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‘I think India has got a lot of special treatment,but there needs to be a degree of reciprocity’

Stephen P. Cohen,a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the best-known scholars of South Asian affairs,is in India for the run-up to President Obama’s visit.

Written by The Indian Express |
November 3, 2010 5:10:03 am

Stephen P. Cohen,a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the best-known scholars of South Asian affairs,is in India for the run-up to President Obama’s visit. The professor,whose new book — ‘Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernisation’ — is being released this week talks to Manu Pubby about his analysis of the upcoming visit,the state of the Pakistani army and happenings in the neighbourhood.

As Obama arrives,the perception has grown that perhaps it is time for India to give more in the relationship than it receives.

Instead of talking about American deliverables to India,[there should be debate instead on what the Indian deliverables to the US are. There is a list of things it can do — the nuclear liability law,perhaps signing agreements on military training and exchange,and a lot more. To me,the most stunning absence is of creative Indian thought on nuclear disarmament. I supported the India-US nuclear agreement but assumed that India would go back to its original position,the centrepiece of its foreign policy. But the Indians seem to be following the Chinese position — to do nothing,to wait until the Americans and the Russians come down.

As a democratic nation,India sometimes demands special treatment from the US,including more leeway in defence agreements. How does the US deal with this?

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It takes a politician to resolve this,to find the language that makes everyone happy. Obama is this great politician. He will find the language. I think India has got a lot of special treatment but there needs to be a degree of reciprocity.

There have been recent indications of an increasing Chinese military presence in developmental projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Does this signify a new challenge for the region?

There has always been a military and political relationship between Pakistan and China. What has happened is that as Pakistan becomes weaker,in particular economically,it is more dependent on China. Of course,the military dependence has grown as the US has proved to be an unreliable military supplier,though we are trying to change that. And also: India plays no role in Pakistan. In a way,if you look at it strategically,India has conceded Pakistan to China. Chinese expansion everywhere is powered by its economy. India is 15 years behind China in that sense. Some of the military presence in Pakistan is what the Pakistanis call “pioneers”,that is,construction gangs or units that are armed for self-protection. They are not military forces as such but are building roads and infrastructure.

Pakistan,on the one hand receives Chinese equipment to back them up on the lower end,and on the other also gets US equipment on the higher-tech end. How much of a challenge is this for India?

They are also getting a lot of Chinese aircraft. I discussed this in Pakistan,at their staff college. They fact that both countries are nuclear-weapon states has transformed the ground rules of conflict between them. For the Americans and the Soviets,as long as they knew any ground conflict would result in nuclear war,there were no ground conflicts. [Instead we exported our cold war to other parts of the world. I think India and Pakistan have done this for a long time — in Afghanistan in particular. Of course there is no military presence,but both countries have proxies. They are also competing in Bangladesh,Nepal and maybe in Sri Lanka. I think a realisation has sunk in in both countries that there is unlikely to be a major war between them. If both countries have 50 or 100 nukes,a nuclear exchange would mean destruction of both,and would end them both as modern states.

What is your analysis of the improvements in the Indian and Pakistani military in the past decade? Has the fight on the Afghan border made the Pakistani army fitter and more capable?

The army in Pakistan was trained and organised to fight a ground war with India. That became sort of irrelevant when the two countries went nuclear. What they are doing now is what the Indians did for the past 25-30 years,that is,learn counter-insurgency within their country against their own citizens,not foreigners. The Pakistan army has had to relearn from the ground up what it means to fight against their own people. When I visited Pakistani cantonments I saw that Pakistan is more prepared to fight,but not against India but its own people. How successful they can be is a big question. We were not impressed at Brookings on the way they do this low-intensity conflict. Will they go after groups in FATA that are hostile to them and which at the same time they (the army) are also supporting? The analogy would be the way that India has pursued different policies against the Tamil Tigers. India should be on their side,you don’t want to see the Pakistan army defeated or stalemated by people who want to transform Pakistan into a really radical state.

India and the US have conducted more joint military exercises in the past 10 years with each other than with any other nation. Where do you see this relationship going in the future?

It has two consequences. One: if we need to work together militarily,that could help us. This can be in different areas like peacekeeping and peacemaking. Also,our forces would know how to talk to each other. Till recently they could not talk to each other — different methods of communication and radio frequencies. From India’s point of view it is useful to work with what is probably the most modern military in the world. We may not follow the best policies but have done well on the military front,especially the navy. On our part,we should learn more on how India does counter-insurgency. A lot of successes in India have been in fighting its internal conflicts.

You recently spoke about a verification arrangement in Afghanistan that would allay the fears of Pakistan and India about each others activities there. Is this really workable?

Once a policy decision is reached,the US will and should make India and Pakistan understand what the other is doing. Maybe this doesn’t have to be an American thing,it could be NATO or European. The methodology is simple: it should be verifiable to Pakistan that x and y are not happening (from the Indian side). On the Pakistan side also — as and when the Afghan conflict winds down — India will need assurances that it is not supporting extremist Taliban and is working for some kind of a modern solution for Afghanistan. This is also important for the Americans: that you have India and Pakistan as indirect partners in the normalisation of Afghanistan.

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