After a period of more than a decade during which Afghanistan dominated the political situation in South Asia, the withdrawal of Soviet forces has significantly altered the political situation within the region. India and Pakistan face new realities, and outside powers will also need to readjust their policies to take account of the changing issues in the region.

The political developments within Pakistan over the past year-the dismissal of civilian government in June 1988, the death of President Zia ul-Haq in August, national and provincial elections in November and the accession of Benazir Bhutto to the prime ministership-have altered not only the internal scene in Pakistan, but also the context in which Pakistan relates to its neighbors and to the rest of the world.

The Soviet involvement in Afghanistan drew the United States into a much more active role in South Asia than it had played for over a decade; a restored U.S. relationship with Pakistan was the principal channel. In Afghanistan the United States achieved a signal policy success; the determination of both the Carter and Reagan administrations to back the Afghan resistance forces has paid off beyond all expectations. The restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan is also something in which Americans can take satisfaction. Although the overwhelming credit belongs to the Pakistani people (just as the success in Afghanistan belongs largely to Afghans), the United States played a more than marginal role by making clear its preference for the restoration of democracy.

Like most foreign policy successes, these two developments have spawned new problems. The United States must consider how to react to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan: Should we use this favorable situation to enhance our role in the region along the Soviets' southern flank? Or should the United States reduce its heavy commitment in such a distant region and postpone thinking about South Asia until more pressing problems elsewhere have been taken in hand?

Similarly, the U.S. relationship with Pakistan needs reshaping. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan reduces the need for an intimate relationship with Islamabad, but we must decide just what kind of bilateral relationship we want and how Pakistan may fit into whatever broader strategy we choose. The return of democratic government in Pakistan roughly compensates for what would have been a post-Afghanistan decline in America's interest there and improves the context of our bilateral relations. But it does not fundamentally change some of the major bilateral issues-especially Pakistan's nuclear program, the turbulent state of its politics, and the sheer size of the U.S. aid program in Pakistan (over $7 billion between 1983 and 1994). In the near term there are still other differences that remain to be dealt with, including our respective positions on the further evolution of events within Afghanistan.

Pakistan should never be considered a negligible quantity in any geopolitical calculation. It ranks among the world's ten most populous nations; it has distinguished itself through adroit diplomacy; it has a large and competent military; it plays an important role in South and Southwest Asia. In any other part of the world Pakistan would be a major actor. Its curse is geography, for it is overshadowed by India, and its political shortcomings are judged against India's relative successes rather than against the much drearier record of practically any other large country of Asia or Africa.

Pakistan shares with the United States limited but important regional and global policy interests, especially a healthy concern for Soviet expansionism, common friendship with China and support for moderate regimes in the Persian Gulf (although the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Saudi Arabia in late 1988 introduces some questions in that regard). The vagaries of politics in Tehran make Pakistani-Iranian relations unpredictable, but the Pakistanis have made a serious effort to cultivate the Iranian government, both for regional political reasons and to placate their own Shi'ite minority. This relationship could provide the United States with a useful channel to a post-Khomeini government in Iran.

The United States has an interest in Pakistan's internal order and economic development, not only because it absorbs so much of our aid money, but also because we want to see Pakistan strong and stable, rather than a target of meddling by outsiders, whether Iranian, Soviet or even Indian. In a larger sense, a central U.S. concern is a reasonably stable and peaceful South Asia, which requires decent relations between India and Pakistan.

There is, nonetheless, substantial anti-Pakistan sentiment in the United States-partisans of India, nonproliferationists and those wary of Islamic governments. During the fighting in Afghanistan, most criticism was muted in the cause of ensuring Pakistani cooperation, and the restoration of democratic government has placated some critics, though by no means all of them. Now that the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan is an accomplished fact, inescapable questions about the nature and extent of U.S.-Pakistani ties will find resonance among those who see the large aid program as a target for budget reduction.

