The Progressive Response
19 October 1999 Vol. 3, No. 37
Editor: Tom Barry

The Progressive Response (PR) is a weekly service of Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center and the Institute for Policy Studies. We encourage responses to the opinions expressed in PR.

Table of Contents

I. Updates and Out-Takes

*** PAKISTAN: MILITARY COUP IN SOUTH ASIA *** John Gershman of the Institute for Development Research

*** IRAN: TIME FOR DÉTENTE *** by Stephen Zunes

II. Comments


by John Gershman of the Institute for Development Research

(Editor's Note: The military coup last week in Pakistan was greeted cautiously by U.S. officials concerned about continuing instability, nuclear threats, and military action in South Asia. John Gershman of the Institute for Development Research offers this overview analysis of a failed U.S. security policy in South Asia.)

South Asia, while largely a strategic and economic backwater in Washington's eyes during much of the cold war, became more central in the 1980s as the U.S. relied on Pakistan as a base of operations to channel support to the anti-Soviet Afghan guerrilla movements. With the partial exception of the India-Pakistan rivalry, which the U.S. helped accelerate by its historic 'tilt' toward Pakistan throughout the cold war, most of the conflicts in South Asia (unlike in Pacific Asia) are not directly linked to the legacy of U.S. involvement in the region. The primary U.S. military presence in the region is the refueling facilities on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, positioned to support U.S. naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf. Most U.S. forces in the Indian Ocean are commissioned for intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.

Following tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998, India and Pakistan spurred their nuclear competition with ballistic missile tests in mid-April 1999. In keeping with the February 1999 Lahore Declaration, during this second round both states informed each other--as well as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council--in advance of the tests. The nuclear tests took place against a backdrop of renewed spending on conventional arms. Though conventional arms imports by India and Pakistan fell from $7 billion in 1990 to a low of $1 billion in 1994, they increased to $1.7 billion in 1996.

The Indian and Pakistani tests violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which all the declared nuclear powers (except India and Pakistan) and most developing countries are members. The objectives of that treaty were to freeze further expansion of the nuclear 'club' in exchange for steps toward disarmament on the part of the nuclear powers. India, Pakistan, and Israel remain the only nuclear powers outside the NPT regime. The Clinton administration imposed sanctions on both India and Pakistan in the aftermath of the tests (as required under law), but these were loosened and then lifted in December 1998. The sanctions were scheduled to be reimposed in October 1999 if India and Pakistan did not live up to commitments to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and to consider participation in other relevant multilateral nuclear arms control talks. The collapse of the Indian government in early 1999 and ongoing political instability in Pakistan cloud these commitments.

Kashmir remains the most immediate regional flashpoint, with the most recent outbreak of fighting in May-June 1999. A Pakistani-backed insurgency, met by an Indian-led counterinsurgency, has killed more than 30,000 people since 1989. Since 1998, both countries have effectively linked their nuclear escalations to the tensions in Kashmir, moving it onto the international agenda. U.S. encouragement of bilateral talks would be a useful step, as would expressing concern over ongoing human rights abuses.

U.S. security policy in South Asia is full of contradictions. In the nuclear realm, both India and Pakistan, justifiably, feel they are being held to double standards by the United States. India feels that Washington is willing to allow many more violations of nonproliferation in China, while placing sanctions on India. Pakistan feels that it is unfairly pressured to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as long as the United States does not require Israel to sign it. Pressure without an evenhanded, consistent global policy makes Washington's demands on India and Pakistan ring hollow. Now that India and Pakistan have committed to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the U.S. bilateral economic sanctions have been relaxed, pending their signing and ratification, the U.S. needs to act immediately to extend its own nonproliferation efforts, starting by ratifying the CTBT and taking clear steps toward disarmament as required under Article VI of the NPT. One step would be to declare that it is ready to dealert all its nuclear weapons on a mutually verifiable basis and to challenge all other nuclear powers (including Israel) to sign a multilateral agreement to do likewise. At the bilateral level, the U.S. must move to the next phase in strategic arms control, should pressure Russia to ratify START II, and needs to encourage China to expand its participation in multilateral arms control regimes. Condemnations of India's and Pakistan's tests are rank hypocrisy without concrete U.S. steps toward disarmament as part of the NPT bargain.

