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, 2011

The Afghanistan endgame

Time for India to get its act together.

The United States Institute for Peace (USIP), along with the Jinnah Institute (JI), recently co-convened a project to study the perceptions of Pakistan’s “foreign policy elite” towards the Afghanistan endgame.  A summary of the discussions is available on USIP’s website (PDF), while detailed findings will be published soon.  A cursory review of the document tells us nothing new about Pakistan’s perceptions with regard to endgame scenarios in Afghanistan.  The document highlights three outcomes sought by Pakistan in Afghanistan — a “degree of” stability in Afghanistan, an inclusive government in Kabul, and limiting Indian presence to development activities.

Pakistan’s foreign policy elites perceived U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to be inconsistent and counterproductive to Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and the region.  Hardly surprising, since Pakistan’s interests never converged with those of the U.S. in Afghanistan, a fact that has only recently become apparent to some in D.C.  It should also be clear that regardless of outcomes, Pakistan will continue to seek “strategic depth” — a euphemism for territory Pakistan hopes to use against Indian interests — in Afghanistan.  But what does mean for the U.S. and India?

Some home truths, first.  Since May 2, 2011 and the events that have followed, it is now clear that Pakistan’s ability to negotiate a favorable outcome in Afghanistan is significantly diminished.  Pakistan is more marginalized today than it has ever been since 2001 in influencing outcomes in Afghanistan.  Contrast this against the sense of being on the doorsteps of victory that prevailed in Rawalpindi 16 months ago.

The discovery of bin Laden “hiding in plain sight” in Abbottabad has left Pakistan with very few fans in D.C.  While the U.S. has always sought to lessen its reliance on Pakistan, these plans have gained significant momentum.  The so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN) now accounts for about 65% of traffic to Afghanistan (contrast this to 2010, when 70% of the traffic was routed through Pakistan).  In addition, the U.S. is now in direct negotiations with the Taliban (“direct,” because they bypass Pakistani negotiators).

How fruitful these negotiations will be remains to be seen.  There are conflicting reports in the Pakistani press that indicate that negotiations have collapsed, while reports in the U.S. indicate otherwise.  Indeed, news reports now suggest that Afghan officials, fearful that direct U.S.-Taliban negotiations would undermine President Karzai, scuttled the talks.

But the realities in Afghanistan are that President Karzai is largely isolated and running out of allies.  Apart from the fact that relations with the U.S. are chilly, Mr. Karzai is also not a popular personality in Pakistan, and is increasingly isolated from his own people.  The security vacuum, particularly in southern Afghanistan, has claimed the lives of thousands of Afghan citizens and officials, including President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and mayor of Khandahar, Ghulam Haider Hamidi over the past many months.  This security vacuum can only be addressed by helping Afghanistan protect itself and its citizens.  This means providing Afghanistan the necessary security assistance and training to allow the much-maligned ANA and local law enforcement units to play a larger role in defending the country.

It is also true that Pakistan, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, cannot be excluded from influencing  the endgame in Afghanistan.  And contrary to Pakistan’s protestations, neither the U.S. nor India would want Pakistan not to play a constructive role in shaping the future of its neighbor.  But given Pakistan’s historic involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, its continuing support to Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network, and its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s credentials are at best tainted, and are a cause for concern in India.

Further, Pakistan crying “Wolf!” over every real or imagined instance of Indian engagement in Afghanistan is a red herring.  Many of us have argued for an Indian military presence in Afghanistan and for India to train ANA personnel.  While India has trained some ANA officers, deploying a contingent of the Indian army appears remote now, given India’s preoccupation with  domestic political issues.  India has assisted Afghanistan in reconstruction and development efforts, even constructing the Zaranj-Delaram highway, which links Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar.  Of course, Pakistan’s Taliban proxies now control the highway.  It should be pretty apparent then that there is no way that New Delhi can accept Pakistan’s terms for Indian engagement in Afghanistan.

Whether Pakistan likes it or not, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan and transform its ties from merely the donor-benefactor relationship that currently exists.  New Delhi’s hesitance in forging deeper ties with Afghanistan haven’t hurt India as badly as it could have, because many of us have consistently underestimated Pakistan’s propensity and willingness to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

However, the U.S.’s plans to withdraw forces from Afghanistan beginning in 2014, and Pakistan’s waning influence in D.C. on Afghanistan-related issues present new opportunities to India that it must act on.  As the U.S.’s role in Afghanistan changes, so must too India’s.  India should be looking to expand ties with Afghanistan and transform the donor-benefactor relationship to one between trading partners.  Given the common threats India and Afghanistan face, deepening military and intelligence cooperation is equally important.  The question that needs to be asked is if New Delhi will take cognizance of these opportunities and act on them, or will it fritter them away, as it unfortunately has with so many countries in its immediate neighborhood.

 

Read full story · Comments { 10 }

Syria-na

Say it ain’t so, India.

Another “inconvenient vote” at the UNSC and another instance of India wiggling out of its responsibilities as a member of the Council.  On Tuesday, India chose to abstain from a vote in the UNSC condemning the brutal suppression of human rights by the al-Assad regime.  As an explanation of its vote (or lack thereof) the External Affairs Ministry released the following statement:

India’s traditional position on country specific resolutions is well known. We do not regard spotlighting and finger -pointing at a country for human right violations as helpful. We believe that engaging the country concerned in collaborative and constructive dialogue and partnership is a more pragmatic and productive way forward.  This is what India along with its partners in IBSA, Brazil and South Africa has done.

