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Stepping up on Afghanistan

India must use its good offices to ensure that the U.S. and Afghanistan sign a bilateral security agreement.

If the world was in need of a preview of things to come in a post-2014 Afghanistan, it got one on Friday.  A Taliban attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant in Kabul claimed 21 lives. Those killed included the International Monetary Fund’s chief for Afghanistan, a senior political official at the UN and a British candidate in the upcoming elections for the European parliament.

The insurgency in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of many of its citizens as well as those of NATO’s security forces.  But as the New York Times notes, attacks against foreign soft targets have been relatively less frequent.  The Kabul Hotel Inter-Continental was attacked in 2011; U.S. and Indian embassies have been hit in Kabul and in other parts of Afghanistan.  The more recent attacks have involved operations with the use of suicide bombers to breach perimeter security followed by commando-style assaults with the use of RPGs and assault rifles.

The Taliban have historically relied on suicide attacks against Western military targets, but the use of commando-style assaults in and around Kabul may point to a collaboration with Pakistan-sponsored groups like the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, loosely referred to as the “Kabul Attack Network.”

The goal, ultimately, is to weaken the will of the West to remain in Afghanistan after 2014.  The U.S. and NATO winding down operations in Afghanistan will undoubtedly create a perilous security situation in that country.  Afghan president Hamid Karzai has refused to enter into a status of forces agreement with the U.S., even as the Afghan National Army remains ill-equipped to deal with a raging insurgency coupled with terrorist assaults on the capital.

Mr. Karzai is throwing caution to the wind by tying the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to the U.S. facilitating “peace talks” with the Taliban.  He may get neither.  The U.S.’s ability to facilitate a negotiation with the Taliban remains in question, particularly when the Taliban and their sponsors in Pakistan have been working towards the goal of ensuring a total exit of U.S. and allied forces from Afghanistan all along.  Mr. Karzai, whose presidency ends in April 2014, may have little to lose, but the burdens of his action or inaction will be borne by Afghanistan’s future governments.

Meanwhile, anyone in New Delhi still under the delusion that events in Afghanistan have no bearing on the security of India would do well to reach for their history books.  It is precisely the sort of Pakistan-supported, Taliban-operated environment that could prevail in a post-2014 Afghanistan that allowed for India’s surrender of Maulana Masood Azhar (who was languishing in an Indian jail) in Kandahar in exchange for passengers hijacked onboard IC-814 in 1999.

As a result of our capitulation, Azhar returned to Pakistan to regroup members of the terrorist group Harkat ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and formed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in 2000.  A year later, JeM attacked the Indian parliament, killing 12 civilians.  Our members of parliament, rather miraculously, escaped unharmed.

A similar situation may present itself when the U.S. departs Afghanistan.  Although many of us have called for India to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, or at least play a more active role in training and supplying weapons to Afghan security forces, New Delhi has chosen to only limit its involvement to economy and institution-building.  Laudable endeavors undoubtedly, but insufficient to ensure the security of India and her interests in that country.

India has already rebuffed Mr. Karzai’s request for weaponry during his December 2013 visit.  But if India is disinclined to deploy hard power in Afghanistan, it must, at the very least, ensure that a U.S. security presence remains in the country to prevent it from being engulfed in yet another civil war that could render twelve years of development and progress to naught.

Indeed, India is most uniquely positioned — as a friend to both the U.S. and Afghanistan — to use its good offices to ensure that a version of the BSA agreeable to both Afghanistan and the U.S. is signed.  Almost every other country is viewed with suspicion by either DC or Kabul.  Last week, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan-Pakistan visited India to discuss the furture of Afghanistan.  U.S. intelligence officials also met an Indian delegation led by Joint Intelligence Chief Ajit Lal to urge India’s influence with Mr. Karzai to conclude the BSA.

