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Pakistan’s Mojo

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Pakistan is awash with renewed optimism in being able to favorably influence political and structural rearrangements in Afghanistan.  Along with “brother countries” Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was able to both craft a proposition at the Istanbul Summit that called for negotiations and eventual reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political foray, and also successfully lobbied to keep India out of the summit itself.  The icing on the cake for Islamabad was the broad endorsement of Pakistan’s plan at the London Conference, the following week.

Pakistan’s self-belief in its own indispensability and leverage over a resolution to the Afghanistan quagmire is mirrored in both official pronouncements from leaders of its armed forces and in its press corps.  At the NATO Commanders’ Conference, COAS Kayani enunciated his country’s need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, while raising concerns about India’s influence in Afghanistan.  Indeed, a Jang editorial one day before the London Conference called for all preparations to be made for dialog with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army has also candidly put forth its position to the Obama Administration that India’s role in Afghanistan cannot go beyond development and infrastructural work.  Pakistan has also volunteered to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to counter what many believe is a role best suited for the Indian Army.  In short, Pakistan apparently successfully executed a prima facie diplomatic coup-de-etat, while India played the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights” on the world stage.

Without a doubt, India’s position on the Taliban has always been untenable.  A blanket rejection of an ambiguous collection of disparate groups seemed convenient and excused our leadership from having to go through the exercise of evaluating the various equations at play in Afghanistan.  Over the course of the years, this stance by India has seen it wholeheartedly back the Karzai regime while not wanting to have anything to do with any Pashtun elements that it suspected of being engaged (at whatever level) with the ISI.  Rightly, India’s over-simplistic, “with us or against us” approach was rejected by the international community at large.

But Pakistan’s own influence in matters relating to Afghanistan has been overstated.  Indeed, going by recent pronouncements, Pakistan is counting its chickens before they are hatched and the mirage of indispensability will unravel sooner than later.  Not being able to dictate the modularities of counter-insurgency operations within its own sovereign territory, it is unlikely that it can wield the magnitude of power it believes it enjoys in relation to India in Afghanistan.

So what must India do? The London Conference has already invalidated India’s over-simplistic approach to the Taliban, so the first course of action is apparent.  India must begin to engage with those Pashtun elements who seek reintegration into the existing political foray in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there isn’t a significant divergence of opinion between the United States and India on the issue.

India’s real apprehensions are centered around the possible reintegration of  Mullah Omar’s group — the so-called Quetta Shurah.  This is entirely consistent with the US’s own position.  India’s apprehensions on al-Qaeda elements and Haqqani network are also shared by the US.  This essentially leaves a rag-tag group of warlords who are all too small anyway to individually impact power dynamics in Afghanistan. India can begin by opening up communication channels with these groups.

India must also work with other important regional powers who share similar apprehensions versus the core Taliban group.  Indeed, the alliance of yore between Iran and India, who share common concerns of the spread of wahabbism in the region, and Russia must be resurrected.  Russia has articulated its clearest position to date on its willingness to “help rebuild” Afghanistan and Iran has shared India’s concerns about the spread of radical Sunni Islam in the wider region.

Over the last nine years, India has very naively bought into the argument that the dramatically altered equation post US’s invasion of Afghanistan was permanent, and that its reliance on “soft power” alone could very safely ensure maximized gains in Afghanistan without having to actually assume an overt presence in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan today, with Western forces working towards a withdrawal deadline, and Pakistan growing increasingly assertive, demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor. The question is, what is Manmohan Sigh’s government planning to do about it?

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26 Responses to Pakistan’s Mojo

  1. Ketan February 9, 2010 at 1:02 am #

    Thanks very much for an informative article.

    I will try to add an additional perspective with limited (sic) knowledge that I have on the issue.

    Since last 1 to 2 decades, which country should assume what role has largely been decided by the US. And I find nothing wrong with it, because considering the military and economic power they have wielded, they have largely been responsible in using them. But in our analysis, we expect the US to take decisions that are conducive to international peace without a conflict of interest. But is it really so?

