Pakistan’s Nukes: How Much is Enough?

The time has come to question why the country needs tactical nuclear forces

Marking the anniversary of Pakistan’s 1998 nuclear tests, Nawaz Sharif on Monday boasted of the key role he played as prime minister in bringing about this achievement.  Sharif, who now heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the main opposition party, asserted that his actions have provided an infrangible guarantee of the country’s security vis-à-vis Indian military might, thereby resolving the fundamental vulnerability that had plagued Pakistan since its tumultuous founding.  “India could have attacked Pakistan many times,” he stated, “but due to Pakistan being an atomic power, India could not gather the courage to do so.”

The impact of South Asia’s nuclearization on regional security is a subject of vigorous scholarly debate.  But Sharif’s words raise a basic policy issue: If he truly believes that the country’s defenses are now impregnable, why doesn’t he speak out against the on-going expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that is rapidly leading Islamabad away from the minimum deterrence posture it declared following the 1998 tests?  After all, if he really means what he said, this expansion is not only militarily unnecessary but also diverts precious economic resources away from more pressing national priorities. Continue reading

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Rather Unexpectedly, India’s Near Abroad is Looking Up

Things are going bad domestically, but at least India’s regional position is improving

A regular concern of this blog is the internal constraints on India’s rise as a great power.  But for decades the country’s global aspirations also have been encumbered by a quite problematic regional environment.  Unlike China, India has had the misfortune of residing in a highly volatile neighborhood, surrounded by weak and unstable, and often hostile, countries that habitually top various failed-states indices.   Fortunately, and somewhat unexpectedly, the situation is starting to improve. Continue reading

U.S.-India Ties: The Outsourcing Issue Is Back

Obama’s campaign rhetoric undercuts the vision for bilateral affairs he laid out just 18 months ago

This commentary was originally published by Bloomberg Businessweek.  Click here to read the entire piece.

President Obama’s campaign is running a new television ad in key swing states alleging, among other things, that Republican Mitt Romney “outsourced state jobs to a call center in India” while he was governor of Massachusetts.   In a report on the $25 million-deluge of negative ads that the campaign has begun to unleash, the New York Times describes the campaign’s media chief as focused on making “you think of call centers in India every time you hear Mr. Romney’s name.”

Given the political resonance of the outsourcing issue, especially among important Democratic Party constituencies, the charge is not unexpected.  But it is disheartening nonetheless since the president himself has argued for a more sophisticated understanding of the bilateral economic partnership.

Click here to read the rest of the piece.

Afghanistan is Key to India’s Iranian Connection

Washington grumbles about the Indian relationship with Iran, but the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan leaves New Delhi little choice

The striking juxtaposition this week in New Delhi is a nice illustration of how Tehran has become a complicating factor in U.S.-India relations.  Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in town to exhort Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to do more on curtailing imports of Iranian oil.  All the while, a large Iranian trade delegation was a few miles away striking deals for the provision of agricultural commodities that Tehran is finding harder to purchase.

On the surface, the awkward tableau was reminiscent of the situation three months earlier when the Obama administration moved to enforce new U.S. sanctions aimed at shutting down the Iranian petroleum sector as a means of pressuring the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  At the time, reports emerged that India had overtaken China as Iran’s largest oil customer and that a new rupee payments system and barter trade arrangement were being set up for the purpose of circumventing the sanctions regime.  Adding to the perception of New Delhi’s defiance was the announcement that an Indian trade mission would visit Iran to scope out commercial opportunities created by the U.S. and European Union sanctions.  Even if the Americans and Europeans wished to shun business with Tehran, Commerce Secretary Rahul Khullar was quoted as saying, “tell me why I should follow suit? Why shouldn’t I take up that business opportunity?” Continue reading

Bowe Bergdahl: Remembering the Forgotten Man

Why is the captured U.S. soldier not part of the strategic release program in Afghanistan?

Update (May 9, 2012):  Confirming earlier speculation, the parents of Bowe Bergdahl today announced that he is a focus of now-stalled negotiations between the United States and the Taliban over a proposed exchange of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.  The New York Times reports that they are frustrated over what they see as the Obama administration’s lack of political will to go forward with the exchange.  The newspaper also quotes Pentagon officials as saying that they are working to gain the soldier’s release.  But all of this underscores the question of why Bergdahl was not a focus of the clandestine “strategic release” program in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl in a Taliban video

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the U.S. military has for several years been secretly releasing senior Taliban prisoners from a detention facility in Afghanistan in an effort to buy peace and influence in unstable areas.  According to The Telegraph (London), the “strategic release” program began two years ago and has involved “fewer than 20” persons, who as a condition of their release must renounce violence.

The news follows reports earlier this year that among the concessions that the White House is prepared to make as the political endgame approaches in Afghanistan is the transfer of high-level Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay to Qatari house arrest. Although the move is currently in abeyance following the breakdown in negotiations with the Taliban two months ago, the Obama administration justified it as an important “confidence building” measure that would establish its bona fides with Afghan insurgents.  At the time, there was some speculation that the gesture would be tied to the release of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier who is about to begin his fourth year of captivity at the hands of the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network. Continue reading

India Confounds Yet Again

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to make of the country

Even casual observers of India quickly realize it is a jumble of self-contradictions that often defy simple explanation.  The latest evidence for this proposition comes in the form of two new opinion polls that present contrary data regarding the national psyche.

Yesterday the Gallup organization released a survey of 5,000 Indians that reports 31 percent of them say they are suffering, compared to 24 percent last year and 7 percent in 2008.  And just 13 percent of Indians claim they are currently thriving.  These findings are being reported in the media as symptomatic of the country’s darkening prospects. Continue reading