On the other side, there are those-especially within the military-who want to see the present level of close cooperation not only maintained but enlarged. They see Pakistan as the key to a prominent U.S. role in the evolving situation in Afghanistan, and as the only country between Israel and Thailand that can serve as support for a U.S. forward policy, whether directed against the Soviet Union or shoring up our interests in the Gulf and Indian Ocean. They are prepared to pay high costs, political as well as financial, to develop Pakistan as a reliable agent of U.S. policy in this strategic region.


The return of democratic government and the election of Benazir Bhutto as prime minister have introduced a new situation in Pakistan that will be crucial in determining the U.S. role. Bhutto is still an unproven quantity. Thus far her track record as administrator, political operator and national leader has been mixed. She has necessarily moved slowly, but she and her aides have spent much more time politicking than developing and implementing programs to address Pakistan's needs. Her policies and personal convictions have yet to be fully revealed, and it will take some time to see if the moderate views she has espoused in recent years will last under pressures from radical elements within her own party.

It is by no means certain that Bhutto will remain in power long enough to answer these questions. Her tactical position in parliament has become shaky: her key coalition partner, the Mohajir Quami Movement, has put her on notice that its interests must be more fully accommodated if she expects continued support. If it were to withdraw, the Bhutto government might well fall.

Beyond that, Bhutto is under considerable pressure from the Pakistani establishment, despite the setbacks it suffered in last November's national elections. The army, large landowners, industrialists and the bureaucracy maintain their bases of power, and Bhutto had to make important policy concessions to them in order to take office. In elections for provincial governments, also held in November, Bhutto's Pakistani People's Party did not do as well as it had in the parliamentary vote, gaining control of only one of Pakistan's four major provinces. The PPP's main rival, the Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA) formed the government of Punjab, Pakistan's key province, and has frustrated her efforts to oust it.

Like Indira Gandhi in the early years of her tenure, Benazir Bhutto faces the challenge of asserting domination over a political system that she does not fully control and establishing her own agenda. Gandhi only barely succeeded in breaking the power of the old establishment, and the task facing Bhutto is even more difficult. But if she does not make the attempt, her authority may become empty. If she follows Indira Gandhi's example, Bhutto would likely seek to outflank the interests of the establishment by the kind of populist and radical appeals that were her trademark in earlier years-and which were so effectively used by her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The establishment, of course, would see its interests threatened and might attempt to neutralize or oust her. If this were done by undemocratic means, Pakistan-and American interests there-would be the losers.

The parlous state of the Pakistani economy, the country's pervasive social ills and the continuing presence of some three million Afghan refugees would test the staying power and skills of even an established and seasoned leader with an assured political position. Prime Minister Bhutto faces an early test in June when she must present a budget, which is to implement austerity measures mandated by an International Monetary Fund stand-by agreement, without alienating her political constituency or cutting back too much on military expenditures.

A more deep-seated challenge facing Bhutto is the turbulent regional situation. The overwhelming demographic predominance of the Punjab is a fact of life in Pakistan that must be recognized, but the people of the other provinces must also come to believe that they have reasonable ability to influence decisions that affect their fate. The return to democracy should be the best cure for the problem over the long run, since it is hard to see how equity can be achieved except in a representative democratic framework.

In the nearer term, however, the problem remains. The IDA has effectively used its control of the Punjab to fan regionalist sentiment against Bhutto, who comes from the Sind. They have an effective issue in that, largely by chance, none of the top political and military leaders in Islamabad at present is a Punjabi. The people of the other provinces, however, point to a long history of Punjabi domination, coupled with shifting ethnic balances in their own provinces, and claim that much remains to be done to secure their interests. Until some balance is attained, Pakistan will remain difficult to govern. There is continuing danger of an eruption that could turn regionalism into a separatism that might seek-and find-support from abroad.

In addition, Bhutto faces hostility because of her gender, her youth and a background of secular life spent largely outside of Pakistan. Muslim fundamentalists and other conservatives are not reconciled to the fact of her leadership, and missteps that would be excused in an older, male leader could prove fatal to her. She has moved cautiously in righting some of the wrongs of the previous era: the human rights situation has improved markedly, Islam is no longer being used (by her at least) as a political tool, and the media are freer. Probably wisely, she has shied away thus far from addressing the touchier issues of women and religious minorities.

