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Indian Embassy Attack in Kabul

Limited Indian military deployment: the time is nigh

The suicide attack on Thursday was the second such attack on the Indian Embassy in the past fifteen months in Kabul.  The attack claimed the lives of seventeen, including the two Afghan policemen who attempted to deter the bomb-laden vehicle from breaching the compound.

Similar to the last attack on the Indian Embassy that left 60 dead last year, the footprint the terror consortium of the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, Taliban and ISI is clear.  Earlier this month, Gen Stanley McChrystal stated in a leaked assessment, that growing Indian involvement in Afghanistan would encourage Pakistani “countermeasures”.  More recently, former CIA Islamabad station chief Bob Grenier stated at a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee deposition that the close relationship between New Delhi and Kabul “literally drives [Pakistan] crazy”.

This comes at a time of considerable disquiet in Pakistan. The Kerry-Lugar Bill has met with vociferous disapproval, initially from the media, and later from the Pakistani Corps Commanders’ Conference. The disapproval is based on the belief that some provisions — including India-specific terror clauses — impinge on Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government (and military) must clarify how these clauses violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Specifically, Pakistan must articulate whether it believes that allowing its soil to be used to plan, organize and execute acts of terror against India is an exercise of its soverign right.

So, was the attack on the Indian Embassy meant to demonstrate Pakistan’s open defiance of Kerry-Lugar? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, if enlightenment hasn’t dawned on the Indian government now, it never will.  Pakistan will continue to use such “countermeasures” because it knows it can do so without eliciting a military response from India.  And increasing Indian involvement in the development of Afghanistan only increases the number of potential targets for the terror consortium.

Today, India’s ambitions in Afghanistan are not commensurate with the level of protection it is willing to provide to protect its interests.  “Soft power” is an important element of state diplomacy, but when not backed up by a credible intent to defend, paints a picture of a state that is benign, diffident, weak-willed and apprehensive.

India must stop outsourcing its intelligence and security needs in Afghanistan to other countries.  It must do what it has to do to protect its interests, its citizens and its friends.  Hitherto, India received inputs mostly from Afghan and other intelligence agencies.  It is time for India to upgrade its intelligence capability in Afghanistan; additional emphasis must also be placed on better intelligence coordination between Afghan, Indian and other foreign intelligence agencies.

Serious thought must be given to an Indian military deployment in Afghanistan.  However, for India to get bogged down fighting an insurgency would be counter-productive and would risk squandering the goodwill of the government and people of Afghanistan.

Therefore, India needs to think along the lines of a limited military deployment in Afghanistan and one with a mandate to protect its citizens and interests in that country.  This is India’s own “countermeasure”.  India has invested over a $1.2 billion in Afghanistan; Indians from all walks of life — doctors, engineers, teachers and security professionals — attempt to secure the future of Afghanistan and its people.  However, the security provided to these very individuals is either nonexistent or found wanting.

A deployment with limited mandate presents undeniable risks.  The possibility of the lines between India’s defensive deployment and the larger US/ISAF COIN operation being blurred, the risk of Indian troops becoming targets for the Taliban, Haqqani and ISI consortium and loss of goodwill in Kabul do exist.

However, the alternative to this arrangement is the status quo — India’s current posture.  As things stand today, a Pakistani attack on Indian citizens, property and interests in Afghanistan goes unchallenged.  Not much is ever done by way of a response, apart from registering the customary “our patience is not inexhaustible” complaint with the US and holding back on dialog with Pakistan.

The choices before India are stark: either it believes that Indian property, investment and lives are worth sacrificing for the greater goal of strategic partnership with Afghanistan, or it accepts that Indian security cover is essential to protect those who undertake the perilous, yet noble journey of rebuilding a war ravaged nation and spreading the goodwill of India and its people in that part of the world.  Time is running out, and India must decide soon.  What is it going to be, Mr. Prime Minister?

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What McChrystal said about India

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US & ISAF forces in Afghanistan painted a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan in his “leaked” assessment to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.  Among other things, he indicated that the overall situation is deteriorating and a “crisis of confidence” existed among the Afghans that undermines US and ISAF credibility.  McChrystal called for a short-term deployment of additional US troops in Afghanistan.

