On India-Pakistan Relations
By Michael Shank
& Noam Chomsky
22 May, 2007
Noam Chomsky is a noted
linguist, author, and foreign policy expert. On April 26, Michael Shank
interviewed him about relations between India and Pakistan. This is
the second part of a two-part interview.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri cites a sea
change in India-Pakistan relations, agreements have been forged requiring
a pre-notification of missile testing, and both countries will soon
engage in a fourth round of composite dialogues. What else needs to
happen to provide a positive tipping point in Indo-Pak relations?
There are a couple of major problems that need to be dealt with. One
of them, of course, is Kashmir. The question is, can they figure out
a joint solution to the Kashmir conflict?
There are other questions:
about energy integration, for example, pipelines going from Iran to
India. India and Pakistan are now joint observers of the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization, which, if it works, will tend to bring about closer integration
of the Asian countries altogether. So is Iran, and the Central Asian
states, China of course, and Russia too. So it’s basically the
whole region except for South Korea has joined. And Japan probably won’t
It’s an emerging structure
of relationships. Meanwhile India-China relations are certainly improving.
They’re better than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are now
some joint energy projects.
The Shanghai Cooperation
Organization was China-initiated but there’s also an India-initiated
program by the former [Petroleum and Natural Gas] minister Mani Shankar
Aiyar. He had been initiating similar plans for Asian integration; he
had arranged conferences in India, joint projects with China and so
on. And China and Pakistan have pretty close relations so through that
connection India and Pakistan may overcome some of their conflicts.
In general the conflicts
in the region, the internal conflicts, most of them have been softened,
so they’re less sharp than they were in the recent past. This
is partly because of economic integration, partly because of the danger
of confrontation, partly because of outside enemies. All of them want
to become integrated with the west Asian energy producing system. That
brings them together as well through joint projects.
So I don’t know if
there’s an actual tipping point. But I think there is a gradual
improvement of relations and a willingness to put aside what could be
major tensions, like a terrorist operation in Mumbai or something attributed
to Pakistanis. There are attempts at reconciliation, which is a healthy
Now Kashmir is going to be
a difficult one.
you think Kashmir is a territorial issue or an issue related to secular
or religious identity? Pakistan sees Kashmir as their Muslim brotherhood
up north. For India, it’s emblematic of their secular identity.
Is it an identity issue or a territorial boundary issue?
Yes, obliviously that’s a factor in it. The Muslim population
and the Hindu population do separate on those lines. Does that mean
they have to be broken up? Not necessarily. There are 160 million Muslims
living in India. There has been tension and some serious atrocities
but it has been over the centuries a reasonably integrated society.
There are real dangers. The Hindu nationalist danger is certainly serious.
the UN step in to do for Kashmir what they’re now doing for Kosovo?
I think what’s needed is some kind of federal arrangement. Kosovo
could have been a model. As it’s now developing Kosovo will just
be independent. The counterpart would be for Kashmir to be independent.
And that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. India and Pakistan both
have interests. But some sort of federal arrangement, keeping the line
of control, with semi-autonomous regions loosely federated with each
other and with a broader South Asian federation, could be a direction
in which things could move.
you think the Pakistan and Indian diaspora in the United States or the
UK are doing anything to escalate tensions?
For some reason, which I don’t entirely understand, that’s
a very general fact about diaspora communities. In fact, almost every
one I know of. For example the Jewish community in the US, its organized
part, is much more rabid and extreme than Israel. The Irish community
in south Boston was much more extreme than Northern Ireland.
Take, say, the Armenian genocide.
All Armenians want to have it recognized but the pressures for having
national declarations is mostly coming from the diaspora. Within Armenia
itself, people have other concerns. For example they would like friendly
relations with Turkey. The diaspora doesn’t care that much; they
just want the recognition of this genocide.
it because the diaspora often leaves during a traumatic period and that’s
what fresh in their minds?
I don’t think so. It varies. The Irish immigration has been coming
since the 19th century. Take the Jewish immigration. They really became
extremists – again, I’m not talking about the population,
only the organized articulate part of it, which is a small part but
it’s the part you hear about -- they really became extremists
since 1967 but that’s not when they left Eastern Europe. It had
to do with internal developments.
