US, India, and Pakistan: Smoother Relations in Next 50 Years?

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In August 1947, the United States warmly welcomed the independence of India and Pakistan, looking forward to fruitful ties with both. Now, 50 years later, the US is looking back instead on a troubled and complex history of relations.

Only occasionally has Washington been able to achieve US interests in the region without offending one or the other. Suspicions engendered by partition, the unresolved issue of Kashmir, and nuclear ambitions have plagued US diplomacy. With circumstances changed in the region and internationally, there's now hope that US relations with these nations will, in future decades, be less complicated and, probably, less close.

To the dismay of Pakistanis, Americans at the outset paid more attention to India. Mohandas Gandhi's policy of nonviolence and Jawaharlal Nehru's charisma evoked wide public admiration. India received most of the favorable US news media attention. Meanwhile, the idea of partition, the concept of a religious-based state, and the austere image of Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, evoked little public enthusiasm in America.

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The picture changed during the Eisenhower administration. Mr. Nehru joined with Indonesia's Sukarno, Yugoslavia's Marshall Tito, and Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah to form the Non-Aligned Movement to resist efforts to draw newly independent nations into the cold war. US aid programs in India encountered nationalist sensitivities and socialist policies and experiments. Delhi's close ties with Moscow further darkened the relationship with Washington. Not even the fact of India's strong democracy overcame these obstacles.

By contrast, Pakistan saw an opportunity in its geographic location and its military heritage to join a Western-backed security alliance, the Baghdad Pact, thus ensuring both economic and military assistance from the US and others. For the US, the relationship meant a new ally against the Soviet Union; Pakistan saw the tie more in terms of strengthening itself against India.

India reacted angrily to US military aid to Pakistan. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Nehru's daughter, accused the CIA of trying to undermine democratic India. But disillusionment with Washington also developed in Pakistan in 1965 during the first of two Indo-Pakistan wars. Trying to stay neutral, the US cut off arms deliveries to Pakistan. Pakistan again failed to get US support in the war of 1971, resulting in the breakup of the Muslim state; Bangladesh was created out of the former East Pakistan.

Nuclear ambitions in both nations further complicated diplomacy. In response to India's explosion of a nuclear device, Pakistan began a secret nuclear program. Because of the leverage of aid programs, Washington reacted more strongly against the Pakistan program than it did against India's. Under the pressure of the Symington and Glenn amendments to the foreign assistance act, the US was forced to stop assistance to Pakistan. But the US could only complain about India's unwillingness to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The picture changed again when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Pakistan became the central route for aid to the Afghan resistance movements. Aid to Islamabad was restored under a presidential waiver. The renewal of close ties lasted until the Soviet withdrawal when, in the absence of any curtailment of Pakistan's nuclear program, the presidential waiver could not be continued. Pakistan was left with Afghan refugees and unhappy memories of a quixotic US relationship.

THE two nations of South Asia remain important to the US and the world. They represent one-sixth of the world's population with significant ties to East Asia and the Middle East. Their potential for growth and development is high. Each country has serious internal problems, but hope now exists that the tension between them can be lessened. The two current prime ministers, I.K. Gujral of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, have resumed talks about their problems, including Kashmir.

For the first 50 years of independence in the subcontinent, the US saw the two major nations primarily as players in a global strategic game. With the end of the cold war, the strategic game has faded. The nuclear issue remains an obstacle to fully satisfactory relations, but, beyond that, the prospect is for a less manipulative and, probably, smoother relationship with both countries based on trade and investment.

* David D. Newsom, former undersecretary of state, is Cumming Memorial Professor of International Affairs at the University of Virginia.

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