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Archive | September, 2009

What McChrystal said about India

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US & ISAF forces in Afghanistan painted a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan in his “leaked” assessment to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.  Among other things, he indicated that the overall situation is deteriorating and a “crisis of confidence” existed among the Afghans that undermines US and ISAF credibility.  McChrystal called for a short-term deployment of additional US troops in Afghanistan.

In addition, in a section entitled “External Influences”, McChrystal wrote about India’s role in Afghanistan — something that has had our media in coils the past couple of days:

Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. [I]ncreasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.

Ever ready to jump the gun, members of our media took umbrage with the assessment.  In an article titled “US sees rising Indian influence in Afghanistan as problem“, Siddharth Varadarajan opines:

In the clearest statement to date of Washington’s reservations about the rising Indian economic and political profile in Afghanistan, the top American general… said India’s increasing influence… “is likely to exacerbate regional tensions”. Though the McChrystal report falls short of prescribing that India scale back its presence in Afghanistan, the implication is clear:…India should realise its assistance to Afghanistan might provoke Islamabad into taking “countermeasures”.

Varadarajan’s arguments are lethargic and draw conclusions based on misinterpretations of McChrystal’s assessment. First, nothing in the report or in public domain indicates that Washington is unhappy with India’s role in Afghanistan.  India’s current involvement includes funding and construction of large infrastructural projects (such as the “Nimroz-Chabahar” highway and the “Salma Dam” power project), aid, rural development and training the Afghan police force.  If McChrystal means what he says, then he should have no problem with India’s role in bringing development and stability to Afghanistan.

Second, Pakistani “countermeasures” to India’s involvement in Afghanistan is a pretty strange threat.  Unconventional warfare against India is Pakistan’s modus operandi.  It began as early as 1947 when Kashmir was flooded with armed Afridi tribesmen, as a precursor to the 1947 war and has only grown in size, mandate and state involvement over the years.  So Pakistan threatening to use something that it uses against India anyway, just because it dislikes India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is meaningless.

Third, even as McChrystal submitted his assessment to Sec Gates, a major rethink is under way in the Obama administration on Af-Pak, with many in the civilian administration against the idea of deploying additional troops.  They instead favor a combination of “negotiating” with the Taliban and increasing Drone assaults in Pakistan to disrupt al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.  As The Filter Coffee previously pointed out, the apparatus for such a strategy has been slowing taking shape in Pakistan over the past few months.

The Obama administration wants to craft a way forward in Afghanistan based on an approach that will incorporate “soft power” along with cold, hard military strategy. Upon learning of the leak, the Pentagon clarified that McChrystal’s assessment was only one of the many inputs that make up this reassessment.  Therefore, McChrystal’s assessment, even in its misinterpreted state, is hardly Holy Writ.

Fourth, India cannot afford to be in Afghanistan due to, or despite American disposition towards its involvement.  As a regional power, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan on social, economic and political development.  India’s calculations on the extent of its involvement in Afghanistan must be based on its strategic and national interests and not on the whims of other nations or veiled threats from its adversaries.

When the US leaves the region in the not-too-distant future, the cross of Afghanistan must be borne by regional powers like India and Iran, both of which share largely convergent views on the nation.  Insofar as India’s involvement in Afghanistan is concerned, its efforts have contributed positively to the development of the nation.  If America wants to leave Afghanistan as a (relatively) stable and functioning nation, India’s assistance is imperative and further Indian engagement must be encouraged.  The US can fight the war in Afghanistan, but is going to find it impossible to withdraw from Afghanistan on its own terms without India.

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Prachanda's little jaunt

It seems Prachanda wanted little to do with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao’s first visit to Nepal, choosing instead to hie himself and CPN(M)’s new foreign policy chief, Krishna Bahadur Mahara to Hong Kong.  His contributions to bringing normalcy to the new republic have been largely negligible.  On the occasions where he has made his presence felt, one was left with no doubt that the intent to bring stability in the nation was subservient to the desire to consolidate power and eliminate democratic due process.

However, while Prachanda may not be interested in dialog with India’s bureaucrats, there is dialog between him and Sitaram Yechury.  It’s no surprise then that Prachanda is able to arrive at very innovative election models for Nepal, including a demand for indirect elections of the President by the Parliament, and a unicameral legislature, with no opposition.

Despite the deadlock in Nepal, Sitaram Yechury’s involvement in political reconciliation, at the behest of New Delhi, is a step in wrong direction. The CPI(M) has done precious little in the areas of governance and social and economic upliftment.  They exist to stymie progress and satisfy their own inflated egos.  But once given the opportunity to lead, they fail, rather spectacularly. One only has to look at the state of affairs in West Bengal and Kerala — bastions of CPI(M) rule in India — and gauge the impact of the decades of their rule on their social and economic development.

