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Strategic Significance of Pakistan

RALPH BRAIBANTI is one of the first American scholars
to study PAKISTAN. This summary is taken from a keynote
address in Washington on June 5, 1996

The critical role of Pakistan as a factor in international stability and global politics can only be appreciated when it is placed in the context of a global resurgence of Islamic identity. The pre-eminent characteristic of Pakistan is its Muslim episteme. When established in 1947 in the name of Islam it was the most populous Muslim nation in the world. While the secession of Bangladesh in 1971 reduced it to second place after Indonesia, it remains one of the most conspicuously fervent of the fifty-four member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that declare themselves constitutively Islamic. The invocation of Islam as its raison d’etre places Pakistan as one of the few nations, along with the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia founded explicitly on religious doctrine rather than by historical accident or colonial invention. A realistic assessment of its role in the world requires a survey of its ideological universe - Ummah - the global commonwealth of Muslims.

The last fifty years of this century have been indelibly stamped by the remarkable resurgence of Islam as an international political force. The end of empire released powerful energies which had been suppressed by colonialism. The effect of this explosion has been both global and profound; benign and sinister. Since the creation of Pakistan and the establishment of Israel a year later, scarcely a week has passed without the world's attention being called to Islam. These activities have spanned the spectrum of the human condition: mass migration, war and peace, oil blockades, boycotts, political development and political disintegration, famine and plenty, catastrophe and relief, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, hostage-taking, boundary disputes, destruction of mosques, aggression and secession. These events cover the globe: from Palestine to the Philippines, from Kashmir to Kuwait, from Cyprus to Chechnya, from Bangladesh to Bosnia, from the Central Asian Islamic republics to Morocco and the Sahara, from Turkey to Brunei and Yemen. Pakistan has been critically involved in almost all of these episodes.

The greatest migration in history was the exchange of 11.5 million people between India and Pakistan in 1947 accompanied by the massacre of another half a million. The migration of 3.5 million Afghan refugees into Pakistan from 1979 to 1987 was almost as disruptive. The separation of Bangladesh was, until the dismemberment of the Soviet empire in 1991, the only successful secession of the post World War II era. Three wars with India over what is essentially a boundary dispute bloodied with ethnic cleansing in Kashmir, and now continued turbulence and terrorism based in part on drug distribution and in part on the presumption of the development of nuclear weapons capacity.

The position of Muslim nations and the perception of Islam as an international political force has changed in the last half century. The 54 predominantly Islamic states constitute one-third of the membership of the United Nations. Muslim minorities, including that of the United States, are becoming influential political forces. In fact, the political recognition of Muslims is beginning to equal their bulk as a quarter of the world's people.

Another development of profound significance is the new attitude of Christianity toward Islam. Mainstream Christianity has abandoned its missionary zeal and exclusionary views of other religions. These new attitudes, elucidated in a series of Vatican documents, Ecclesiam Suam (1964), Lumen Gentium (1964), Nostra Aetate (1965) are deftly, brilliantly, almost poetically summarized in a series of brief essays by Pope John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope. This view of Islam is shared by mainstream Protestantism as well. A dramatic symbol of this new recognition of Islam was the investiture in May 1996 of Dr. Asad Husain of Chicago, by the Vatican with the Order of Merit of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. This papal order was founded in the 11th century for the protection of Jerusalem against Muslims This was the first time in history that a Muslim was thus honoured.

While there are profound theological differences between Islam and Christianity, there are also significant complementarities. For example, social harmony between Christians and Jews has always been a central tenet of Islam. That harmony became discordant largely because of competition between Islam and Christianity for conversion of the world as epitomized by the Crusades. More recently, the competition has been exacerbated by the Jewish seizure of Palestine and unequivocal Western support of Israel led by the United States.

Taken as a whole, the significance of these developments is astounding. They represent a reversal of sentiments deeply imbedded in the West for more than a thousand years. This new sentiment provides a philosophical underpinning and emotional climate which is encouraging a new partnership between the West and Islam. No longer is it Islam against the West, but Islam and the West co-operating in political action against the decline of civilization. In this new era of inter-civilizational understanding Pakistan plays a crucial role.

