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No withdrawal syndrome

India still has the ability to ensure that its interests in Afghanistan are protected after 2014.

The U.S., with eyes set on a 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan, is attempting to engage the Taliban in peace talks in Doha, Qatar.  The talks are being brokered by the military establishment in Pakistan, much to the chagrin of Hamid Karzai.  Indeed, two of the most recent attempts to engage with the Taliban were scuttled because Mr. Karzai took offense to the Taliban claiming it represented the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”  Mr. Karzai apparently read the riot act to folks in DC, which was enough to call off talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, albeit temporarily.

If a preview was needed on what a post-NATO environment might look like in Afghanistan, the world got one on Monday.  The Taliban launched a suicide attack near the presidential palace and the offices of the CIA in Kabul.  But the U.S., for its part, now says it is unsure as to whether it even considers the Taliban to be a terrorist organization.

The irony should not be lost on us that it was the U.S. that was in no mood for negotiation (“Bring ‘em on,” he said) when it launched a massive assault on Afghanistan in 2001; twelve years on, it is the Taliban that appears disinterested in working out compromises while the U.S. is engaged in nimble pussyfooting.

With the U.S. and NATO forces leaving in 2014, Hamid Karzai’s regime will be losing its security guarantor.  The Afghan National Army (ANA) is ill-trained and faces attrition and ethnic disunity.  It will be incapable of completely taking over security operations from NATO after 2014.  Therefore, deal or no deal with the U.S., when Mullah Omar and his faithful followers return to Afghanistan, the country will be plunged into yet another bloody and protracted civil war that will most likely leave the Taliban in a position of advantage.  Pakistan’s perfidy is bearing fruit.

For India, instability in Afghanistan will affect not only its infrastructure and exploration projects in that country, but could also have an impact on India’s domestic security.  Few in India have forgotten the Pakistan-engineered hijacking of IC-814 in 1999 to Kandahar that compelled India to release Maulana Masood Azhar (who later founded the Jaish-e-Mohammed) and Omar Sheikh (now sentenced to death for his role in the killing of Daniel Pearl) in exchange for Indian hostages.

Pakistan has continued to exploit the instability in Afghanistan to engineer attacks against Indian interests in Kabul; the 2008 and 2009 Indian embassy bombings come to mind.  It is very possible, therefore, that there will be a qualitative and quantitative escalation in attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan once the U.S. and its allies leave.

It is to the backdrop of these developments that the newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began a tour of India and the Middle East.  In India apparently, he was given a frosty reception. Mr. Kerry is said to have addressed a largely empty India Habitat Center on Sunday.  We are told many in New Delhi are upset at the U.S. “abandoning Afghanistan” and negotiating compromises with the Taliban.  New Delhi is “livid” at John Kerry the “opportunist,” one report said.

But surely, the U.S.’s attempts to extricate itself from a messy situation in Afghanistan are the rational actions of a country that deems its exit from the region to be in line with its national interests.  How does one justify India’s apparent anger at the U.S.?  For over a decade, the U.S. has been the dominant guarantor of security in Afghanistan.  Chinese and Indian investment projects in Afghanistan have benefited greatly by the security provided by NATO.  Yet, neither India nor China has contributed significantly to providing security in Afghanistan.

Calls have been made in the past for India to deploy its troops and assist in the effort to secure Afghanistan.  In a 2010 article in Pragati, I made the case for India to provide training and equipment to the ANA in a more meaningful manner.  But apart from training a few army and police officers and supplying helicopters to the ANA, we have largely avoided accepting security-related responsibilities in Afghanistan for fear of exacerbating Pakistan’s pathological insecurities.

Indeed, even Mr. Karzai’s apparent last-ditch attempt to request Indian assistance in securing Afghanistan was dealt with great hesitance in New Delhi.  The free ride is now at an end; the U.S. and its allies are pursuing courses of action that they believe are in line with their national interests; India must do likewise too.

The generals in Rawalpindi are free to believe that they have played the great game with a superpower and that victory now is at hand.  But to draw parallels between the emerging regional environment and that of the 1990s, when Pakistan exerted unchallenged influence over Afghanistan, would be to misread the situation.  First, the U.S.’s exit from Afghanistan will not necessarily translate into Pakistan getting a free hand to do as it pleases in Afghanistan.  The U.S. will still continue to maintain a small, but effective military presence in the region, including a contingent of armed drones.