I suspect that the tendency
towards a kind of extremism in diaspora communities may have something
to do with keeping them unified. Otherwise they would tend to assimilate.
In the home country they’re not going to assimilate, you don’t
have to prove you’re an Armenian or Israeli or Irish. But if you’re
in the United States and you want to maintain some kind of cultural
identity as a group it’s going to have some relation to the home
country. And often more extreme positions are taken than in the home
country because of the need to maintain identity. The one that I know
best is the Jewish community but, as far as I know, others are much
In the Jewish community there’s
a lot of concern over the disappearance of the community, through inter-marriage,
assimilation, and so on. Those who want to make sure that the community
stays together tend to be very Israel-oriented, much more so than the
general population is. And then they tend to become extreme. So you
have to defend Israel against every charge. Israelis don’t feel
that need, they can raise the charges themselves.
If you were an American abroad,
let’s say, forced to defend America against the French, you might
take a more extreme position than you would here. I think that kind
of dynamic works, in some fashion, with diaspora communities. There
is a notable tendency for them to be more fervent, nationalist, extremist,
and defensive than the home country is.
So yes, going back to your
question, what I’ve seen of the Indian diaspora -- I don’t
know much about the Pakistani diaspora -- is that it tends to be more
extreme, more pro-BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] than the native population
would. At least that’s what I’ve seen.
is attempting to renegotiate their nuclear agreement with the United
States, specifically to remove a U.S. legal requirement that it halt
nuclear cooperation if India tests another nuclear weapon. If India
is successful in renegotiating that agreement, what are the implications
for Indo-Pak relations?
As soon as the United States made the agreement with India, that had
immediate and predictable implications. The agreement with India was
in serious violation of U.S. law, the export law from the early 1970s
that was passed after the Indian test [“Smiling Buddha”
in 1974]. It was also in violation of the rules of the two major international
organizations, one that controls, or tries to control, nuclear material
exports, the other that tries to control missile technology exports.
There are two nuclear missile
control regimes, and they both require notification before anybody’s
going to do anything that would be inconsistent with their rules. And
the United States did neither, didn’t even notify them.
It’s a sharp blow against
two of the elements of the international system that’s trying
to prevent proliferation of nuclear technology, weapons technology,
and missile technology. It was predictable that as soon as the United
States broke it someone else would break it too. And shortly after,
China approached Pakistan with sort of a similar agreement. I don’t
know exactly where it stands now but it’s clear that’s what
they would do.
Russia will probably do the
same and others will do the same. Once you open the door others are
going to follow. And that is a serious blow to the whole non-proliferation
system. So anything that India does, Pakistan is going to try and balance.
I guess that’s the way to disaster.
That’s why there’s
a very serious critique of the U.S. agreement with India within the
disarmament community. People like Gary Milhollin, for example, very
sharply criticized it. Michael Krepon who’s the founder of the
Stimson Center and a major specialist, has an article in a recent issue
of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warning that this could very
well lead to the breakdown of all nonproliferation systems. I think
he ends up his article by saying that Bush wants this agreement to be
his legacy and Krepon says, “Yeah, maybe it will be his legacy,
but it may mean the end of the species when you think of the way it
Milhollin was also very bitter.
He said for the United States it is being done partly just for commercial
reasons. It opens exports markets in India. In fact, Condoleezza Rice
testified in Congress to that effect: that it would have commercial
value to the United States, it would open Indian markets for exports.
Milhollin suggests, if I’m remembering correctly, that the main
exports might be military jets. That’s exactly what we don’t
want because that’s going to again be a trigger for escalation.
India gets more advanced offensive military forces, Pakistan will want
the same, and China will want the same.
Japan will come to the United States asking for a stealth fighter jet…
And then it spreads over East Asia and beyond and you’re off and
running. The world needs control of these exports, not escalation. India
is playing a complex game. It’s apparently trying to maintain
something of its traditional non-aligned role. So it’s agreeing
to closer relations with the United States, but it’s also at the
same time developing closer relations with China and insisting on its
own independence as in the effort to renegotiate this deal.
mentioned the existence of extremism in the diaspora, but looking internally
within South Asia, how much has the U.S.-Pakistan alliance in the so-called
war on terror been responsible for the rise of extremism in Pakistan?
How is it fostering extremism, if it has at all?