However, since some members of this Council have found it necessary to propose a country specific resolution, it would have been desirable had this been done by consensus, without resorting to a vote, to reflect the shared perspective and unanimous views of the council. This has regrettably not happened.

We hope that our position on the vote is not misconstrued as condoning violations of human rights in any country, including Syria. On the contrary, we believe that it is imperative for every society to have the means of addressing human rights violations through robust mechanisms within themselves. International scrutiny should be resorted to, only when such mechanisms are non-existent or have consistently failed.

For the aforementioned reasons, India will be abstaining on the vote. [MEA]

India rationalizing its decision by pointing to Brazil and South Africa, its fellow-abstainees, is a nonstarter.  For one, while Brazil and South Africa are also permanent seat aspirants, neither one of them has made as much progress as India in garnering support for a permanent seat, should the necessary structural changes be implemented in the UN.

And if India abstaining from the vote wasn’t bad enough, this is what VP Haran, India’s ambassador to Syria had to say about the brutality of the al-Assad regime (per Ms Suhasini Haider, Senior Editor, CNN-IBN):

Indian Ambassador to Syria tells CNN-IBN: some of the reports of HR violations are ‘highly exaggerated’.Of 1950 killed, 600 are security

He would later add that President al-Assad had responded to pressure and had announced a timetable for elections.  Apparently, our ambassadors are turning into spokespersons for countries of their posting.  It is a morally reprehensible position for India to take.  Further, any ambiguity that India sought to create over its position on Syria should be effectively discarded, given the ambassador’s statements.  And this is after the very responsible statement put out by the External Affairs Ministry in response to the Syrian Vice Foreign Minister’s visit to New Delhi seeking India’s support, earlier this month.

For the record, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicates that the 1,900 killed in Syria excluded the approximately 400 military and police fatalities (August 18).  So much for the ambassador’s “clarification.”  And India’s absence of leadership at the Security Council, or its ambassadors’ shadow fighting on behalf of oppressive regimes cannot be blamed on New Delhi’s preoccupation with l’affaire Anna Hazare.

Read full story · Comments { 6 }

On Independence Day

India’s wars.

In keeping with (what I think has become) custom at The Filter Coffee, here’s a short blogpost and some thoughts on this Independence Day.  Most readers will be familiar with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech on August 15, 1947, on India’s independence from British rule.  While it is amongst the great speeches, Mr. Nehru’s address to India on August 15, 1948 — on the occasion of the first anniversary of its independence — is an important speech in its own right.  Within the span of a year, India had gone through much — Hindu-Muslim riots, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and a war with Pakistan.

In his speech, Mr. Nehru asks citizens to engage in new wars –for freedom and democracy, and against poverty, intolerance and economic impairment. Excerpts follow:

India will ultimately give us what we give her of love and service and productive and creative work. India will be what we are: Our thoughts and action will shape her. Born of her fruitful womb, we are children of hers, little bits of the India of today, and yet we are also the parents of the India of tomorrow. If we are big, so will India be, and if we grow little minded and narrow in outlook, so also will India be.

Freedom has no meaning unless it brings relief to these masses from their many burdens. Democracy means tolerance, tolerance not merely of those who agree with us, but of those who do not agree with us. With the coming of freedom our patterns of behavior must change also. . . .

The only war that we want to fight with all our might is the war against poverty and all its unhappy brood.  All the world suffers from the after-effects of the World War, and inflation and rising prices and unemployment oppress the people. In India we have all these and, in addition, the care of vast numbers of our brothers and sisters who have  been driven away from their homes to seek a new life elsewhere.

It is this war we have to fight, the war against economic crisis and to rehabilitate the disinherited. In this war there is no hatred or violence but only service of our country and our people. In this war every Indian can be a soldier. This is no time for individuals or groups to think of a narrow self-interest forgetting the larger good. This is no time for wrangling or the spirit of faction. [Link]

There are lessons in this speech for those concerned about the state of the nation, given the events of the last eight months.  The economy has performed below expectations; yet, inflation is on the rise.  The Commonwealth Games and 2G scandals have thrown open a Pandora’s Box of dirty little secrets. The political class is corrupt, and the citizens, apathetic. In this vacuum, sanctimonious crusaders have arisen, claiming to be the voice of the people and possessing answers to all of India’s ills.  And as a supine government attempts to, at once, placate and scoff at representatives of this new-age moral chauvinism, its engagement with the rest of the world (and a rapidly changing one at that, whose volatility presents both opportunities and threats to India’s interests) has been null and void.

A continued preoccupation with these issues — which have effectively put governance on auto-pilot — will not only hurt India domestically, but will also negatively impact its influence globally.  If India is to emerge stronger from what has been a challenging year, our elected representatives need to show leadership,  domestically and internationally.  They must get back to what should be their primary focus — bringing our millions out of poverty, allowing India to thrive and prosper, safeguarding India’s territorial integrity and securing its international interests.

Also see: Previous Independence Day commentary: 2010; 2009.

Read full story · Comments { 13 }