Enthusiastic predictions of Bhutto's skills and prospects must be reined in; the cautionary example of Rajiv Gandhi, who looked so good six months into his term, is right across the border. Furthermore, the past history of democracy in Pakistan is hardly encouraging. Yet whatever its shortcomings, Pakistan is not a banana republic, but a complex polity with a political system that was bursting the straitjacket of paternalistic military rule. Articulate Pakistanis believe that their country can and must be governed as a civilian democracy. As long as these democratic impulses were frustrated, there were growing prospects of the well-established Pakistani practice of taking politics into the streets, with violent but otherwise unpredictable consequences. Bhutto's electoral triumph and the grudging acquiescence of the Pakistani establishment in her assumption of office were the best things to happen to Pakistan in a long time. Her prospects are far from assured, but the accession to power of a popularly elected regime offers the chance for a fresh approach to Pakistan's severe domestic problems.

The United States has a stake in Pakistan's domestic developments and a perverse sort of responsibility growing out of our past actions and the fact that Pakistanis are generally convinced that the United States can and does manipulate their domestic affairs. Pakistanis grossly exaggerate the kind of power and influence that the United States can wield (or should want to wield) nowadays, but the fact of these beliefs make them a real element in the Pakistani equation.

The U.S. aid program was in fact a great support to President Zia and his regime, and it remains important to the new government as it faces hard economic choices. Pakistan is one of those countries where the United States will be seen as intervening almost regardless of the actions it does or does not take. The United States was a modest factor in prodding Zia toward greater democracy and better observance of human rights. The American preference for a democratic regime, clearly enunciated by Congress, remains an important restraint on those Pakistanis who would like to reverse the process, for it is highly unlikely that close U.S.-Pakistani ties could survive an overthrow of democratic rule in Pakistan.

A turbulent Pakistan could look abroad for some source to blame for its problems, and the United States would be second only to India as a suspect. Anti-Americanism is endemic in Pakistan-based on beliefs that the United States manipulates Pakistani politics, was responsible for the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, introduces corrupting influences into Pakistani society, opposes the country's nuclear aspirations and is dominated by a Jewish lobby that is anti-Islamic and hence anti-Pakistan. This anti-Americanism is unfocused politically, but it can be dramatically mobilized. The mob attack on the United States Information Service building in Islamabad in February 1989, like the much more destructive assault on the U.S. embassy compound a decade earlier, are vivid reminders of how anti-Americanism can be fanned.

Benazir Bhutto is immensely popular in the United States, and her present policy lines are about as compatible with our interests as would be those of any of her likely successors. Nevertheless, the United States has no particular stake in her or in her political party and should avoid involvement in internal politics. Moreover, her future is far from certain and the United States should not want to be in the position of close identification with her-or for that matter with any Pakistani political leader.

Our interest lies in the maintenance of democracy rather than in any more specific outcome. Our ability to exert influence is really quite small; thus, as far as possible, our assistance should be provided in ways that do not enhance the image of any political group. We should not involve ourselves in the workings of the Pakistani political system-something that in any event we understand only very imperfectly.

Despite widespread misgivings about the United States and a diminishing pool of enthusiastic pro-American sentiment in Pakistan, all mainstream Pakistani political leaders declare their attachment to the U.S. tie. They find the relationship useful and there is a widespread conviction that the United States must be placated. Overt anti-Americanism is generally restricted to the political fringes, though it could become prominent should the Pakistani political situation deteriorate and populist sloganeering become its currency. For the next several years at least, however, Pakistan is likely to be led by realists who will look to the United States warily but gratefully as long as acceptable benefits continue to flow.

This comfortable assumption, however, is based on the continued working of the political process. If it fails (through, perhaps, another military coup) and leadership of the opposition passes from the mainline politicians into the hands of radicals and extremists, Pakistan could become quite a different country-not an Iran, perhaps, but distinctly hostile to American interests.


What kind of relationship can be sustained between the United States and Pakistan? The 1980s cannot serve as a model. Our recent involvement in Pakistan has reflected a shared perception of a threat arising from the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, and there is little on the regional horizon to suggest an alternate basis for a high level of involvement. U.S. interest in South Asia is too slight to sustain intensive ties along the lines of the nostalgically remembered 1950s, when Pakistan was our "most-allied ally."