Unlike any other Muslim nation, Pakistan has a complicated web of relationships with the entire world of Islam (Ummah). It is a mistaken notion to think of Pakistan exclusively in the context of South Asia or the South Asian subcontinent. Having fragmented from that subcontinent with no exclusionary topographical boundaries separating it from the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan and the disputed area of Kashmir, that assumption is easy to make. But it is erroneous. The topographical barriers separating Pakistan from its western and northern neighbours - Afghanistan, Iran and China - are much more formidable, but the cultural affinities are greater still. Afghan-Pushtu culture oversteps the Durand Line. Baluch-Brahui tribal culture is found in the Baluchistan of Pakistan and in the Baluchistan of Iran.

These links with its western neighbours existed long before pre-partition India. Indeed all the boundaries in the area, such as the Durand Line, the Radcliffe Boundary and the McMahon Line were drawn to satisfy colonial interests; not to delineate ethnic/linguistic/cultural identities. The relationship with Afghanistan, always fraught with difficulties, has been woven into a denser web in consequence of Pakistan's pivotal role in the Soviet-Afghan War. The links with Turkey and Central Asia have historical roots. The Muslims of the subcontinent absorbed, as Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi has so poignantly written, "layers of immigrants from Arabia, Iran, Central Asia and the Afghan mountains; the greatest impact was made by the Central Asians, because they seem to have been the most numerous and also because the ruling dynasties were overwhelmingly Turkish." Qureshi states that the painting of such artists as Chugtai and poets such as Hali, Iqbal and Ghalib all have an Iranian flavour. He quotes the "great thinker" Shah Waliu'llah who suggests that the Muslims of India were travellers in a strange land dreaming of the roses, nightingales, cypress forests and running springs of Iran and Central Asia. This romanticized view of the wellsprings of Pakistani culture was reinforced by the separation of Bangladesh in 1971 and the emergence of strengthened bonds with the Islamic states to the West.

Roughly 30 percent of Pakistan's population is Shiite and the second largest concentration (after Bombay), of Parsis (Zoroastrians of Persian origin) is to be found in Pakistan. The economic and political facet of this cultural affinity takes form in the Economic Cooperation Organization established in 1993 by ten contiguous states - Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and the six Central Asian Islamic Republics. It supersedes the entity known as Regional Cooperation Development (RCD) formed in 1964 by Turkey, Iran and Pakistan which was never very effective. This new organization (ECO) holds greater promise than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation of 1983 (SAARC). The latter has been crippled by the relatively overwhelming size of India and fear that India's conduct defines a hegemonic propensity of ultimate danger to Pakistan. The relative success of the Economic Cooperation Organization and the failure of SAARC are institutional reflections of the tighter linkage of Pakistan with Central Asia than with the subcontinent. The connections with the Arabian Peninsula are also significant. Changing the name of the industrial city of Lyallpur to Faisalabad after Saudi Arabia's late monarch, Saudi Arabia's financing the International Islamic University in Islamabad and the King Faisal Mosque, one of the largest in the world, are but a few symbols of the Arabian connections. The training of large numbers of Mujahideen (freedom fighters for religion) in Pakistan to fight in the Afghan-Soviet war, and the participation in that war of Saudi Arabian fighters has had a curious aftermath. Many of these warriors, left without a cause, are now in Bosnia along with Iranian mercenaries. Some are said to be in an underground resistance movement against the Saudi regime. If this is so, it thrusts Pakistan ever more deeply into the maelstrom of international Muslim political activities.

The valiant efforts of Pakistan to deepen the Islamic nature of its polity have been especially appreciated in Saudi Arabia. The detailed research and published writings of Maulana Syed Abdul 'Ala Maudoodi (1903-1979) and the organization he headed, Jamaat-i-Islami, have been admired. It is of some significance that Maudoodi was the first recipient of Saudi Arabia's King Faisal International Prize for his contributions to Islam. The regime of President Zia-ul-Haq was also respected for its efforts to deepen the Islamic component of the political system.

