Building On The Clinton Visit : Problems And Prospects Of Cooperation In The Region

“Building on the Clinton Visit: Problems and Prospects of Cooperation in the Region”

By Kant Bhargav

At The Symposium on”President Clinton’s Visit To South Asia” Organized By The Woodrow Wilson Center & National Advisory Council of South Asians in United States, June 01, 2000

Basically Visit to India: Let us be clear that President Clinton’s Visit to South Asia was essentially a visit to India. Bangladesh got added by way of curtsey and stopover at Islamabad was because of compulsion. Messages for South Asia: But there were several messages -implicit and explicit -for whole of South Asia in his pronouncements. In fact he makes the point about South Asia abundantly clear in the very first paragraph of the article he wrote for Los Angels Times Syndicate before he undertook the trip. “With one fifth of the world’s people, with its traditions of democracy, with its embrace of economic openness and scientific progress, South Asia has the potential to be one of the world’s biggest success stories in the next half century. But it still faces enormous challenges-and dangers.” Importance of need to accept diversity: “The world will never be that way unless South Asia is that way”. On harmony: “I do believe if we can lead the region, or you can, away from the proliferation of dangerous weapons to proliferation of new ideas, new companies and technologies and away from racial and ethnic tensions we now see in the troubled spots in South Asia, we can have the sort of harmony I saw in the little village (Naila in Rajasthan)”. On violence: “you cannot expect a dialogue to go forward until there is absence of violence and respect for LOC” & “this era does not reward people who struggle in vain to redraw borders with blood.” On Role of the United States: “I am not going to mediate the dispute between India and Pakistan. America cannot play that role unless both sides want it. But I will urge restraint, rejection of violence, respect for Line of Control, and renewed lines of communication.” On South Asia’s future “I can imagine a future for South Asia where the people of each nation choose their own democratic destinies, where tolerance is embraced, the threat of regional war is a thing of the past, and countries cooperate for better education and health and prosperity. The region is not there yet. But I know that most South Asians share this vision. The United States wants very much to help make it a reality.”

Two months after his visit where is South Asia? Is South Asia building on his visit? What are we doing in regard to his DOS and Don’ts for South Asia? Paradigm Shift The most important outcome for South Asia from his trip is the paradigm shift that US interest in India has undergone. To quote from his article “We want India to be strong, secure, united-a force for a safer, more prosperous and a more democratic world.” In his address to the Parliament he even went to the extent of citing three basic lessons which India teaches i. e. about democracy, about diversity and about globalization. All this has profound global and regional significance in our present day world where the Power and Wealth games interact. He did drop enough hints that the process of enlarging the Security Council could not take place without India being part of it. His statements about India, messages and hints need to be properly understood by other South Asian countries. A strong India will also be a force for a safer, more prosperous and a more democratic South Asia. I am emphasizing this point because there are elements in other South Asian countries that unnecessarily labor the point about so called Asymmetry Issue arising from the size and centrality of location of India in the region. In fact at the Kathmandu Conference on “South Asia 2010: Challenges And Opportunities” held in December 1999 organized by the Coalition for Action on South Asian Cooperation (CASAC), some participants mentioned this factor as an important one responsible for lack of progress in SAARC. With some difficulty my point was conceded that it was quite possible under certain circumstances to convert the size and location of India to the benefit of every one in the region.

It is important here to recall President Clinton’s Address to the Indian Parliament in which he said “Every country-America included-is tempted to cling to yesterday’s definition of economic and military might. But true leadership for the United States and India derives more from the power of our example and the potential of our people New Beginning, Increasing Engagement of US and India: (a) Implications for Prospects of South Asian Cooperation From now on relations between USA and India will no longer be viewed from the prism of cold war. As a senior US official put it, terms of relationship have changed. Moreover, the two countries are to consult on Asian security matters. Decision has been taken to institutionalize a whole series of high-level multifaceted consultations on security, international economic matters, trade and finance issues, science and technology, energy and environment. There is conscious attempt to forge a deeper and better partnership. To quote from his address to the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry “it would be difficult to imagine the world that I would like to leave for my children without a deeper and better partnership with India.” “It is difficult to imagine India as she would like herself to be 10 to 20 years from now without a deeper and better understanding with the US.” All this has important implications for other South Asian countries. For instance, for all South Asian countries an intensive and constructive engagement is a must for taking full advantage of the globalization process. Other South Asian countries can facilitate their task by first engaging with India. India-US collaboration in struggle against deadly diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS will profit other South Asian countries. This applies to energy and environment also. India and US can jointly help other South Asian countries in tapping knowledge that promotes prosperity and growth in the information age. The role of South Asian Diaspora particularly of Indian Diaspora, which is inventive, economically creative and politically savvy, is very important. There is tremendous potential for the new economy to open a number of opportunities for creating wealth within South Asian nations. India can play a major role in driving this wealth-creation among the South Asian stakeholders.

