateful to him for his comments on some draft versions of this chapter.

4 This section is based on the Bhabani Sen Gupta interview and lecture noted above. Mr. Sen Gupta is an informal adviser to Gujral.

5 The terms CSBM and CBM seem to be used interchangeably in the relevant literature and are being so used here.

6 Material on K. Subrahmanyam and other participants is from Sen Gupta interview; mention of "seminars" and of minor Gujral participation in Track II is from commens by P.R. Chari, former director of IDSA, Delhi, 14 February 1997.

7 Sujit Datta and Swaran Singh interviews.

8 This section on the U.S. represents a synthesis of my own observations with those from a number of sources that is large enough to preclude their citation in a small footnote. But noteworthy among them are the series of articles by Martin Walker in The Guardian (20, 21, 22, 27, February 1995); extensive testimony before U.S. congressional committees by State Department and Defense Department spokespersons, when the so-called Brown Amendment was under consideration, available on the Mead's Lexis-Nexis internet service, under the Federal News Service heading, 9 March, 7 and 14 September, and 6 December 1995; and Tyler, 1992. On the subject of current U.S. attitudes toward containing China, see Zakariah, 1997.

9 See also Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press 67:25 (1995), 25; 67:27 (1995), 22; and 68:32 (1996), 25; and C. Raja Mohan, "India and the Sino-Russian Entente," The Hindu, 1 May 1997.

10 Another source that describes ASEAN apprehensions about China is Allen S. Whiting. 1997. "ASEAN Eyes China, The Security Dimension." Asian Survey 37, 299-322. Whiting's reports about ASEAN governmental views show them to be less alarmist than the "think tank" analyses presented by Jayanth, and that ASEAN looks to the U.S. to help balance China, with ASEAN itself lining up with one or the other side, issue by issue, while avoiding "tight alignment with or forced submission to either" side.


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Steven A. Hoffman is Professor of Political Science at Skidmore College, and served as chair of the Government Department from 1992-1996. He has published widely on India, Japan, and Israel. He is author of India and the China Crisis (1990). He has been going to India to research foreign policy and domestic political issues since 1966.
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Title Annotation:Zones of Amity, Zones of Enmity: The Prospects for Economic and Military Security in Asia
Author:Hoffmann, Steven A.
Publication:Journal of Asian and African Studies
Date:Feb 1, 1998
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