In addition, in a section entitled “External Influences”, McChrystal wrote about India’s role in Afghanistan — something that has had our media in coils the past couple of days:

Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. [I]ncreasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.

Ever ready to jump the gun, members of our media took umbrage with the assessment.  In an article titled “US sees rising Indian influence in Afghanistan as problem“, Siddharth Varadarajan opines:

In the clearest statement to date of Washington’s reservations about the rising Indian economic and political profile in Afghanistan, the top American general… said India’s increasing influence… “is likely to exacerbate regional tensions”. Though the McChrystal report falls short of prescribing that India scale back its presence in Afghanistan, the implication is clear:…India should realise its assistance to Afghanistan might provoke Islamabad into taking “countermeasures”.

Varadarajan’s arguments are lethargic and draw conclusions based on misinterpretations of McChrystal’s assessment. First, nothing in the report or in public domain indicates that Washington is unhappy with India’s role in Afghanistan.  India’s current involvement includes funding and construction of large infrastructural projects (such as the “Nimroz-Chabahar” highway and the “Salma Dam” power project), aid, rural development and training the Afghan police force.  If McChrystal means what he says, then he should have no problem with India’s role in bringing development and stability to Afghanistan.

Second, Pakistani “countermeasures” to India’s involvement in Afghanistan is a pretty strange threat.  Unconventional warfare against India is Pakistan’s modus operandi.  It began as early as 1947 when Kashmir was flooded with armed Afridi tribesmen, as a precursor to the 1947 war and has only grown in size, mandate and state involvement over the years.  So Pakistan threatening to use something that it uses against India anyway, just because it dislikes India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is meaningless.

Third, even as McChrystal submitted his assessment to Sec Gates, a major rethink is under way in the Obama administration on Af-Pak, with many in the civilian administration against the idea of deploying additional troops.  They instead favor a combination of “negotiating” with the Taliban and increasing Drone assaults in Pakistan to disrupt al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.  As The Filter Coffee previously pointed out, the apparatus for such a strategy has been slowing taking shape in Pakistan over the past few months.

The Obama administration wants to craft a way forward in Afghanistan based on an approach that will incorporate “soft power” along with cold, hard military strategy. Upon learning of the leak, the Pentagon clarified that McChrystal’s assessment was only one of the many inputs that make up this reassessment.  Therefore, McChrystal’s assessment, even in its misinterpreted state, is hardly Holy Writ.

Fourth, India cannot afford to be in Afghanistan due to, or despite American disposition towards its involvement.  As a regional power, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan on social, economic and political development.  India’s calculations on the extent of its involvement in Afghanistan must be based on its strategic and national interests and not on the whims of other nations or veiled threats from its adversaries.

When the US leaves the region in the not-too-distant future, the cross of Afghanistan must be borne by regional powers like India and Iran, both of which share largely convergent views on the nation.  Insofar as India’s involvement in Afghanistan is concerned, its efforts have contributed positively to the development of the nation.  If America wants to leave Afghanistan as a (relatively) stable and functioning nation, India’s assistance is imperative and further Indian engagement must be encouraged.  The US can fight the war in Afghanistan, but is going to find it impossible to withdraw from Afghanistan on its own terms without India.

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Obama's Af-Pak Strategy

US President Barack Obama revealed the much anticipated “Af-Pak” strategy today in Washington.  The text of the speech is certainly more candid than previous Bush-era speeches.  But how different is this strategy really to what has already been tried and tested?

“So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.”

Notice how the “clear and focused” goal makes no mention of the Taliban.  The goal now appears to be to aggressively pursue and incapacitate al Qaeda in the region.  On the face of it, rendering al Qaeda inoperable is no different from GWB’s own strategy; the one difference now is that the US has “boots on the ground” and is far less reliant on assistance  from the ISI.  Why wasn’t the Taliban mentioned? Well, because it gives the United States enough wiggle-room to play the “divide and conquer” game that the West has played so well in Asia and Africa:  i.e., play the  “good” Taliban against the “bad” Taliban.  Pit Mullah Omar against Baitullah Mehsud.  And Baitullah Mehsud against Maulana Fazlullah.  This strategy is going to be challenged in the coming weeks, as Mullah Omar and Mehsud appear to have patched up their differences, as reported in The New York Times.