And Yechury’s protégés behave no different in Nepal.  Prachanda’s response to PM Madhav Nepal’s recently concluded 34-point agreement with India on areas including trade imbalance, infrastructure, development and military aid, was to complain that the PM’s visit was “humiliating” because it lacked adequate press coverage from the Indian media!

To be sure, there are several issues that confront Nepal today — rehabilitation of the PLA within the armed forces, framing a constitutional framework by May 2010, linguistic reconciliation and quelling ethnic unrest in southern Nepal.  Today, the fate of the new republic is precariously perched; the challenges that confront it are significant, but by no means are they as insurmountable as depicted by Indian and international media.

With all its faults, the UML-led government has endured, quite inexplicably, and no one is more shocked about this than Prachanda.  Unhappy about his self-inflicted irrelevance to the policital process (especially given CPN(M)’s popular support), he has wasted no opportunity to try and bring the government down, even threatening a third installment of the Jana Andolan (People’s Movement) to achieve his goals.

If the UML government continues to hold fort, CPN(M)’s disruptive position will inevitably soften, allowing for a possible “face-saving” compromise on core divergent issues confronting the State.  The modalities of the compromise can be effectively worked out if the CPN(M) is convinced of the relative durability of the government and the futility in trying to lead a united front with several individually insignificant, conflicting opposition members. For now, India’s primary focus today should be to assist the government to hold fort.  Political reconciliation will come naturally when the futility of CPN(M)’s shenanigans is effectively demonstrated.

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Pakistan's nukes and those Harpoons

First, let’s get the recent reports about Pakistan’s nuclear program out of the way.  Recently, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) reported that Pakistan was expanding its capabilities across the board, including significantly increasing its nuclear stockpile and developing the nuclear capable Babur (a reverse-engineered USN Tomahawk) cruise missile.

BAS now estimates that Pakistan has between 70-90 nuclear weapons. This, as BAS also reports, is comparable to India’s own nuclear stock, which is estimated to be about 70. However, alarmist news reports in the Indian media dilute the true impact of such enhanced capabilities on India.

Qualitative and quantitative enhancements to nuclear arsenal are part of the natural evolutionary course that nuclear powers traverse. Of course, Pakistan’s unnatural increase in nuclear arsenal in the midst of a debilitating internal security situation is a function of its pathological neurosis with India.  But as The Filter Coffee has argued before, India’s nuclear posture with regard to Pakistan need not substantially change due to such revelations.

There are things that India should always continue to do to attain “minimum credible deterrence” — the quest for credible secondary strike capabilities and perfecting its delivery systems need impetus. But India must continue to do these things regardless of what Pakistan does or doesn’t do.

The truth of the matter is, Pakistan is not in a position where it can expect to “win” in a nuclear showdown with a neighbor seven times its size. The scale of damage that Pakistan’s largely sub-kiloton weapons can cause to a country spread across 1.2 million sq. miles with far-flung urban centers, cannot be compared to the cumulative impact of India’s retributive assault on Pakistan’s 2-3 main cities.  India’s lesson from this revelation is to  continue to develop, enhance and fine-tune its own weapons, and refocus on  its laggard missile programs.

The second issue that I wanted to touch on was The New York Times’ article on Pakistan’s illegal modification of the Harpoon anti-ship missile into a land based missile that the US believes is intended for use against India.  The US apparently made an “unpublicized diplomatic protest” upon learning of Pakistan’s actions.

At best, this shock and dismay that Pakistan would actually modify a US weapon to enhance its capabilities against India, can be put down to ignorance and naïveté.  At worst, it is hypocrisy and mock outrage.  If the US sold Pakistan an anti-ship missile, where would the US realistically expect the missile to be used by Pakistan? In a battle against Iran? Against Afghanistan? China? The target of the weapon was always clear — anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the subcontinent’s history will be aware of Pakistan’s preoccupation with India. So why the outrage?

The article also goes on to state: “Pakistan had taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country’s Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that administration officials praised”. Presumably, Pakistan signed an EUMA with the US for the sale of anti-ship missiles.  We are told that “physical inspection” is a standard provision of the US’s EUMA agreements.  Indeed, we also know that similar physical inspections of US-supplied Pakistani military hardware have taken place in Pakistan previously (and found to have issues — see page 8).  So how is this apparent magnanimity on the part of Pakistan “unusual”?  Why does it warrant praise?

The continued sale of sophisticated conventional weaponry to Pakistan (refer to this, via FAS) for “good behavior” is like giving candy to a hyperactive child.  The 36 F-16s and 115 115mm howitzers aren’t and won’t be employed by Pakistan in its COIN efforts in NWFP. The US needs ask itself if the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Pakistan is a solution to the problem, or part of it.

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