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Tag Archives | Iran

Salaam, Washington

Navigating the nuances of the Indo-US relationship.

Much has been written about the impetus being given to the Indo-US partnership in the context of the strategic dialog between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Krishna in Washington, D.C.  For her part, Mrs. Clinton has tried to stay on message, terming Indo-US relations an “affair of the heart, not just of the head.”

As a precursor to the SM Krishna–Clinton moot, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs William Burns spoke at the Council for Foreign Relations on Indo-US relations, attempting to dispel the notion that the Obama administration had “downgraded” ties with India or that the U.S. was attempting to “re-hyphenate” its relations with India and Pakistan.  Truth be told, while U.S. articulations are perhaps needed to temper the noise being generated by sections of the media, they may not have been altogether necessary for those studying Indo-US relations in the context of a rapidly changing world.  And despite the statements made by Secretary Clinton and Mr. Burns, a few points need elaboration.

First, while there is broad, bipartisan consensus on expanding Indo-US ties in the United States (a rarity in and of itself), there are differences on the specifics of what this should entail and how they should be operationalized. The Obama administration defines this partnership within the constructs of leveraging India’s growing global economic profile to tackle regional and global issues — climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, energy and trade security and ensuring checks and balances to China’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean.  In this respect, Mr. Burns’ comments on dialog between India and the U.S. on East- and Southeast Asia is important.

Second, it is important for India to understand the limits to this engagement, at least as far as the Obama administration is concerned.  Some of these limits are imposed by ideology and some by compulsion.  While sharing India’s concerns on jihadi terrorism emanating from Pakistan, the U.S., however, is constrained by its own involvement in the region and on how much it can prod Pakistan into taking any meaningful action on terror originating from its soil. The Obama administration is similarly unable to engage with India in a manner that would appear provocative to China.  And many will argue that given China’s importance to India’s own economy, neither would India.

What this means for India is that it cannot expect the U.S. alone to fully address its security concerns in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the larger region.  The folly of throwing your lot in with a singular power should be more apparent to India now than ever before. Affairs of the heart notwithstanding, securing India’s strategic interests in the region must be driven through multilateral engagement with like-minded regional actors, and not by blind faith in any one power.  In this regard, working with the Russians and Iranians on balancing power equations in Afghanistan is imperative.  It remains to be seen if Mr. Krishna’s recent visit to Iran helped in arresting New Delhi’s diminishing goodwill in Tehran.

Next, on defense procurement, India must be clear about where its defense gaps are best addressed by technical expertise possessed by U.S. companies and must resist the temptation to be over-enthusiastic in trying to please Washington.  Across the services, our weapons are primarily of Russian origin and there isn’t an immediate need to drastically alter this.  Russia is able to offer Indian defense companies opportunities that perhaps the U.S. is unable to — from Technology Transfer Agreements (TTAs) to joint production.  However, U.S. technology and systems can play a pivotal role in the development of India’s power projection capabilities —  from refuellers to transport and surveillance aircraft — and it is here that a meaningful and mutually beneficial partnership can be forged.

That the Obama administration appears to be redoubling efforts to engage with India is encouraging (providing access to David Headley is an important first step); but this is no different from either the Clinton or George W. Bush administrations in their initial years, where preoccupation with the economy and the war on terror allowed for limited bandwidth on Indo-US relations.  This has, in the past, resulted in the necessity to “re-boot” (to borrow an IT expression) Indo-US relations each time a new president took the oath of office in the White House.

Even today, U.S.’s India policy is being driven by people who are not India-experts; indeed, officials in the Obama administration charged with policy formulation and operational aspects relating to Indo-US relations are mostly either experts on East Asian affairs or on Af-Pak.  As India and the U.S. aim to significantly upgrade co-operation on regional and global issues, U.S. administrations must ensure that their India policy teams are appropriately staffed.  Neither India nor the U.S. can afford the extended learning curve each time a new administration comes into office.

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Sauce for goose

The China-Pakistan nuclear deal: where have all the ayatollahs gone?

The Guardian carried a rather sensationalist piece by Chris McGreal on how Israel had, at one point, offered to sell nuclear weapons to South Africa.  Some in the United States are fuming at the idea that a U.S. “proxy” considered selling nuclear weapons to an “autocratic, unstable state” (South Africa was under apartheid at the time) — somehow, apparently, this undermines the U.S.’s “moral authority.”  It is another matter entirely that this report had little factual basis.