There is no doubt that India is in the midst of domestic political upheaval.  The economy is sagging and political stewardship is found wanting in almost every aspect of governance.  However, facilitating a status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and the U.S. must become a national security priority for India.

A U.S.-Afghanistan BSA cannot prevent attacks such as the one this past Friday, but it may stave off a total collapse of the state to the Taliban.  Ultimately, it is simply not in India’s interests to see Afghanistan relapse into the laboratory of terrorism that it once was under Pakistan’s influence. (And on a separate note, New Delhi’s assistance in facilitating a BSA could also demonstrate that both India and the U.S. are committed to putting the very unseemly squabble over Devyani Khobragade behind them).

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Urdunama: Alvida, Manmohan Singh

So, having been the source of a well-directed plant that led to commotion and friction between India and Pakistan in New York, Hamid Mir in a column in today’s Jang entitled “Alvida, Manmohan Singh” argues that the end is nigh where Manmohan Singh’s tenure as PM is concerned and that Pakistan is better off waiting for India’s general elections to conclude before pursuing dialog on bilateral issues.  Excerpts follow:

Nawaz Sharif’s attempts at bringing to attention the Kashmir issue in New York angered Manmohan Singh who then used his meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama to spread propaganda against Pakistan and level accusations against us during his UNGA address.

But Manmohan Singh forgets that the attack on the Samjhauta Express occurred during his own tenure and that there has yet to be any sentencing, despite the fact that a retired colonel of the Indian army was identified as being involved in the incident.  Indeed, during Dr. Singh’s tenure, a covert unit under the command of Gen. VK Singh was planning to spread terror in Pakistan.

There is no doubt that non-state actors from Pakistan have targeted India; however, these non-state actors have been targeting Pakistan far more than they have India over the last few years.  Such non-state actors are also present in India.  But India ignores its internal actors and blames Pakistan instead.

Nawaz Sharif was clear in his conversations with Manmohan Singh that Pakistan desires peace, but let India not mistake this desire as a sign of weakness.  Nawaz Sharif’s inclusion of Kashmir in his address to the UNGA angered Manmohan Singh enough to complain to Barack Obama.  Perhaps Manmohan Singh was under the illusion that Barack Obama had a remote through which he could control Nawaz Sharif’s speech and compel him to not bring up the Kashmir issue at the UNGA.

Ultimately, Nawaz Sharif did meet with Manmohan Singh, but this was a meeting to bid farewell.  Manmohan Singh’s tenure as PM will end in a few months.  He will retire and perhaps write a memoir recollecting his inconclusive negotiations with Gen. Musharraf.  Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif, however, should pursue plans for rapprochement with a new leadership after the elections in India.  [روزنامہ جنگ]

What does this all mean for India?  As a result of the meeting between Dr. Singh and Nawaz Sharif, the DGMOs of India and Pakistan are set to meet to discuss plans to restore the sanctity of the LoC.  However, Pakistan apparently doesn’t see any incentive to restore the ceasefire until it is able to negotiate with an Indian leadership post the general elections in May 2014.

Translation for India: expect a hot border for the next several months.  The LoC ceasefire is not likely to be restored any time soon.

 

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Storytelling in New York

Will the real Hamid Mir please stand up?

The great thaw in Indo-Pakistan ties that some hoped for in New York is degenerating rapidly into a farce.  When the new civilian administration came to power in Pakistan, it appeared eager to improve relations with India.  Mian Nawaz Sharif said his agenda for peace with India in his previous tenure was derailed by Gen. Musharraf.

Then in August, five Indian soldiers were killed by Pakistani troops, who ventured across the LoC into J&K  to carry out the attack. Mr. Sharif offered to meet Prime Minister Singh at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Initially cool to the offer given an increasing number of LoC violations, the PM eventually agreed to a meeting.