Second, Pakistan as the source of a potential terror threat to the U.S. homeland will not diminish post 2014.  The U.S. will undoubtedly be aware of this, and as such, is unlikely to wind down capabilities needed to neutralize threats based in Pakistan.  Indeed, recent hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security (coupled with similar hearings in the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2010) on Lashkar-e-Taiba — a Pakistan-supported terrorist group traditionally thought of as being India-focused, but posing no potential threat to the U.S. — points to a recalculation of assumptions on the LeT  in the U.S.

Third, Pakistan’s generals have filled their coffers with money provided as economic aid by the U.S. for over ten years.  But this source of funds will dry up with the U.S.’s departure.  In fact, it is likely that the U.S.’s first-hand experience with Pakistan’s duplicity on terror and nuclear proliferation will invite fresh U.S. sanctions similar to the Pressler Amendment.  Fresh sanctions directed at a country already on economic life-support can be an effective tool in curtailing bad behavior.

And fourth, Pakistan’s towns and cities are facing the consequences of the army’s poor choice of using militants as instruments of foreign policy.  Many have turned their guns on the state and its citizens, while insurgencies rage on in FATA, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.  This doesn’t mean, however, that Pakistan won’t continue to arm terrorist groups focused on India and Afghanistan; but the consequences of a spillover of the conflict from Afghanistan into Pakistan on an overstretched army will not be lost on Rawalpindi either.

Thus, even at this juncture and for all its inaction, India can still ensure that its interests — both in Afghanistan and in India — remain protected.  Old alliances can be renewed and new ones established; covert capabilities and information sharing with the Afghan intelligence apparatus and regional powers can be enhanced.  Closer cooperation with the U.S. amidst a convergence of perceptions on Pakistan could give India new levers with which to manage its relations with its difficult neighbor to the west.  Contrary to popular perception, this game is far from over.

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Not your grandma’s al-Qaeda

Don’t ignore the possibility that attacks against the U.S. in Egypt and Libya were coordinated.

On Tuesday, the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt came under attack.  In Cairo, an enraged mob, numbering — at first, about 50 — and later, hundreds, breached the embassy compound, took down the American flag and supposedly replaced it with al-Qaeda’s flag.  In Benghazi, the attack turned far more serious and resulted in the deaths of the U.S.’s ambassador to Libya, a consulate staffer, and two U.S. marines.

We are told that the reason behind the attacks was a movie entitled “Innocence of Muslims” by one Sam Bacile, an Israeli living in California, which depicts the Prophet Mohammed in poor light.  Excerpts of the movie have been published on Youtube, from where the attackers apparently first viewed its contents.  The film is being promoted by controversial pastor, Terry Jones, who was involved in the very public burning of the Quran, two years to the day of these recent attacks.

But mystery surrounds the person who is said to have directed the movie.  By some accounts, Sam Bacile has gone into hiding following the violent reaction to this film.  However, no current or historical records of the existence of an individual named Sam Bacile exist in the state of California or anywhere else in the U.S.  There are some suggestions that Sam Bacile might be a pseudonym of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a resident of Los Angeles.

News media in the U.S. has focused much of its energy on the Benghazi attack.  But earlier this morning, this blogger had tweeted that coordination between the attacks in Libya and Egypt cannot (and must not) be ruled out.  My contention was that these were per-meditated attacks against U.S. interests abroad on the anniversary of 9/11 and that the film itself may have offered an excuse to inflame passions, but was not the motive behind the attack.

Over the past many hours, U.S. officials have confirmed that they believe that the attack was planned in advance, and that protests merely offered a diversion.  The use of RPGs against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi makes this a distinct possibility.  In Egypt, Mohamed al-Zahwahiri, brother of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zahwahiri, claimed responsibility for the attack.  Mohamed al-Zahwahiri had only recently been released from prison, as part of the political upheaval following the so-called “Arab Spring” freedom movement in that country.  The irony is lost in the tragedy.

The attack in Benghazi is being linked to Ansar al-Shariah (AS), a group that has historically been affiliated with the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) umbrella.  AS continues to be active in Yemen and played a defining role in political realignments in Tunisia (as part of Asar al-Shariah in Tunisia, or AST), post the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

It could be likely, therefore, that militants from AST, already involved in the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, were responsible for the attack, given the geographic proximity to Tunisia.  Both attacks bear the signature of al-Qaeda, or its affiliated groups.  Osama bin Laden may be long gone, but this isn’t the al-Qaeda of yore.

These events pose new challenges to the U.S. and other countries.  The threat vector of jihad is evolving.  A decade ago, al-Qaeda relied on a dedicated core of foot-soldiers to attack the U.S. and U.S.-interests — even at the cost of their own lives — around the world.  Today, a voluntary cadre of foot-soldiers, ready to forsake their own lives, may not be a necessity.

