Pakistan's deteriorating security situation, its connection with Islamist militancy, and the implications for the United States and India relations came under focus during a lecture by American Foreign Policy Council Fellow Jeff M Smith, at the Indian consulate in New York recently.
Smith, an expert on South Asian affairs, touched upon a whole lot of issues, including domestic political and economic trends in India, Indo-US relations besides Pakistan Afghanistan and China. India's Consul General in New York Ambassador Prabhu Dayal, who introduced Smith, described him as a distinguished scholar who has in-depth knowledge about South Asia.
During his 40 minute lecture, Smith said the volatile political and security situation in South Asia has created an unstable environment in which a major crisis could erupt at any time. "AFPC wants both Washington policy makers and the leaders of America's private sector to be as well informed as possible. There is a connection between a knowledgeable citizenry and good policy," he said.
Noting that Pakistan and its support to militancy is a common security challenge for both India and the US, Smith said AFPC is concerned about Pakistan military, particularly the Inter Service Intelligence's support to militant groups.
"Between 2002 and 2008, $6.6 billion in American aid has been given to Pakistan and yet only $500 million or just seven percent has reached the target beneficiaries. This is a matter of concern for both India and the US," he said.
The event was co-sponsored by the New York hotel chain, Apple Core Hotels, because of the company's interest in geo-political issues, particularly terrorism that affect both the US and India.
In his brief introductory address, Vijay Dandapani, President and COO, Apple Core Hotels, said the matter engages Apple Core in a city that suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in recent history where the perpetrators all had connections principally to two countries -- Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"That it is of continuing relevance can be seen from the failed Times Square bombing of last summer, since one of our hotels is mere feet away from where the SUV was abandoned. If he had succeeded, it would have killed many people," he said, adding that Americans hopefully are waking up to that reality.
But Smith in his lecture expressed doubt if Americans, especially the policy makers in Washington, are really waking up to the reality.
"We are hamstrung in the face of a terrible demand -- confront Pakistan forcefully and risk some of the underlying Afghan war efforts or continue playing like a friend and let Islamabad gradually undermine the war effort in Afghanistan. Most people call it blackmail and in Washington people call it a strategic partnership," he said, adding that a lot of people in the US feel that Islamabad is playing a double game.
On the issue of Afghanistan, he said that according to the vice chief of the US army Pakistan aids and abets militant groups. "That is a reality. The ISI provides intelligence and financial support to militant groups to operate against the Afghan government according to the chairman of the National Intelligence Council of the United States," he said.
Smith also spoke about China's growing assertiveness in the region and noted that there is tension in the relationship between India and China, although business ties between them are good. But he noted that the most contentious issue of Arunachal Pradesh was not discussed during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India in December and last year Beijing denied a visa to an Indian general serving in Jammu and Kashmir. All these, he said, indicate tensions between the two countries.
He also implied that Beijing is more prone to strengthening ties with Pakistan than New Delhi. "China has been operating on the Karakoram highway and has plans to build two nuclear plants in Pakistan in violation of its international obligations," Smith said.
On Indo-US relations, he said it is amazing in terms of what happened between the two countries after the end of the Cold War. "When (Barack) Obama came to power in the US, there were some concerns in India that he might not follow the footprints of his predecessor George Bush thanks to initial statements on issues like Kashmir. But I think after President Obama's visit to India last year, the relationship has gotten better," he said adding that in April US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is slated to visit India which will further boost the relationship. "I am confident the Indo-US relationship can be improved further by President Obama."