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Tag Archives | Iran

The Kabul Park Residence attacks

India’s short term option — don’t flinch.

Today, six Indians died in suicide attacks perpetrated by the Taliban at the Park Residence and other guesthouses in Kabul, Afghanistan.  This included Indian consulate staff, an ITBP constable and two Indian army officers.  At least five other individuals were injured in the attack, including five Indian army officers.

This blog, along with others, has in the past articulated what India must do in Afghanistan to protect its national interests.  In the August 2008 edition of Pragati, Sushant K Singh argued in favor of a larger Indian military presence in Afghanistan and warned of the long term consequences were India to rely exclusively on “soft power.”  In January 2010’s Pragati, I put forth a case for India to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), thereby assisting in raising a credible unit to act as a bulwark against the Taliban and Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.  Commentators like Harsh Pant have opined that India must stop hedging its bets on the US and must work with other actors like Russia and Iran to engage all sections of Afghan society.

However, despite repeated attacks against Indians and Indian interests in Afghanistan, Manmohan Singh’s government appears disinclined to readjust its Afghanistan strategy.  Today’s attack will not likely force a rethink on how to engage with Afghanistan either.  Given India’s self-imposed shackles and the likelihood of continued attacks against Indian soft targets in the war ravaged nation, India has but one option at its disposal in the short term, and that is to not flinch.

Attacks such as these may lead to calls for India’s level of engagement in Afghanistan to be reconsidered.  However, downgrading Indian presence in Afghanistan is the surest way to convey to the military jihadi complex (MJC) that it can force Indian action through terror.  The MJC feels that it is at an advantageous position:  it has outlasted the Americans,  reinserted itself (and the Taliban) into Afghanistan’s political space and the top leadership of the Quetta Shura — despite the capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mohammed Younis — remains mostly intact. The MJC will enjoy a tremendous psychological boost from the notion that it forced the Americans and the Indians to withdraw from Afghanistan.  It will seek to replicate the model by imposing severe costs on India in Kashmir and the mainland.

It is wrong to suppose that India’s involvement in Afghanistan is merely about power projection and easy access to energy rich Central Asia.  India is facing an existential battle and denying the MJC “strategic depth” in Afghanistan is a critical component to India’s own internal security. Therefore, if India insists in not altering its ill-conceived stance vis-a-vis hard power in Afghanistan, it must at the very least maintain its investment profile in the country, while fully expecting to be targeted repeatedly and frequently by the MJC.  Only the Indian government can explain how this is a better alternative to the introduction of Indian hard power in Afghanistan.

It is significant that India’s reconstruction efforts have earned it tremendous goodwill in Afghanistan.  An opinion poll () conducted in Afghanistan in January 2010 by BBC/ABC/ARD indicated a 71% favorable view of India, as opposed to 15% favorable view of Pakistan.  In the meduim- to long run, India must work with the US, regional actors and Afghans across the political gamut and ensure that an effective and credible counterweight to the MJC and the Taliban is sustained in Afghanistan.

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Pakistan’s Mojo

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Pakistan is awash with renewed optimism in being able to favorably influence political and structural rearrangements in Afghanistan.  Along with “brother countries” Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was able to both craft a proposition at the Istanbul Summit that called for negotiations and eventual reintegration of the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political foray, and also successfully lobbied to keep India out of the summit itself.  The icing on the cake for Islamabad was the broad endorsement of Pakistan’s plan at the London Conference, the following week.

Pakistan’s self-belief in its own indispensability and leverage over a resolution to the Afghanistan quagmire is mirrored in both official pronouncements from leaders of its armed forces and in its press corps.  At the NATO Commanders’ Conference, COAS Kayani enunciated his country’s need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, while raising concerns about India’s influence in Afghanistan.  Indeed, a Jang editorial one day before the London Conference called for all preparations to be made for dialog with the Taliban.

Pakistan’s army has also candidly put forth its position to the Obama Administration that India’s role in Afghanistan cannot go beyond development and infrastructural work.  Pakistan has also volunteered to train the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to counter what many believe is a role best suited for the Indian Army.  In short, Pakistan apparently successfully executed a prima facie diplomatic coup-de-etat, while India played the proverbial “deer caught in the headlights” on the world stage.

Without a doubt, India’s position on the Taliban has always been untenable.  A blanket rejection of an ambiguous collection of disparate groups seemed convenient and excused our leadership from having to go through the exercise of evaluating the various equations at play in Afghanistan.  Over the course of the years, this stance by India has seen it wholeheartedly back the Karzai regime while not wanting to have anything to do with any Pashtun elements that it suspected of being engaged (at whatever level) with the ISI.  Rightly, India’s over-simplistic, “with us or against us” approach was rejected by the international community at large.

But Pakistan’s own influence in matters relating to Afghanistan has been overstated.  Indeed, going by recent pronouncements, Pakistan is counting its chickens before they are hatched and the mirage of indispensability will unravel sooner than later.  Not being able to dictate the modularities of counter-insurgency operations within its own sovereign territory, it is unlikely that it can wield the magnitude of power it believes it enjoys in relation to India in Afghanistan.

So what must India do? The London Conference has already invalidated India’s over-simplistic approach to the Taliban, so the first course of action is apparent.  India must begin to engage with those Pashtun elements who seek reintegration into the existing political foray in Afghanistan.  In actuality, there isn’t a significant divergence of opinion between the United States and India on the issue.

India’s real apprehensions are centered around the possible reintegration of  Mullah Omar’s group — the so-called Quetta Shurah.  This is entirely consistent with the US’s own position.  India’s apprehensions on al-Qaeda elements and Haqqani network are also shared by the US.  This essentially leaves a rag-tag group of warlords who are all too small anyway to individually impact power dynamics in Afghanistan. India can begin by opening up communication channels with these groups.