There is a growing trend of utilizing social media and the Internet to inflame public opinion, which can then be employed as the agent of attack.  Indeed, in India last month, the use of websites and SMSs to, at once, highlight the plight of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam, and terrorize Northeast Indians into leaving their adopted cities without over having to employ direct force indicates the evolving mindset of extremist organizations and state sponsors of terrorism.

The U.S., India and other like-minded countries would do well to take cognizance of these changing attack vectors and co-operate to address mutual and evolving threats.

 

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Threading the needle

What the U.S.’s “Apolo-jee” to Pakistan really means.

There is jubilation among Pakistan’s social media commentators on the apology (hereinafter referred to as “apolo-jee”) apparently tendered by the U.S. to Pakistan on account of the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November at the Salala checkpost near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.  If these narratives are to be believed, then the U.S. has, after months of resistance, accepted culpability for the murder of the Pakistani soldiers and apologized to the Pakistani government for its transgression.

Moreover, little David, financially bankrupt and increasingly running out of room to maneuver, stood up nonetheless to Goliath; and would you believe it, Goliath backed down.  It’s a beautiful little tale, and one that will no doubt leave many teary-eyed.  But really, what did the U.S. say today that it hasn’t said on several occasions since November 26, 2011?

U.S. Secretary of State Hilliary Clinton’s office released this statement to the press:

This morning, I spoke by telephone with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

I once again reiterated our deepest regrets for the tragic incident in Salala last November. I offered our sincere condolences to the families of the Pakistani soldiers who lost their lives. Foreign Minister Khar and I acknowledged the mistakes that resulted in the loss of Pakistani military lives. We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military. We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again.

As I told the former Prime Minister of Pakistan days after the Salala incident, America respects Pakistan’s sovereignty and is committed to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect. [U.S. Department of State]

Let’s examine this “apolo-jee,” shall we? First, a reiteration of a regret does not an apology amounting to acceptance of culpability make. Second, apparently, both Pakistan and the U.S. acknowledged the “mistakes” made that resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s military lives.  But whose mistakes? Vague. Third, “we are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistan military”? Losses? What losses, and suffered where? The Pakistani armed forces have a rich and storied history of suffering losses, as anyone in India can tell you.  Pakistan’s own politicians, military officials and commentators are quick to remind the world that it has lost 40,000 of its finest supporting “America’s War.”  Sec. Clinton’s statement is, therefore, hardly an apology for Salala.

Furthermore, Sec. Clinton’s statements say nothing that the U.S. has not already said about the incident. NATO’s secretary general expressed “regret” a mere two days after the Salala incident.  The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Pakistan regretted the incident too.  In fact, various Obama administration officials had “regretted” the incident about 20 times.  All these apologies were summarily rejected by Pakistan. So pray, why is regret #21 the charm?

The fact of the matter is, Pakistan had put itself in a position whether it could neither back down from a costly confrontation with the U.S., for domestic political reasons, nor continue to impede the U.S., given its economic condition. Both Pakistan and the U.S. had previously attempted to arrive at a settlement, but these negotiations proved inconclusive due to Pakistan’s demand for both an apology, and transit fee of $5,000 per truck that crossed its territory.

Now, if this was a “soft apology,” today’s statement certainly did not say “we’re sorry we killed your soldiers.”  And per the New York Times, Pakistan has agreed to keep the transit fee at its current rate of $250 per truck.  So Pakistan is 0-for-2 in its demands to the U.S., but has nonetheless opened up its on-land supply routes to NATO.  Still feel like David won?

Quite simply, Pakistan had ratcheted up the rhetoric to a point where it couldn’t climb down without losing face. The U.S. had two options — allow Pakistan to continue to squirm, or work out an arrangement with Pakistan to re-open on-land supply routes.  It chose the latter, allowing Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership to step back from the brink without suffering yet another humiliating surrender at the hands of the U.S. Pakistan, for its part, was more than revealed.

If any further clarity was needed, the conspicuous absence of any Difa-e-Pakistan Council crazies, whose leaders had previous organized mass protests and even written an “open letter” to Pakistan’s parliamentarians urging no compromise on reopening supply routes, provides us enough context to the apology that never was.