Our global involvement has declined generally since then, waning especially in South Asia, which is near the bottom of our priorities. The 1950s relationship was not tenable even in those more expansive times. It collapsed because the United States saw its ties to Pakistan solely in global terms of containing the Soviet Union and China, whereas Pakistan saw the support mainly in regional terms-i.e., against India. This faulty rationale was laid bare when the United States failed to support Pakistan against India in their war of 1965; Pakistanis still see this as an unforgivable betrayal of a loyal ally. Our interests then drifted elsewhere, and for the years thereafter the trend line of U.S. concern with Pakistan remained at a consistent, and fairly low, level.

There were sharp, brief deviations from this state of affairs. The United States became involved, albeit futilely, in giving Pakistan political support in the Indian-Pakistani war of 1971. And in the early Carter years the U.S.-Pakistani relationship deteriorated drastically over the nuclear issue, only to improve greatly in response to the invasion of Afghanistan. Significantly, each of these deviations came about not because of specific U.S. interests in South Asia but as a result of global concerns-superpower politics and nonproliferation. When there is no such intervening factor, we must assume that the relatively low trend line is the normal level for U.S.-Pakistani relations and for our approach to South Asia in general.

Nevertheless, the future course of Pakistani policy toward the United States is not clear. While Benazir Bhutto has taken great pains to cultivate ties to the United States, it is not certain just how she will shape them in a time of potentially turbulent change. There has, however, been a fairly consistent tendency in Pakistani policy that provides a historical example from which to estimate the future. From its earliest days, Pakistan looked to the Muslim world as its preferred ally and support, and nonalignment was as natural an impulse for Pakistan as it was for India. Lack of response from other Muslims and the perceived threat from India overrode these preferences in the early 1950s and resulted in the U.S. alliance. In the following decade, however, as Pakistan came to realize that the U.S. relationship was not reliable in dealing with the Indian threat, it reached out elsewhere: first to China and for a while to the Soviet Union, then to an increasingly self-conscious Islamic world, and most recently to the Nonaligned Movement.

Diversification has been a constant in Pakistani foreign policy now for nearly a quarter-century, even during the years of close U.S.-Pakistani ties in the 1980s. But even a broad array of Third World friends could not provide sufficient support; Pakistanis recognize that only the United States can counter a threat from the Soviet Union. With the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, the more pressing danger comes once again from India. This means that Pakistan must ensure itself of whatever support it can, since the United States is not willing, or perhaps even able, to provide guarantees against India. The task for Islamabad, then, is to maintain its diversified support while still maintaining access to U.S. security assistance.

Pakistan's broad web of other relationships, with the exception of China, would not survive markedly closer U.S.-Pakistani cooperation. The presence of obvious U.S. military and intelligence facilities in Pakistan would spell the end of Pakistan's membership in the Nonaligned Movement. The Muslim relationship (which is also important in Pakistan's domestic politics) would conflict with U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in many likely Southwest Asian contingencies. Pakistan would not, to cite only the most obvious examples, support the United States against Iran or in any contingency that involved support of Israel.

Another factor may now appear in Pakistani foreign policy calculations. The Soviets cannot be satisfied to have so important a neighbor as Pakistan remain permanently hostile, and even under Zia, Pakistanis recognized that tolerable relations with the Soviet Union are essential to their long-term security. When events are ultimately sorted out in Afghanistan, a major Soviet initiative to repair relations with Pakistan would be a logical extension of the approach to Asian security that Mikhail Gorbachev outlined in the speech he delivered in Vladivostok in July 1986. While Pakistan would react cautiously and with realism, it would welcome a Soviet initiative.

Given the poor state of Soviet-Pakistani relations recently, even a limited improvement could be very striking and disturbing to some Americans who value Pakistan greatly as an adjunct to U.S. policy directed against the Soviet Union. The situation thus offers little encouragement to those who would establish a close security tie to Islamabad. Pakistan cannot be part of a strategic consensus, a forward position for the launching of the Reagan Doctrine into Southwest and Central Asia, or our proxy in the Gulf. Yet as we have seen, Pakistan will remain an intrinsically important country in a location where the United States needs friends but has few of them.


