Dancing with the Stars: India-Pakistan Edition

I highly recommend this account by Bruce Tolentino at In Asia about the flag-lowering ceremony that is performed each day before packed ampitheatres on both sides of the only India-Pakistan border crossing:

Then, simultaneously, the guards from each side launch repeatedfusillades of choreographed marching and gestures. Aggressively, theyrush the border, furiously stamping their feet, glaring and snorting attheir foes. They stop – inches from one another, never crossing theborder – raise their arms to shoulder height and display thumbs pointeddownward, dismissing the other. Excitement and tension among the crowdsrepeatedly builds and swells, erupting in applause for their respectivenational warriors.

This is the deep-rooted civil component of Pakistan and India’s broader strategic culture, a strategic culture that the “regional approach” as conceived from Washington fails to account for. By insisting that Pakistan’s military focus on the Taliban, and not India, it is essentially demanding that it ignore not only its own strategic calculations, but those of its population as well. And although it might seem very obvious from Washington that India does not pose a threat to Pakistan, it is less so when seen from Islamabad. Or from New Delhi, for that matter, where the outgoing head of India’s air force revealed that India had indeed considered striking Pakistan (via John McCreary) following the Mumbai attacks last November.

I’m not convinced that the Taliban have the capacity to topple the Pakistani government, let alone defeat its military. But I’ll tell you what could achieve the former and significantly undermine the credibility that the military needs to avoid the latter: If the Pakistani army did redeploy from the Indian border, only to then be caught unprepared by an Indian attack that Pakistanis, if not Americans, consider to be its primary function to repel.

Certainly a decision by India to attack would be unreasonable, but part of what makes it unreasonable is the Pakistani deterrent. That is why Indian purchases of AWACs are still met with Pakistani promises to purchase more (U.S.) missiles. And regardless of what military planners in the U.S. have to say about it, that’s still a reasonable response in the context of the two countries’ relations.

Certainly reducing tensions between Pakistan and India should be a focus of U.S. policy. But it’s not something we can achieve by decree, and the fact that our Afghanistan War strategy in some ways hinges on it happening is troubling, to say the least.

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