(John Gershman is a Research Associate at the Institute for Development Research.)

by Stephen Zunes

(Editor's Note: The following analysis is excerpted from a new FPIF policy brief on Iran by Stephen Zunes. According to Zunes, "Iran--with its strategic location, 60 million inhabitants, and control of 10% of the world's oil reserves--remains a major concern to those who formulate U.S. foreign policy, with myths and perceptions on both sides continuing to hamper close cooperation. After years of mistaken policies, the ability of the U.S. to influence the future direction of this important country is very limited, and U.S. officials find themselves on the outside looking in." The policy brief will soon be available in its entirety at: http://www.foreignpolicy-infocus.org/briefs/vol4/v4n28iran.html)

During pro-reformist demonstrations in Iran that were savagely suppressed by rightist elements in July 1999, both the Clinton administration and its congressional critics remained largely silent, with the State Department only making a terse statement in calling for Iranian recognition of international human rights standards. One reason for this quiescence was the fear that more open U.S. support of the students might lead to a hard-line backlash. Supporting efforts at liberalizing the regime rather than overthrowing it entirely would be a more realistic, legal, and moral option, as well as one more likely to restore American credibility.

Past U.S. actions toward Iran have made it very difficult for Washington to play a constructive role in steering Iran toward greater respect for human rights and a more moderate foreign policy. The best the U.S. can reasonably do at this point is to avoid policies that might encourage more hard-line elements and retard current trends.

There are three major areas where U.S. policy toward Iran could improve. First, a broader coordination in the formulation of policy is essential. On the domestic level, policy toward Iran should no longer be directed primarily by the Pentagon and national security managers but should include the perspectives of State Department area specialists, Iranian-American intellectuals, and others knowledgeable about the country. On the international level, the U.S. must reverse its unilateralism and should coordinate policy with the Europeans and others who share U.S. concerns. Enforcing already-existing safeguards against nuclear proliferation would be one particularly important area for such efforts.

Similarly, the U.S. should work through the UN and should support other multilateral efforts to create a new security regime for the region rather than simply fueling the arms race and exacerbating the suspicions and bellicose rhetoric between Iran and the Arab gulf states. The U.S. must also seriously consider the perspectives of the democratic opposition in Iran. Although the Iranian opposition--which supports the arms embargo and opposes direct support for the government until moderate forces consolidate their hold and liberalize further--is somewhat divided, most strenuously oppose the U.S.-led economic embargo against Iran.

Second, the U.S. must scrap its double standards. Rather than targeting only Iran, the Clinton administration must pressure Saudi Arabia and other allied regimes in the Middle East to end their human rights abuses. Once the need for evenhandedness is recognized, there are a number of potential agreements that could be solidified between the U.S. and Iran. For example, Washington could propose ending its support for Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon in return for an end to Iranian support of the Lebanese Hezbollah resisting that occupation.

Similarly, the best way to stop any potential procurement of nuclear weapons by Iran is to support the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Such a move would require both the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear forces from the region and a pledge by Washington to pressure Israel to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. Iran has long supported such a nuclear-free zone agreement.

Third, U.S. policy must include a carrot as well as a stick. There has been a great reluctance to reward Iran for good behavior, in part as a reaction to the misguided policies of the Reagan administration, which sent arms to hard-line elements in the Iranian military. To maximize its policy impact, Washington should let Teheran know just which Iranian policies will result in rewards or punishments.

Similarly, the U.S. must ascertain which of its demands for policy changes in Iran are reasonable and realistic. For example, given both the widespread support among Iranians for the Palestinians and the growing realization that the current framework of the negotiations are to the Palestinians' disadvantage, insisting upon Iranian governmental support of the U.S.-brokered Middle East peace process is unrealistic.

Iran will continue to play an important and unique role in the politics of the region based on its own perceived self interests. Despite persistent efforts to isolate Iran, the U.S. cannot change that reality. It is important that Washington find a way to encourage Iran to become a more responsible member of the community of nations and to end its repression against legitimate dissent.

This will require, however, that America reevaluate its policies toward both Iran and the Middle East as a whole. Détente between the U.S. and Iran is necessary if there is to be peace and security in the region. The current antagonistic relationship between the two countries serves neither's long-term interests.

(Stephen Zunes is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco.)

Sources for More Information

Center for Iranian Research and Analysis (CIRA)
Email: kdadkhah@lynx.neu.edu

Middle East Policy Council
Email: info@mepc.org

Middle East Research & Information Project
Email: meripae@igc.org
Website: http://www.merip.org

American-Iranian Council (AIC)

Data Center

Iranian Trade Association (ITA)

Iranians for International Cooperation (IIC)

II. Comments

by Shahid Bolsen

Pakistan has the bomb. It also has an antagonizing enemy, which also has the bomb. It has a passionately disputed territory which it dearly wants to see liberated from its enemy. And now, Pakistan has a new military leader who has proven his willingness to actively engage the enemy for the sake of that disputed territory, in defiance of world opinion. Seems volatile doesn't it?