Indeed, India can play the role of a locomotive in South Asia something akin to that played by Japan in East and South-east Asia during last two or three decades. (b) Problems of Cooperation Through out its long history, Cooperation and Conflicts have co-existed in South Asia. Problems in economic cooperation arise from political conflicts mainly bilateral in nature. Here after two months of President’s visit the picture is a mixed one. India-Pakistan relations are lowest ever in peacetime. There is disagreement between India and USA on gravity of South Asian situation. On the question of LOC, General Musharraf is not explicitly reaffirming the Joint Declaration (President Clinton and then Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff) of July 04, 1999. Pakistan does not seem to be giving up its search for artificial parity with India, leave aside its acceptance of India’s global role (as outlined by President Clinton) or of its pivotal role in South Asia. India is unwilling to resume dialogue with Pakistan till such time as there is tangible evidence of the latter stopping cross-border terrorism. While prospects of Kargil being repeated can be discounted, LOC has not been as quite as one would wish it to be. The return to the Lahore Process both in letter and in spirit is nowhere in sight. Added to this is the freezing at political level of the SAARC process of regional cooperation, though technical level meetings have now been resumed. (It needs to be added that even when SAARC was procedurally not frozen, thanks to Pakistan’s insistence on prior resolution of the core problem of Kashmir, substantive progress in the framework of SAARC was minimal). Even at Track II level, the argument by our Pakistan colleague runs like this: Pakistan did not exercise control over militant groups; delay in resumption would sideline moderate elements; difficult for General to control terrorist activities unless there is evidence of reduction in military activities. There is thus the situation of a near perfect impasse.


In my view major powers such as USA, EU and Japan have by now decided that if South Asia as a region can get its act together, then they will like to deal with it as a region also apart from their important bilateral relationship with India. If not, then they will go along with comprehensive development of their relations with India as it alone provides for them a big enough market and with it they have plenty of opportunities to pursue. In fact we need not be surprised if India becomes in the near future an important interlocutor if not a full-fledged member of G-8. I conclude by posing two or three questions. Firstly under these circumstances what should South Asian countries do? In my view other South Asian countries need to persuade Pakistan not to insist on prior resolution of Cashmere problem before SAARC can make substantive progress. They should even make it clear to Pakistan that in the event of Pakistan not changing its policy, they will have no option but to go along with India bilaterally and on basis of sub-regional cooperation. This also is the conclusion that is reinforced by messages from Clinton’s visit. At least for the time being, the India-US strategic partnership that is being forged is asymmetrical. But it is going to work, as it is a case of win-win situation for both sides. So can be the case in regard to partnership between India and its smaller neighbors. In case of USA and India, this has become possible because of the longest and most sustained strategic dialogue (12 rounds). It is necessary for India and its South Asian neighbors including Pakistan to institute uninterrupted, comprehensive and structured dialogues and create conditions that are conducive for their success. The economic fall-outs even in the short term from such an approach are clear. The political fall-outs will not be so clear in the short run. Secondly, what can the US Govt. and other well wishers of South Asia in USA do in order to build on the presidential visit so that whole of South Asia may gain from it? President Clinton’s messages are loud and clear. However, there has not been adequate response from military establishment in Pakistan. While one cannot characterize the present Indian approach on resumption of dialogue at bilateral and regional level as wrong, there is no denying the fact that it is sub-optimal. As has been mentioned, one cannot forget Kargil, but we need to transcend Kargil. Pressure on military rulers in Pakistan from elements of civil society could be a factor for change. And in a democratic society like that in India, unofficial opinions carry lot of weight. Therefore, it would be prudent to encourage dialogue among South Asians at Track II level if governments cannot come around to negotiating table. It is good that Ford Foundation has undertaken now a substantial program in this direction. More such initiatives can be undertaken. South Asian Diaspora can also play an important role. In particular we would like interested members of National Advisory Council of South Asians to join forces with our unofficial network Coalition for Action on South Asian Cooperation (CASAC) in our efforts to promote South Asian Cooperation. 1.