The millions of Pakistanis working in the Gulf States help the Pakistani economy by their remittances. Pakistan sends one of the largest delegations of hajjis performing the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. Membership in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been an important source of moral, political and sometimes financial support for Pakistan. A distinguished Pakistani barrister, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, served a term as its Secretary-General. Earlier a Pakistani, Umer Chapra, headed the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) which controlled Saudi public finances. The network of connections with the non-Muslim West is equally extensive. While Pakistan has experimented with indigenous political systems such as Basic Democracies under Ayub Khan and Nizam-i-Mustafa (Way of the Prophet) under Zia-ul-Haq, its political structure is essentially that of the British parliamentary system, to which a variation of American judicial review has been grafted. Parliamentary debates are printed in English; proceedings of Pakistan's provincial High Courts and the Supreme Court are conducted and decisions are printed in English. English is the medium of instruction in universities and in training centers for the civil service. Pakistan, along with South Korea and Vietnam, was one of the three largest recipients of American foreign aid in administrative reform, agricultural development and especially during the Afghan-Soviet war, of security assistance.

This reliance on English language and western structures is unmatched in the Muslim world. Only Jordan can be said to have a similar condition. Pakistan's Islamic polity embraces the Qur'anic mandate of respect for non-Muslim minorities, especially 'Ahl al-Kitab' (the 'People of the Book', i.e. Christians and Jews). From 1960 until his retirement in 1968, a devout Roman Catholic, A.R. Cornelius, was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. A Roman Catholic minority, largely of Goan ancestry and based in Karachi is led by Joseph Cardinal Cordeiro. The valuable properties of the Catholic and Anglican as well as other churches, although in some cases unused, have never been threatened with expropriation Parsis are similarly regarded with respect. While typically their interests are in business rather than government and politics, they have occasionally served as cabinet ministers or as ambassadors.

The capacity of Pakistan to sustain some fifteen major disarticulations in polity, power, and structure and still preserve a national identity is a phenomenon one is tempted to explain by recourse to the supernatural Pakistan which has been pummelled by external events (three wars with India, secession of Bangladesh, 3.5 million Afghan refugees) and disrupted by internal fissures (4 periods of martial law totalling 27 years and ethnic violence in Sindh) to a degree which no other state established since 1945 has suffered. In this respect it stands as an exemplar of a nation whose adversities "common sense" might suggest make its viability impossible. Yet its continued existence defies the reality induced by such speculation. The enormity and persistence of these difficulties and the resilience of the nation in absorbing and somehow surviving them must be regarded with awe if not admiration.

The relationship of Pakistan and the United States, while not unblemished by occasional disagreements, has been stable, amicable and constructive for nearly half a century. Pakistan was linked to the United States by the Mutual Defence Treaty of 1954 as well as by membership in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. Further bonds were forged by the Baghdad Pact, in 1955 first known as the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) and, after the withdrawal of Iraq, as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). In 1959 Pakistan and the United States signed the Bilateral Agreement of Cooperation which provided for assistance to Pakistan if victimized by aggression. There have been several dramatic manifestations of Pakistan's loyalty to the United States. In the late 1950s Pakistan allowed the construction of a then secret air base in Peshawar, from which U-2 intelligence aircraft made reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union. It was not until 1960 when one of the U-2 pilots, Francis Gary Powers, was shot down and captured in the Soviet Union that the nature and extent of this intelligence operation was revealed. Hafeez Malik, in a careful study of the U-2 incident, finds that the United States was able to increase its list of identifiable Soviet targets from 3,000 to 20,000 as a result of this surveillance. Pakistan's fidelity in preserving the secrecy of this operation was not without risk to the martial law regime of Ayub Khan. The Soviet Union was incensed by this action, and announced that Peshawar was marked on its war maps for bombing.

