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Archive | December, 2011

In Pragati: Don’t tinker with the treaty

In December’s Pragati, I caution against any attempt to substantially alter the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) between India and Pakistan.  The framework provided by the treaty has stood the test of time and has withstood the pressures of three wars.  While there is no doubt that Pakistan faces a water crisis, we in India need to tread carefully when it comes to altering aspects of IWT to accommodate Pakistan’s problems.  India’s national interest should be the only consideration in determining where we go with IWT in the future. Magnanimity is not always a virtue.

Unfortunately, the undeniable benefits of the treaty to Pakistan have been obscured by misplaced apprehension and aggression.  Ayub Khan’s fears of Pakistan’s water insecurity did not prevent him from waging war against India in 1965. Since then, Pakistan has imposed war on India twice and provokedIndia through insurgencies and terror. Yet, India continues to respect the IWT in letter and spirit, not denying Pakistan its share of water even during times of war.

Certainly, transnational water sharing is a complicated subject. In our own region, the sharing of water between states and provinces has been an emotive issue, as evidenced by the disputes over the Kalabagh dam between the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh, and the Kaveri dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There is no denying that Pakistan’s water challenges are real, notwithstanding the dubious causes suggested. And it behooves India, as a neighbour, to help Pakistan address some of these challenges, where possible.

However, one must recognise that Pakistan’s water problems are its own and that to a great extent, the solutions to these problems lie in Pakistan. India cannot be expected to display magnanimity towards Pakistan when Pakistan itself has not demonstrated a basic desire to tackle structural and governance issues in water management. [Pragati]

Read the article in its entireity in Pragati ( PDF; Web page).

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General rhetoric

Gen. Kayani finds himself in a very unenviable position.

There is palpable anger in the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi over U.S. airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops last Saturday.  The most powerful man in Pakistan, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani has been forced to swing into damage control mode.  Pakistan’s first haphazard response to the attacks involved closing NATO supply lines and demanding  that the U.S. vacate Shamsi airbase (allegedly used to conduct drone strikes in K-P).  It then withdrew itself from the Bonn conference on Afghanistan.  Then there was a vague attempt to block the BBC and other “Western channels” from broadcasting in Pakistan — a strange threat at best, and one that is unlikely to hurt anyone, except possibly, listeners of the BBC in Pakistan.

Today, Gen Kayani apparently “upped the ante” by declaring that his troops would respond with “full force” to any future aggression by NATO or the U.S.:

“Be assured that we will not let the aggressor walk away easily,” the army chief said in a message for the troops and added that he had “clearly directed that any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences”.

He believed that the attack could have been retaliated effectively had the communications network not broken down. “Timely decision could not be taken due to breakdown of communication with the affected posts and therefore lack of clarity of situation at various levels, including corps HQ and GHQ.”

Gen Kayani further clarified that the troops could respond on their own, when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command. “I have full trust in your capabilities and resolve,” he stressed. [Dawn]

But this is all meaningless rhetoric for several reasons.  First, Pakistan is not the victim that it is claiming to be, but in fact the aggressor.  It has been reliably reported that it was Pakistan, not the U.S., that fired first, presumably in an attempt to aid the Taliban, which had come under siege from U.S. Special Forces.  This, of course, is not a new occurrence.  The Long War Journal catalogs at least eight occasions of unprovoked cross-border shelling by Pakistani troops in Mohmand Agency since September 2011.

Second, if the Pakistanis could have hit back at NATO or U.S. forces, they would have.  The fact that they didn’t indicates that they couldn’t.  Upon being initially challenged by the Pakistanis, U.S. Special Forces called in close air support from NATO, which proceeded to decimate the aggressors.  This is not an issue of a breakdown in communication between corps HQ and GHQ.  When you’re under attack and taking casualties, you don’t need “permission” from your Chief of Army Staff to defend yourself.

Third, bravado notwithstanding, how can the Pakistani army realistically “respond with full force, regardless of the cost or consequences?” Does Gen. Kayani not expect the U.S. to respond in kind to Pakistani military action? Is Pakistan really that stupid to get into a fight with the U.S. or NATO and trigger an uncontrollable chain of events?

The truth of the matter is that the proverbial noose around the neck of the current Chief of Army Staff is tightening since the humiliation of the Abbottabad raid in May.  Pakistan’s inability to respond to the recent “act of aggression” puts Gen. Kayani in a very unenviable position.  And the more that noose tightens, the more erratic Gen. Kayani’s actions will get.  There are already many Yahyas in Rawalpindi to Kayani’s Ayub. And as a restless nation bays for blood, Kayani is capable of attempting to placate them with little else than bellicose rhetoric.

Given the rather delicate situation that he finds himself in, Gen. Kayani in actuality should be praying for zero confrontation with NATO or U.S. forces in the short-term, rather than welcoming it. For should he find himself in a Salala-like situation in the near future, he might discover that the cost of backing down from another military confrontation with the U.S. outweighs its apparent benefits.

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