Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

US Policy for South Asia Is Obsolete

THE beginning of the breakup of the Soviet empire in Central Asia and the stationing of a massive American military force in the heart of the Gulf oilfields with the support of Moscow have reversed the assumptions on which the United States has based its security policy in South Asia for nearly 40 years. The culmination of this policy was our collaboration with Pakistan in stopping the Soviet advance in Afghanistan. Together we aimed to keep the USSR away from the Gulf and warn Moscow of the high costs of engaging military forces in the region. Obviously, these goals are now outdated.

The centerpiece of American security policy in South Asia has been the commitment to strengthen the military in Pakistan. Pakistan linked two of the pacts established in the 1950s to contain the USSR along its southern border. It was Pakistan's willingness to join these alliances that led us to arm its military and deny such aid to its rival, Afghanistan.

About these ads

Since the late 1970s Pakistan took on yet greater importance, as reflected in Congress's bipartisan willingness to make it one of the top five recipients of US aid even under the martial-law regime of General Zia. The oil price rises after 1973 made the neighboring Gulf region even more strategic. Then in 1979 the US lost its major regional partner in Gulf security, the Shah of Iran, and saw the Soviet army pour into Afghanistan.

We needed Pakistan to stop what appeared to be Soviet advances toward Baluchistan, the Gulf, and perhaps ultimately into a destabilized Iran. Also, American planes used Pakistani bases for surveillance of the Arabian Sea, and vast storehouses to be filled with pre-positioned materiel were readied along the Baluchistan coast for use in a Gulf crisis.

The Gulf crisis has come, but our troops, planes, and ships are based directly in the area. These forces are working, not against Soviet troops based in Afghanistan, but with the support and assistance of the USSR.

Meanwhile, as our attention is engaged elsewhere, the Pakistani military is developing and carrying out a regional policy with the resources we have supplied. Just as the ending of Soviet domination in Europe has led to the reemergence of centuries-old regional affinities (and rivalries), so Soviet decline is reviving the memories of Asian empires past. The restive Central Asian lands - Turkestan - were more than once the homes of dynasties that united much of the area from Samarkind to Delhi. And, indeed, we might have reason to rejoice if the peoples of that region can reforge on their own terms the links that once bound them into a common, brilliant civilization.

The Pakistani military, however, has its own plan for the future, one which hardly reflects the aspirations of the peoples of the area. The Pakistanis who distributed our aid to the Afghan resistance largely used it to build up an extremist organization closely linked to their intelligence agencies, the Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Since the Soviet withdrawal they have become even more brazen in their attempts to manipulate the Afghans into replacing the Soviet-supported regime of Najibullah with one dominated by Hekmatyar. Rebuffed by most of the resistance groups, they are still using our aid to push the mujahideen to attack Kabul, regardless of the cost in civilian lives, in order to place their clients on the borders of Turkestan.

In Kashmir as well, the Pakistani military is using the uprising against India to promote its hegemonic aspirations. Rather than support the Jammu-Kashmir Liberation Front, an indigenous group calling for ethnic autonomy, Pakistan has built up the Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, a twin of Gulbuddin's party, which supports Kashmir's accession to a fundamentalist Pakistan.

Finally, the generals have sabotaged the flawed beginnings of democracy in their own country. This is not the whole story of the ouster of Benazir Bhutto, but it is the essential part.

About these ads

The overriding goals of American policy should now be to see that the decentralization or dissolution of the USSR occurs with the least possible violence, and that the subsequent regional system of states be organized on a stable basis, reflecting the real interests of the peoples of the region.

We should encourage not only the USSR, but also other multiethnic countries like India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to meet unrest or separatism not with repression but with decentralization and participation. A good place to start is disengagement from Pakistan's overreaching military machine.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.