Although political agitation in Pakistan was sedated by the effectiveness of martial law, there was during this period a small but influential group of intellectuals more favourably disposed to the Soviet Union and China than was official government policy. Mian Mahmud Ali Qasuri, a distinguished barrister and Rabia Sultana Qari, the first Muslim woman to become a barrister on the subcontinent, although not Communists, were among such dissidents. Perhaps the most influential intellectual of this persuasion was the renowned poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz whom the Soviet Union decorated with the Lenin Peace Prize. When Faiz was arrested in 1959 China lodged an official protest. Several political groups such as the National Awami Party, the Awami League and the Jamaat-i-lslami, led by the influential cleric, Maulana Maudoodi, were also becoming active dissidents.

An uncommonly spectacular instance of Pakistan's fidelity was the secret mission of Henry Kissinger to Beijing in 1971. Kissinger, while in Pakistan, was said to be ill and was ostensibly motored to Nathiagali, a hill station, to recuperate. In fact, a look-alike made the motor trip in a car identical to the one Kissinger would have used. Meantime Kissinger was driven to Chaklala airport near Islamabad by Sultan Mohammed Khan, the secretary-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry. From there he embarked on a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane for Beijing where he met with Foreign Minister Zhou En-Lai and arranged for President Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972. Fewer than five people were aware of this extraordinary caper until several days later.

Pakistan played a critical role in the historic defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It risked its own stability by accepting 3.5 million Afghan refugees and by serving as a conduit for arms shipments from the United States to the Mujahideen. It has not yet recovered from the aftershock of this enterprise. Much of the drug traffic, smuggling, and terrorism can be attributed to this role in the Afghan crisis. In a nation whose religious ideology places a premium on the loyalty and steadfastness of friends, whether personal or political, Pakistan finds it difficult to comprehend the United States indifference to the Kashmir issue, its double-standard towards nuclear proliferation in South Asia, and its reluctance to repay the cash payment made for the purchase (with no delivery) of F-16 fighter aircraft.

It was earlier suggested that the resurgence of Islam as a political force in the world presents us with what will be the 21st century's most important political problem. We shall have to deal with this in our foreign policy. But we shall also have to confront it as a national problem, as Muslims are now the second largest religious group in the United States and are becoming a widely recognized political force. Pakistan can help us understand this phenomenon in a unique way. Pakistan is one of the few countries which has a long history of reconciling Islamic and non-Islamic values, of interpreting in English a moderating Islam in the context of western culture. This unique reconstruction (some would say modernization) of Islam began with the work of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) in pre-partition India. His orientation is revealed in the name of the institution which he sought to establish: Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College, which ultimately became Aligarh Muslim University. This reconstructive or modernist orientation is continued in the work of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) the Muslim poet-philosopher regarded as the creator of the concept of a separate Islamic state on the South Asian subcontinent. His Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a classic in modernist interpretations of Islam. The pre-eminent Pakistani historian, Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi, was preoccupied for several years with articulating Islam to modem constitutionalism. His book, The Future Development of an Islamic Polity is a brilliant analysis marked by clarity and comprehension of other political systems. The point of view of the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was in the same tradition - Islamic to be sure, but not militantly Islamic. Rather it was reconstructionist, progressive and modernist.

But Pakistan has also struggled with the opposite of the modernist views. I refer to the extensive writings of Maulana Maudoodi and to the decade (1979-1988) when General Zia-ul-Haq's Nizam-i-Mustafa tried to construct a polity closer to Maudoodi's ideals. The combined results of both the modernist and non-modernist activities is astounding. In sheer volume and intellectual content Pakistan has produced the largest English language body of written exposition of Islam as it relates to Western political thought to be found anywhere. Despite excursions into a more militant, less reconstructionist emphasis from time to time, Pakistan remains a source of adaptation, reconciliation, of Islamic and non-Islamic polities. This reservoir of understanding, especially when reflected in attitudes and policies of Pakistan's government can be of help to the United States in dealing with the global resurgence of Islam.

