Scouring South Asia

National Interest online checks in on two vital American allies in a critical region. Will they keep working with the United States? Nick Gvosdev takes a hard look.

Rapid Reaction: Pakistan's Elections

by Nikolas K. Gvosdev

 

This assessment from Jehangir Tareen, a former member of Pervez Musharraf's cabinet, sums up the biggest lesson from Pakistan's parliamentary elections. "The lesson for the United States in this is to listen to the will of the people. We cannot nod automatically to the United States. We would like to participate in this if it is in our interest. We will not be ordered about."

While the results in total represent a defeat for and repudiation of Musharraf-Boston University's Husain Haqqani told the Asia Times that, "In the end, Pakistanis voted against the arrogant Pakistani establishment"-and a number of leading political figures in the "King's Party"-the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q)-lost their seats, the final results are still unclear. The balance of power in Parliament is split between the two principal opposition parties-the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) now headed by Benazir Bhutto's husband, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. These two parties have to decide how they will join together in coalition and whether the goal is a unity government that includes President Musharraf, or instead to push forward to completely dismantle what remains of Musharraf's political base. If all opposition forces come together-and they achieve a two-thirds majority-they might be in a position to impeach Musharraf; another option would be to restore the dismissed Supreme Court justices and declare Musharraf's election as president to be invalid.

Hasan Askari-Rizvi, a political analyst, told the Indo-Asian News Service, "It is clear that the two major opposition parties have got the lead everywhere except in Balochistan. The electoral process was flawed but still the pro-Musharraf elements lost. The making of the governments and reversing the changes made by Musharraf will be a complex affair but, in any case, the possibility of confrontation with Musharraf cannot be ruled out. Political uncertainty will continue for some time." That is a prediction Washington may not particularly care for.

Some other interesting developments. The first is the extent to which anger over the raid on the Red Mosque back in 2007 played a decisive role in the defeat of Musharraf's party in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The second was the victory in the North-West Frontier Province for the Pashtun Awami Nationalist Party. This indicates a decrease in support for pro-Taliban elements in the region, but does not signal support for a robust U.S. presence. Sharif has continued to maintain that dialogue with extremist forces is preferable to taking military action, and the head of the Awami Party, Afrasiab Khattak, made clear that he does not believe "that a military solution will work," and added that his party "will never support American forces coming here [to the NWFP] and operating."

 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.

 

Inside Track: Making Inroads with India

by Andrew E. Title

 

Where is the U.S.-India relationship headed?

That was the subject of conversation on Friday at The Nixon Center, where Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia James Clad discussed the past, present and probable future of Washington-Delhi security ties in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Geoffrey Kemp, Director of Regional Strategic Programs at The Nixon Center, moderated the event.

Kemp opened the discussion by pointing out "Asia's growing footprint" in the Middle East and the Gulf region, a role that encompasses links in investment, expatriate workers, education and consumer goods-not just interest in oil reserves. He then posed a "fundamental" question about U.S. policy in the region: "Are we to be the perpetual policeman of the region," or is a more "cooperative" or even "confrontational" role vis-à-vis other powers-like India and China-in the cards?

Deputy Assistant Secretary Clad then took the microphone, beginning by underscoring the steadily increasing importance of America-India ties. He went so far as to estimate that they now occupy 45 to 50 percent of his time, noting that much of this is spent in substantive meetings with Indian counterparts.

Clad called the myriad predictions of future Asian strength, so often heard in the media, often "hyperventilated" compared to the realities on the ground. But he did spend a fair amount of time discussing the blossoming friendship between Delhi and Washington, and its indispensability to both sides. Clad argued that the relationship has stayed on a roughly positive "trend line" since bilateral relations began warming under Ronald Reagan and former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, avoiding dramatic ups and downs.

Of course, there are still notable points of friction-the U.S. alliance with Pakistan chief among them. Clad admitted that Washington is often "hobbled by what we can't say" in security discussions with Delhi because of its ties with Islamabad. Still, he stressed that a "deeper, less hesitant relationship" with India continues to develop. Clad cited two examples of this: the "uptick" in military to military ties and joint exercises during the Bush administration and the recently announced sale of six C-130 transport aircraft to the Indian military.

Clad closed his remarks by looking at the big picture. He said that ties with the United States have wide "bedrock support" among all important sectors of the Indian political establishment. In the past, a "tiff" between the United States and India would virtually shut down all cooperation. But, according to Clad, the possibility of isolated rows disrupting broader U.S.-India cooperation is becoming more unlikely.

 

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