In the coming months this foreign policy situation should provide a context for debating key issues in U.S.-Pakistani relations: the scope of the U.S. aid program and how to confront Pakistan's nuclear endeavors. The first priority will be the redefinition of the U.S. assistance program-its overall size, its composition and, indirectly, what weapons systems we are willing to sell to Pakistan.

The amount of aid Pakistan receives from the United States is very large. Pakistan vies with Turkey for third place among U.S. recipients, behind Israel and Egypt-two very special cases. Beginning in 1982 the United States provided aid in the amount of $3.6 billion for five years, divided equally between military and economic assistance. In late 1987 Washington agreed to provide a further package of $4.02 billion for the next six years ($670 million annually) on generally concessional terms, with 57 percent targeted as economic aid and the remainder as military assistance, mainly for the purchase of U.S. weapons. Congress must make annual appropriations to meet the commitment, however, and fiscal years 1988 and 1989 saw cuts often and 15 percent respectively as a result of overall budget constraints. The administration's request for fiscal year 1990 of about $630 million, itself $40 million short of the 1987 pledge, still has to pass congressional scrutiny.

Now that the focus on Afghanistan is receding and U.S. budget stringencies are ever greater, extraordinarily high levels of aid cannot and should not be maintained. Before negotiating new levels the U.S. and Pakistani governments must define the points at issue lest the debate get out of hand and lead to a downward spiral of recriminations. Pakistan still has a strong case to make for economic support even after the bulk of the Afghan refugees go home. It remains a needy country with many economic problems; it has provided admirable support to U.S. foreign policy goals in Afghanistan-and the 1987 aid agreement was not explicitly conditioned on continued fighting there. The American record of policy consistency in South Asia generally, and with Pakistan particularly, is a dismal one; if we are to maintain some degree of credibility, we must work to ensure an orderly continuation of the relationship. Even more, it would ill behoove us to turn our backs on a nation that has so impressively reembarked upon a democratic path.

The Pakistani and U.S. governments might deflect part of the pressure to gut the aid program by adjusting the ratio still further away from the controversial military components in favor of the more popular economic programs. They might also jointly agree to an overall reduction of the program that would be substantial but would leave the bulk of it intact. Since at least part of the rationale of the program was to offset the economic burden that the Afghan refugees put on Pakistan, some reductions could be phased over time to reflect any outflow of refugees, and the money saved could be earmarked for refugee rehabilitation inside Afghanistan. Some of this money could perhaps be used for procurement of supplies from Pakistani sources, thus minimizing the foreign exchange loss that Pakistan would sustain. Many Afghan refugees may also remain in Pakistan for a long time while their country is pacified; Islamabad deserves support as it continues to host them.

But Pakistan also has an argument for keeping the military component of U.S. aid substantial and for maintaining Pakistani access to U.S. weaponry. Islamabad is entitled to a defensive capability against India, a militarily superior and not always reassuring neighbor. There is a case to be made too that a reasonably well-armed Pakistan will be a more secure and, hence, a more stable country with which to deal. Some also believe that a comfortably armed Pakistan is less likely to go nuclear. In addition, Pakistan's democratic experiment is still hostage to the Pakistani army. If Benazir Bhutto is to enjoy the army's continued acquiescence in her rule, she must be able to demonstrate that she can deliver the goods that the army wants-including access to American weaponry.

American arms were provided, however, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; with the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan's concerns are overwhelmingly with India. The United States will have to reassess its security assistance program in that context. The United States has no stake in the Indian-Pakistani rivalry, and we owe Pakistan no more support against India than it is willing to provide to us against, say, Iran. What we are concerned with is stability in South Asia-an elusive condition that seems to require a level of armament that builds Pakistani self-confidence but is tolerable to India. This is a narrow, perhaps impossible, path to follow, defined in political more than technical terms.

The following guidelines would, however, seem appropriate in evaluating Pakistani arms requests.