The portrayal of Pakistan here is that of a Muslim state which is truly unique. It is a state closely connected with both Persian and Arabian culture as well as with Central Asia and Turkey. Its subcontinental genesis links it also to Britain by virtue of 200 years of the British Raj and its membership in the Commonwealth. Its post-independence alliances with the United States give still another dimension to its global contacts. It would be an error to dwell on Pakistan's immersion in the larger orbit of Islam and its connections with the English-speaking world to the exclusion of its relationship to the subcontinent, from which it is, after all, a detached fragment. The 13 percent of the population of India which is Muslim is one factor which links Indian Muslim and Pakistani interests.

To be sure the bonds of kinship are slowly fading; two generations of Pakistanis have never been to India. Yet it is the threat from India which is the primary determinant of Pakistan's security policies and is the most likely source of regional conflict which could easily become nuclear. The rhetoric of Hindu extremist groups in India calling for the expulsion of all Muslims to Pakistan exacerbates the tension. The massacre of Muslims in Bombay after the ascent of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Maharashtra professing anti-Muslim sentiment is an example of rhetoric becoming reality. Demolition of the Babri Masjid (Mosque) in Ayodhya and of scores of other mosques is further evidence of this attitude. The percentage of Muslims holding civil service, police, judicial appointments or selected positions in legislatures, always in the low single digits, sinks lower each year. That proportion is now between 1 and 2 percent although the Muslim population of India is 13 percent. Moreover the India of today is not the India of Mahatma Gandhi or Rabindranath Tagore at the time of partition in 1947. The ideology which they both espoused - ahimsa (non-violence), swadeshi (indigenous manufactures; cottage industries) and the Gandhian philosophy of satyagraba (political action based on non-violence) was the regnant idiom of its time. It captured the imagination of the masses and led to the end of British rule. Gandhi believed in a secular India which would respect and protect all religions, including Islam. His swadeshi movement placed great reliance on cottage industries and village self-government through the panchayati-raj, an institution prescribed by Article 40, Directive Principles of State Policy, Constitution of India. He favoured this pattern of development over high technology, large-scale industrialization and bureaucratic centralization. That Gandhian ideology commanded the admiration of the whole world. Swadeshi became the precursor of the appropriate technology movement later developed by E. F. Schumacher Ahimsa profoundly influenced the non-violent resistance movement of Martin Luther King in the United States. Now both the whole fabric and the separate strands of the Gandhian ethical system are hardly given rhetorical expression, let alone put into practice in India.

Yet it is the India of Gandhi which remains in the American imagination and distorts at every angle our impressions of India and hence our view of Pakistan. Modern India unambiguously regards itself as the dominant power in the region. It has waged war with China, three wars with Pakistan, occupied the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, annexed the Portuguese enclave of Goa, seized the princely Muslim state of Junagadh, annexed the Himalayan state of Sikkim, exerts political control over Nepal and Bhutan, intervened militarily in Pakistan's civil war which established Bangladesh, intervenes in the Tamil-Sinhalese violence in Sri Lanka, continues to conflict with Pakistan over the boundary of the Siachen glacier and is adamant in its refusal to implement a series of United Nations resolutions starting in 1948 calling for a plebiscite in Kashmir. In view of these well-defined instances of hegemonic impulse there can be little wonder about Pakistan's concern that its security technology should match India's. In his autobiography, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, analyzed the strategy of the United States to bring India and Pakistan together as a buffer against China. He deftly characterized the Pakistani view of India, "The idea of becoming subservient to India is abhorrent and that of cooperation with India, with the object of promoting tension with China, equally repugnant."

Like Kashmir to the east, Afghanistan to the west is a likely source of regional if not international conflict. The zigzag boundary between Afghanistan and Pakistan, plotted by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893 paid little heed to ethnic/linguistic factors. The formidable, hostile mountains of the border area are penetrated by hundreds of narrow passes, most of no utility for more than single file movement. The notable exception is the Khyber Pass famed in history and legend by the Anglo-Afghan wars and by Rudyard Kipling. For centuries Afghans moved freely in picturesque camel caravans across a border which had no meaning to them. Afghan nomads (powindahs) spent the winters with their herds on the lowland plateaus of the Northwest Frontier Province and returned to their mountain grazing in the summers. Pakistan's reception of Afghan refugees during the Soviet-Afghan war was merely an extension on a vastly enlarged scale of the powindah tradition.

