Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h07/mnt/56080/domains/filtercoffee.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Archive | August, 2010

Responding to Michael Scheuer

Let us not rationalize irrationality.

The Diplomat carried an article by Michael Scheuer entitled “Coming Nuclear Flashpoint” on the India-Pakistan equation as it relates to Afghanistan.  Mr. Scheuer is a foreign policy critic and former CIA Station Chief of Bin Laden Issue Station (aka Alec Station).  He is noted to have strong views on U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and on the “Israeli lobby” in D.C.

The gist of Mr. Scheuer’s article is essentially this — that India has unwisely chosen to involve itself in Afghanistan.  This has caused uneasiness in Pakistan, which may in turn result in a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors.  Mr. Scheuer attempts to substantiate his “bells of doom” theory for India by making several arguments that have no sound basis.

The first has to do with the concept of Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  This term is a particular favorite of folks in Rawalpindi and employed to sell gullible visiting U.S. and NATO generals on why Pakistan’s influence must be unchallenged in Afghanistan.  Let’s be clear about what this “strategic depth” really is.  It isn’t meant to be, as some might imagine, a last refuge for a retreating Pakistani army in the face of an invading Indian army.

The term “strategic depth” is a euphemism for territory that Pakistan wants to use to attack India and Indian interests. This has precedence:  while many in the West might have forgotten, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999, executed by Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, is still fresh in the minds of many in India.  The idea therefore, that India ought to somehow be sympathetic towards such nefarious designs is ridiculous.

Second, Mr. Scheuer attacks India’s investments in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye as far as India’s intentions go.  Specifically, he draws attention to India’s work on the Zaranj-Delaram project, which he feels can be used by Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia by bypassing Pakistan; Mr. Scheuer feels that this was deliberately designed to hurt the Pakistani economy.  Here, it would not be imprudent to ask, “what Pakistani economy?”

At the very least, this argument presupposes that India gains from an economically battered Pakistan — if this were the case, India’s contribution to such a situation would matter little;  successive Pakistani governments have themselves been single-minded in their pursuit to loot their country and destroy its economy.

Third, on Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer suggests that the mujahideen have not forgotten India’s support for Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the repercussions for this support will be apparent once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  Certainly, the mujahideen have been anti-India (supported as they are by Pakistan’s ISI) but it is wrong to think that they are representative of the people of Afghanistan.

A 2009 poll ( PDF) conducted by BBC/ABC/ARD indicates that 71 percent of the Afghans polled had a favorable opinion of  India — the highest for any foreign nation — as against unfavorable opinions of Pakistan (81 percent), the Taliban (89 percent) and Osama bin Laden (91 percent).  The same poll also showed that 56 percent of Afghans in 2009 indicated that they had access to improved road infrastructure, while 50 percent believed they had access to better medical care — two areas of significant Indian contribution.

Next, an area where I agree (if only in part) with Mr. Scheuer is on India’s exclusive reliance on soft power in Afghanistan.  Many of us at INI and other platforms have argued that over reliance on  soft power will be detrimental to India’s interests in Afghanistan.  Over at Pragati, many have made the case for India to match its soft power in Afghanistan with hard power, viz. deploying troops. Some of us have even argued that the very least India ought to do is commit to train the Afghan National Army at a time when Western forces are seeking to wind down their own commitments.

The difference between our arguments and Mr. Scheuer’s is that while we argue that soft power alone cannot be the basis of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer argues that no Indian influence — whether soft or hard — is acceptable in Afghanistan.  Given the obvious implications of a security vacuum in Afghanistan to India’s internal security, such a position is not only untenable but unacceptable.

Mr. Scheuer is right that Indian interests in Afghanistan will be increasingly targeted once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  However, the  solution to this is not for India to flee from the scene, with tail firmly between its legs.  India must counter Pakistani influence by working with like-minded countries, such as Russia and Iran and yes, even the U.S. to deny ground to the Wahhabi brigade that turned Afghanistan into a festering swamp of extremism in the ’90s.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake Mr. Scheuer commits in his article is trying to rationalize the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate irrationality.  While on the one hand articulating Pakistan’s hysteria with great clarity, he almost inexplicably accepts this institutional irrationality as valid, and appears irritated that India does not.

Let us be clear — India’s actions in Afghanistan have as much to do with its desire to help rebuild a war-ravaged nation as they do with mitigating national security risks.  India need not apologize — to anyone — nor back down from doing everything it can to protect its people and its interests.  Now Pakistan’s interests may be incompatible with this, but that’s unsurprising, given that the Pakistan military-jihadi complex’s position is antithetical to the existence of India.  Giving credence to such irrational positions is an exercise in appeasement that will come back to haunt the rest of the world and India.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Helping Pakistan

India is uniquely positioned to help Pakistan not through cash, but in kind.

Floods in Pakistan have killed more than 1,500 people and left millions homeless.  The international community, however, has been slow to respond to the disaster.  Several reasons for this exist — from a latent realization of the enormity of the damage to public perception of Pakistan in the context of the war in Afghanistan, and of how aid money may be misused by Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership.