India must also work with other important regional powers who share similar apprehensions versus the core Taliban group.  Indeed, the alliance of yore between Iran and India, who share common concerns of the spread of wahabbism in the region, and Russia must be resurrected.  Russia has articulated its clearest position to date on its willingness to “help rebuild” Afghanistan and Iran has shared India’s concerns about the spread of radical Sunni Islam in the wider region.

Over the last nine years, India has very naively bought into the argument that the dramatically altered equation post US’s invasion of Afghanistan was permanent, and that its reliance on “soft power” alone could very safely ensure maximized gains in Afghanistan without having to actually assume an overt presence in Afghanistan.

The situation in Afghanistan today, with Western forces working towards a withdrawal deadline, and Pakistan growing increasingly assertive, demands that India adopt a more proactive role, working in concert with the US and regional powers to ensure that the power equations that eventually shape up are largely in India’s favor. The question is, what is Manmohan Sigh’s government planning to do about it?

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The blind men of Pakistan

From madrasa to media, the Pakistani awam is being disserved

As the Pakistani army prepared for battle in South Waziristan, a spate of articles appeared in the Urdu press, which while recognizing the combatants as “extremists”, ascribed to the notion that these were merely people who had been led astray by the conjuring of an evil power. This is a theme that has resonated well with the media since major operations commenced against the Taliban. Hence Operation Rah-e-Rast — Operation Right Track — in Swat.

With regard to the operations in South Waziristan, the October 19, 2009 editorial of the Urdu newspaper, the Daily Ausaaf typifies the kind of mindless harangue dished out by Pakistan’s vernacular media on the subject.  Replying to it would be futile and unnecessary to the readers of this blog.

That Pakistan can do no wrong is a foregone conclusion and cannot be debated. Therefore, if things are going wrong, it is most likely the work of Pakistan’s enemies.  The same indoctrination follows the people, from madrasa to media.  The shackles of indoctrination cannot be broken until Pakistan’s terror consortium of the maulvis, ISI and army comes to terms with the rapidity of diminishing returns in such mindless propaganda.

Today those groups that waged jihad in Kashmir have turned their guns on their masters on the streets of Rawalpindi and Lahore.  The army is in an all out war against the very Taliban it nurtured.  Baluchistan is in the middle of a secessionist uprising. Anti-Shia groups that surfaced as a result of oil money from Saudi Arabia have complicated Pakistan’s relations with Iran.

Who is bleeding by a thousand cuts?

An excerpt of the October 19, 2009 editorial of the Daily Ausaaf is enclosed below.  The entire original editorial in Urdu can be read here:

October 19, 2009

The Daily Ausaaf

The South Waziristan Operation: The Real Enemy also needs to be dealt with decisively

The main cause of this war is the perpetuation of the policies of the former dictator, Pervez Musharraf, as a result of which the real enemy remains hidden. This enemy doesn’t openly confront us, but does so through its agents, who are unfortunately tied to our own existence.

These agents promote the interests of the real enemy by attacking the nation. In actuality, the real force behind this war is the United States, which is being aided by India and Israel in order to destabilize Pakistan.

The roles that the United States has assigned India in Afghanistan are quickly becoming clear. From Afghanistan, India, with the assistance of the United States and Israel, attacks Pakistan at every possible level.

The several Indian missions spread across the length and breadth of Afghanistan have been established for this very purpose. These counsels are a threat to our nation, and it is through them that India provides financial and military support to extremists and terrorists.

It is a wonder that these activities are being conducted under the very nose of the United States, which claims that is it fighting a war against terrorism. However, under the US’s protection, India provides financial support and weapons to terrorists who attack Pakistan.

There is consensus among America, India and Israel to destabilize Pakistan. There is also information that the US and NATO have closed some of their checkpoints near the border, due to which terrorists from Afghanistan are able to enter into Pakistan freely.

It is clear therefore, that the US also wants Pakistani armed forces’ operation in South Waziristan to fail. But this is wishful thinking. It is not easy to defeat the Pakistani Army. The army enjoys the support of the entire nation.

It is amply clear that the US, India and Israel want to weaken Pakistan economically, politically and militarily in order to alienate its people and denuclearize the nation.

Pakistan needs to appreciate the fact that in its war in South Waziristan, it is confronting not only the terrorists, but also the big powers that are their backers. We will not be able to win this war without understanding who the real enemy is and neutralizing their designs against Pakistan.

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Reconnecting with Iran: My article in Pragati

India’s independence on foreign policy has taken a beating during the last five years of UPA rule.  For the sake of a nuclear deal that now, ironically,  sits in the new US administration’s cold storage, the UPA sacrificed India’s reputation in the congress of developing nations by voting against Iran — not once, but twice — at the IAEA.   I make the case for reversing the current trajectory of our relationship with this important Islamic republic in this month’s Pragati .

… India’s engagements with the United States, and increasingly with Israel, amidst Iran’s growing isolation post-9/11, affected the ability of the two countries to collaborate on areas of mutual interest, including energy security and stemming the growth of Sunni extremism in the region. During this period, two events effectively put paid to the momentum gained by the New Delhi Declaration – India’s voting against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and India’s launching of the Israeli reconnaissance satellite TecSAR (“Polaris”) in 2008.

The UPA’s naiveté with regard to relations with Iran will come back to haunt the nation. India’s voting against Iran at the IAEA was perhaps the biggest strategic foreign policy blunder since the turn of the millennium. It was less a reflection of India’s conviction against nuclear proliferation and more an evidence of America’s coerciveness, effectively tying the Indo-US nuclear deal to India’s vote.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF, 2.2 MB)

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