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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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Don’t feed the Cookie Monster

Forget Pakistan and move on.

I came across this article in Foreign Policy by Teresita and Howard Schaffer entitled “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir: A grand bargain?”  Ambassadors Teresita and Howard Schaffer are true paragons of the U.S. foreign policy community and have extensive experience in the subcontinent (indeed, Mrs. Schaffer is fluent in Hindi and Urdu).  However, and as someone with tremendous respect for their contributions, I found some of  the recommendations in the article surprising.

The article calls for a review of U.S. strategic options with Pakistan and postulates a “grand bargain,” which essentially involves “giving” Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan, but on two pre-conditions: first, making Pakistan responsible for preventing terrorism emanating from Afghanistan (yes, only Afghanistan), and second, getting Pakistan to agree on a settlement on Kashmir on the present geopolitical lines.  In all fairness, the article both recognizes the challenges inherent in such a plan, and accepts that the likelihood  of such a bargain coming to fruition is rather low.  However, there are elements in this “grand bargain” that I find either disturbing or infeasible.

The first element of this “grand bargain” involves accepting Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan. Pakistan, not the civil administration in Afghanistan, will be empowered to undertake negotiations between Kabul and “whatever elements of the Taliban” to work towards a post-war settlement.  The article also envisages the U.S. accepting Pakistan’s demand of eliminating Indian involvement in Afghanistan.  Such logic should greatly concern New Delhi, which recently signed a “strategic partnership” with Afghanistan involving an enhancement of bilateral ties in education, economics and security. This article fails to explain why Afghanistan or India would ever entertain this, and how the U.S. and Pakistan feel they are in a position to transact such an arrangement without resistance from India and Afghanistan.

Next, in return for this “grand bargain,” the article recommends that the U.S. warn Pakistan that it would be held responsible for any act of terror originating from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The article doesn’t delve any further into how this fete is to be accomplished.  The Pakistanis have acted with an ascending sense of impunity in conducting sub-conventional operations in a region already dominated by U.S. forces.  If the U.S.’s strategy with respect to Pakistan’s proclivity for terror has failed to yield tangible results thus far, what other tools does the U.S. suppose it has to force Rawalpindi into compliance? And by the way, has the U.S. held anyone responsible for the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan this past May?

The third component of this bargain pertains to Kashmir. According to the article, the U.S. would “tell” Pakistan that it would publicly call for a settlement on Kashmir based on existing demarcations along the LoC and “give India advance notice” of the announcement.

Advance notice! One wonders if the U.S. thinks that it is in a position to orchestrate such a grand settlement especially at a time when its own power is fading relative to other actors on the global stage.  The U.S. would do well to  imbibe an espresso shot of reality here.  Where is the appetite for such an arrangement in a rabidly anti-India Pakistan?  Pakistan’s political parties created an uproar just last week in  response to the inconsequential issue of granting India the status of “Most Favored Nation.”  For a nation bred on the notion that Kashmir is rightfully theirs, any compromise on the issue will elicit a response that Rawalpindi and Islamabad will be incapable of dealing with.

And while India in very broad terms would like a settlement based on turning the LoC into a permanent border, it is in no particular hurry to make the move.  India today is focused on restoring relative peace to Jammu & Kashmir; to that end, it has encouraged dialog between the Centre and political parties of all hues in the Valley.  However, an external reconciliation of Jammu & Kashmir is just not a priority.

The weak coalition in New Delhi does not have the political capital necessary to conclude on such a significant transaction, even if it wanted to.  Simply, Kashmir is a “core issue” for India, and as the U.S. has already realized, is one where India is demonstratively inflexible. If an impoverished India of the past managed to stave off U.S. pressure on Kashmir, what makes the U.S. think that an ascending India will do otherwise?  Any expectation that India will march to the U.S.’s tune merely on being told to do so, is very far removed from reality indeed.

In the end, if the U.S. hopes to move on from its engagement in Afghanistan and ensure that the country does not return to a pre-9/11 jihadi haven, it must stop encouraging Pakistan’s institutional irrationality.  This involves recognizing that U.S. and Pakistan’s interests are divergent, and that Pakistan isn’t the solution, but the problem.  Further, it must realize that even assuming Kashmir is resolved  by some miracle, this will not necessarily mean an end to Pakistan’s obsession with India.

Pakistan’s problem is not Kashmir, it is India and India’s existence.  Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan — an agenda duly entertained in the article — is directly tied to its preoccupation with India. If there were no India, there would be no need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  Therefore, how does India attain peace with Pakistan, when Pakistan’s definition of peace involves India’s dismemberment?  Questions for the Schaffers and the U.S. to ponder over.

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Ghulam Nabi Fai’s arrest

Indian agencies have known Mr. Fai was up to no-good for ages.

