The world's most dangerous border
To reduce the risk of terror, the West must help defuse tension between India and Pakistan
THE late Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had many virtues as a diplomat, but tact was not among them. His description of his theatre of operations as “AfPak” infuriated the Pakistanis, who wanted the Americans to regard their country as a sophisticated, powerful ally worthy of attention in itself, not just as a suffix to the feuding tribesmen next door. But that was not the only reason the coinage was unwise. It encouraged the understandable American tendency—shaped by the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the war against the Taliban and now the death of Osama bin Laden—to see Pakistan in the context of the fighting on its north-west frontier, and thus to ignore the source of most of the country’s problems, including terrorism: the troubled state of relations to its east.
The border between India and Pakistan has seen a bloody partition in 1947 that killed hundreds of thousands; more than 15,000 dead in three wars and 25 years spent fighting over a glacier; 40,000-100,000 dead (depending on whom you believe) in the insurgency in the disputed province of Kashmir. And now both countries are armed with nuclear weapons.
Bloodshed over the border is not the only measure of the damage this poisoned relationship does. In India it exacerbates feuds between Muslims and Hindus. But Pakistan has been worse affected. Fear and hatred of India have distorted its world view and politics (see article). Ignoring this—as the West seems to be doing again—is a terrible mistake, especially because a settlement is not beyond reach.
Pakistan’s obsession with India has damaged it in three ways. First, it has given its generals too much power. Pakistan’s army, at 550,000 men, is too small to match India’s 1.1m, but too big for Pakistan. The armed forces eat up 16% of the government’s budget, whereas education gets 1.2%. Because the armed forces are powerful, the government is weak; and the soldiers’ frequent interventions in Pakistani politics exacerbate this imbalance and undermine democracy.
Second, it has shaped Pakistan’s dealings in Afghanistan. In the 1990s Pakistan helped create the Taliban partly in order to undermine India’s allies in northern Afghanistan. Although it signed up to fight the Taliban after September 11th 2001, Pakistan has continued to protect some of the Taliban in order to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan.
Third, it has led Pakistan to foster Islamist terrorism—especially the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Punjab-based outfit whose purpose is to attack India. After the LeT attacked the Indian parliament in December 2001 Pakistan banned it, but it has survived—either (as the Pakistanis claim) because it has grown too successful to crush or (as the Indians suspect) because the Pakistani armed forces continue to help it covertly. Either way, India is not the only victim of this murderously stupid policy: terrorism within Pakistan is being fuelled by splinter groups from the LeT—and is going global.
As India grows in wealth and power, so do fear and obsession in Pakistan. Yet India, too, would benefit from a solution. The tension with the minnow to its west distracts it from the rise of the giant to its north, and China will surely dominate its security horizon in the 21st century. America also has much to gain from a saner subcontinent. If Pakistan’s world view were not distorted by India, it might be able to see straight on terror.