In fact, the outrage that is non-story has generated has largely obscured the very credible, and potentially significant story coming out of Beijing:

Chinese companies will build at least two 650-megawatt reactors at Chashma in Punjab, the Financial Times said.A statement posted on the website of the China National Nuclear Corporation on March 1 said the financing for two new reactors at Chashma was agreed by the two sides in February.

“Our Chinese brothers have once again lived up to our expectations,” the Financial Times quoted an unidentified Pakistani official as saying of the deal, which would help Pakistan cope with a crippling energy crisis. “They have agreed to continue cooperating with us in the nuclear energy field.” [Dawn]

Some sources indicate that the U.S. is unlikely to broach this issue with the Chinese.  In some ways, the Obama administration may feel that this alleviates its own moral burden, faced with increasing pressure from Pakistan for a civilian nuclear deal.  Of course, the administration would be missing the point — Pakistan’s desire for civilian nuclear energy is subordinate to its desire for parity with India in the eyes of the U.S. In that regard, Pakistan’s quest for a nuclear deal with the U.S. has nothing to do with its need for nuclear energy.

The implications of  specific aspects of the China-Pakistan deal will need to be further examined when more information is made available.  If their previous track records are any indication, these reactors will not be subject to IAEA safeguards or inspections.   Other questions exist — will China seek to “grandfather” the new reactors with those it built in Pakistan prior to joining the NSG?  If not, how could China possibly  ensure that an exception is made for Pakistan at the NSG in the event that the reactors are kept out of IAEA’s purview?

Purely from the perspective of strategic balance in South Asia, this deal may not alter much.  However, a couple of issues need to be considered in light of this deal. First, the impact of this deal is of greater consequence to the Middle East than it is to South Asia — particularly to Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Saudi Arabia’s “nuclear-capacity-by-proxy” strategy has paid rich dividends via Pakistan’s frantic acceleration of weapons production on its behalf.  Two 650 MW reactors will give this cozy arrangement fresh impetus, if any was needed.  By extension, this puts considerable strain on Iran’s own nuclear program.

Second, what does the deal say about non-proliferation ayatollahs in the Obama administration? Clearly, altered dynamics after the economic crisis, and China’s importance in negotiating through the nuclear issue with Iran leaves the U.S. with minimal leverage over China.  China, for its part, is using the opportunity to violate the spirit of those existing non-proliferation regimes on a technicality.  Of course, it has been doing this for ages, rather clandestinely.  Now, it does so brazenly.

There may be little that India can do to prevent the deal from going through.  In this context, the 2010 UN NPT RevCon directive to India (and Israel) to sign the NPT is absurd and deserving of contemptuous dismissal. A world order where global nuclear non-proliferation regimes attempt to shackle, curtail and impose significant costs on those willing to abide by established norms, but lack the capacity to punish those who willfully violate them in letter and spirit is unacceptable.   The necessity for India to be at the forefront of defining a new world order where verifiable, non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament is the objective, is felt more acutely now than ever.

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The “unscrupulous” Mr. Karzai

When the solid matter hits the air circulating equipment, everyone looks out for their own interests. Are we?

“For it is dangerous to attach one’s self to the crowd in front, and so long as each one of us is more willing to trust another than to judge for himself…

Seneca the Younger, On The Happy Life

Groupthink is a dangerous thing. And while they may disagree about everything else under the sun, Washington-types have unanimously directed their ire at Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  An apparent quote from an unattributable source about Mr. Karzai threatening to join the Taliban, if international pressure on him did not cease, made the rounds in international media.  Ex-UN envoy to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith questioned Mr. Karzai’s mental condition and suggested that the president may have a drug use problem.

Steve Coll’s blogpost followed suit, with a detailed account of the pervasive corruption that the Karzai administration had fostered.  Fred Kaplan on The Slate asked whether a successful COIN operation could in fact be carried out in Afghanistan, given the manner in which Mr. Karzai is running things in Afghanistan.  Former US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Bing West, rather plainly called Mr. Karzai an “obstacle to progress” in his op-ed in The New York Times.

Washington’s foremost thinkers and analysts, singing together in perfect harmony. Mr. Kaplan sums up the groupthink perfectly — the US is of the opinion that Mr. Karzai believes he (and by extension, Afghanistan) is too big to fail, and with the stakes being as high as they are, the US is left with no option but to continue to pour resources — monetary and military, to sustain the Karzai government.