The plan to go after al Qaeda and the “bad” Taliban without prior Pakistani consent was implemented in November 2008 and will continue to be part of Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.  The added goal of holding Pakistan accountable to action reflects Washington’s exasperation with Pakistan’s double handed game, something that India knows all too well. The United States’ strategy towards Pakistan will basically include:

  • Extending non-military aid by way of the Kerry-Lugar bill ($1.5 billion) and through other international fora.  A bad idea, as the lack of transparency in the dissemination of funds invariably results in Pakistan using the money to arm itself against India, or grease politicians’ pockets;
  • Pressuring India to take the initiative in restarting the “peace process” with Pakistan;
  • Working with Gen. Kayani on coordinating attacks in NWFP and Baluchistan, while paying lip-service to the civil government and democracy.

In Afghanistan, Obama will deploy an additional 17,000 troops to counter the insurgency, particularly in Helmand province, where the British have been taking heavy fire.  In addition, there will be another 4,000 troops designated to train Afghani security forces to counter the “uncompromising core of the Taliban”, basically the Taliban who refuse to be bought by the US.

The forging of the “Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan”, whose members include the US, several Arab states, Central Asian republics, Russia, China, Iran and India shows a shift from the NATO/”coalition of the willing” dominated mandate of GWB’s policies.  How effective this new contact group will be will remain to be seen, but there now appears to be a realization in Washington that the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be decided without consensus from regional powers like Iran and India.  In the past, because of Washington’s allergy to Iran, the Islamic republic was never consulted on Afghanistan.  Similarly, because of Pakistan’s objections, India was never consulted on either Pakistan or Afghanistan.  The thinking has clearly changed.

However, the gaping hole in the Af-Pak strategy is the exclusion of Punjabi terror outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayiba.  These groups present a clear and direct threat to Washington’s goal of strengthening civilian government in Pakistan and to security in India.  Whether because they were blind sighted by the situation in NWFP (unlikely) or because of Pakistan’s insistence, these groups were not included as part of the Obama administration’s strategy.  The exclusion of these groups in the US’s Af-Pak strategy is a perpetuation of the fallacies of the Bush era.

Which brings me back to my original question — what is Obama’s real objective in Af-Pak? Is it to keep things relatively quiet in Pakistan for a period of time to allow the US to affect a less than ignominious exit from Afghanistan?  Or is it to comprehensively engage with the Pakistanis to eradicate terrorism from the region and build a credible and stable civilian government?  If it is the latter, it cannot be achieved without Washington’s committment to act against terror groups that operate in heartland Pakistan.  Despite utterances to the contrary, the US’s strategy seems to betray an intention to use and dispose of Pakistan, much like it did after the Soviet-Afghan war.  An “Af-Pak” strategy is fine.  But the question on Indian security analysts’ minds will be: “To what end?”

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12 Easy Steps to Destroy India: A Handguide

Well really, there’s just 1 easy step to destroy India: have the UPA government hire R Vaidyanathan as chief strategist in the fight against terrorism. He will swiftly ensure that the anarchy in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan will spread like cancer to eastern Pakistan, and then eventually to all of India as well. Vaidyanathan wrote 8 things India Inc, govt must do against Pakistan“, a masterfully crafted economic and strategic treatise, and followed that up with “12 steps to shock-and-awe Pakistan’s economy” the very next day, apparently in response to overwhelming feedback to the first article. Nothing will ensure India’s discombobulation faster than the implementation of some of his plans.
Vaidyanathan’s proposed assaults on Pakistan’s economy include the following gems:

Identify the major export items of Pakistan (like Basmati rice, carpets, etc) and provide zero export tax or even subsidise them for export from India. Hurt Pakistan on the export front.

Create assets to print/distribute their currency widely inside their country. To some extent, Telgi types can be used to outsource this activity. Or just drop their notes in remote areas.

I fail to see how this is going to make matters better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things could get much worse. It is a fact that terrorist organizations like LeT and Al Qaeda prey on frustrated, impoverished, disenfranchised youth for recruitment. By his own admission, Ajmal Amir, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, was a laborer and a petty thief before being recruited by the Lashkar. There is a history of young men living under conditions of unemployment, poverty and helplessness turning to terrorism. It’s no surprise that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (one of the world’s fastest growing unemployment rates, at 12%) and Yemen (unemployment rate of 35%). I bring this up because India’s economic muscle is very real, and can inflict substantial damage on Pakistan’s economy. Nothing will please the Lashkar more, since hordes of Ajmal Amirs will be lining up outside their recruitment offices in Muridke, in much the same way that Indians line up to work for Infosys or Wipro.

