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India and Pakistan, Relations with


INDIA AND PAKISTAN, RELATIONS WITH. By the end of World War II, upwards of 250,000 U.S. soldiers had spent time in British India. However, both during and immediately after the war, the United States focused its military, diplomatic, and economic efforts on Europe and Pacific Asia far more than on south Asia. Britain itself left the Indian subcontinent on 15 August 1947, in part because of geopolitical and diplomatic considerations linked to the emerging Cold War centered on rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. Britain was already committed militarily in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and the U.S. government had been arguing that rapidly turning India over to noncommunist Indians would prevent it from "falling" to the communists at a later date. Independence resulted in the partition of British India along communal lines and the transfer of power to the new nation-states of India and Pakistan. The violence and mass migration that resulted left between 200,000 and 500,000 people dead and turned another 12 million into refugees.

The issue that had been at the center of the violence was the fact that the new border between India and Pakistan ran right through the Punjab; however, the main bone of contention between the new nations would prove to be Kashmir, one of the many princely states that had continued to operate within the wider ambit of British rule up to 1947. With independence, the princely states were expected to accede to either India or Pakistan. In Kashmir (with a Hindu ruling elite and a majority Muslim population), the maharaja resisted joining either Pakistan or India. Then, in the context of a Pakistani-supported rebellion, the maharaja turned to the new Indian government for assistance, in exchange for "temporary" accession to India that would be followed at some point by a plebiscite on the future of Kashmir. The plebiscite never took place, and Indian military intervention successfully secured Indian control over much of the mountainous region. Both India and Pakistan have continued to maintain a military presence in Kashmir and have engaged in sporadic fighting along the so-called "Line of Control" ever since.

The Cold War, 1947–1979

While encouraging the British to leave the subcontinent, the United States had taken a limited interest in the new nation-states of India and Pakistan that emerged in South Asia in 1947. Immediately after 1945, Washington's primary geopolitical concern had been with western and southern Europe and northeast Asia. However, the United States began to change its assessment of south Asia with the establishment of the Peoples' Republic of China in late 1949 and the start of the Korean War in 1950. By the beginning of the 1950s, some policy makers, politicians, and journalists were arguing that South Asia was of central importance to a range of key U.S. foreign policy goals. India, under the charismatic leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, was increasingly viewed as a possible political and economic model for Asia and the Third World. By the 1950s, Nehru's international profile and his commitment to a combination of parliamentary democracy, economic planning, and socialist principles that drew on Soviet, western European, and Chinese experience had helped to focus considerable world attention on India as a laboratory for postcolonial development. For some observers in the United States by this time, India was regarded as an important prize: they foresaw political and ideological benefits for Washington should it form an alliance with the most influential nonaligned government in Asia. According to this vision, if the United States strengthened ties with Nehru's government, Washington could help ensure that India would serve as an anchor for, and model of, democratic capitalist development in the Third World—to counter the explicitly anticapitalist and state-socialist alternatives exemplified by China and the Soviet Union.

For other U.S. strategists, however, Pakistan was the most important nation-state in the region for military-strategic reasons: they emphasized its proximity to the Soviet Union and its position in relation to the Middle East. By 1954, an emphasis on the relative importance of Pakistan led to a mutual security agreement between the United States and the Pakistani government. This was complemented by Pakistan's participation in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, formed in 1954, and in the Baghdad Pact, which was set up in 1955 (it was renamed the Central Treaty Organization in 1959 and was also known as the Middle East Treaty Organization). The flow of U.S. military assistance was driven by regional geopolitical considerations, but the strengthened military establishment that emerged in Pakistan viewed India as its primary enemy.

In 1953, Nehru used the impending military alliance between the United States and Pakistan to justify the cancellation of the planned plebiscite in Kashmir and substantially increase Indian defense spending. In this period the government in New Delhi also deepened its economic and military links to Moscow, while seeking to maintain good relations with the Chinese government. In response to these changes, the U.S. approach to south Asia shifted away from Pakistan somewhat and toward an emphasis on India by the end of the 1950s. The United States was worried that the Soviet Union was gaining influence in Indian government circles, as a result of its generous trade and aid arrangements.

