India is Shackled by its Neighborhood

Self-inflicted wounds – whether in the form of poor domestic governance, decrepit infrastructure, a hostile business climate, and the absence of a unified national market – continue to hobble India’s ambitions in Asia and on the larger world stage.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming budget offers a good chance to make some progress here.  But New Delhi is also held back by its tumultuous neighborhood and, as recent events demonstrate, the prospects for headway on this front are far less promising.  This, in turn, creates a striking paradox: India yearns for a place in the first ranks of world power – Mr. Modi proclaims that he wants “to make the 21st century India’s century” – and yet it remains unable to purposefully shape events in its immediate environs. Continue reading

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Is the India-Pakistan Thaw Losing Steam?

Malik’s maladroit visit is a harbinger of things to come

The headline visit to India this past weekend by Pakistan’s de-facto interior minister, Rehman Malik, was supposed to celebrate the latest milestone in the détente process that has picked up speed between the two countries over the last year and a half.  Instead, it may be a sign that the stirrings of peace are reaching their limit.

The highlight of the journey was to be the signing of a landmark visa agreement making cross-border travel easier, the most recent in a string of developments suggesting that the sibling states which were literally born at each other’s throats just might be able to establish a more normal and cooperative relationship.  Other recent positive signposts include the brief but productive mini-summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Easter Sunday in New Delhi – the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years; the opening of a new customs facility at the Wagah border crossing to facilitate expanded trade links; Islamabad’s decision to grant “most favored nation” trade status to India; New Delhi’s move to permit foreign direct investment from Pakistan; and steps by both governments to allow banks from one country to set up shop in the other (see here and here).

All of this momentum raised hopes that the two rivals could make progress on their long-running territorial contestations, including the disputes over the Siachen Glacier, an uninhabitable stretch of the Himalayas, and Sir Creek, a patch of marshland dividing the Indian state of Gujarat and the Pakistani province of Sindh.  There was even talk of tackling the holy grail of the bilateral relationship: resolution of the perennially-inflamed dispute over the Kashmir region.  Helping things along was an informal but promising dialogue by retired senior military leaders from both countries about important confidence-building measures.

But Mr. Malik’s ill-starred trip is a reminder of how the annals of India-Pakistan relations are filled with false dawns.  Continue reading

India-Pakistan Rapprochement: How Long Will It Last?

The cross-border bonhomie is likely to reach its limit as 2013 unfolds

Last week’s signing of a landmark visa agreement making cross-border travel easier between India and Pakistan, especially for business people, is the latest sign of how economic engagement is driving the peace dialogue the two countries launched last year.  It follows last month’s decision by New Delhi to permit foreign direct investment from Pakistan, and steps by both governments to allow banks from one country to set up shop in the other (see here and here).  Islamabad also has committed to granting “most favored nation” trade status to India by the end of the year.

Other positive signposts include the brief but productive mini-summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari earlier this year in New Delhi – the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state in seven years.  And retired senior military leaders from both countries have engaged in an informal but promising dialogue about important confidence-building measures. Continue reading

U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Thinking about the Long Term

It’s Time for a New Smart Power Approach

To chart the deterioration of ties between Washington and Islamabad over the last two years, as well as the conundrums gnawing at Obama administration officials, consider the following: Despite Pakistan’s official designation as a “major non-NATO ally,” its egregious double game in Afghanistan is increasingly fueling talk in U.S. policy circles (here, here, here and here) about the necessity of “containing” it and even launching unilateral military raids into its tribal areas.*

Dampening the impulse for a tougher line, however, is the fear that the Pakistani state is in ever-present danger of collapse and vulnerable to a jihadi takeover.  A raft of new books, with such titles as Pakistan on the Brink and The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad , underscore the widely held view that the country is coming apart at the seams.  According David Sanger’s new book, Confront and Conceal, President Obama worries about Pakistan’s disintegration and the resulting dispersion of its nuclear stockpile.  Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta reiterated this concern the other week.

These policy crosscurrents were at display during the recent Republican presidential primary season: When Texas Governor Rick Perry urged a cut-off in aid, Michele Bachman, the Tea Party leader, admonished that the step would be counterproductive and “naïve” because “Pakistan is too nuclear to fail.” Continue reading

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

Bolstering the “Chinese Model” in South Asia

The United States should launch a Marshall Plan-like initiative to reinforce economic cooperation between India and Pakistan

A previous post highlighted how growing economic engagement is now the driver of the peace dialogue India and Pakistan launched a year ago.  The guiding principle is the so-called “Chinese model” – that is, the two countries pattern their ties along the lines of the India-China relationship, which combines broadening economic integration, frequent interactions between the national leaderships, and pragmatic diplomacy focused on incremental gains.

If enhanced trade ties were to take hold between South Asia’s largest economies, they would produce significant commercial and (eventually) security dividends for both countries and indeed the entire region.  So it’s worth considering what the United States, the most significant extra-regional actor in South Asia, can do to reinforce this effort, which if it bears fruit would have a very positive impact on U.S. security interests. Continue reading