Sunday, June 14, 2009

India’s Challenges

May 19, 2009 -- Editorial - New York Times

The Indian National Congress party cannot afford a prolonged celebration after its overwhelming election victory. Much of the postvote analysis has focused on the daunting domestic agenda. But now that Congress has a stable mandate — and can shuck a fractious coalition — it is time for India to exercise the kind of regional and global leadership expected of a rising power.

It can start with neighboring Pakistan, arguably the most dangerous country on earth. A report in The Times on Monday reminds us just how dangerous: The United States believes Islamabad is rapidly expanding a nuclear arsenal thought to already contain 80 to 100 weapons.

We have consistently supported appropriate military aid and increased economic aid to help Pakistan fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, strengthen democratic institutions and improve the life of its people. Squandering precious resources on nuclear bombs is disgraceful when Pakistan is troubled by economic crisis and facing an insurgency that threatens its very existence.

Trying to keep up to 100 bombs from extremists is hard enough; expanding the nuclear stockpile makes the challenge worse. Officials in Washington are legitimately asking whether billions of dollars in proposed new assistance might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program. They should demand assurances it will not be.

India is essential to what Pakistan will do. New Delhi exercised welcome restraint when it did not attack Pakistan after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai by Pakistani-based extremists. But tensions remain high, and the Pakistani Army continues to view India as its main adversary. India should take the lead in initiating arms control talks with Pakistan and China. It should also declare its intention to stop producing nuclear weapons fuel, even before a proposed multinational treaty is negotiated. That would provide leverage for Washington and others to exhort Pakistan to do the same.

It is past time for India — stronger both economically and in international stature — to find a way to resolve tensions with Pakistan over Kashmir. If that festering sore cannot be addressed directly, then — as Stephen P. Cohen, a South Asia expert at the Brookings Institution, suggests — broader regional talks on environmental and water issues might be an interim way to find common ground. Ignoring Kashmir is no longer an option.

India has played a constructive role in helping rebuild Afghanistan, but it must take steps to allay Islamabad’s concerns that this is a plan to encircle Pakistan. It should foster regional trade with Pakistan and Afghanistan. More broadly, India must help to revive world trade talks by opening its markets. It could use its considerable trade clout with Iran, Sudan and Myanmar to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, end the genocide in Darfur and press Myanmar’s junta to expand human rights.

India is the dominant power in South Asia, but it has been hesitant to assume its responsibilities. The Congress Party has to do better — starting with Pakistan.