By Jane Mee Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
South Asia has become the new arena for the two presidential candidates’ policies concerning the war against terrorism. The refrains of Bush’s anti-terrorism offensive in Afghanistan and Iraq can be heard in both the Obama and McCain campaigns. However, Afghanistan’s neighboring country, Pakistan, is the centerfold of discussion this time.
Obama’s call for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq has been coupled with a call for increased U.S. military activity in Afghanistan. During the second presidential debates, the Democrat presidential nominee said, “I think why it’s so important for us to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan.”
Obama reiterated a point made earlier in August 2007 when he insisted that more troops were needed in Afghanistan, because “(The U.S. has) got to get the job done there (Afghanistan), and that requires us to have enough troops so that we’re not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there.”
The enormous pressure caused by high civilian casualty has also extended to neighboring Pakistan as U.S. military forces have conducted similar air raids in Pakistan’s North Wazirstan region. Ethnic Pashtuns who live in the Northwest region of Pakistan have allegedly been closely aligned to the neo-Taliban insurgency against U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Their alleged collaboration and the Pakistani government’s seeming inability to curb insurgent activity incited Obama to say that “(the US military) has to act and will take them out.”
The statement, made before U.S. cross-border attacks into Pakistan, can be read as an endorsement of the Bush government’s military policy in South Asia.
Republican presidential nominee McCain differs only in rhetoric from Obama.
Proposing to “speak softer” than Obama’s announcement of his willingness to engage in cross-border attacks in Pakistan, McCain reiterates a similar point. Speaking of the Pakistani government, McCain said, “Where necessary use force, but talk softly, but carry a big stick.”
Pakistani officials, however, reject both candidates’ endorsement of necessary border attacks into its territory.
According to The Associated Press, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson Mohammed Sadiq said in the aftermath of the U.S. cross border attacks, “We (the Pakistani government) want them (the U.S.) to realize that these attacks are destabilizing the situation, and they are not helping themselves or Pakistan,” Referring to the anti-government and anti-U.S. sentiments that these foreign attacks incite, Mr. Sadiq said, “They (the U.S. attacks) are helping the terrorists.”
The two candidates’ discussion of U.S. involvement in South Asia extends beyond the war.
Both candidates have endorsed the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, voting for it when it made its rounds in Congress. Despite India’s non-participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the two candidates have endorsed the agreement, which would allow for the exchange of nuclear reactors, technology and fuel for civil nuclear research and development.
U.S. inspections of India’s nuclear technologies will also be limited only to its civilian, not military facilities.
In past decades, Pakistan and India have both openly announced possessions of nuclear weaponry, and subsequent threats of nuclear warfare between the two countries have been raised over struggles for Kashmir. Both countries have faced bans on nuclear research until India’s recent nuclear deal with the U.S.
Pakistan, which is also not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is absent in any such agreements. Pakistan’s history of nuclear proliferation through its dealings with other non-NPT countries has disqualified Pakistan in Washington’s eyes. Pakistani officials have raised concerns that U.S.-India nuclear agreements will trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.
The geographical proximity of South Asia to the U.S.’s current war in the Middle East as well as the strong, often contentious nationalist tensions between its two biggest nations, India and Pakistan, make the region vulnerable to shifts in U.S. foreign policy. Through their endorsement of cross-border attacks into Pakistan and implicit militarization of India and Pakistan, it appears that for both presidential candidates, stability in South Asia may not be foremost on their minds. ♦
Jane Mee Wong can be reached at email@example.com.