Prospects Brighten for Long-term Peace in South Asia

Ever since 1998, the year of India and Pakistan's nuclear tests, many commentators have argued that, in the absence of U.S. intervention, the two nations are headed for armed conflict that will likely end in nuclear war. The logic underlying this view is twofold. First, that religious radicalism--defined as the participation in political and/or military activities by groups in the name of religion--has become sufficiently powerful in Pakistan to make ongoing support for the Kashmir insurgency inevitable. Second is that India's concurrent growth of nationalism and religious radicalism, as well as a rise in economic power, will make the state less willing to tolerate Pakistan's support for insurgency in Kashmir. Against this seemingly inevitable clash, Pakistani President Musharraf is viewed as a lonely holdout against the forces of religious radicalism in Pakistan. U.S. support is therefore argued to be critical for sustaining Musharraf, whether through political support for Pakistan's policies in Kashmir, or economic support.

This paper reaches a different conclusion: that peace is about to "break out" between India and Pakistan. Our conclusion is based on the following analysis. First, Islamic radicalism in Pakistan relies (and has always relied) on the army to survive, as it lacks sufficient popularity to influence state policy through political parties or popular agitation. Second, the army has previously supported Islamic radicalism tactically, but not ideologically, providing such support only when it has perceived the state to be in crisis. Contrary to a common view, the elections of 2002 were no different in this respect. Third, Hindu radicalism in India, though gaining in both popular and political support, is insufficiently popular to support irrational aggression against Pakistan. At the same time, India's improved economic prospects have influenced its rulers to favor accommodation with Pakistan. Third, the outcomes of recent elections in India and Pakistan have shifted the Pakistani army's strategic priorities toward negotiating a civilian-military balance, and away from destabilizing civilian politics through "crisis-mode" tactics that have included support for Islamic radicalism.