In his speech at the UNGA, Mr. Sharif said he hoped for a “new beginning” with India.  He then ushered in this new beginning by raking up the Kashmir issue, warning that the “suffering of people cannot be brushed under the carpet, because of power politics.” With the atmosphere vitiated, Dr. Singh responded in his own speech by asserting that Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of India and that “there can never, ever, be a compromise with the unity and territorial integrity of India.”

While Pakistan and India were busy reverting to predictable and boring positions in the Big Apple, drama was unfolding in Pakistan.  Hamid Mir, journalist and CEO of Geo Television, appeared via phone on a Pakistani show called “Aapas ki Baat” to update viewers on his meeting with Nawaz Sharif this morning.

Mr. Mir put it across that Mr. Sharif was unhappy with the Indian PM’s speech and discussions about Pakistan with U.S. president Barack Obama.  Nawaz Sharif, Mr. Mir said, told NDTV Group Editor Barkha Dutt that Dr. Singh was behaving not like a prime minister but like a “dehati aurat.” On Twitter today, Ms. Dutt refuted and provided context to Mr. Mir’s distorted version of events.

Mr. Mir hosts a show called “Aman ki Asha” on Geo TV, which aims to, among other things, improve relations between India and Pakistan.  But as a columnist in the Pakistani Urdu newspaper, Jang, Mr. Mir is far more open to towing the line of the Pakistani establishment on India, including issues pertaining to Kashmir and popular, but imagined conspiracy theories on India’s involvement in everything that happens in Pakistan.

Just this past week, Mr. Mir authored a piece in the Jang about claims and counterclaims between the UPA and Gen. VK Singh with regard to Pakistan.  The column titled “Yeh koi nayi baat nahi” (This is nothing new) is replete with fantastic conspiracy theories that suggest Indian involvement in the 1996 bombing of Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital.  Excerpts follow:

The prime minister (Benazir Bhutto) called for a meeting with the chief minister of Punjab and the IG and directed them to find those responsible for the Shaukat Khanum Hospital blast as quickly as possible.  Within a few days, the police arrested a young man named Ishaq Mirasi from a village along the border.  Ishaq Mirasi was also wanted in connection with the bombing of Lahore Airport’s old terminal.

The arrest notwithstanding, I was skeptical as to the connection between this poor villager and the Shaukat Khanum Hospital….I ended up conducting a detailed interview of Ishaq Mirasi in prison.  Ishaq told me that he was involved in petty smuggling.  On one such occasion while crossing the border into India, he was arrested by Indian army personnel.

An Indian army officer asked him whether he would prefer a long prison sentence in India or was instead willing to work (for the Indian army).  When Ishaq chose the latter, he was given training in bomb making and sent back to Pakistan.  After completing his mission, he would cross the border into India and provide Pakistani English-language newspapers covering the blasts as evidence to receive his payment…

…Interior Minister Nasirullah Babar told me India was trying to recruit the poor and unemployed in Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar and was financing sectarian organizations to promote discord between the Sunnis and Shias.

[On Gen VK Singh's comments]… This is nothing new. It is possible that the military intelligence unit targeting Pakistan has been disbanded  But R&AW’s covert intelligence units continue their operations against Pakistan.

Instead of putting on an act of friendship, Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh (if they meet in New York) ought to discuss how India and Pakistan can put an end to conspiring against each other    [روزنامہ جنگ]

Civilian leaders in Pakistan have met Dr. Singh in the past without there being extra-circular activities from the Pakistani military establishment.  Former Pakistan prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, whose Pakistan Peoples Party enjoyed anything but cordial relations with the army, met Dr. Singh in Sharm el-Sheikh and later on in Mohali during the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final.

But Mr. Sharif’s attempts at outreach seem to coincide with violations along the LoC, an attack this week on a police station and army camp in Jammu & Kashmir, and now apparently targeted information operations with a view to scuttle talks between Dr. Singh and Mr. Sharif in New York.  The question that needs to be asked then is what was Mr. Sharif willing to offer or discuss with the Indian PM that has so ruffled the feathers of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.

