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Kashmir Sweating
Tim Francis-Wright

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently made a cogent argument for the United States to reconsider its newfound alliance with Pakistan. In a news conference on Friday, he explained that an Asian country has "been getting assistance" toward making a nuclear device, "and they've been making good progress and they have been determined to accomplish that goal...They've been getting help from North Korea, for example, with respect to missiles. They also have developed their own indigenous capability to produce ballistic missiles of increasing range." All of these statements are demonstrably true about Pakistan. Rumsfeld, however, was talking about Iran. Although Pakistan is the most recent nation to obtain nuclear weapons, the ultimate weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration has ignored that fact in its haste to paint North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as an "axis of evil."

The hypocrisy of the Bush administration's policy toward Pakistan is only part of the story. More importantly, the Bush administration is following the Cold War strategy of past administrations, creating alliances based on expediency. During the Cold War, these alliances found the United States supporting dictators merely because they were anti-Communist. The Bush administration finds itself supporting a dictatorship in Pakistan merely because it promised to act against the Taliban. And as India and Pakistan continue a deadly pas de deux in Kashmir, the Bush administration needs to figure out how to rein in its friends in Islamabad.

For much of the 1980s, Pakistan was the conduit for billions of dollars of American aid to the Afghan mujahideen. The Carter administration had suspended any aid to Pakistan in 1979 because of its nascent nuclear program, and independent observers saw Pakistan as a likely nuclear proliferator. But the Reagan and Bush administrations saw Pakistan as an anti-Soviet bulwark, and maintained the fiction that Pakistan had no nuclear capabilities until the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989.

To the Reagan administration, Pakistan was a likely candidate for American friendship. The Soviet Union had a military and economic relationship with India, Pakistan's key adversary. Pakistan's leaders were resolutely anti-communist, and welcomed American economic and military aid. The second Bush administration has again ignored Pakistan's fundamental flaws. Pakistan completed its first nuclear tests only four years ago, and overthrew its democratic government two years ago. It has been for years the main supporter of radical Islam in Afghanistan, first by funding and arming the mujahideen, then by advising and abetting the Taliban during the Afghan civil war, then by running religious academies designed to train young men to become holy warriors.

Pakistan developed its nuclear capability with a great deal of assistance from China, which provided warhead designs and possibly enriched uranium. More recently, it has received help from North Korea, which has given Pakistan the designs for its intermediate- range missiles. The Bush administration has been steadfast in its denunciation of the putative nuclear programs of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, but silent on the actual nuclear weapons programs of the three most recent proliferators, Pakistan, India, and Israel. Ultimately, the "axis of evil" is just a roster of countries who refuse to toe the line of the United States, and concern about nuclear proliferation is just a hypocritical smoke screen.

Among so-called realists in defense studies, nuclear proliferation is not so big a deal. The most famous—and infamous— support of nuclear proliferation, an article by Kenneth Waltz, downplays the problem. Waltz argues that more nuclear weapons states leads to fewer wars, because nuclear weapons deter aggression and rational leaders will not risk nuclear war.

Waltz presents a viable theory of why some nuclear adversaries have avoided war against one another (think the United States, Russia, and China), but his analysis then starts to falter. Other, capable, nations have elected not to develop nuclear weapons, and have nonetheless managed to avoid the ravages of war. For example, Sweden abandoned its nuclear weapons program in the 1960s because it feared not only the cost of the nuclear program but also the international opprobrium from becoming a nuclear weapons state. Second, Waltz assumes that states are unitary actors that see nuclear weapons as weapons per se. The last five years have shown that the Indian and Pakistani nuclear programs produce more than weapons.

Every nuclear test by India and Pakistan, and every flight test of missiles, not only sends a message to the other country , but it also serves to reinforce national pride. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in India, views the Indian nuclear program as both a political statement about Hindu nationalism and as a bulwark against the Pakistani nuclear program. The leaders of both countries justify their nuclear programs by appealing to religious fundamentalism. Without the BJP, the Indian nuclear program might not exist. Without fundamentalist Muslims in Pakistan, the Pakistani program would not have India as a likely target, so it might not exist, either.

The relationship between India and Pakistan is particularly worrisome because both countries have claimed ownership of Kashmir since India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1948. Over the past few months, the Bush administration has called for calm, but only when tensions have risen between India and Pakistan. When bullets have flown, or leaders have made bold pronouncements about retaliation, then phone calls have been made, and statements have been read, all in the interests of calming the two countries. But Bush and his administration have not done much else while India and Pakistan lurch toward nuclear war.

This week, India and Pakistan are at it again. The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, inspected some of the 700,000 Indian troops in Kashmir and called for a "decisive battle" with Pakistan. Yesterday, Pakistan testedits second ballistic missile in a week. Today, Vajpayee regretted not retaliating for the 13 December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament by Muslim guerrillas. The two countries are engaged in a series of provocations over an issue that has led them to war before, in 1947 and in 1965.

The United States needs to help resolve the conflict in Kashmir for a number of reasons. First, while Kashmir does not affect the United States directly, it is the most likely cause of war between the two most belligerent nuclear weapons states. Second, the United States currently enjoys good relations with both India and Pakistan, so both sides might welcome its mediation. Relations with India improved greatly during the Clinton presidency. And the military actions in Afghanistan led the United States to develop military ties to both countries at the same time. Third, the United States has a moral obligation, as the only country to use nuclear weapons against an enemy, to keep other countries from using them, too. Finally, Kashmir presents a thorny problem to solve, a problem that benign neglect will not and cannot solve. Serious negotiations between India and Pakistan are essential to peace in that region, and the United States is in the best position to bring about those negotiations.

Blind American support for Pakistan is a strategy that failed miserably in the 1980s. The United States gave Pakistan billions of dollars while ignoring its nascent nuclear program, all to hinder the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. During the decade, Pakistan contributed to an Afghan culture that revered fundamentalist Islam over all else. Meanwhile, the United States encouraged India's fundamentalists by supporting their worst enemy while neglecting the hard issues in Kashmir. A truly positive consequence of the Afghan conflict is that the Bush administration can finally count India and Pakistan on the same side of an issue. It could use this consequence to try to develop a lasting peace. Or it could gamble that the fragile situation in Kashmir will not erupt into war as it has in the past. That's a bet with a small payout and a potentially devastating cost.

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