The defeat of the Soviets left Afghanistan a torn country ruled by tribal or regional chieftains (khans). Hundreds of Islamic militants from several Muslim countries remain behind in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Training camps for militants, centers for the distribution of arms to other Muslim countries as well as smuggling and drug operations have been established. Amir Taheri reports that the Mujahideen have established autonomous "Arab emirates" in Paktya and Kunar provinces bordering Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province and in the narrow panhandle, Wakhan, a buffer between Tajikstan and the remote tribal enclaves, Chitral and Gilgit. Gilgit has been part of Jammu and Kashmir since its annexation in 1863 by Maharaja Rambir Singh. It, together with Hunza, Nagar and Skardu, now comes under the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Ministry of the Northern Areas and Kashmir. It has a 24-member elected legislative council one of whose members is chief advisor to the principal administrative officer who holds the rank of commissioner and normally is appointed from the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP). Chitral now is a district of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) thus regularizing its rather ambiguous status as a former princely state. That ambiguity was commented on by the eminent geographer of the subcontinent, O.H.K. Spate: "The 'no man's land' nature of this transitional area is emphasized by the doubtful status of Chitral, administratively grouped with the NWFP but with a shadow of Kashmiri suzerainty, imperceptibly dropped - or lost to sight in a larger crisis - with the formation of Pakistan."

The strategic significance of Gilgit and Chitral was long ago suggested by Lord Ronaldshay's comment that they were "listening posts... in the vast system of natural defences which keep silent and eternal watch over the teeming plains of Hindustan." That description is as valid, perhaps more valid, today as it was one hundred years ago. Muslim extremists in the three Afghan provinces (Paktya, Kunar, Wakhan) are often referred to as Arab Afghans or Wahhabis. The latter is an obvious reference to Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of militants are scattered throughout the Peshawar area. Pakistan admits its inability to control the activity in Peshawar. This is nothing new. The tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province have always been on the fringe of central government control, whether British or Pakistani. The hostile mountain hideouts of the Arab Afghan feudal chieftains in the Afghan provinces are inaccessible in the winter. Even during the rest of the year they have been able to successfully resist intrusion by outsiders. Pakistan admits that only a massive all out military campaign would have any effect, and even that is doubtful. The entanglement of Pakistan and Afghanistan is further tightened by trade routes. Landlocked, mountainous Afghanistan depends on Pakistan's well-developed road network - the 4-lane Karachi-Peshawar Indus Highway and the 6-lane Lahore-Peshawar Motorway - and, to a lesser extent, its railroads to import and export goods through the seaports of Karachi and Gwadar on the Arabian Sea and strategically placed on the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The significance of Pakistan's western border was prophetically described nearly half a century ago by Spate: "Of the many grave problems confronting Pakistan none is more pregnant with difficulty and danger than that of the Frontier, more especially should it not remain localized. The whole future of Pakistan may well depend on a viable solution of this damnosa haereditas."

However, by far the most serious bone of contention is the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Although both India and Pakistan agreed in principle to a United Nations resolution in 1948 calling for a plebiscite, India has refused to implement that instrument until Pakistan withdraws its forces from the northern third. The cease-fire line, supervised by United Nations forces is now known as the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan refuses to withdraw its forces until India does so. India insists on keeping some of its forces in place even if Pakistan complied. It relies on a provision of the U.N. resolution which called on the withdrawal of the "bulk" of Indian forces Pakistan has established a separate entity, Azad Kashmir, in the area it controls. India is adamant in the view that Kashmir is an integral part of India and considers the matter closed. Some 1.5 million Kashmiri refugees live in Pakistan and nearly half a million are scattered throughout the world. The flight of Muslims and the in-migration of Hindus has changed the demographic composition somewhat. The latest census lists some 65 percent Muslim as compared with 76 percent in 1947. Three wars have been fought over Kashmir; tens of thousands of Kashmiris have been killed, tortured or raped as the Indian army tightens its grip on the area. Terrorism escalates to alarming dimensions. No end seems in sight. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons appears ever more real as both India and Pakistan are resolute in their claims. The region of which Pakistan is a part is the most unstable in the world. The phenomenal population explosion in Pakistan (250 million projected by 2025), poverty, ethnic rivalries, especially in Karachi, widespread violence are all problems not likely to be resolved in the near future. Nuclear proliferation is likely so long as the question of Kashmir is unsettled. The rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India with its anti-Muslim rhetoric is foreboding. Pakistan's relations with China which have resulted in nuclear technology transfer accentuate the strategic difficulties.