We’re just being made aware of the arrest in the U.S. of Ghulam Nabi Fai, Executive Director of the Kashmiri-American Council (KAC) for allegedly being on the payroll of the ISI and hiding millions of dollars for illegal lobbying.  A second individual, Zaheer Ahmed, has also been charged.  The FBI affidavit cites that Mr. Fai conspired “to act as an agent of a foreign principal…to falsify, conceal, and cover up materials by tricks, schemes, and devices…” (FBI affidavit, LT @Colinfreeze).

As it turns out, Mr. Fai is no stranger to the FBI.  When questioned in 2007, he contented that he had “never met anyone who identified himself as being affiliated with the ISI.”  Mr. Fai has long been at the forefront of the “Kashmir movement” in the U.S., portraying himself as a Kashmiri-American champion of “the Cause,” independent of any affiliation of Pakistan or its agencies.  In fact, CBS-affiliate KNX 1070’s news report this morning on the arrest identified Mr. Fai as a “Virginia man.”

But Indian security agencies have long confirmed Mr. Fai’s nexus with Pakistan’s ISI.  A 2004 Times of India report on the mysterious death of Hasimuddin, former aide to Syed Ali Shah Geelani, revealed the relationship between Mr. Fai, the Tehrik-e-Hurriyat and the ISI (emphasis added):

This is part of Islamabad’s plan to secure a place for Tehriq-e-Hurriyat in the talks to decide the fate of J&K on the ground that the secessionist outfit was the true representative of ‘Kashmiris’.

Those behind the plan have gone about its execution with clinical precision. Hasimuddin had been managing the funds of Tehriq-e-Hurriyat after he was ousted from the All Party Hurriyat Conference, as its secretary. But Geelani had replaced him recently.  The outfit was getting funds from the ISI and also from Saudi Arabia. Most of the funds were routed through the US-based Kashmir American Council of Ghulam Nabi Fai or the UK-based Ayub Thakar who died recently, sources said. [Times of India]

The arrest of Mr. Fai only confirms what India knows about how the ISI plays the game on Kashmir; with a mixture of subterfuge, political grandstanding, and of course, sub-conventional warfare against India, through a network of carefully cultivated intermediaries and proxies.

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After Osama bin Laden

Eight points to consider.

Osama bin-Laden has been killed.  U.S. president Barack Obama made the announcement over an hour ago.  We have more questions than answers about the nature of the operation that led to his killing and what cooperation, if any, was received from other governments.  Some points for us to consider:

  1. The fact that bin Laden was killed outside Abbottabad (75 miles from Islamabad) is significant.  Abbottabad is reported to house several retired Pakistani army and intelligence officers.
  2. Mr. Obama’s mention of President Zardari, and not Gen. Kayani/DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha is equally significant.  We know that the operation was in the works since August 2010, and gained momentum over the last six weeks.  It is also important to note Mr. Obama’s  mention that the operation was entirely executed by the U.S. — this was not a joint operation with Pakistani special-ops forces.  It is not clear at what point the Americans informed the Pakistanis.  If it turns out that the Pakistani civil administration was informed days or weeks before the operation, this is a significant victory for the civil administration over the military-jihadi complex (MJC).  If the Zardari government was informed ex post facto, it will still affect civil-military relations in Pakistan, but on a relatively lesser scale.
  3. We cannot read too much into President Obama thanking Pakistan for its cooperation.  The U.S. president was speaking in general terms — lest we forget, there is still a battle raging in Afghanistan for which the U.S. requires Pakistan’s assistance.  There was not much else Mr. Obama could have said about Pakistan’s duplicity.
  4. Given the fact that U.S. Navy SEALs traveled from Afghanistan to Pakistan and executed the operation, it is likely that some level of Pakistani cooperation — whether direct, or indirect — was required.  If it turns out that cooperation was provided by Pakistan’s FIA and not the ISI, this is again, a significant moment in civil-military relations in Pakistan.
  5. If, in the remote possibility, any assistance was provided by Pakistan’s military/ISI, it only means that Osama bin Laden had become expendable to them.  The torch had been passed.
  6. Expect the battle between the civil administration and its goons, and the Pakistani military and its goons to play out openly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  This will also effect the U.S.’s ability to move men and resources from Pakistan’s tribal areas  into Afghanistan.  This can be significantly consequential to the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan.
  7. The MJC will look to reassert itself as quickly and as decisively as possible.  It will set its sights on high-value targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan or even India.
  8. Critically, the Indian government needs to guard itself against possible terrorist activity in mainland India. ISI or al-Qaeda inspired attacks on Indian soil in the immediate future cannot be ruled out.  India is perhaps the most vulnerable target for the Pakistani MJC to counter-punch the Zardari government, which is ostensibly engaged in a “peace process” with New Delhi.

 

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