There was growing concern that if the Indian government failed to achieve its national development plans, the strength of the country's communist movement would increase—and that economic decline in India could also enhance the Chinese government's prestige in international affairs. In these circumstances, the administrations of President Dwight Eisenhower (1953–1960) and particularly that of President John F. Kennedy(1961–1963) increased U.S. economic aid to India, while also trying to encourage improvement in Indo-Pakistani relations. With the apparent political stability in Pakistan under the military rule of the general, later field marshal, Ayub Khan (1958–1969), India and Pakistan, with the help of the World Bank, reached an agreement in 1960 about sharing irrigation water in the Indus basin. However, the issue of Kashmir proved more intractable. Furthermore, when the border dispute between China and India broke into open warfare in 1962 and the Indian army was quickly defeated (despite U.S. assistance), the Pakistani leadership concluded that it also had the military capability to defeat the Indian army. In 1965, by which time Nehru (who had died in May 1964) had been replaced as prime minister by Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964–1966), Ayub Khan instigated a war with India. The main arena of combat was Kashmir, where, despite expectations on the Pakistani side, the Indian army acquitted itself well. In September 1965, the government of Pakistan agreed to United Nations calls for a cease-fire. Subsequent negotiations (mediated by the Soviet Union) failed to change the position of either side on the issue of Kashmir.

Following the outbreak of war between India and Pakistan in 1965, Washington suspended all military and economic aid to both sides. Even food aid under PL480—a government program that supported commercial exports to third world countries—was disbursed via a "short tether" policy that involved shipping only enough food to last a couple of months. After 1965, the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (1963–1968) sought to limit U.S. aid and direct involvement in south Asia relative to the earlier period. Meanwhile, the political situation in Pakistan grew increasingly unstable by the end of the 1960s. In particular, relations between West and East Pakistan (separated by thousands of miles of Indian territory) deteriorated and the government of General Yahya Khan (1969–1971) launched a major wave of repression in East Pakistan. These events led to the Third Indo-Pakistani war in 1971. The Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi (1966–1977, 1980–1984), sent the Indian army to the assistance of East Pakistan and facilitated its break with West Pakistan to form the new nation-state of Bangladesh. This was followed by a summit meeting between Mrs. Gandhi and the new president of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1971–1977). They agreed to resolve differences between their two countries peacefully in the future and affirmed respect for the existing cease-fire line in Kashmir. Following this, relations between India and Pakistan improved during the 1970s.

The New Cold War, 1979–1989

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 had a major and immediate impact on U.S. relations with Pakistan and India. In 1978, U.S relations with Pakistan had worsened as a result of U.S. criticisms—most notably from President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981)—of human rights violations by the new military government of General Zia ul-Haq (1977–1988), which had overthrown the civilian government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (whom Zia executed). The relationship between the United States and Pakistan had also been undermined by Pakistan's attempts to develop nuclear weapons capability. In April 1979, in response to the Pakistani government's nuclear weapons initiative, the Carter administration suspended U.S. aid to Pakistan. However, once the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan, U.S. aid to Pakistan was restored and increased, and the Pakistani military, and military intelligence, played an important role (along with the Saudi Arabian and the Chinese governments) in supporting the loose coalition of resistance groups (Islamic Unity of Afghan Mujahideen) fighting the Soviet occupation. The dramatic turnaround in U.S.-Pakistani relations weakened the Carter administration's attempt to improve its relations with the Indian government. Under Prime Minister Morarji Desai (1977–1979), the Indian government sought to lessen its reliance on the Soviet Union. To this end, Desai and Carter signed the 1977 Delhi Declaration, which restated both governments' commitment to democracy and human rights. At the same time, Washington overrode restrictions on uranium sales to India as embodied in the U.S. Nonproliferation Act, which restricted the flow of nuclear materials to nation-states, such as India, if they did not agree to the system of safeguards outlined by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

