George W. Bush begins a visit to India today and will visit Pakistan later this week. His trip will be a study in contrasts that will test the elasticity and endurance of U.S. foreign policy in a tough neighborhood at a time when he cannot afford to make any mistakes.
In India, he will find a vibrant, increasingly diversified economy with gargantuan energy requirements and a truly democratic political culture. The focal point of his visit will be to sort out the details of America’s proposals to help India develop its civilian nuclear capabilities so that it can provide for the country’s burgeoning energy demands. The trick will be to achieve this without diminishing what is left of U.S. credibility on nonproliferation, and to press on to address other important summit agenda items such as peace efforts in Kashmir and textiles and software-services trading..
The nuclear deal is critical in geopolitical terms because America’s dismal relations with Tehran pose serious problems for the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline that could satisfy many of India’s future energy needs. The U.S. would like its nuclear-cooperation model with India to serve as an important cornerstone for global efforts to deal with problematic nuclear states. American officials hope to set a positive precedent by allowing the development of civilian nuclear reactors while neutralizing the correlative bogey of a potentially expanding weapons program.
The essence of the U.S.-India nuclear pact is to have New Delhi accept terms as if it were a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Neither India–which tested nuclear weapons in 1974 and 1998–nor Pakistan are signatories of the NPT. The deal calls for India to separate its military and civilian nuclear reactors, opening the civilian reactors to NPT-like inspections regimes. The objective is to increase safety at these reactor sites while dramatically reducing the amount of nuclear-weapons fuel that India produces.
Since the deal was first announced last July, New Delhi has vacillated on which reactors it will designate as military and which civilian. Indian politicians have faced stiff internal opposition from nuclear scientists, who worry that public reactor designations will hamper their ability to maintain a research-oriented nuclear-deterrent program. But while India’s scientists have a point, their concerns are ultimately outweighed by the need to make a compromise for the sake of global security.
President Bush could ease his hosts’ concerns by simply providing India with a ceiling on the number of nuclear weapons it is allowed to produce. From there, he could let uranium-enrichment mathematics determine how many of India’s key reactors would need to be designated for military purposes. This will help to achieve a deal with with India, which will in turn make it easier to later approach Pakistan to get it to sign on to a non-proliferation program.
In Pakistan, Bush will find a troubled ally beset by rising anti-American sentiment, a floundering domestic counterterrorism effort, and an overwhelming fiscal need to help the victims of last October’s devastating earthquake. President Pervez Musharraf will need new pledges of American financial support and a very public apology for the botched U.S. cruise-missile attack that missed al-Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, last month.
As America’s top diplomat, President Bush should be forthcoming with both apologies and offers of assistance. But in private, he needs to demand brutally candid answers on two points critical to global security: Did Pakistan’s rogue nuclear scientist, Dr. A.Q. Khan, give Iran the full array of technologies required to assemble and detonate even a crude nuclear device? And how is it possible that Pakistan’s military intelligence apparatus cannot do more to infiltrate tribal areas where militants are thought to be harboring al-Qaeda’s senior leadership, including Osama bin Laden? Every day these men remain free is a day al-Qaeda’s legions grow stronger and their doomsday scenario draws nearer.
If Musharraf understands the realpolitik that characterizes Washington’s current politically charged climate, and if he accepts the responsibility Pakistan has undertaken as a front-line ally in fighting terrorists wherever they hide, he would do well to give the American delegation some result-oriented answers–even if these answers are unpalatable for Pakistan’s global image.
Presdient Musharraf can start by telling President Bush that he is readying a political strategy, nonexistent as it is today, to persuade the Pashtun tribal chiefs to end their safe harbor of al-Qaeda leaders. Islamabad’s political void has eviscerated the Pakistani army’s capacity to conduct counterterrorism operations in the no-man’s land along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, allowing al-Qaeda to fortify its protective layers.
Pakistani army troops numbering almost 75,000 remain holed up at outposts along the border rather than being permitted to actively scour and police the tribal regions. Bush would do well to tell President Musharraf that Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars spent on making a big show of trying to catch Osama bin Laden while his deputy routinely gets invited to dinner at the homes of al-Qaeda-harboring tribal chieftains.
The Bush trip to South Asia has the potential to enhance regional and global security. But political leaders in New Delhi and Islamabad have got to want it.
–Mansoor Ijaz, an American financier of Pakistani ancestry, jointly authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities in Indian-held Kashmir in July 2000. His father was a pioneer in Pakistan’s nuclear program.