- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's recent South Asian visit, which included stops in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Nepal, is part of a three-pronged U.S. agenda for South Asia. Washington wants to avoid a war between India and Pakistan, keep Pakistan cooperating in the war on terrorism and gain India as a long-term strategic partner.

Mr. Powell must walk a narrow line to satisfy both India's and Pakistan's immediate demands without endangering the broader U.S. strategy.

Eight days ago, Mr. Powell declared his visits to Pakistan and India "encouraging," saying the two countries were back on the path toward dialogue. His trip, which also included stops in Afghanistan and Nepal, was portrayed as a mission to bring India and Pakistan back from the brink of war over the disputed Kashmir region.

The focus on Kashmir belied a deeper U.S. agenda for South Asia, however. Although Washington wants India and Pakistan to avoid another war, it has little intention of trying to solve the Kashmir issue. Rather, Mr. Powell was seeking to ensure continued Pakistan support for the U.S. anti-terrorism war while simultaneously locking India in as a long-term strategic partner for the United States two ends with often-conflicting means.

It is an extremely delicate balance for Washington to satisfy both Indian and Pakistani demands without endangering the broader U.S. strategy.

Washington has long linked its policies toward the two South Asian nations, operating under the principle that actions toward one automatically carry implications for the other. With the collapse of the Soviet Union a traditional supporter of India South Asian nuclear tests and the 1999 Kargil conflict, Washington attempted to "delink" its relations with India and Pakistan. That's diplomatic shorthand for distancing itself from its former allies in Islamabad and seeking out New Delhi as a future partner to contain a burgeoning China.

But as events following September 11 have clearly demonstrated, "delinkage" has proven politically impossible.

The United States has separate plans for its current and future ties with India and Pakistan. These plans will radically shift the balance of relations in South Asia and beyond.

Washington wants to maintain Pakistan as an ally in the short run, but primarily as a tool in its self-declared campaign against terrorism read Islamic terrorism. This requires a broad shift in internal Pakistani policies.

President Pervez Musharraf was already working toward such a shift, but his slow, measured actions accelerated after September 11 as Islamabad attempted to reposition itself in the rapidly changing politics of the region.

Washington is encouraging even pressuring Gen. Musharraf to speed up a campaign to secularize Pakistan that is already potentially destabilizing. Meanwhile, it is looking to India as a future strategic partner.

India, a strategically located and emerging power, is an ideal complement to Washington's expanding presence in Central Asia. Also, by tightening military relations with India, Washington can simultaneously reduce Russia's reach to the south and add another ally to contain any future threat from China.

Every step Washington takes toward India, however, detracts from its policy in Pakistan. And each move to support Islamabad is seen by New Delhi as a slight to India.

Thus Mr. Powell's visit, couched in terms of stemming the tensions over Kashmir, was a delicate walk along a narrow edge. The secretary of state was tasked with reducing the threat of imminent war in South Asia.

Mr. Powell's statements during his visit were filled with nuance and slight variations, in attempts to appease both sides without alienating either.

For example, before flying to Pakistan, Mr. Powell said any solution should take into consideration the "wishes of the Kashmiri people" a nod to Pakistan's endorsement of a referendum in the region. Upon arriving in India, he said the issue should be resolved by direct dialogue between India and Pakistan. The subtle difference plays to India's adamant opposition to third-party negotiations.

Mr. Powell supported Gen. Musharraf's recent speech calling for a crackdown on Islamic militants, commending the Pakistani president for taking steps in the right direction. He also extended President Bush's invitation for Gen. Musharraf to visit Washington.

Rodger Baker is a senior analyst at Stratfor in Austin, Texas, a provider of global intelligence to private companies and subscribers. Its Web site is Stratfor.com.

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