    We need to examine the original reason, the US had to occupy Afghanistan. Has that reason ceased? Probably, their intention was to re-engineer the Afghanistan’s social fabric, so that the country would become incapable of mounting terrorist attacks on them in future. I don’t think the concern has ceased, so what has changed? Possibly, the economic strain that the entire exercise was putting on them, and a kind fatigue in not being able to do what they had set out to do.

    So, their attitude is one of – “to hell with Afghanistan and Taliban and Pakistan and India; you people do whatever you want, and we will try to counter terrorist attacks by strengthening our internal security.” Because, otherwise in light of outcomes of investigation on 26/11, it is not possible to account for US’ immense trust in Pakistan that the latter will not try to promote (even if inadvertently) terrorism against the US by raising and anti-India force. So possibly here, we are dealing with a dispassionate US, and the best that can be done is to point out that it is impossible to raise a purely anti-India force, which Pakistan will surely attempt that will not be anti-US, too, because fundamentally such a force would be religion based and not based of national loyalties. To complete the reasoning, only things needed to be pointed out are Pakistan’s current stand on Kashmir issue, regular betraying of their tendency to use terrorism as state-policy, unduly strong influence in administration of (an irresponsible) army, and their lack of total sovereignty (something you’ve pointed out) on their own soil! But I really wonder if the US actually doesn’t already know this.

    And lastly, the saddest fact is those in the EAM are as dispassionate about what happens to India as the US is about what happens in Afghanistan. So, am not sure, if they will exert this much mental and diplomatic effort to do the right thing.

  2. neel123 February 9, 2010 at 7:39 am #

    India’s response to engaging Taliban has been restratined. Pakistan on the other hand is being seen by the media as the spearhead of the new strategy.

    There is no need for India to panick, or be dismayed because ultimately an workable solution and peace in Afghanistan is what matters.

    Pakistan by taking the lead, has also assumed the burden to make it a success, in other words any failure this time will again be Pakistan’s problem.

    India on the other hand has everything to gain from a peaceful Afghanistan. After all the Afghan people have traditionally been friendly to India, and have a history of disliking the Punjabi dominated Pakistan.

    In the long run, Afghanistan will be a Problem for Pakistan …. they know it quite well !

  3. filtercoffee February 9, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    @Ketan @neel123 I’d also add here that Afghanistan’s importance to India goes beyond the India-Pak paradigm. So much of what will happen over the next few months will dictate the route to our energy security via Afghanistan. There are multiple factors at play and therefore all the more a need for impetus in operationalizing aspects of what a great many experts have been talking about.

  4. Ketan Panchal February 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    By “energy security” did you by any chance mean, the route of supply of petroleum and/or natural gas? Sorry, when I said I am not very knowledgeable in these matters, I seriously meant it.

  5. filtercoffee February 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    Yes, very much so. Afghanistan is of strategic importance for reasons of proximity to energy rich Central Asia (where we have investments in exploration projects) and to Iran. It’s hard to predict if, to what extent, and for how long Afghanistan will likely remain unstable, but take Afghanistan out of the equation and you have a logistical and financial nightmare in importing energy into India via Kazakhstan, et al.

  6. SR Murthy February 9, 2010 at 8:45 pm #


    The USA and Obama’s new found joint action against Iran is being done because stabilizing Afghanisthan is useless if Pakistan and Iran are both hostile to western Interests.

    Meanwhile, Indian govt. is also busy trying to engage Iran along with Russia.


    As long as Iranian govt. does not start over-reaching itself and start hallucinating that it can lead all of the muslim world in revolution or nuking other countries, Iran’s allies will stick by it.

    Also, the IPI has remained a great idea for many years now, and has turned out to be quite useful as a pretext for engagement with both Iran and Pakistan. The existence of the notion of India working to make the IPI successful is sufficiently useful for India. Clearly, the actual existence of the IPI that would entail the problems of keeping it safe from myriad terrorist groups in the region, but talk is cheap.