But wait, it gets better. Vaidyanathan continues…

We should realise that a united Pakistan is a grave threat to the existence of India. Hence, we should do everything possible to break up Pakistan into several units. This is required to be done not only for our interest, but for world peace.

Not only for our interest, but for world peace? How very benignant of him. Pakistan as a federation is already teetering on the brink of collapse. There is already a struggle going on in Baluchistan. In Swat, Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban against the imposition of a parallel Sharia law. South Waziristan has unilaterally declared independence, which the government in Islamabad has tacitly accepted. The “real” Pakistan now exists only in Sindh and Punjab, and even in Sindh there are several secessionist movements.

If Pakistan as a federation falls, the whole area from Helmand province in Afghanistan to Wagah will be in a state of anarchy. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, and India will be ill equipped to handle the influx of refugees from this region. Worse, once in India and bereft of any viable employment opportunities, many of these refugees may turn to theft and militancy. One only has to look at the Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan to get a sense of what to expect, if it were to occur in India. Secondly, and more importantly, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The threat of rouge Army officers, and/or ISI agents in cahoots with their Al Qaeda, LeT and JeM buddies launching attacks on India with those weapons is very real. To ward off such a possibility, Indian troops, along with US and NATO forces will be forced to enter into mainland Pakistan in search of the weapons, where our troops will get summarily slaughtered in close combat situations à la the US in Iraq. It takes only five minutes for a nuke from Pakistan to hit India. How soon can India’s forces track down and decommission Pakistan’s warheads?

India has already shown, post-Kargil, that it does not have the appetite to go after Pakistan unilaterally.  Indeed, off-late, India’s strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan appears to be to make the United States do its bidding in Pakistan — a bungling miscalculation, since the US itself is tied down by its own compulsions in the Afghan-Pakistan border.  India has not articulated a credible strategy towards Pakistan.  Relying on the US somewhat to use its influence on Pakistan is fine, as long as it is only part of a coherent, multidimensional strategy that India, as a soverign, independent nation adapts, taking into consideration its own national interests.  Flexing India’s economic muscle is also fine, as a means to an end — the end being the ultimate termination of anti-India militant forces in Paksitan, and not the capitulation of the state of Pakistan itself, as proposed by Vaidyanathan.

India must make it clear to Pakistan that it has multiple non-military arsenal in its inventory that it can use to bleed Pakistan, in the same way that Pakistan, implicitly or explicitly, aims to hurt India.  For example, India should make it clear that it is willing to violate the Indus Water Treaty, and severely or completely choke the westward flow of the Chenab, dealing a blow to Pakistan’s agricultural output for domestic consumption and external trade.  Similarly, India should be able to affect a de facto deep water import blockade of the port of Karachi, ostensibly with an intent to ward off pirate activity from the Horn of Africa. A substantial volume of import trade with Pakistan, will then need to originate from or be routed to the Arabian Penninsula, from smaller ports in Muscat or Sharjah; smaller trade volumes means increased per-unit costs of imports.

If in the future, India is to be the global force that many are predicting it to be, then Pakistan’s stability will be vital to the fulfillment of that prophecy. An unstable Pakistan will mean an unstable India. Rather than seeking to destroy and disintegrate Pakistan, India must work to ensure that its voice is heard in Pakistan.  India’s sphere of infleuence must effectively include, not exclude Pakistan.  Any carrot-and-stick policy that India adopts with regards to Pakistan must show our neighbor that its interest lie in working with, rather than against India.  The benefits in working with India must be conspicious and very apparent, as must the consequences of attempts to destablize India.  To this end, where necessary, India should be willing and able to unilaterally use non-military tools at its disposal to punish Pakistan.  However, a constant, ineffectual, quasi-military, adversarial posturing with Pakistan, such as the one currently in favor in New Delhi, will leave India muddled in the internal quagmires of South Asia, and unable to break free from its shackles to project power and influence beyond this impoverished and chaotic region.

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