US South Asia Policy - An Inside Look
In February, members of the Kashmir Herald editorial team attended a seminar on US policy in South Asia in New York which was addressed by Ambassador Nicholas Platt, ex-US envoy to Pakistan. The schedule included a prepared speech by Ambassador Platt, followed by an informal discussion with attendees, many of whom were knowledgeable professionals based in New York city.
Ambassador Platt's speech reiterated some of the history of the Kashmir issue, and his personal experiences during 1991-1992 when he represented the United States in Pakistan. He also talked about his work as part of Asia Society, which has made some suggestions on steps to resolve the Kashmir issue.
The most illuminating part of the seminar was the discussion that followed the speech. Ambassador Platt was questioned about the shift in US characterization of Jammu and Kashmir to calling it "disputed territory", when at one time Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had considered it an integral part of India. Ambassador Platt made it clear that it was not likely that the US would go back to the 1950s US policy of not considering Kashmir as "disputed". He had also talked about Asia Society's suggestions for improving trade relations between India and Pakistan as a prelude to lessening Kashmir tensions. Many in the group did not buy the argument. In particular, Ambassador Platt's mention of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to India via Pakistan was met by considerable skepticism. It was pointed out to Ambassador Platt that such an approach would give the key to New Delhi's electric power in the hands of jehadis.
One of the attendees read out a long list of recent reports on Pakistan's role in sponsoring terror both in Jammu and Kashmir state and in Afghanistan, and then asked Ambassador Platt if it warranted regime change in Pakistan. Taken aback momentarily, the seasoned envoy replied "regime change to what?". From the Ambassador's comments, it was apparent that the United States had put all its eggs in the Musharraf basket and was going to ignore his many shortcomings on being a "frontline ally in the anti-terror war". It also showed that the much of the US foreign policy establishment shares Bush administration's single-minded focus on Iraq, which ignores Pakistan, a country that has already proliferated nuclear technology and still hosts thousands of terrorists and dozens of terrorist camps.
Another comment by Ambassador Platt revealed the bankruptcy of US policy in South Asia. He proudly proclaimed that "the United States was right in the middle between India and Pakistan, which is where it should be". Perhaps he missed the irony that the world's champion of democracy was equating the world's largest democracy with the world's worst terrorist sponsor and nuclear proliferator.
Ambassador Platt tried to convince a reluctant audience that Pakistani President Musharraf did not have knowledge of the many terrorist activities supported by his intelligence agencies, until someone in the group questioned if President Bush would not know about pervasive covert activities being carried out by George Tenet, the CIA head. Of course in a military dictatorship where Musharraf maintains a tight grip on the goings-on in the entire nation, such a scenario is even less likely.
All in all, it was a very invigorating exchange. It is one thing to read writings from policy experts or policy makers, it is another to be able to debate an inside and seasoned hand, and to discover what lies behind the seemingly inexplicilble policy failures of a great nation. The problem is that at some point superpowers start to look at everything in terms of a larger grand strategy, and completely miss some of the realities that defeat the very concepts behind that grand strategy. The impending US attack on Iraq is only the most recent example of such a situation.
New Cato Institute Policy Analysis on the Pakistani Threat Released
The Bush administration is famous for staying on a very sharp focus on its policies, and its shows in the campaign it has carried on to win support for an Iraq war. Therein, however, lies the reason why it is in such a fix now - either back down and lose face, or defy the UN and carry out a war that may be considered illegitimate by a large section of the rest of the world.
There was no debate on was Iraq the right target, and was it the right time for such action? As Subodh Atal points out in his Cato study, the threat from Pakistan continues to be significant - terrorist camps continue to flourish there, jihadis are raising funds, and helping Al Qaeda regroup. And how about North Korea? Saddam Hussein is not even a novice when compared to North Korea and Pakistan, where proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are concerned. Besides, Saddam is most unlikely to pass on such weapons to the Al Qaeda, since they would use them and then quickly turn around and finger him for having supplied the weapons. Bin Laden has no fondness for Saddam, and has clearly stated that. So Iraq is a much less significant, much more remote threat than other nations.
This lack of debate in the US has taken away the framework within which its citizens could make an informed decision on whether to allow their President to send their sons and daughters into harm's way in Iraq, and incur a budget deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars in the process.
Given President Bush's haste, there is little time left to debate these issues. Perhaps in the future Americans will look beneath the surface of presidential sound bites and try to understand the complex issues involved, rather than line up behind the White House to start showering missiles just because there leader said it is the right thing to do.