First, requests should be turned down for systems that cannot conceivably be used against anybody except India. The Harpoon naval missiles supplied by the Reagan Administration-hardly suitable for combat along the landlocked Pakistani-Afghan frontier-were the most egregious case of this kind. Maritime reconnaissance aircraft fall into the same category, unless Pakistan uses them to cooperate with the United States in surveillance of Soviet naval activity.

Second, Washington should avoid selling systems that are of very high symbolic importance or that introduce a significant qualitative escalation into the South Asian arms race. The airborne early warning and control system fails both of these tests; although AWACS is in itself nonlethal, it is a powerful force-multiplier. In the post-Afghanistan environment it would be inappropriate and in any event would consume an inordinate amount of Pakistani resources.

Because of our military supply relationship over the past eight years, significant parts of the Pakistani army and air force are committed to using U.S. systems. As a matter of credibility and simple fairness, the United States should remain willing to support and, within reason, expand and upgrade them. This includes supplying modernized M-48 tanks and air defense and, most important, a reasonable number of additional F-16 fighter aircraft, which are currently the lead item on the Pakistani shopping list. The F-16s are, inevitably, the item that the Indians complain about most strongly, but the main political cost to our relations with New Delhi of supplying them to Pakistan has already been paid, and the sheer expense of the F-16s has apparently forced the Pakistanis to postpone requests for other big items that might be more difficult for us to provide.

While Pakistan needs a substantial military capability and the United States has a role to play in providing it, we have no obligation to be the country's principal armorer. If we shift our aid more toward economic objectives, Pakistan can look elsewhere for a larger share of its military purchases. Thus, even though the United States has become Islamabad's principal source of armor, and although the M-1 tank would be a logical next step in upgrading in line with the criteria described above, we should encourage Pakistan to look to China or some other supplier for its new generation of armor as an opportunity to scale down our involvement.

This position may not be welcomed by Pakistan, but its current impact would be slight and it would meet all of our implied and explicit commitments. One of the virtues of Washington's military supply of Islamabad, for some Pakistanis, is the fact that it drives an ever thicker wedge between the United States and India. That, however, is Pakistan's agenda, not ours. Our comparative advantage in South Asia is not in the military area and no significant policy goals will be achieved by an emphasis on military supply. Over time, the United States should yield its position as the principal source of arms for Pakistan, and correspondingly deemphasize the Reagan Administration's attempt to woo India with military technology.


In any case, there is a danger that the opportunity to shape our economic and security relationships with Pakistan will be preempted by other difficult bilateral problems. It was Pakistan's nuclear program that plunged the U.S. relationship to the depths it reached in the Carter Administration, and a decade later that problem has become worse.

By a variety of subterfuges, some of which are in direct contravention of American law, Pakistan has apparently acquired the ability to produce a small number of nuclear weapons.1 Because of the Afghanistan situation, the United States turned a blind eye to Pakistan's program in the 1980s but it will be increasingly difficult to do this in the future, especially for Congress. The issue will arise directly in view of the need to grant further waivers of legislation that prohibits aid to any country that imports nuclear enrichment technology. This waiver got through Congress only narrowly last year; it will not have the Afghan factor to help it along when it comes up for renewal in April 1990 or, even earlier, as it is taken into account in planning the budget for fiscal year 1990.

In addition, legislation requires that the president certify each fiscal year that Pakistan does not possess a nuclear weapon. Although last year the administration made this certification, it warned Congress that this would probably be the last time it could be done. It is also possible that Pakistan will take some step that violates U.S. law or reneges on some commitment that we have (or think we have) from them, even before then. These dangers are particularly acute since the new U.S. liberal constituency that Benazir Bhutto has won for Pakistan is much more sensitive to the proliferation issue than the conservatives who have hitherto been Pakistan's principal support.

Although Bhutto has sent some reassuring signals about Pakistan's willingness to forgo nuclear weapons, the choice may not be fully hers to make, for this is another area where the military has staked out a strong role for itself. In any case, it is hard to imagine any Pakistani leader abandoning the program as long as India keeps its nuclear option open, and New Delhi has shown no interest in any joint approach to the nuclear issue that does not take China into account.