In the context of the natural disaster, India has offered to provide $5 million in aid relief to Pakistan.  The message was conveyed by S.M. Krishna to his counterpart, S.M. Qureshi.  India’s offer has drawn mixed reaction in Pakistan.  Nawa-i-Waqt‘s editorial (اردو) on August 14 effectively advised Islamabad to refuse Indian aid, citing what it called India’s “human rights violations in Kashmir.”  Additionally, it blamed India for the natural disaster in Pakistan, saying that India exacerbated the problem by releasing water from rivers Beas and Sutlej into Pakistan.

These disasters occur at a time when India is trying to play a bigger role within its own region and internationally.  What’s more, India happens to be  uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in assisting Pakistan, a country within its own region.  Charity, they say, begins at home.  The challenges Pakistan faces today are tremendous.  Quite simply, this is what India must do.  It must offer to provide aid to Pakistan, not so much in cash as in kind.  The month of Ramadan is upon the Muslim world; the Daily Express’ August 16 editorial (اردو) highlights the plight of ordinary civilians in Pakistan, who have nothing to break their fasting to each day, apart from water.

India must offer to provide not cash, but food-grain to Pakistan.  India has land access to Pakistan, something that no other country capable of delivering aid to Pakistan has, with the exception of China.  Aid-in-kind mechanisms provide two main benefits.  First, they remove process inefficiencies and allow expedited access of aid to those most affected by the calamity.  Second, they limit the ability of those in positions of power to misuse the aid, something that Western governments and international donors are most concerned about.  India’s offer of aid-in-kind should contain two options.  India can air drop aid to affected areas in Pakistan with the permission of the Pakistani government.  If this is unacceptable, given the India and Pakistan’s history, India can offer to deliver food-grain to Pakistan’s forces or Pakistan’s NDMA at Wagah, who can then directly distribute them to the affected areas.

Of course, Pakistan’s government may still choose to refuse food-grain donations from India and effectively tell its citizens to eat cake instead. But in the month of Ramadan, the act of charity, or sadkat al-fitr is connected with the sacred act of sawam (fasting) itself.  If the Pakistani government chooses to rebuff India’s offer, it had better have a pretty good explanation for its refusal to the international community and more importantly, to its own people. Hopefully, better sense will prevail in Pakistan.

Read full story · Comments { 8 }

Some thoughts on Independence Day

This month’s Pragati carries an excerpt from B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.

On this Independence Day, we can reflect with some satisfaction on how far India has come in 63 years.  In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice not only continues to be accepted, but also encouraged.

The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.  The responsibility to respect the Constitution and its methods must be borne by both Government and its citizens.  This is a “sacred duty,” as Alexander Hamilton described it in his letter in 1794 to the Daily Advertiser, and one that provides the greatest source of security to a republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty, and the greatest source of security in a Republic ? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws—the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty—operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment, by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment.  It is by this, in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers, and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well-organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

Read full story · Comments { 3 }

The BlackBerry saga

Shoot the (BlackBerry) Messenger.

India’s pushback on the BlackBerry issue, along with U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia’s stance is challenging fundamental perceptions of electronic security and global commerce.  India and the Gulf countries, contend, and not without justification that they require the ability to intercept encrypted electronic communication in the interest of national security.

India’s history as perhaps the nation most victimized by terrorism has necessitated such a stance.  The Indian government has let it be known that it will ban BlackBerry devices in the absence of such an ability (the U.A.E. expects to enforce its ban beginning October 11, if no agreement is reached). At the core of this security dilemma is the uniqueness of RIM’s BlackBerry architecture, where its encrypted emails are stored in server farms in Canada.

There are two aspects to any government’s legitimate need to access encrypted emails — surveillance under warrant, and post-incident forensics.  As far as surveillance is concerned, governments should be able to intercept and read communication that they legitimately feel threaten the integrity of the nation and the safety of its citizens.  From a post-incident forensics standpoint, physical access to the servers that contain encrypted email will allow the state to control variables, establish a chain of custody and bring about successful prosecutions.

In the U.S., the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to “snoop” electronic communication under court order.  During the George W Bush Administration, the NSA had the ability to intercept electronic communication without a court order in the days immediately following 9/11 (many suspect that this is an ability that the NSA retains).

India has asked to be given the ability to decrypt BlackBerry emails, if it feels they threaten its national security.  RIM has denied the request, stating that there are no master keys to decrypt BlackBerry emails.  There are two obvious fallacies with regard to this assertion.  One, knowing U.S.’s preoccupation with security,  it would have been impossible for RIM (a foreign company, for all intents and purposes) to operate commercially in the U.S., were this true.  Two, news reports indicating that the U.S. is in negotiations with India on resolving the issue makes me question why the U.S. would want to insert itself into what should rightly be negotiations between India and RIM (or Canada).

It is the legitimate right of any democratic government to intercept communication that threatens its national security, or to secure and use as evidence any information used to undermine it.  Any talk of a settlement whereby a third party or government (such as the U.S.) decrypts BlackBerry emails for India, upon request is unwelcome.  For one, it should be fundamentally unacceptable to GoI to allow custody of its citizens’ secure communication to a third country.

The government of India should therefore accept nothing short of access to RIM’s decryption keys and a server farm physically located in India.  Anything short of this will likely be a compromise of national security.  If RIM chooses to be unyielding, it is entirely their loss.  This blogger can think of a million reasons why they will be compelled to reconsider their stance.

Read full story · Comments { 5 }