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Tag Archives | Afghanistan

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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On Indo-US ties

India needs to do its share of heavy-lifting too.

News trickled in yesterday that New Delhi shorlisted two European fighter aircraft — Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon as prospective candidates for the highly publicized $10 billion Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRA) competition.  My Takshashila colleagues Nitin Pai and Dhruva Jaishankar have two excellent posts on India’s MMCRA decision.  Significantly, this decision meant the downlisting of two American firms competing for the MMRCA contract — Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed’s F-16.

It is not everyday that countries sign $10 billion contracts for fighter aircraft.  The sheer scale, value and nature of the MMRCA competition meant that geo-strategic considerations ought to have outweighed purely technical determinants.  And while very valid concerns about U.S. fine-print have been raised, India has faced similar difficulties with less transparent suppliers, and that too, after signing substantial contracts (lest we forget the small matter about us having to pay $3 billion for an antiquated ship that we were initially supposed to receive for free).  The truth is that India’s severely shackled defense industry necessitates entering into contracts for arms and equipment with foreign suppliers under conditions not entirely ideal.  But deriving benefits from domestic defense industry liberalization — if and when this happens — will take several years.  How does India fulfill its defense requirements in the interim?

U.S. ambassador to India Timothy Roemer was quoted as saying that he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.   The downlisting of Boeing and Lockheed is but the latest evidence of ties between the world’s two largest democracies being somewhat adrift after Mr. Obama’s visit to India last year.

The civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. was meant to be the cornerstone of a new age of Indo-U.S. ties, leaving behind decades of mutual mistrust, lecturing and moral posturing.  The deal offered benefits to both India and the U.S. — for India, it meant international recognition as a de facto nuclear power, and for the U.S. it meant nuclear commerce with an emerging economy. It took the U.S. exercising its political clout to see that a waver based on Indian exceptionalism was granted at the NSG, which also required a last-minute call by George W. Bush to Hu Jintao to prevent China from stonewalling the vote.

However, today, U.S. firms are effectively non-participants in nuclear trade with India because of supplier liability imposed by India’s Nuclear Liability Bill.  Globally, suppliers are unable to obtain insurance coverage for nuclear trade.  Both Russian and French firms compete in India’ s nuclear market because they are essentially underwritten by their respective governments.  And even then, the Russians have apparently made it clear to New Delhi that nuclear commerce with India is unsustainable in the long run under such circumstances.

Today India aspires for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council; but reforming the UNSC remains a distant dream. Even so, during Mr. Obama’s visit last year, India joined a select group of nations whose candidature the U.S. endorses.  In its current stint as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, India must make its voice heard and break from a tradition that encourages prevarication and moral posturing.  As I pointed out in a previous blogpost, it’s no use saying India deserves a permanent seat at the UNSC because it represents 1/6th of humanity, if that 1/6th of humanity seldom expresses an opinion.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be differences in opinion between India and the U.S.  Indeed, it is easy to focus on contentious areas (and there are several) — David Headley, climate change, Pakistan, Iran,  Burma, to name a few.  We need not agree on every aspect of global affairs, but as two large and pluralistic democracies, we share common values and interests, and ought to build our relationship on these shared ideals.  And while it is important not to put undue focus on transactional aspects of our strategic partnership with the U.S., the MMRCA deal will have an impact on the trajectory of this relationship.  And this we knew well before a decision on the shortlist was made.  Indeed, Ambassador Roemer’s resignation hours after India’s announcement of the MMRCA shortlist is probably not a coincidence.

It is certainly conceivable that some of the momentum towards expanding this partnership will be tempered.  Worse, when considered alongside the Nuclear Liability Bill, U.S. companies might soon conclude that the attractiveness of the Indian market is significantly less than the bandwidth they dedicate to it.  After all, interest in India cannot be sustained merely by the “promise” of the Indian market, if none of those promises are materialized.  We have always been eager to deliver our litany of demands to the U.S. — from Afghanistan, to pressuring Pakistan on terror.  But how much are we willing to give in return?  We need to ask ourselves if India is doing its share of the heavy-lifting in  this bilateral relationship.

 

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After Salmaan Taseer

Five questions for us to answer on liberalism in Pakistan.

The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has rightly triggered introspection and discourse in Pakistan on identity — social, religious and national.  Of these, articles written by the likes of Raza Rumi, Huma Yusuf, Ayesha Siddiqa, Yaseer Latif Hamdani and Shehryar Taseer deserve special mention and commendation.  There is, however, no dearth for the alternative narrative in Pakistan.  PML-N’s spokesperson claimed (اردو) that Mr. Taseer would have been assassinated by someone else had Mumtaz Qadri not done so. Irfan Siddiqui suggests (اردو) that while Mr. Taseer’s assassination cannot be condoned, it was expected, given the governor’s “liberal extremist” views.

A parallel discourse is also occurring in the West and in India.  Declan Walsh laments on the fate of the liberal Pakistani; Shekhar Gupta qualifies and clarifies; Seema Mustafa foretells of further doom and gloom. An overarching theme in many commentaries is that a liberal Pakistan is in India’s interests; that a “liberal” Pakistani civilian government would (not to say “could”) radically alter its worldview, foreign policy objectives and how it seeks to achieve them.  The trouble with this argument of course, is that a liberal Pakistani civilian government has never existed.   Even so, some commentaries point to Benazir Bhutto and her administrations of the late ’80s and ’90s as  approximate models.

