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Getting India’s priorities right

Does it matter if Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan are called off?

The government of India has cancelled the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan as a result of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, meeting with Hurriyat leaders.  The meetings took place apparently despite Indian warnings to Mr. Basit that Pakistan could choose to engage in dialog with either India or the separatists, but not with both.  It is possible that new red lines are being drawn on what India considers unacceptable engagement by Pakistani politicians and diplomats.  Reaction to India’s response has been mixed; some have called it an overreaction, while others believe India’s response was justified.

But whether India’s decision was an overreaction or a justified response is of no real relevance.  India and Pakistan hold such divergent and irreconcilable positions on Kashmir that a resolution seems almost next to impossible as things stand today.  For India this matters little, as a status-quoist state in a position of advantage in every area of contention vis-à-vis Pakistan on Kashmir.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has a problem.  As Christine Fair rightly notes in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Pakistan is “revisionist, or anti-status quo, in that it desires to bring all of the disputed territory of Kashmir under its control, including the portion currently governed by India.”  Pakistan’s problem though, is that there exists a significant and ever-increasing disparity between its ends and means.  Its military campaigns to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India have failed with increasing decisiveness in each successive attempt.  India has also successfully thwarted – though at a significant cost – Pakistan’s sub-conventional war in Jammu & Kashmir.

In short, Pakistan’s attempts at resolving the Kashmir dispute through violent means have failed.  Pakistan is therefore left with the only option of negotiation through diplomacy.  But Pakistan’s leaders, present and past, have built a narrative around J&K that allows no scope for nuance, negotiation or compromise.  The resulting public sentiment in Pakistan is that it is unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of India handing Kashmir over to Pakistan on a silver platter.  And that is hardly going to happen.

It doesn’t matter how many whitepapers and non-papers are written and circulated about potential solutions to J&K.  Optimism about their viability isn’t shared by many beyond the confines of Track-II moots in which they are enthusiastically presented.  Ultimately, Pakistan cannot demand anything less than a total surrender of Jammu & Kashmir and India cannot (and will not) give Pakistan what it wants.

This is not at all to advocate a total cessation of dialog with Pakistan.  There is benefit to be derived from continued dialog on ancillary issues such as liberalizing trade and visa regimes.  As far as one can tell, India has only cancelled FS-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, not shut the door on future opportunities for talks between the two governments.

Indeed, even as news of the cancelled August 25 talks hogged the limelight, state-run gas utilities from India and Pakistan appear to be in advanced talks for exporting gas from India to Pakistan via a pipeline from Jalandhar to Lahore.  Operationalizing such a project would be significant, considering our troubled histories.  India can continue to pursue these and other pragmatic initiatives with Pakistan, but there are more pressing foreign policy matters that demand India’s attention than its western neighbor.

For India, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority but a national security threat, given its continued use of terrorism against the Indian homeland and Indian interests abroad.  Dealing with such a threat requires a different set of objectives, actors and intended outcomes.  Currently, those actors do not reside in the Ministry of External Affairs, but in other ministries and agencies of the Indian government.  If India is to expend significant time and effort on Pakistan, it will be better served if they are spent in the pursuit of means to mitigate the threats to India’s national security emanating from that country.

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GEOPolitics

The attack on Hamid Mir and its aftermath.

Propagandists in Pakistan move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.  Those who once exercised creative license to ascribe any and all acts of terror in Pakistan to India’s external intelligence agency R&AW are now being labeled agents of that same agency.  Hamid Mir, senior journalist with the GEO Group, was attacked this past Saturday by unidentified persons while on his way to a special broadcast on GEO TV in Karachi.  Mr. Mir was shot six times in the abdomen and legs, but miraculously survived the attack.

In the ensuing outrage, Amir Mir, brother to Hamid and a journalist of repute himself, accused the ISI of orchestrating the attack on his brother.  GEO TV, as part of its coverage of the attack, broadcast a photograph of DG ISI Lt. Gen. Zahir ul-Islam, while Ansar Abbasi, investigative editor of the Jang Group’s English-language newspaper The News, demanded his resignation.

Big mistake.  One does not simply accuse the DG ISI on national television and get away with it.  The ISI dismissed the allegations as “baseless” (as all allegations usually are in Pakistan). Pakistan’s Defense Ministry, in its complaint against GEO TV, accuses it of bringing the ISI into disrepute and demands that Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cancel GEO TV’s license to broadcast.

With the PEMRA verdict still pending, GEO TV took to Twitter yesterday, indicating that its channel had been blocked by a few cable operators.  This may of course be true, but some of us may be forgiven if we suspect this to be a reenactment of the last time GEO TV claimed to have been taken off air. In that particular instance, a GEO official privately confirmed that they had “taken themselves off the air in order to blame [a] political party, and garner support for the station.”

GEO TV and Mr. Mir are now under attack from many quarters.  Rival media houses are in an all-out war.  Many of them are unable to appreciate the fact that the price one now pays for defying the Deep State is no longer censorship, it is death.  And it wouldn’t matter if it were GEO, Express or Dawn.  The rules of the game have changed.

Of course, propaganda theories of Indian involvement are never very far when hell breaks loose in Pakistan, which is always.  The Awami Muslim League’s Sheikh Rasheed, who was “detained” in the U.S. in 2012 for his links with Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hafiz Saeed, opined that the attack on Hamid Mir benefited India, which was looking to malign the Pakistani Army and ISI. Hafiz Saeed also took to Twitter to level vague and uncreative accusations at India and the U.S. 

Mr. Mir himself had been particularly distressed in the recent past at being labelled an “Indian agent.” But how things change.  It wasn’t too long ago that Mr. Mir did the bidding of higher powers in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before he managed to find his liberal conscience (though possibly not his “liberal fascist” conscience).

Indeed, he was for the ISI before he was against it.  After all, not every journalist in Pakistan gets to interview Osama bin Laden.  And that too not once, but on three occasions. But the nature of that relationship changed in 2010 when a tape surfaced of Mr. Mir allegedly conversing with the TTP’s Usman Punjabi, in which he relayed false information that may have contributed to the death of ISI official Khalid Khawaja.  The recorded conversation, still available online, also has Mr. Mir talking disparagingly about Pakistan’s persecuted Ahmedis. Quite the liberal indeed.

So where does this all end? It is hard to see how PEMRA could fly in the face of the ISI’s demands and recommend anything other than revoking GEO’s license. But in time, the brouhaha will be forgotten.  Ansar Abbasi and the GEO crew will probably show up somewhere, somehow on some national TV show in which they will proceed to eulogize the Pakistani army, thereby underscoring their hubb ul-watan (patriotic) credentials. Couple this with private undertakings to comply with the red lines now drawn and order will be restored. Licenses will be reinstated, and talk show hosts and their guests will be yelling at each other, competing for the soundbite of the day on GEO TV soon enough.

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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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