India at 40: no regional bully
ARE India's foreign and domestic policies in shambles as the nation approaches the 40th anniversary of its independence next month? In the 1980s, India's confrontation with Pakistan over Kashmir and nuclear arms issues continues. The border dispute with China has been revived. Problems with Bangladesh over India's construction of the Farrakha Barrage Dam and over the status of ``illegal'' Bengali Muslim immigrants in India's Assam continue. There has been a new confrontation with Sri Lanka over Indian aid to Tamil rebels, and Nepal resists what it considers Indian economic and political interference in its affairs.Skip to next paragraph
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India's domestic problems also appear more acute. The Khalistan separatist movement among the Punjab's Sikhs has intensified. The frequency and number of deaths from Hindu-Muslim riots have increased considerably; so have the violence and destruction from riots between caste Hindus and Harijans. The ruling Congress Party has lost 10 of India's 25 states to opposition parties since Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister. There is concern that a new national election could lead to the political collapse of the Congress Party (I) and perhaps of the nation as well.
Recently, a Pakistani scholar told me that India was unique in the number of problems it faced with its neighbors abroad and with its minorities at home. He claimed it assumed a bullying role with its neighbors unlike that of any other major power.
Claiming that India is the regional bully is unfair. While its problems with Pakistan tend to be emotional and potentially violent, this is not true about India's relations with its other neighbors. India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan, feels justified in opposing the United States arms buildup there. In the 1950s, when India had no military ambitions, the US provided Pakistan with sophisticated weapons; India was compelled to buy offsetting arms at considerable cost from Britain and France. The arms were provided to Pakistan with the assurance they would be used only against communist aggression. In fact, they were subsequently used only against India, in the 1965 and '71 wars.
INDIA does not object to the sale of US arms to Pakistan in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; it does object to their nature and quality. The projected supply of AWACS planes to Pakistan would allow every move of the Indian Air Force to be anticipated. Despite India's 3-to-1 advantage in total combat aircraft, the supply of US F-16s and AWACS craft to Pakistan would undermine India's air defenses.
Claims of India's military ground superiority are greatly exaggerated, and have only a slight edge over Pakistan's. In the air, India has argued, it is the quality and effectiveness of front-line combat aircraft that matters most. Pakistan has usually held a qualitative edge in combat aircraft. Only India's Navy is superior.
There are no current US guarantees that the F-16s, AWACS, and TOW missiles supplied to Pakistan will not be used against India. Yet Pakistani leaders have repeatedly claimed that India still constitutes the main threat, and not the Soviets in Afghanistan. Pakistan's military deployments today conform to this belief.
The claim that India has problems with all of its neighbors is similarly misleading. The border dispute between India and China arose from a series of misunderstandings on both sides. China holds the disputed Aksai Chin plateau that links Tibet with Sinkiang, which it considers of strategic value. India holds the territory it considers of strategic value, which is south of the 1914 British McMahon line. Both nations hold what they want. In response to India's incorporation of the area south of the McMahon line into a new state, China chose to revive the dispute by building up its troops in the region. The situation has recently been diffused, however; Sino-Indian relations remain quite cordial.