There is some reason for optimism in reviewing current United States Congressional understanding of Pakistan's pivotal position in world politics. In 1985, the Foreign Assistance Act, in an amendment sponsored by Senator Larry Pressler (R., S.D.) cut off aid to Pakistan unless the President certified that Pakistan "does not possess a nuclear explosive device". This certification was valid until 1990 even though the CIA reported that Pakistan was developing nuclear capability. This caution was ignored because of Pakistan's critical role in the Soviet-Afghan war. Waivers of the Pressler Amendment were extended until 1991 because of Pakistan's strategic importance and despite further evidence that it was developing nuclear bombs which could be delivered by F-16 fighter aircraft. With the end of the Afghan war, Pakistan appeared less important, and aid was halted in 1991. The nuclear proliferation issue became more tangled by the fact that Pakistan previously had purchased 28 F-16 fighter planes for which Islamabad paid $658 million but withheld a payment due in July 1993. After being thwarted twice by threatened filibusters, Senator Hank Brown (R., Colo.) succeeded in 1996 in getting an amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act passed which alleviated somewhat the strained U.S.-Pakistan relations caused by the non-delivery of the F-16's. The Brown amendment while not repealing the Pressler Amendment, allows the United States to sell the aircraft to other countries and return the $358 million to Pakistan. Plans are now well advanced to sell the planes to Poland. It has not yet been determined whether the refund to Pakistan will include accumulated interest. A refreshing aspect of the five years of debate on the F-16/nuclear proliferation issue was the appeal to fairness. It seemed to Senator Brown and others that it was dishonourable to receive payment from Pakistan and not deliver the goods or refund the money. This was not ethical business practice and was all the more repugnant when applied to a nation which had been a friend of the United States for nearly half a century. As early as 1994 Congressman Lee Hamilton (D., Ind.) Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee criticized the double standard applied to India and Pakistan. India has developed nuclear weapons, refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and was not denied aid. Hamilton related this to the Kashmir issue. He regarded the area as "the most likely place for the outbreak of a nuclear conflict." He advocated persuading Pakistan and India to work towards a nuclear-free zone in South Asia. The Brown Amendment was supported by the White House and signed into law as part of the Foreign Assistance Act as amended in 1996. This partial resolution of the F-16 issue puts Pakistan-U.S. relations back on a track of understanding from which they were derailed since 1991.

The intricate web of connections of nuclear non-proliferation, the tinder box of Kashmir, and equity in relations with India and Pakistan were accurately reflected in Congressional debates. They confirm unequivocally the potential dangers in the Pakistani "heartland." The issues of Kashmir and nuclear proliferation are closely related. While no solution to the Kashmir problem is in sight, there is evidence that the United States recognizes it as an important security problem. The members of Congress who supported the Brown amendment understand Kashmir's significance and for the most part are sympathetic to Pakistan's claims. President Clinton in an address to the United Nations on September 27, 1993 and in a letter to Kashmiri Americans dated December 27, 1993 made clear that peace in Kashmir was essential for "even small conflicts can threaten to take on murderous proportions". But these are merely glimmers of possible change in U.S. and U.N. policies. Forceful action to enforce pertinent U.N. resolutions has not yet been taken. There is not yet the perception that human rights violations are as horrendous in Kashmir as in Bosnia and that the injustice of India's continued tyrannical rule is of the same order as Israeli treatment of Palestine.