As for Hamid Mir, it would be sadly ironical for the host of a show called “Aman ki Asha” to be responsible for putting paid to Mr. Sharif’s attempts at improving ties with India. It behooves Mr. Mir to respond.

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The LoC Incident

Manmohan Singh must meet with Nawaz Sharif in New York.

Even as we begin to fully understand the circumstances that led to the killing of five Indian jawans by Pakistani troops last week, we are informed of yet another Indian soldier succumbing to injuries today from a Pakistani attack on August 5 in J&K’s Samba district.

In New Delhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh has maintained a steely silence (as is his wont) on both incidents.  His defense minister made a dog’s meal of the incident in Parliament for which he was so thoroughly pilloried by the opposition that he had to recant his statement the very next day.  Meanwhile, opposition parties are engaged in hyperbole and political theatrics with May 2014 in mind.  What should have been dealt with at more tactical military level has now morphed into something larger, and unnecessarily so.  There are now even ludicrous demands that India recall its high commissioner from Islamabad.

As mentioned in the previous blogpost, LoC attacks by Pakistan are nothing new.  Cross-border attacks have continued to increased year-on-year over the past five years, from 31 in 2008 to 108 in 2012.  These sorts of attacks are both routine and expected and should have been dealt with as such.  The Indian army has a demonstrable track record of being able to deal with these sorts of transgressions.  Had the prime minister condemned the attack and issued a timely statement to the effect that the army was on alert to respond to Pakistan’s provocations, he would have ensured that the incident would have been dealt with through appropriate channels.  And as long as the Indian army’s mandate to respond in kind to Pakistan’s aggressions along the LoC was not curtailed, an appropriate punitive response would have assuredly been delivered to Pakistan.

Instead, the UPA has bungled badly in its dealing of what should have been a tactical military issue and allowed it to get commingled with the larger, political issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.  The prime minister’s over-enthusiastic commitment to a so-called “peace process” with Pakistan (which possibly explains his silence on the killing of Indian troops and the defense minister’s statements) has left him with yet another political mess on his hands.  The Pakistanis, themselves, are always happy to oblige in any endeavor that publicizes and promotes visibility of India-Pakistan issues on the world stage, so a latent upping of the ante with Pakistan is of no real value to India.  It should be of no surprise to us, then, that Pakistan is behaving the way it is.

The BJP now wants the PM not to meet with Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA in September, but it must realize that its position is untenable.  If India wants to see progress on the 26/11 trial in Pakistan and those responsible for it brought to book, is cutting off communication with a man who has, ostensibly, promised to work towards improving ties with India a wise course of action?  The question for India isn’t so much whether or not it must talk to Pakistan, but what it should be talking to Pakistan about.  On 26/11, some measure of justice was delivered to the victims and their families with the sentencing and hanging of Ajmal Kasab in India, and by the sentencing of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana in the U.S.

Yet, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leaders and their state-supported backers who financed and supported the attacks in Mumbai continue to evade justice in Pakistan.  It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif’s ability to deliver on promises has always been questionable.  The last time he attempted to defy the Pakistani army, he was lucky to find himself with a one-way ticket to Jeddah. But India’s options with regard to the 26/11 trial in Pakistan are few and far between.

Therefore, it is appropriate that Dr. Manmohan Singh meet Nawaz Sharif in New York.  His message to his Pakistani counterpart should be clear: deliver on the 26/11 trial and we’ll have something to talk about.  No progress on the 26/11 trial means no composite dialog, no discussions on J&K and no visit to Pakistan.  How Nawaz Sharif elects to go about to the process to bring the 26/11 trial in Pakistan to a satisfactory conclusion is up to him.  Potentially, there are fissures between Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT operational chief who is already in “custody,” and Hafiz Saeed that could be exploited to deliver a result that India will appreciate.

Nawaz Sharif says he wants to improve ties with India.  Let’s see if he can translate intent into action.

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