  7. SR Murthy February 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm #


    In other news, the pressure is being laid on Mukesh Ambani whose company may be sanctioned by the USA for doing business with Iran. This open reference of the Iranian minsters fingering RIL’s supply to Iran makes things uncomfortable for RIL — so if the pressure increases on Iran, RIL has some tough choices ahead.

  8. filtercoffee February 9, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    @ SR Murthy: I tweeted about this a while back. Also wrote an article on Indo-Iranian relations on Pragati sometime last year where I tackled the IPI issue. Economically, Pakistan’s participation in the IPI project makes little sense. It’s participation is purely because of perceived geo-strategic advantages. But other models exist today which, while perhaps more expensive propositions, are less risky than leaving a key energy resource of India’s in the hands of Pakistan.

    It is high time India cut to the chase on IPI, junk the project and deal directly with Iran on the undersea model, possibly looping in C Asian states like Kazakhstan into the deal.

  9. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 5:01 am #


    “Economically, Pakistan’s participation in the IPI project makes little sense. It’s participation is purely because of perceived geo-strategic advantages. But other models exist today which, while perhaps more expensive propositions, are less risky than leaving a key energy resource of India’s in the hands of Pakistan.”

    Yes, that is a bad idea, but only if such a pipeline is built and not if it always remains a glint in someone’s eye — anyone stupid enough to actually sink money into this will lose it.

    My question to you is: What is the use of foreclosing this option of a pipeline when it is not clear whether Pakistan’s long-term chances of survival are low? I think the proposition of a pipeline via territory that is currently Pakistan needs to exist — it is not like the IPI will come into existence without consensus with Pakistan, and do we really think Pakistan will make this easy for itself and bring that pipeline to fruition? These are the same people that are holding/blowing-up the supply line via Karachi, their prime source of revenue from US/NATO.

  10. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 9:04 am #

    To clarify, an Indo-Russia-Iran-Afghanisthan coalition is extremely desirable, but that should not stop India from relinquishing options that could be potentially useful down the line.

  11. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 9:07 am #


    “That should not stop India from relinquishing options…”

    should read

    “That does not mean India should relinquish options that could be potentially useful down the line, when it could be useful revenue stream for the Balochi peoples.”

  12. filtercoffee February 10, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    @SR Murthy: All very true. Certainly, this is a complex issue that will probably be better served were I to do a complete blogpost on it, but let me just make a couple of points, in the here and now:

    1. Scarcity of energy supply already has a telling effect on the economy and on normal life in India – this demand/supply mismatch will only grow in the years to come. We need to move decisively to both shore up stakes in the Central Asian energy market (where despite good progress, we’re under pressure from the Chinese) and look for viable means of transport for energy supplies.

    2. To me, commitment can’t be delayed much further; in fact, a deal should have been sealed years ago. Seeing how things pan out in Pakistan is just not an option – not only will it affect our energy supply in the years ahead, but it will also affect what is already a pretty delicate relationship with Iran.

    3. The Iran-India undersea transport model, though expensive, will give impetus to our bilateral relationship, not allow Pakistan (in whatever manifested future political shape or form) to hold our energy supply hostage and may relieve some stress on our economy/normal life in the years ahead. Therefore I say, let’s shut the door and move on.

  13. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    @filtercoffee, Have a few questions you may already have answers for.

    What is the problem with saying India is going to want both the overland and undersea links with Iran given our enormously jimongous energy requirements? Why not continue negotiations on both tracks? Clearly, the IPI track has many more practical difficulties than the undersea link with Iran, but why should Iran give us a choice of either the pipeline or the undersea link? Why not both? The IPI track can be used to “enagage” Iran and Pakistan much like travelling first class in a coach that is disconnected from the engine, so why not engage in order to not create a vacuum that could be filled in by others?

