ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - When a senior security official here was asked why Pakistan was not developing long-range missiles, unlike in India, his answer revealed how these two nuclear foes’ geopolitical priorities may be diverging.
“We don’t have ambitions like India has, so we don’t need to develop any further long-range missiles,” he said. “Our missiles cover the entire India, so that’s it.”
Indeed, India has raised eyebrows developing a new long-range missile with a capacity to hit most of China, a signal of how New Delhi’s focus is tentatively moving away from an obsession with Pakistan to more global issues.
For decades, these two countries, which have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, have been synonymous with each other. Diplomats often like to talk of India-Pakistan as “hyphenated.”
But India is trying to move from that old beat, seduced more by its growing role in the global economy, its stellar growth and preoccupations with other security issues like China than dealing with what many Indians deride as a “failed state.”
Pakistan, meanwhile, often seems stuck in its obsession with India, mired in conspiracy theories, reflecting what critics say are decades-old fears that do little to bring regional stability.
It’s an imbalance that may help redefine how these nations reach for peace as well as create new risks, making an aspiring and globalised India more vulnerable to regional tension, while making Pakistan frustrated it is losing out to its neighbor.
“India sees itself as playing a global role and looks at the region as a stepping stone for its aspirations,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor for India’s The Hindu.
“Pakistan sees its ability to be noticed globally as related to its tensions with India.”
Take China. India is focused on boosting trade with China as part of its growing economic clout in Asia, while ensuring security over a disputed border. The two sides fought a brief but bloody border war in 1962. For Pakistan, China is simply source of diplomatic support and weapons to counter India.
In Afghanistan, where both countries are seen in a proxy war for influence, Indian officials laud $1.2 billion aid as their ability to help bring regional stability through “soft power.” Pakistan sees that as an effort to push it out and wants Indian aid scaled down.
The imbalance has already produced tensions with the United States. Washington wants Pakistan to stop worrying about India and focus more on Taliban militants on its Afghan border.
President Barack Obama hinted at frustration over Pakistan earlier this year when he said that (Pakistan‘s) “obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided ... their biggest threat right now comes internally.”
Those kind of comments irk Pakistan, where policy makers still see India trying to gain the kind of influence it has in its other South Asian neighbors, like Nepal.
“There are American efforts to persuade us to put troops on our Western border,” said Riffat Hussein, chairman of the department of defense and strategic studies at Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam University. “But no one here is fooled by that.”
The signing of a U.S. civilian nuclear agreement with New Delhi is another source of tension. For New Delhi, the deal was about having access to the global nuclear power market.
Islamabad looked on enviously as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was feted in Washington. Its request afterwards for a similar deal has fallen on deaf ears.
Pakistan worries India’s new global role will make New Delhi more arrogant, with fewer incentives for peace when it feels too important to ignore. Those fears may be exaggerated.
Singh, born in Pakistan before Partition in 1947, says India cannot really take its global place without peace in South Asia, with a second attack like Mumbai in 2008, which New Delhi blames on Pakistan-based militants, capable of derailing investor confidence in India’s globalised economy.
“The most cost-effective thing would be to engage Pakistan to improve the atmosphere to a point where you can reduce the possibility of another Mumbai,” said a senior Indian official on condition of anonymity.
“We know if we have to get on with it (India’s global push), we have to move beyond Pakistan.”
India is far more vulnerable to economic shock from another major border build-up than it was in 2002, the year of the last major border crisis that saw the countries nearly go to war again. It still has most of its army on the border and steep rises in defense spending are also linked to a perceived Pakistan threat.
So if India has one eye on global affairs, it always has the other on Pakistan, a fact not lost on Islamabad.
While former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf offered concessions over the disputed Kashmir region in a failed attempt to reach a peace deal with India a few years ago, his attempts to refocus away from an Indian threat may have proved just a blip.
Under new army chief Ashfaq Kayani -- one of the most powerful men in Pakistan where the civilian government is weak -- there has been a return to talk of the Indian threat, a sign critics say of Pakistan’s growing domestic problems.
Conspiracy theories about India, often linked to the United States, abound in Pakistan. With growing militancy, attacks and social problems, they won’t go away soon.
”The more you lose on the economic front, on bad governance, the more you tend to externalize your problems and fears,“ said Imtiaz Gul, chairman of Center for Research and Security Studies. ”Our conspiracy theories typify that tendency.
Added reporting by Kamran Haider in Islamabad and Krittivas Mukherjee in New Delhi; Editing by Nick Macfie