I’m not sure it has. These are very complex problems internal
to Pakistan. For example, is the United States concerned about Baloochi
terror inside Iran, based in Pakistan? It’s probably fostering
it. We don’t have any direct evidence but there have been clearly
terrorist acts in Iran, which are based in the Baloochi areas in Pakistan.
And it’s very likely that it’s part of the general U.S.
program to disrupt Iran.
the last time you and I talked, you speculated that United States was
in Iran fostering ethnic division…
I would assume so. One has to be a little cautious when talking about
terrorism. From the U.S. point of view, there’s good terrorism
and bad terrorism. And Pakistan has its own problems. The Baloochi areas
are very antagonistic to central rule for good reasons. Pakistan also
has complex relations with the Northwest Territories and the tribal
areas. It’s held together in a very fragile fashion, Pakistan.
The United States supports the central government and is claiming that
it’s not acting as militantly as the United States would like
to control its sub-populations. And if it tried to, the country might
blow up. Musharraf has to walk a very delicate line, also with regard
to allowing some democratic opening in the country, which is not easy.
extremism is on the rise in South Asia, which a lot of people say it
is, how does one go about undermining extremism, in this case religious
In India and Pakistan there is a very dangerous development. One of
the roots of the BJP is a quasi-fascist Hindu extremist movement. And
for India that is extremely dangerous, as is Muslim extremism, as is
Christian extremism in the United States. These are very dangerous movements.
They are not inherently destructive. They could take a constructive
path but that’s not the way they usually develop.
How do you combat them? The
same way you combat any other dangerous movement: education, organization,
looking at the issues that make them arise. Often they arise out of
real or perceived oppression, as a reaction to it. So, for example,
take Islamic radicalism. A large measure of it was a reaction to the
fact that secular nationalism was destroyed -- partly because of its
own internal corruption, partly because of external force.
When you destroy the opportunities
for secular alternatives to develop, people aren’t going to give
up. They may turn to religious movements for identity. That’s
one standard reaction to oppression and a loss of opportunity.
You can see it happening
very clearly in the Islamic world, the Muslim world. In fact, the United
States and Israel both fostered religious extremist movements in an
effort to undermine secular nationalism. Hamas, for example, is an outgrowth
of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was supported by Israel as an attempt
to undermine the secular Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
Hezbollah was the direct result of the Israeli conquest of part of Lebanon,
in an effort to destroy the secular PLO -- and ended up with Hezbollah
on their hands.
The United States has almost
always tended to support the most extreme religious fundamentalist group
in the region. Take Saudi Arabia, the oldest and most valued ally of
the United States and also the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state.
By comparison, Iran looks like a flourishing democracy. And there are
good reasons for it. I don’t mean good in a moral sense. There
are understandable reasons.
The United States supported
Saudi Arabia against the threat of secular nationalism, symbolized mainly
by Nasser. They were very much concerned that Nasser might move to direct
the resources of the region to the population of the region, for development
and so on. And that’s not how it’s supposed to work. The
wealth of the region is supposed to flow to the west with a kind of
payoff to the local managers. That didn’t seem to be Nasser’s
program. He was a pretty harsh tyrant himself but secular and possibly
with the thread of a populist aspect.
The same happened when the
Qasim coup took place in Iraq in 1958. U.S. and British intelligence
assumed that it was Nasserite in origin. They thought this might be
the spread of a secular, nationalist development that would try to appropriate
and gain control of the resources in the region and use them for internal
development and growth. It’s always been a danger.
One of the barriers to that
has been religious fanaticism. Similarly, inside Pakistan, the Zia-ul-Haq
regime, which did drive the country towards religious extremism, was
very strongly supported by the United States and its Saudi ally. During
those years, the Reagan years, that’s when Saudi Arabia was developing
its network of Madrassas, religious extremist schools. Zia-ul-Haq was
introducing Islamic extremism in the higher educational system, in social
life, and so on, fully supported by the United States because this was
part of their global policies.
Michael Shank is a doctoral student at the Institute
for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University and
a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org). The
interview was conducted on behalf of the Satyagraha Centenary, a student-organized
symposium held from April 20-30, 2007, at Middlebury College, which
celebrated the 100th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi's Satyagraha "Non-Violence"
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