- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Rethinking India’s and Pakistan’s Regional Intent

Juli A. MacDonald

This paper starts from the premise that India and Pakistan are actors with very different kinds of interests, and fundamentally unequal levels of capabilities and resources to pursue their interests in the Central Asian and Caspian region. In this context, India has the potential to become a prominent regional actor with interests that extend across Eurasia and beyond, especially in the post–Saddam era. Indeed, India is poised to take advantage of its close relationship with most Arab states and Iran, with the three million strong Indian diaspora entrenched in the energy and service sectors of most Persian Gulf economies—a diaspora that remits millions of dollars to India each year—and the growing ability of India's energy companies to play a global role in the energy market. Changes in the Middle East—particularly an opening to Iran—will increasingly link the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caspian region in India's security calculus.

In contrast, in this changing strategic context, Pakistan is not positioned to play a significant or constructive role in the region without the support of outside actors (e.g., China, United States, Al Qaeda). Despite geographic proximity and historical and cultural ties to Central Asia, Pakistan lacks the resources to be an independent actor capable of pursuing constructive political, economic, or military strategies in the region. Currently, Pakistan provides no market, few economic opportunities, and no political advantages to the Central Asian and Caspian states. If Pakistan has anything to offer, it will be through the investments of other states. Acting alone, Pakistan is a fragile Islamic state that could pose more of a potential threat to regional stability than perform as a viable and constructive actor in Central Asia and the Caspian region.

This paper will briefly contrast the disparate starting positions from which each state pursues its interests in Central Asia and the Caspian region. Second, the paper will explore each state's evolving security interests in the region, what strategies they are developing, and what is driving these strategies. Third, the paper will conclude with some general observations about the role that each state might play in the region, how they are interacting with other major regional actors, and what impact they might have on the future direction of Central Asia.

An Uneven Playing Field

India and Pakistan possess unequal capabilities and resources to pursue their security interests in Central Asia and the Caspian region. Since...

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