But a closer inspection at events unfolding in the region presents a clearer picture of Mr. Karzai’s intentions and US angst. Hamid Karzai began his second  term in office by stepping up engagement with China.  Mr. Karzai then invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who proceeded to chastise the Americans in the presence of his host.

Therein lies the US’s angst — Hamid Karzai appears eager to consolidate power and dilute US influence in Afghanistan.  To accomplish this, he needs the assistance of other regional powers — hence, the dialog with China, the invitation to Iran and the visit to Islamabad. He sees the benefits in ensuring an extended US stay in Afghanistan (the Americans are, after all, his primary financiers), but no longer desires to see the US as  the absolute dominant power in the country.

This is effectively the source of frustration in Washington.

As China, Pakistan and Iran prepare to step up engagement with Afghanistan, there are question marks about where the recent developments leave India.  While the Karzai government has in the past pressed New Delhi to play a larger role in the country, India has restricted its involvement in Afghanistan to providing humanitarian and  economic assistance. Frustrated, the Karzai regime now looks to hedge its bets elsewhere.

This puts India in a precarious position.  The prospects of a reemergence of a Russia-India-Iran order in Afghanistan aren’t great, given that Indo-Iranian relations are at a low.  But we’re still very far away from throwing in the towel.  There are significant caveats and complications in the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran relationship for it to become an order.

Both India and Iran share mutual interests in Afghanistan, and it is therefore imperative that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government make amends for its folly at the IAEA. India’s attempts at revitalizing its relationship with Russia is a positive step — it is important that this relationship extend itself to securing both nations’ mutual interests in Afghanistan.

Ultimately, it is in India’s best interests that no one order — be it the US and its Western allies, or the Pakistan-Saudi-China triumvirate — dominate Afghanistan’s landscape.  This landscape will include the “unscrupulous” Mr. Karzai, and increasingly, warlords (affiliated as well as adversarial) and Taliban remnants.  India must therefore work with regional powers and political players to ensure that its interests in Afghanistan are protected, at a time when power equations in the war-torn nation are rapidly changing.

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Kayani in Washington

…remember that the man with the laundry list also has a begging bowl.

General Ashfaq Kayani will be in Washington DC for high-level talks on “cementing a long-term strategic partnership with the United States.”  And as Gen Kayani goes to Washington, a slew of articles have appeared in Pakistan’s English-language and vernacular press, virtually popping the sparkling Rooh Afzah in anticipation of benevolence manifold from the US.  Pakistan today is behaving like a giddy teenager who has already chosen the names of her kids following a two day courtship, when in fact, a game of “he loves me, he loves me not” would be more appropriate, given the history of US-Pak ties.

We have done ourselves no favors either, from over-the-top statements from Yashwant Sinha to the vague utterances of SM Krishna, perspective on the Pak COAS’s visit, America’s compulsions and India’s place in world affairs seems to have been lost.  C Raja Mohan attempts to correct that with a brilliant piece in The Indian Express:

Only a bold man will bet that the US-Pakistan relationship will now evolve into something more than the marriage of convenience it has been for decades. After all, there are little commercial or societal ties that bind the US to Pakistan and it might be difficult to sustain the US-Pakistan partnership once the current expediency passes.

Although Pakistan’s leverage in Washington today is real, Kayani might be over-estimating its value. Kayani’s American wishlist is said to have four key demands. There is no way the US can meet the entirety of Pakistan’s demands. Nor can the administration deliver on them unilaterally; some of them — like the nuclear deal — require congressional consensus as well as unanimity in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There are others that are simply not possible — force Indian concessions on Kashmir.

As it responds to the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week, Delhi’s message must be three-fold — global efforts aimed at a positive transformation of Pakistan are welcome; expanded economic and military assistance to Pakistan must be conditioned on Pindi’s commitment to dismantle its jehadi assets; India is ready to address all of Pakistan’s concerns — including Kashmir — if it gives up violent extremism as an instrument of state policy. [The Indian Express]

Certainly, there are critical foreign policy questions that India needs to answer.  Questions about the nature and limitations of this new-found “strategic” relationship with the US, our own perceptions of our place and stature in the region and our relations with Pakistan and powers such as Russia and Iran with regard to the dynamics of the AfPak situation require careful deliberation.  This needs to happen regardless of the Obama-Kayani meet.

This government needs to focus on issues over which it has control; let our neighbors continue to revel in the delusional.

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