Among U.S. options is the termination of assistance to Pakistan, both to demonstrate Washington's seriousness of commitment to nonproliferation and to act as a form of pressure. (Washington could justifiably extend this policy to India as well.) The Carter Administration's experience is a reminder, however, that we might end up not only seriously damaging our relations with two important countries but also losing what little influence we have over their nuclear policies.

Neither Pakistan nor India has actually exploded a nuclear device since India's sole test in 1974, and neither currently seems inclined to do so. It may be in our interest to try to maintain this situation, since tests would only spur both sides on to further demonstrations and could tempt other near-nuclear powers to follow suit. A test is a well-demarcated firebreak: it would be clearly verifiable and would automatically trigger a cutoff of U.S. aid under 1976 legislation. Other partial steps such as getting Pakistan to agree not to enrich uranium to weapons-grade strength are vague and difficult to verify. Although we should conscientiously explore the possibility that the new Pakistani government might be willing to renounce its nuclear weapons program, an agreement not to test, seconded even tacitly by India, could be a reasonable target that the Pakistanis too may find acceptable for some time to come.


Afghanistan remains a key factor in U.S.-Pakistani relations, but with the Soviet withdrawal, the previously parallel Afghanistan policies of the two countries may not only diverge but even become a source of conflict.

Good ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan have historically been the exception, not the rule, and under the best of circumstances disputes may arise that could place the United States uncomfortably in the middle. More immediately, Pakistan supports elements in the Afghan resistance whose Islamic vision for Afghanistan hardly fits American preferences. (A radical Islamic republic in Afghanistan is probably not Benazir Bhutto's preference either, but this is another area in which her authority is circumscribed by the military and intelligence services.)

Universal aversion to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan permitted the temporary papering over of antagonistic views among the badly split Afghan resistance and among its supporters in Pakistan and the United States. In the United States there remain substantial differences over how we should relate to the Afghanistan-Pakistan complex in both the short and longer terms. Even if the Afghans are able to put together an interim government that forces the communists out, there will be ample opportunity for disagreements that could break any of these fragile consensuses. More debacles along the lines of the Jalalabad siege, moves to include the communists in an interim government, or major conflicts over the role of Islamic fundamentalists could lead to disruptions in U.S.-Pakistani relations-especially since some of Pakistan's strongest supporters in the public and in Congress may be least tolerant of divergent approaches to Afghanistan.

In a different category, but also troublesome, is the narcotics situation that developed during the Zia years. Pakistan is now a major source and transit route for heroin reaching the West; the trade flourishes and is facilitated by rampant corruption. Matters will only get worse as Afghans return to their homeland and look for a quick-growing, lucrative crop to plant. American law mandates a 50-percent aid cut for countries that fail to take effective measures against narcotics trade and production. Thus far, Pakistan has not been judged delinquent-in part because of Afghanistan war considerations but also because of a recognition that the government's capabilities are limited.

Prime Minister Bhutto, whose generation knows the costs of addiction from bitter experience, has taken a helpful and active role in dealing with the narcotics problem. Pakistan has good reasons of its own to curb narcotics: it now has some 650,000 addicts of its own and drug money is devastating its society. If the Pakistani government fails to deal with the narcotics problem for its own reasons, there is not much that we can do to motivate them more strongly. As long as Pakistan is making a serious effort to meet the problem and is extending reasonable cooperation to U.S. drug enforcement authorities, it makes much more sense to handle this problem on the basis of shared concern rather than punitive measures.


Our relations with Pakistan cannot be conducted solely in a bilateral context. India is the dominant regional power and is effectively in a position-by itself or with Soviet support-to exercise a veto over many things we might want to do in South Asia. Pakistan, for its part, has shown considerable skill in derailing our policy initiatives toward India.

As long as the two countries are at odds, our ability to pursue relations with either of them is limited. In early 1987 military exercises by each side nearly got out of hand and threatened the peace along the Indo-Pakistani border in the Punjab. The peace is routinely broken in the extreme north of the disputed Kashmir region where both sides are spilling blood over a remote and meaningless glacier. New Delhi denounces Islamabad for assisting the Sikh separatists in the Indian portion of the Punjab, while Pakistan decries India's domineering and hegemonic attitude toward its neighbors.