These changes were insufficient to put U.S.-Indian relations on a more stable footing, once, after 1979, the United States resumed military and economic aid to Pakistan and began tilting toward China in the context of the war in Afghanistan. In 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had replaced Desai, moved to improve Indian relations with the Soviet Union. She announced a major arms deal, worth $1.6 billion, with the Soviet Union in May 1980. Then, in December, Leonid Brezhnev visited India and Mrs. Gandhi and the Soviet leader issued a public statement that condemned outside involvement in southwest Asia, a clear reference to U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Despite the strains on Indo-Pakistani relations that the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan created, Pakistan and India—along with Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives—set up a cooperation committee in 1983 that provided a forum for regular ministerial-level meetings. However, in 1986, there were major confrontations between the Indian army and its Pakistani counterpart on the Siachin Glacier in Kashmir. This led to dramatic troop concentrations between December 1986 and February 1987. By 1988, there were some attempts to improve relations, but the secessionist uprising that got under wayin Kashmir, with Pakistani support, during 1989 has ensured that Kashmir remains the key flash point of Indo-Pakistani relations and a source of concern in Washington.

The Post–Cold War Era, 1989–2001

The withdrawal of Soviet military forces from Afghanistan (between May 1988 and February 1989) and the end of the Cold War led to a significant geopolitical reorientation in south Asia. With the precipitous end of Soviet influence in the region, the United States turned its attention to two trends that were now seen to threaten regional stability. Both of these "new" threats were closely connected to Pakistan. In the 1990s, Washington became concerned about Islamic fundamentalism as Pakistan's foreign policy moved from an "anti-Soviet" to a "pro-Islamic" stance and the Pakistani government began to establish or improve relations with Afghanistan, Iran, and the former Soviet republics of central Asia. The United States also remained concerned about Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapons program. In 1986, the U.S. Senate had passed a resolution calling on the State Department either to certify that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons or end the disbursement of U.S. military and economic aid. By 1990, U.S. aid to Pakistan had been terminated. This trend paralleled major improvements in U.S.-Indian relations. India's foreign policy was entering a new era following the demise of the Soviet Union. The government in New Delhi, concerned about Pakistan's nuclear capability, greeted the end of U.S. aid to Pakistan with approval. In the early 1990s, there was a push for naval and military cooperation between Washington and New Delhi. Meanwhile, the Indian government signaled a further break with state-directed economic development via the promulgation of a range of liberalizing initiatives after 1991 that also facilitated improved relations with the United States. However, a new era of cooperation between the United States and New Delhi did not really materialize. For example, in 1993, Indian repression and human rights violations in Kashmir were criticized by President Bill Clinton.

In the 1990s the conventional and nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India accelerated, while efforts to form some agreement between the two states regarding nuclear weapons were unsuccessful. India had first tested a nuclear device in 1974. Thereafter, New Delhi had resisted pressure that it sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Indian government insisted it would only sign if all countries became signatories and if all major powers with nuclear weapons—including the United States—agreed to get rid of them. Pakistan also resisted demands that it sign the NPT, while the stakes were further raised when India made public in May 1998 that it had carried out five successful underground nuclear tests. These tests were aimed at countering the significant nuclear capability of China and the nuclear capacity that Pakistan had been working on for upwards of twenty years with the help of Beijing. Pakistan responded, despite U.S. efforts, by conducting two underground nuclear tests at the end of May 1998. Washington, with the support of Japan and a number of other nation-states, imposed sanctions on India and Pakistan in response. The Clinton administration subsequently reversed a number of the sanctions, allowing the International Monetary Fund to resume assistance to Pakistan when that country again appeared to be on the brink of a financial crisis. Nevertheless, until September 2001, many of the sanctions constraining the Pakistani military government of General Pervaiz Musharraf (who came to power in a coup in October 1999) remained in place. Then, within less than two weeks of the 11 September 2001 suicide bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush lifted all U.S. sanctions on Pakistan and India. Pakistan, in particular, was central to Washington's new "war on terrorism," which was directed at Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the closing months of 2001.


Jalal, Ayesha. The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

McMahon, Robert J. The Cold War on the Periphery: The United States, India, and Pakistan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Perkovich, George. India's Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Rosen, George. Western Economists and Eastern Societies: Agents of Change in South Asia, 1950–1970. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985.

Schofield, Victoria. Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan, and the Unfinished War. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2000.

Tahir-Kheli, Shirin R. India, Pakistan, and the United States: Breaking with the Past. New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1997.

Mark T.Berger

See alsoCold War ; Southeast Asia Treaty Organizations .

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