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Urdunama: Khula Khat

Jamaat ud-Dawwa’s (JuD’s) leader Hafiz Saeed recently published an “open letter” to Pakistan’s parliament, protesting its decision to restore on-land NATO supply routes and “conditional re-engagement” with the U.S. The pamphlet bears the letterhead of the JuD, but appears to speak on behalf of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), further confirming the futility in attempts to distinguish between the two, or indeed between the DPC and the MJC brotherhood.  This “open letter” was brought to light by journalist Omar Quraishi (thanks to @Vikram_Sood for the link) .  The pamphlet was pasted outside one of Karachi’s most upscale stores (اردو).

To the Members of Parliament:

As you are aware, the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) has presented its recommendations on relations with the U.S. and the issue of NATO’s supply lines during the joint parliamentary session on March 20, 2012.  News reports indicate that NATO supply lines are being restored due to U.S. pressure.  It is also allegedly being proposed that taxes on NATO supplies be increased and that 50 per cent of the traffic be transported via rail.

The Difa-e-Pakistan Council has already communicated its thoughts to the Parliament on the above proposals, and would further like to remind the Parliament that:

  1. Parvez Musharraf entered into secret and verbal agreements with the U.S. that ultimately were detrimental to our own security and to the security of our Afghan brothers.  However, if these agreements are now being given formal consent via the Parliament, it sets a very dangerous precedent.
  2. The East India Company had also entered into similar agreements with the Mughal Empire, which resulted in the colonization of India.  If the Parliament accedes to these agreements, Pakistan’s sovereignty will no doubt be compromised.
  3. We must be cognizant of the fact that restoration of on-land access routes to NATO will negatively impact our relations with China.
  4. The bold bipartisan decision to ban NATO supply routes after the Salala incident brought confidence to the people of Pakistan.  However, if these routes were to be reauthorized, it would create confusion and instability in our country.
  5. It is indeed worrying that India is being given on-land access to Afghanistan and West Asia via Pakistan.  In fact, this presents a far greater risk to Pakistan than the restoration of supply routes to NATO. The U.S. and India have recently concluded joint military exercises in Rajasthan.  Granting India route access to Afghanistan via Pakistan and entering into trade agreements with that country present a security threat to Pakistan and risks annoying friendly nations such as China.
  6. We must consider that NATO containers travel through all provinces of Pakistan and have previously been targeted and could be targeted yet again if supply routes are restored.  Thus, the U.S. might use repeated attacks on its trucks as a ruse to invade or establish a military foothold inside Pakistan, claiming a lack of confidence in the Pakistani armed forces’ ability to safeguard their assets.
  7. The U.S. has never honored any of its agreements with Pakistan.  It instead blamed Pakistan for the Salala altercation.  Are we about to endorse these actions, and that too via our own Parliament? Would this happen, Pakistan will be engulfed yet again by the flames of terrorism fanned by the likes of the U.S., NATO and India.

Dear Members of Parliament, we ask that you consider our requests objectively.  We ask that you depart from the tradition of parochial policy-making and think instead of Pakistan’s citizens and its future generations.  If you were to make your decisions against the will of the people of Pakistan, it will hurt the nation and our Afghan brothers.  Please remember that those helping people who burn the Quran and kill our brothers will be accountable for their sins in this life and beyond.  May Allah assist you in doing right by your people.

Your well-wisher,

Hafiz Muhammad Saeed

Ameer, Jamaat ud-Dawwa Pakistan [Source]

The “open letter” is interesting because where India and the U.S. are concerned, the LeT/JuD (unlike other jihadi outfits) has seldom differed with sponsors in Rawalpindi.  However, it would also be nearly impossible for a decision in Pakistan’s parliament to have been concluded on the future of ties with the U.S. and on NATO supply routes without consultation and approval from GHQ.

Effectively, the GHQ is being drawn into making compromises on U.S. demands out of reluctance yet again, as it was at the beginning of U.S. operations in Afghanistan in 2001.  It has since pursued a policy of  supporting U.S.-led operations, while covertly attempting to undermine them.  Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj’s antics, the Haqqani network’s activities inside Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden’s discovery in Abbottabad are but examples of Pakistan’s attempts at subversion.

While Rawalpindi might have agreed ostensibly to restore NATO supply routes, it does so out of necessity and with every intention to keep the pressure on the U.S. and allied forces with 2014 in mind.  To that end, it might employ a series of agents to do its bidding. Historically, groups such as the LeT have been primarily been India-focused.  But this might be changing if Rawalpindi is committed to temporary bonhomie with India. The recent attacks by the Taliban in Kabul and not-so-subtle threats in bullet #6 above might be harbingers of a dangerous summer.

Note: Source and additional detail updated based on the pamphlet on the Difa-e-Pakistan Council website.

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