However, liberal though Ms. Bhutto may have been, Pakistan’s worldview did not undergo material change during her leadership. Bilateral relations with India did not improve. If anything, Ms. Bhutto’s reign coincided with the height of the Jammu & Kashmir insurgency fomented by Pakistan, and proliferation of nuclear technology.  Indeed, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and the motivation to match India to the detriment of all else took shape  under the leadership of her charismatic father, the wine-drinking, UC Berkeley-educated Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (“We will eat grass…”).

It would therefore be a worthy exercise to ponder over these five questions on what a model for a liberal Pakistan would look like, and whether a liberal dispensation in Pakistan is a sufficient condition to alter the trajectory of its relationship with India.  For us in India, would the ascendancy of a liberal narrative in Pakistan’s internal discourse  lessen our own threat perception of our neighbor?

  • Could a liberal government in Islamabad effectively end the hold that the military-jihadi complex has on Pakistan’s formulation and implementation of foreign policy objectives?
  • Would it still maintain that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan?
  • What will its position be towards Kashmir? Specifically, towards the insurgency and state-sponsored sub-conventional warfare?
  • What will its position be on terrorism?  If another Mumbai were to occur, would this liberal regime disavow these groups? Actively confront them? Prosecute them? Extradite them, where permissible, to India? Cooperate with India’s own investigation?
  • Would it continue to maintain, by extension of #2, that Pakistan’s conduct in Afghanistan is just and only expected, given India’s commercial and political ties to Kabul?

Tough questions no doubt, but ones that need to be answered in India, as an internal battle for identity rages on in Pakistan.

UPDATE: My op-ed in The Pioneer has a more complete analysis of liberalism in Pakistan.


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Leave Kashmir behind!

Mr. Obama must focus on moving Indo-US relations forward; bringing up Kashmir is not the way to go about it.

Barack Obama’s first official visit to India approaches.  Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was in D.C. recently, working with N.S.A. Jim Jones to give shape to Mr. Obama’s India agenda.  The president will, in the course of the next few weeks, receive advice from writers, think-tankers, analysts, and just about everyone else on what his priority list of issues to tackle in India should be.

One item relating to India-Pakistan peace is certainly going to resurface — Kashmir.  More specifically, the “solve Kashmir, and bring about peace between India and Pakistan” mantra will be chanted by many in D.C. in the weeks to come. In an article in The Daily Beast, Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow for Foreign Policy at Brookings, supported U.S. encouragement of talks between India and Pakistan on settling Kashmir, in the context of the war in Afghanistan.

The Filter Coffee has previously debunked the notion that solving “Kashmir” will bring about peace between India and Pakistan.  I will therefore restrict myself to discussing three points that Mr. Obama should consider in the context of the India visit.

First,  Mr. Obama’s immediate priority must remain the ongoing war in Afghanistan-Pakistan.  Taking focus off Afghanistan-Pakistan and reorienting himself and his administration into resolving a conflict that has been ongoing for 63 years (and will no doubt go on for many more) will not be a wise course of action for an embattled president heading into mid-term elections in 2012.  Stay the course on Afghanistan.

Second, bet on India.  Indo-U.S. relations have taken a backseat since Mr. Obama took office. This is partly due to uncontrollable circumstances and priorities.  But the president has a real opportunity during his India visit to both arrest the slide, and reaffirm that the nature of the Indo-US relationship is indeed strategic, and one between two natural partners.  In this context, India and the U.S. should move forward on strengthening their defense relationship, which U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen only recently described as “strong and important.”  The nature of the relationship need not necessarily be restricted to the acquisition of military equipment and transfer of technology.

As two large and diverse democracies, India and the U.S. have a vital interest in securing key sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean and beyond and ensuring a strategic balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.  While India and the U.S. already cooperate in patrolling the Malacca straits, changing geopolitical equations will make greater cooperation between India (and indeed, other Asian democracies) and the U.S. in the greater region more critical.

On Afghanistan, as much as the U.S. may have to indulge Pakistan in the interim, its interests lie in denying sanctuary to extremist groups, from where they may attack the U.S. or its interests.  Whether the U.S. likes it or not, this means ensuring that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan is counterbalanced with powers that are averse to the spread of Wahhabi extremism in Asia.  India has an important role to play in this regard and further Indian involvement in Afghanistan must be encouraged.

Next, India and the U.S. should use this opportunity to expand economic ties and address irritants that have affected Indo-US relations (the nuclear liability bill, and outsourcing are chief among them).  Ongoing education reforms in India translate into opportunities for U.S. universities to establish satellite campuses in India.  India and the U.S. should also use this opportunity to move forward on progress made on climate change, both during Secretary Clinton’s visit, and at Copenhagen.

But perhaps most importantly, Mr. Obama will do well not to rake up Kashmir on his visit to India.  Pressuring India at a time when it faces a raging conflict in the Valley is asking it to act at a very sensitive time and from a position of weakness.  If the economically weak India of the past refused to yield to international pressure on Kashmir, the possibility of this happening is even more remote in today’s resurgent India.

Were Mr. Obama to bring up Kashmir in India, two things are nearly certain to happen.  One, India will not budge from its position on the issue, and two, Mr. Obama will risk further hurting Indo-US relations.   Some early signs indicate that the Obama administration is still not in full appreciation of the premium that India attaches to Jammu and Kashmir; dangling carrots will not work and indeed, aren’t called for.  One can only hope that better sense will prevail before the president’s visit.  Where Kashmir is concerned, there is no need for the U.S. to think outside the box.  Stay within the box.  In fact, stay clear of it.

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