Visit can cement Indo-U.S. ties

February 22, 2000|By Mervyn M. Dymally

THE ANNOUNCEMENT of President Clinton's planned visit to India and Bangladesh late next month is a hopeful sign of invigorated U.S. engagement in a region long maligned and misunderstood by successive American administrations.

More important, it represents an occasion to redress the anachronistic policies and opinions that have defined U.S. relations with South Asia for the past decade. The primary focus of the trip will be the president's five days of meetings with Indian officials. In explaining the reasons for this trip, the president has indicated that it is vital for no other reason than India is today the world's largest democracy and home to the world's largest middle class.

Going beyond this cursory appraisal, it is apparent that Indo-U.S. relations have never shared more common interests and goals than at present.

For generations, the tenor of U.S. relations with the subcontinent was defined along the strict lines of Cold War ideology. India, a leading player in the nonaligned movement, early on as a republic adopted a socialist model of state organization. It was, however, not until tumultuous events in the 1970s that India sought a military entente with the Soviet Union.

After suffering significant military loses to the Chinese Army in the still-disputed Kashmir Valley, while the United States worked to establish new relations with the Chinese, India found a much-needed regional balance with the Soviet Union. By the end of the decade, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan served to cement, and in the end dictate, the "great power" alliances in the region.

U.S. military and intelligence officials flooded into base camps in Pakistan with the money and material to bleed the Soviets' occupying army for nearly a decade, as part of a policy of meeting the Soviet challenge on every front. With the assistance of mujahedeen holy warriors, the United States helped to create and organize a fighting force capable of doing its bidding. That bond of shared combat is strong. However, its legacy has been a continued understanding and cooperation between American and Pakistani military-intelligence agencies.

Weaponry and ideology

The demise of the Soviet empire and the proxy conflicts that it engendered has left the valleys of Pakistan and Afghanistan rife with U.S.-made weaponry and a group of Islamic fundamentalists in search of a new enemy. Ironically, that new enemy could be the United States and its brand of socially progressive and liberal culture that an overwhelming number of Islamic fundamentalists maintain is invading and destroying that which they hold dear.

The result is what many analysts might wish to term a failed region. Afghanistan, which the United States has branded as a state sponsor of terrorism, is diplomatically isolated around the world. Through its most significant outside link, the ruling, hyper-fundamentalist Taliban regime enjoys cherished diplomatic, trade and military relations with neighboring Pakistan.

In Pakistan, after several failed attempts at democratic governance, fundamentalist elements within the military have once again forcibly installed themselves in power. The suspension of that country's constitution, the removal of judges unwilling to pledge allegiance to this unlawful regime and a return to Islamic laws of banking within the past three months are disturbing indicators of Pakistan's political, social and economic future. Areas where U.S. policy-makers might wish to seek cooperation are clearly limited.

In equally dramatic fashion, the end of the Cold War has produced a new regional ally for the United States in India. Within the past decade, a new generation of Indian leaders has rushed to embrace the privatization, modernization and free market principles that allowed such dramatic growth in Asian economies to the east. The Asian Development Bank is already forecasting that the Indian economy will be the fastest growing in Asia this year at 7 percent. The

cf03 Financial Times

cf01 recently added that India "could be in for a sustained period of high growth sufficient to bring about a significant reduction in poverty."

Ally against terrorism

In addition to efforts to engage the world economically, India has replaced Pakistan as the United States' trusted ally in the fight against terrorism. More often than most, India has in the past decade borne the brunt of increased Islamic militancy in the region. India is today locked in a struggle to maintain the integrity of its border with Pakistan while trying to repel the terrorist incursions of guerrilla patrols that seek to inflame separatist passions in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir. Indian and U.S. goals aimed at stemming the tide of the terrorist trends have resulted in the formation of a joint Indo-U.S. working group on counterterrorism.

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