  14. libertarian February 10, 2010 at 2:01 pm #

    The situation in Afghanistan today … demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor.

    Or not. What we gain by fishing in troubled AfPak waters in unclear. Afghanistan is not exactly an economic or geopolitical glittering prize. We spend way too much time strategizing about these hells on earth. They only get the attention they do with their implicit threat to cause trouble – a tired hack for anyone who’s seen the Shiv Sena in action. Pakistan can pursue it’s ridiculous doctrine of “strategic depth”. Not going to help as they rip themselves apart without outside assistance. We’re better off keeping them at bay, and charging ahead economically to make sure we’re the 3rd pole in a tripolar 2030 world.

  15. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm #


    Also, there seems to be a third TAPI option that has all the advantages of the IPI and more, so the IPI is redundant if the TAPI option is being pursued.

  16. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    “IPI is redundant if the TAPI option is being pursued.”

    I wrote that but I think that is completely wrong now. TAPI does not have Iran in it, which makes it completely worthless for India.

  17. SR Murthy February 10, 2010 at 7:26 pm #


    If the USA is going to do stupid nonsense like making deals with one terrorist group to dissociate with Al Qaeda in order to declare victory in Af-Pak, India should stay away from Af-Pak and indeed any long-term relationship with such a stupid world power — being part of their stupidity is probably not in India’s best interests.

  18. filtercoffee February 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    @SR Murthy In re the question about pursuing both models, I can think of a couple of issues that might hinder such an option. a) Our diplomatic bandwidth (and most certainly that of Iran’s) to pursue both options simultaneously, and b) Iran’s enthusiasm for such a project given that the IPI, which was first conceived in 1989, is in limbo.

    As I said, I think there some complex issues at play here (no right or wrong answers, only opinions) – I will do a blogpost about it to more accurately reflect my thoughts.

  19. SR Murthy February 11, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    This is all not just opinions, there are strategic impertatives of not allowing hostile powers to establish a base in area where a power vacuum will be created by the loss of influence of an increasing weak Pakistani government over the years. Failing to keep focus on such imperatives will destroy chances of successful execution of pipelines from Iran or elsewhere. Consider the following scenarios: a chinese/US-influenced Balochistan or Iran will leave any underwater pipelines at the mercy of the goodwill of these two countries, one of which (China) is no less hostile to India than Pakistan.

  20. SR Murthy February 11, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Basically, if the plan is long-term security for oil and gas from the Gulf/Persian Gulf to India underwater or over land, then India’s should order its priorities in a specific manner so as to move the region towards a political landscape that is under Indian long-term influence and thus provide pipeline security for India for low cost in the long-term (because of favourable political climate).

  21. Tony Joseph February 12, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    Thanks for the very insightful article. I do think, though, that the Pakistani generals foresaw the game correctly.

    They made two assumptions. One, that as long as the Taliban can access safe havens and covert support in the badlands of Pakistan, there is nothing that the Americans and their NATO allies can do in Afghanistan to defeat them – just as the Russians couldn’t defeat the Mujahideen as long as the latter had safe havens and support in Pakistan.

    The second assumption was it was only a matter of time before the American (and European) public got tired of the war in distant Afghanistan and started clamouring for their troops return home – thus leaving the field free for the Pakistanis to seek “strategic depth” to their west once again.

    Based on these two assumptions, the Pakistanis came to the conclusion that the right strategy would be to pretend to fight American’s war – occasionally picking up and throwing a jehadi or two into CIA’s hands for safe transport to Guantanamo – while at the same time providing shelters for Taliban fleeing from the Americans in Afghanistan.

    The game is yet to fully unfold, but I would say that the Pakistani generals have reason to smile. They strategised correctly so far, and in addition to billions of dollars in military and other assistance since 2001, they now seem within grasping reach of “strategic depth” once again!

    Two articles for reference:

    1. http://www.folitics.wordpress.com

    2. http://tinyurl.com/yfjpj9y


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