Yet, one hears no stammer in the voices from Washington; no tense and indignant outbursts or warnings about illegal, despotic rebellion, or terrorist political solutions. At worst, the coup has been referred to as "extra-constitutional". Hardly a word dramatic enough to describe the rather awesome efficiency of the Pakistani army taking control of the airport, television and radio stations, scaling the walls of the Prime Minister's home and arresting him, while sending troops out across the country to detain most government officials; all in less than three hours.

The Pentagon was quick to declare that the Pakistani nuclear capability was under stable control, even while official word in Washington still used wording such as "if there has been a coup..." CNN reported that Pakistanis were "dancing in the streets" to celebrate the removal of Nawaz Sharif whose corruption, increasingly dictatorial style, and acquiescence to U.S. demands for the military pullout from Kashmir, have all contributed to widespread public hostility. But, the reticence of American reaction indicates that Pakistanis might do well to postpone their celebrations.

Pakistan is a country buckling under the weight of enormous debt, owing international creditors approximately $32 billion. It is reliant upon loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, although the IMF has only promised a total loan of $3.3 billion (the terms of which had not been negotiated before the coup), which still leaves Pakistan with an unmanageable debt of almost $30 billion. The fact that the terms of this loan are pending cannot be ignored in light of the coup.

The IMF program, more often than not, requires recipient countries to impose so-called "austerity measures" upon their populations, which, basically, re-channel public spending (education, health, and welfare) to service debt repayment. The corruption of the Sharif government, which many Pakistanis already felt denied services to the poor, and the consequent unpopularity of the government, quite likely would have made it impossible for Nawaz Sharif to successfully impose the IMF austerity measures.

The coup has changed the situation considerably. General Pervez Musharraf, whether he sets up a pseudo-constitutional government comprised of technocrats, or maintains a state of emergency, is in a position to impose any measures upon the people which he can justify as necessary for stability. Even a new constitutional government will undeniably be cognizant that their authority is subordinate to that of the military; the coup has established that fact. And, ultimately, all authority over Pakistan, including that over the military, unfortunately, rests in the hands of transnational financial institutions such as the IMF.

A coup can never overthrow a country's debt.

This is the explanation for U.S. calm. The military has, from the beginning, controlled Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, the coup has not changed this fact. The immediate imposition of sanctions, the suspension of IMF funding, the condemnation by the European Union, all are intended, not to punish Pakistan, but to take advantage of the state of emergency, requiring Pakistan's new leadership to prove its compliance, and. above all, to reassert that the coup has not changed Pakistan's dependence on foreign lenders.

There is little question that the United States was aware that a coup was pending; several weeks ago, in fact, President Clinton actually commented on it. And there is little question that, despite rhetorical disapproval, the U.S. is not chagrinned by the overthrow. It is worth noticing that, unlike the 1991 overthrow of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the United States is not calling for the return of the elected president. According to an October 16th Reuters article, a Washington official was quoted as saying that the reinstatement of Nawaz Sharif "was not a practical solution to the current political crisis." President Clinton said, ""as a matter of principle, the United States, any country, never attempts to select the leaders for any other country ... the people are supposed to do that, not us." Apparently forgetful that, in fact, Sharif was selected by the people in a much heralded democratic election.

Rather than seeking the return of Sharif, calls are made for a return to "constitutional government." This sufficiently demonstrates tacit American approval of Sharif's overthrow. A military invitation for General Musharraf to visit Centcom headquarters in Florida, informatively, still stands.

The most support Nawaz Sharif is able to elicit from his former sponsors is a polite nod from President Clinton in recognition of his acquiescent removal of Pakistani troops from the Line of Control in Kashmir. The U.S. does not mind supporting unpopular governments, until their unpopularity rises to such a level as to make them incompetent to fulfill their obligations as a client government.

A military dictatorship, even under the guise of a technocratic government, is far more reliable in imposing "macro-economic" reforms such as those required by the IMF, and in states of emergency, nearly any measures are accepted without opposition.

In the end, the change of governments in Pakistan does not raise much alarm in the West, simply because economic "globalization" has left most Third World governments with little more to do than carry out the edicts of Western powers.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto criticized Nawaz Sharif for running the government like his own private corporation, but with overwhelming debt, and minimal national product, General Musharraf may find that the CEO of that corporation is not the head of Pakistan, but the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

(Shahid Bolsen is a freelance writer based in Denver, who writes frequently about the Middle East and Central Asia.)

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