A more positive note was struck at the meeting between Benazir Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi during the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Islamabad in January of 1989. The two apparently established good rapport and signed several agreements, notably a pledge not to attack each other's nuclear installations. The Indians admit privately that Pakistan under Bhutto is meddling less in the Sikh problem and prospects for achieving a modus vivendi appear better now than they have been since Bhutto's father and Gandhi's mother met at Simla in 1972. Geopolitics in South Asia, however, remains very much a zero-sum game, to the detriment of the regional states and the continual frustration of outsiders who seek to deal with it. Mistrust and enmity are deep-seated, and neither Bhutto nor Gandhi yet has the political strength needed to make the kinds of concessions that are necessary if the two countries are to attain genuine détente, let alone friendship.

The primary American objective should be to facilitate an understanding among the South Asian states, even though we cannot shape the regional dynamics. Our only critical interest in South Asia is that the area not be dominated by the Soviet Union. Fortunately the regional states share that objective; their ability to enforce it is directly related to the extent that they can minimize their differences, which provide the entrée for outside meddling in security affairs. We ourselves are, of course, sometimes one of the outside meddlers, but in South Asia (in contrast, say, to Central America) we can tolerate exclusion from security matters as long as it is similarly enforced on the Soviet Union. Our relative strength, after all, is our economic and cultural attractiveness; our military capabilities are relevant primarily at the global level where they maintain the overall balance within which individual regions can work out their own destinies.2

Ideally, our South Asia policy should grow out of our relationship with India, even more than with Pakistan. New Delhi, however, is at odds with us on many major global and regional issues, and its policy is designed to minimize American participation in South Asian affairs. India is in any case consumed by preparations for national elections later this year. The relationship with India needs the attention of U.S. policymakers, but Pakistani issues are the ones demanding most urgent attention.

The changed context of U.S.-Pakistani interaction over the past year both permits and requires a reappraisal reflecting the complexity of the relationship. This is an exceedingly delicate task given the conflicting pressures-the interrelated concerns of the United States for stability and for progress in the democratic experiment, the need to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship with Pakistan that does not arouse unrealistic expectations on either side, the sometimes conflicting elements of global and regional policies (whether toward Afghanistan, India or the Persian Gulf), and a realistic assessment of the tools that we have available to pursue our policy objectives. More than anything else, perhaps, it requires a recognition that there can no longer be a patron-client relationship between our two countries. Pakistan is a mature international actor that must be dealt with on a basis of sovereign equality and with the realism that has increasingly characterized U.S.-Pakistani dealings in the past several years.

While both Pakistan and the United States recognize the importance of their relationship, each must also recognize its limitations. Pakistan is neither an area of high priority interest for the United States nor an instrument of U.S. policy; we are only one of the country's foreign policy supports and our interests only partially overlap. There are however many things that each can do for the other, and it would be unfortunate if they were not done because the United States had rashly abandoned its policy instruments in dogged pursuit of single-issue policies. It would be equally unfortunate if realistic goals were overlooked in favor of more grandiose, but ultimately futile, globalist designs that sought to employ Pakistan as a surrogate in pressing forward the Reagan Doctrine in Southwest and Central Asia. In its current state the relationship needs to concentrate on small but tenable achievements, for it lacks the substance to sustain dramatic gestures, or to survive them when they fail.

1 See Nuclear Weapons and South Asian Security, Report of the Carnegie Task Force on Non-Proliferation and South Asian Security, Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1988, for a detailed examination of the Indian and Pakistani programs and the U.S. relationship to them.

2 For a fuller discussion, see Thomas Perry Thornton, The Challenge to U.S. Policy in the Third World: Global Responsibilities and Regional Devolution, Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986.

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  • Thomas P. Thornton is Adjunct Professor of Asian Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of The Johns Hopkins University. From 1977 to 1981 he was a senior member of the staff of the National Security Council, concerned with South Asian affairs.
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