Global terrorism emanating from Pakistan, a nuclear Iran, and the military and economic ascension of China are issues that we read and hear about every day. In the case of India, they must deal with these issues as a bordering nation to all three. Next week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the US-India Strategic Dialogue, a series of meetings that she also presided over last year in Washington, D.C. regarding security issues that both nations share. Fortunately for Sec. Clinton, her unique gift of leadership and strength, combined with seldom-matched intellectual prowess, affords her an uncanny ability to maneuver the complicated issues of what may be the most complicated region. Her assertiveness as a leader demands others to think outside the box, and inspire everyone in the room to address real problems with realistic solutions, and not just in the hypothetical. It is this ability that Sec. Clinton must use to not only kick start upcoming peace talks between India and Pakistan, but also lay the foundation that can lead to its rightful conclusion.
This past weekend, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said at a South Asian Regional Cooperation Conference that, “South Asia cannot realize its full potential until and unless the region solves its differences peacefully and develops the culture of solving our problems themselves.” The main issue with this statement is that India and Pakistan have consistently refused any form of mediation or facilitation by a third party, preventing any possibility of a problem solving culture to develop. However, Sec. Clinton has the grace to not only facilitate, but also to allow India and Pakistan a belief that they will have ended their seven decade feud on their own. More importantly, India could finally emerge as the legitimate counterweight to China that India assumes is already a reality. Finally, India can become the powerful regional ally the US must have for a myriad of security and economic reasons.
As the relationship between the US and Pakistan continues to sour, the relationship between India and the US continues to expand considerably. Moreover, Sec. Clinton will enjoy greater flexibility to assist in addressing issues such as Kashmir, water rights, and nuclear arms reduction due to the recent Obama Administration announcement on the suspension of $800 million in military assistance to Pakistan, which Pakistan typically has used to strengthen its border with India and fund militant groups, rather than for its intended purpose of fighting terrorists and the Taliban. No longer can India point to US assistance as being part of the problem. Finally, the recent killings of Osama bin Laden and Ilya Kashmiri by the US inside Pakistan also tells India that the ‘US understands the terror state that is Pakistan’, and will unapologetically do what it takes to rid the world, and more importantly the region, of this cancer. Nobody appreciates this more than India; except for maybe Pakistan behind closed doors.
In addition to dealing with the Pakistan vs. India conundrum, Sec. Clinton must also address Pakistan’s quickly emerging relationship with regional rival China. Make no mistake; China is India’s biggest threat, not Pakistan—a fact that China has gone above and beyond to display much to India’s chagrin. In the past month, China and Pakistan have strengthened their relationship with announcements of Chinese construction of hydroelectric damn projects in Pakistan, military assistance, and sales of fighter jets and naval ships, possible Chinese bases on the Indian Ocean and civilian nuclear power assistance. Moreover, reports of Chinese military personnel roaming the Pakistan-India border, in addition to roaming the India-China border has also raised eyebrows. You see, there is a flipside to India replacing Pakistan as the United States prime regional ally; China is attempting to replace the void left by the US in Pakistan. As one security analyst recently said, “If conflict were to break out between India and Pakistan, what would China’s reaction be?”
Fortunately, the timeliness of Sec. Clinton’s visit just before peace talk are set to resume between the two rivals in New Delhi the following week couldn’t be better. Coupled with all three nations attending the annual ASEAN conference in Bali, Sec. Clinton will have an ability to lay the groundwork through possible shuttle diplomacy given Pakistan’s eagerness to try and recoup some of the US assistance it so desperately needs. In addition, this may also be the counterpunch the US and the region as a whole need to China’s recent assertiveness in South and Southeast Asia. Secretary Clinton would have an ability to use the resumption of funding as an incentive for Pakistan to accept some of the terms put forth by India with regards to their concerns over the water issue, as well as nuclear safeguards. Additionally, Sec. Clinton would have an ability to present new and possibly logical solutions to deciding the fate of Kashmir that is acceptable to all parties, including the Kashmiri people. Through incentives, as well as a fresh voice with new ideas, India and Pakistan can gain on a number of levels via US assistance, yet maintain an ability to claim ownership in resolving their own bilateral issues.
The real question remains: Can India and Pakistan be reliable partners in a region beset by dysfunction and failed promises? Once and for all, the table is set for Sec. Clinton to finally emerge from the Presidential shadows cast over her by both her husband and current boss. Finally, it’s Hillary’s turn.