The critical geopolitical position of Pakistan recalls the views of Sir Halford J. Mackinder, Professor Karl Hausholer and Admiral Alfred Thomas Mahan. It was Mackinder. writing in 1904 who first used the expression "geographical pivots of history. He advanced the idea of the "heartland" i.e. that whoever controls a central strategic or pivotal area, controls the surrounding, area, the range of control expanding in concentric circles. These ideas profoundly influenced Karl Haushofer, an army major general then professor of geography at Munich University. Haushofer was introduced to Adolf Hitler by Rudolf Hess. Haushofer's theories influenced Hitler but eventually Hitler ignored his advice and sent him to a concentration camp. Haushofer's son, Albrecht, an art historian who had also written on geopolitics, was imprisoned participation in a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler and was executed by a firing squad. Shortly thereafter, his father committed suicide. Admiral Mahan advanced the same notion in terms of seapower - whoever controls the sea has influence if not control over adjacent landmasses. The precipitous decline in the respectability of geopolitics during and after the Second World War was due in part to the repugnance toward anything associated with Nazi doctrine or behaviour. Haushofer's early influence on Hitler was widely regarded as the ideological paradigm for Hitler's grand design of conquest. The fact that Haushofer was banished for advising against the German invasion of the Soviet Union did not lift the stigma. Later, nuclear warfare with the possibility of long-range destruction seemed to minimize the need for actual control of areas of land or sea. The geopolitical explanation of global strategy can be carried too far. The Mackinder-Haushofer paradigm was extremist in the sense that it did not take other factors such as climate and human behaviour into account. Ellsworth Huntington, a pioneer in analyzing geographical influences on human development, labels the Mackinder-Haushofer theories "fallacious". The blemish of their association with Nazi policy is evident in Huntington's criticism. Writing during the height of Hitler's power, he groups the Mackinder-Haushofer paradigm with the racist theories of Houston S. Chamberlain and Count Joseph A. deGobineau. In recent years there has been a marginal renewal of interest in the influence of geography on politics. The awareness of the criticality of "chokepoints" or "flashpoints" has contributed to this new interest. It is neither prudent nor accurate to label this development as geopolitics. The simple term "political geography" as developed by Isaiah Bowman as early as 1921 is a more useful and accurate designation. In the past decade a growing number of analysts of international politics such as Paul Kennedy, Ewan Anderson, William Pfaff, Saul Cohen, Jack Child have turned to classical geography for some explanation of contemporary issues. The rising incidence of low intensity non-nuclear conflicts in which control of pivotal areas of land and sea is critical also contributes to a reassessment of geography. Pakistan fits perfectly into a politico geographic paradigm. The geographic arc embracing Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan to the west and Kashmir to the east may well be the next source serious of conflict in the world. It may originate in the west, in the east or in both places at once. The disintegration of the Soviet Union- has created a geopolitical vacuum in Central Asia. The resurgence of Islam in the six Central Asian republics has provoked competing ambitions of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for influence in the area. The continued instability of Afghanistan and the dangerous ethnic violence in Pakistan increase the danger. Pakistani relations with China are friendly and cooperative; both share a distrust of India. In any event, Pakistan is at the epicentre not only by virtue of geography, but also because of its history, religion, culture and ethnicity. Whatever fire may emerge from this tinderbox, Pakistan will be a pivot. Perhaps the source of conflict or perhaps a mediating influence. Whatever the future holds, the United States must recognize the strategic significance of Pakistan.


Ralph Braibanti, Ph.D., L.H.D. is James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Duke University. One of the first Americans to study Pakistan, his first research trip was forty years ago. He was the first president of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies, when it was established in 1973. An abbreviated version of this article was the keynote address at the Fourth Annual Joint Meeting of the Pakistani American Congress and the United States Senate and House of Representatives Caucus on Pakistan, Washington, D.C. June 5, 1996.