Cohen urges US-Pak civilian nuclear deal


Following is a piece published in The Nation

WASHINGTON  – Stephen Cohen, an eminent American expert on South Asia, has asked Washington to formally recognise Pakistan’s nuclear status through civilian cooperation. He underlined in his latest book the vital importance that normalisation of Pakistan-India relations holds out for US interests in the region. “The United States has a strong interest in the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations that goes far beyond normal “good” ties to each of them. Their normalisation is more important than Afghanistan’s stabilisation or building India up as a barrier to an expanding China,” Cohen advocates, while proposing a new US approach to South Asian peace prospects. He underlines the tremendous economic regional benefits as well as formation of a strong democratic region if Pakistan and India make progress towards normalisation.

In his just-published book,”Shooting for a Century:The India-Pakistan onundrum,” Dr. Cohen looks into some causes and implications of outstanding issues between the two South Asian countries, particularly the longstanding Kashmir dispute. Cohen observes in the book that ironically, the one fear that steered US policy after the end of the cold war’nuclear proliferation’ turns out to have important implications for India-Pakistan normalisation and “suggests further modification” in American policy.

The United States, he stated should encourage the two neighbouring states to take advantage of the reality of deterrence and work toward a stable nuclear regime, while maintaining the tightest control over the use of the weapons.  “Washington went part way down this road when it entered into a civilian nuclear deal with India that legitimised New Delhi’s nuclear status; it should find a formula that does the same for Pakistan, with the caveat that being a full member of the nuclear club means that Pakistan’ and India’ must assume the obligations set forth for nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).” Dr.Cohen has previously authored books including “The Idea of Pakistan” and “The Future of Pakistan.”

While pushing for normalisation of Pakistan-India relations in the new book, the expert notes that some in India might greet a new American initiative with skepticism, but the recently completed American policy document on India actually encourages regional cooperation, and a carefully crafted US initiative might be more welcome in New Delhi than previous efforts. Doubts will exist on the Pakistan side, but America has stuck by Pakistan and its interest, like that of India’s, is to see a stable democratic Pakistan emerge over the next decade., he said. “Part of the new approach would be to confirm Pakistan’s identity as a South Asian state,” Cohen writes.

The US,for its part, should do everything it can to use its current cooperative programmes with each state to encourage them to work together, and it should support all measures to bring about regional economic agreement and cooperation.

“Its guiding principle should be this: the pace of normalisation and cooperation must be dictated by the two regional states, not by America. At the same time, all parties must understand that American help is a necessary but not sufficient condition for regional normalisation to come about.”

Cohen also faults the first Obama administration for  its lack of a coherent regional policy, saying it “failed to develop a South Asia policy that would have encompassed both India-Pakistan relations (including Kashmir) and the grinding war in Afghanistan.”

In this context, he reveals that in mid-2012 President Obama approved a classified national decision directive for India, but there was no such directive for South Asia, or for Pakistan.

Cohen comes out with a mixed view of the US policy of dehyphenation that Washington has practiced in the last decade in its relations with Pakistan and India and calls for selective engagement on regional issues. He remarks that the dehyphenation policy said nothing about India-Pakistan relations. “There was merely a non-policy of hope that the two would not push their crisis very far. Kashmir was off bounds, except for diplomatic urgings for normalcy, while other regional issues were addressed through a dysfunctional division of responsibility.” The acclaimed expert pinpoints that “events in Afghanistan have unduly shaped America’s Pakistan policy,” and urges that Pakistan’s concerns about Indian role in Afghanistan must be worked into American policy calculations.

He proposed to the Obama administration’s that its South Asia policy needs to address the organisational dysfunctionality that handicaps American policy toward this quarter of the world.  Although, Cohen devotes a lot of attention to the lingering Kashmir conflict in the book, he feels the issue should not be at the center of America’s regional policy. Such a US policy should also explore the possibility of India-Pakistan strategic cooperation in Afghanistan, and retain some elements of dehyphenation, the author proposes.