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Volume 3, No. 9 - February 2004

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The US Policy Mystery in the Indian Subcontinent: Some Answers?
Dr. Subodh Atal

After September 11, US policy in South Asia has been truly mysterious. Pakistan has been held up as a crucial ally, and all its sins forgiven or pushed under the carpet. While Saddam was hunted out from his rat hole on the basis of apparently exaggerated and false charges, Pakistan which was guilty of the real sins of hosting Al Qaeda and proliferating nukes, continues to receive billions in aid and its nefarious activities fail to find mention in official US statements. Many questions remain, even though they should have been on the top of the list for anyone interested in bringing the war on terror to a successful point.

There have been many answers given by various analysts and writers. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times implies a potential deal with Musharraf for a Bin Laden October Surprise. Cynthia Tucker suggests that the nuclear prowess of Pakistan may have deterred US action. There is also the question of profit expectations for Halliburtons and Bechtels. If the security costs are 10% of the contracts in Iraq, one can imagine how much of the overhead security costs in places like Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and the FATA areas would have cut into.

Apart from these, there may be another possibility. According to the US National Security Strategy published in late 2002, any potential adversary will be deterred. This raises the question whether India is considered a possible future adversary in the paranoid minds of the neoconservative bloc that has taken over US foreign policy. India can not be an adversary at the moment, but with its economy growing and its military taking steps to modernize, it is quite possible that within a couple of decades, it could have a significant global military prowess, just as China could. For China, the US has South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan as counter-balancers. For India, Pakistan is a readymade, willing balancer. If the United States acts logically to root out Pakistan's terrorist bases, and remove its nuclear assets, the strategic balance will shift tectonically in the subcontinent, and India, with no challenger, could emerge much more quickly and aggressively on the global stage as a military power.

Of course such a strategy would be based on an assumption that the terrorism sponsorship and proliferation activities that Pakistan could continue under the radar are less of a threat compared to a strengthened India in the distant future. As a matter of fact: Pakistan, given a free pass by the Bush administration, was exporting nukes to North Korea, Iran and Libya, well after September 11, apart from hedging on neutralizing its jihad network. Of course it could be pointed out that FBI and CIA agents were monitoring ports and outbound flights in Pakistan. But that's risk mitigation, not elimination. Is deterring a maybe potential future adversary worth allowing Pakistan a free pass on nuclear proliferation? Does this twisted strategy make sense when Pakistan continues to be the major hub of Al Qaeda, and the source for a resurging Taliban? It can be safely assumed that this thread of reasoning for US strategy would be a little tricky to explain during a presidential campaign.


A Cato Institute Policy Analysis, "Extremist, Nuclear Pakistan: An Emerging Threat" ( authored by Dr. Subodh Atal was published two weeks before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The paper argued that Pakistan's combination of jihad and loose nukes was a far more dangerous threat to US national security, than Iraq.

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