A South Asian Grand Bargain

NEW DELHI – South Asia is riddled with multiple antagonisms and mutual suspicions. India mistrusts Pakistan, and vice versa. Afghanistan and Pakistan are at loggerheads. On the sidelines, China, Iran, and Russia look to Afghanistan for opportunities to help themselves, and crimp the United States. The Americans, meanwhile, are preparing to retreat from a decade of war in the Afghan hills and valleys.

Given all of these rivalries, I believe that the only path to regional peace and stability runs not through incremental agreements, but through a “grand accord” that reconciles all of the powers’ deepest national-security interests. But is such an accord feasible?

On the surface, one would not think so. US-Pakistan relations have turned poisonous, with blunt statements proliferating from both governments. In Istanbul, a recent gathering of Afghanistan’s concerned “neighbors” produced only a rather anodyne statement in preparation for a meeting in Bonn later this year.

When confronted by such a diplomatic snarl, there are, in reality, only two options: either allow the disputes to boil in their own cauldrons, or lower the temperature on all of the region’s antagonisms before a cataclysmic explosion occurs. Clearly, today’s frozen regional diplomacy must end; far too much of global importance is at stake.