The Subcontinent: Ménage À Trois

An Indian soldier participates in an early morning training close to India-Pakistan border, 2002. (Arko Datta/Courtesy Reuters)


Whatever its other consequences, last winter's brief war in South Asia broke the mold that since 1947 had cast India-Pakistan relations into a continuing confrontation punctuated by three military conflicts. Now, for better or worse, the subcontinent with its 700,000,000 people has been transformed into a ménage à trois, linking together three national members in new relationships.

Two of these nations-defeated, truncated Pakistan and the new state of Bangladesh-entered 1972 beset by severe internal problems. Neither is likely soon to play more than a reactive role in the affairs of the region. By contrast, India, the third element, emerged as a relative giant. Before 1971 India by many measures was three or four times larger than Pakistan, though her weaknesses reduced the differential in some respects. Today she has ten times the population and resource base of Pakistan and considerably more than ten times the resources of Bangladesh. Her decisive military victory over Pakistan last December added a full measure of self-confidence to her mood. Moreover, under Mrs. Gandhi's firm management India's economy has become steadier and the country's polity more closely knit in 1972. India has attained, in short, a new primacy in the subcontinent.

In these radically changed circumstances can Bangladesh, Pakistan and India put behind them the tensions and conflicts of the past generation in favor of peaceful cohabitation in their region? This question is urgent for a great many people outside as well as within the subcontinent proper. Such immediate neighbors as Ceylon, Nepal and Afghanistan, whose anxieties over the events of 1971 were evident, have major stakes in the answer. So do some, at least, of the nations of Southeast Asia and western Asia. The Soviet Union and China see that their own confrontation has a southern flank in the subcontinent The United States has repeatedly found itself enmeshed in competing claims by the countries of the region and could not but warmly welcome any just and peaceful settlement Also, apart from national interests in the area,

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