India and South Asia's Precarious Balance

SINCE the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, India has been acknowledged as the paramount power in South Asia. An economic and technological surge during the last decade has buttressed its military capability. With the fourth largest army in the world and an equally impressive air force and navy, along with an improving nuclear delivery capability, India has become a formidable military power not only in South Asia, but in the world. The increased military strength of India understandably makes its neighbors, especially its old rival Pakistan, nervous. Despite the restrained posture adopted by Prime Minister V.P. Singh in dealing with Pakistan, some influential segments within India aspire to a dominant Indian role in South Asia. The most important of these is the Hindu-dominated Bharatiya Janata Party, a major partner in the coalition headed by Mr. Singh.

Hindu fundamentalism in India, encouraged by the electoral victories of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is on the rise. This fundamentalism is often directed against the Muslim minority in India and against Pakistan.

Yet India faces problems that adversely affect its ability to influence the course of events in South Asia or other parts of the world. It is a society woefully divided by diverse religions, castes, languages, and a growing rift between affluent and poor. Recent developments in Kashmir and continuing unrest in Punjab reflect these divisions. Singh's government, despite an impressive first few months, is far from secure.

Pakistan, on the other hand, is beset with far more serious problems than India. The ethnic conflicts in Pakistan undermine its stability. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who also heads a coalition, is even less secure politically than her Indian counterpart. Pakistan's economy has not performed as well as India's.

Pakistan's military capacity, however, is substantial. Its armed forces are as well-trained and disciplined as India's. It has an impressive array of weaponry, largely obtained from the United States. Pakistan also has the capability to build an atom bomb. But Pakistan's military strength does not match that of India, and unless it keeps refurbishing its arsenals it may become vulnerable to India's machinations in South Asia.

Military aid for Pakistan has considerable support in the US Departments of State and Defense, and in the White House. Support in Congress is not as certain. The Soviet threat, which was the basis of a massive aid program to Pakistan in the 1980s, ceased to exist with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. The US administration now justifies military aid to Pakistan on the grounds of ensuring stability in South Asia and preventing the development of nuclear arms by Pakistan.

The changing world order will increasingly make it difficult for the US to provide military and economic aid to Pakistan at the level of the 1980s (approximately $500 million annually).

Total American foreign aid appropriations, currently at under $15 billion annually, is not likely to increase. Reduction in military aid and a reallocation of economic aid to help the new democracies in Eastern Europe and Central America are inevitable. Pakistan's aid package is likely to be reduced, leading to a decline in its military strength.

India's military strength will not be affected by the changing world order. India has diversified its weaponry and moved away from dependence on the Soviet weapons. It also has a sizable weapons industry of its own. Its power, relative to that of Pakistan, will increase.

Unless India practices the principle of peaceful coexistence it espouses, changes in the world order and in the relative military strength of India and Pakistan could increase instability in South Asia.

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