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Tag Archives | Musharraf

On Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden report

Nolnah’s Razor: Ascribing incompetence to that which can be adequately explained by malice.

The report of the Abbottabad Commission, which was set up to investigate the May 2011 raid by U.S. special forces that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and his couriers, was “obtained” and published online by al-Jazeera today.  News reports tell us that the 337-page report makes “scathing reading.”

It attributes “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” in Pakistan’s apparent inability to identify that bin Laden was living in a villa located less than a mile away from the Kakul military academy for at least five years and its inability to detect the special forces contingent that traveled from Jalalabad, Afghanistan to Abbottabad to execute the mission to kill or capture bin Laden.

There are a few ways to look at the content and timing of the “leaked” report.  First, the report may be scathing in its criticism of government incompetence, but it barely entertains the possibility that official connivance played a role in bin Laden’s ability to evade U.S. pursuit for ten years.  Official denials don’t really mean much under the circumstances.  For years, Pakistani leaders claimed that bin Laden wasn’t in their country.  Gen. Musharraf claimed bin Laden was dead in 2002.

Pakistan has also, for years, denied that Mullah Omar was living in Pakistan.  Yet, multiple reports suggest that he is living in Quetta and under the protection of the ISI.  The truth will most likely be revealed once the U.S. and its allies leave Afghanistan in 2014, following which Mullah Omar will emerge triumphantly from parts unknown.

Of course, most people in India are accustomed to hearing how persons of interest to them — Dawood Ibrahim, for example — are most certainly not living in Pakistan.  For those of us on this side of the barbed-wire fence, the incompetence defense stretches credulity.

There are other interesting parts to the report.  On page 337, it concludes (emphasis added):

But finally, no honest assessment of the situation can escape the conclusion that those individuals who wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making bear the primary responsibility for creating the national circumstances and environment in which the May 2, 2011 incident occurred.  It is unnecessary to specifically name them because it is obvious who they are.  It may be politically unrealistic to suggest “punishments” from them.  But as honourable men, they ought to do honourable thing, including submitting a formal apology to the nation for their dereliction of duty.  It will be for the people of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections to pass collective political judgement on them. [al-Jazeera]

The last sentence of the concluding paragraph of the report is curious.  It apportions blame to those who “wielded primary authority and influence in national decision making,” but concludes by saying that it was for the people of Pakistan to pass a collective judgement on them in the elections.  Great, but Pakistanis don’t get to vote for their COAS or DG-ISI.  But they do cast votes on their civilian leadership.  From where this blogger is standing, the blame being apportioned here almost certainly targets Asif Ali Zardari and the PPP, rather than the Pakistani military establishment.

The other items for consideration pertaining to the release of the report are the timing and source of the alleged leak.  The leak occurs at a time when the U.S. is trying to negotiate an honorable exit from Afghanistan with the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Qatar. That the report was leaked by al-Jazeera, a news agency fully owned by the al-Thani family, which, as it happens, also rules Qatar may not be a coincidence.

This “leak” could effectively mean two things.  If the U.S. is sufficiently encouraged by the momentum and direction of the talks, it may be well-disposed towards bailing out the Pakistani military establishment from the embarrassment it has had to endure since 2011.  The discrete leak of a document via a news agency owned by a U.S. ally, which blames incompetence rather than connivance (the lesser of  two evils) while also criticizing a now mostly-irrelevant and ousted political party works well under such circumstances.

If, on the other hand, things aren’t going so well in Doha, the release of a classified report may have been viewed as necessary by some to coax Pakistan into action.  It will, of course, embarrass and anger the Pakistani military establishment.  More importantly, it will also most certainly complicate relations between Pakistan and Qatar.

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The worst offense

The U.S. is doing itself a disservice by holding on to tedious “arms race” narratives about India and Pakistan.

Tom Ricks’ The Best Defense ran a blogpost this morning entitled “The most likely apocalypse in our future: An Indian-Pakistani nuclear exchange.”  As a fan of the blog, I was disappointed with the sort of arguments put forth in the blogpost, peppered as it was with pedestrian and illogical arguments (many sourced from discussions at a recent Carnegie event) . My INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar has exceptional rebuttal to the above blogpost, but this post will try to touch on a couple of other points.  Let us examine some of these arguments put forth in the blogpost (emphasis added as needed):

The fuse to ignite a war has been lit before — at Kargil in 1999, after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, and most recently, after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 — but a nuclear exchange has been prevented each time. With each of these incidents, though, the fuse has been cut shorter.

Way to use the passive voice.  But it begs the question, “who lit the fuse exactly?” If memory serves one right, during Kargil, it was Pakistan’s COAS, the good Gen. Musharraf, who moved his nuclear assets to the border with India at a time when India responded with limited conventional force in the face of extreme provocation from Pakistan.  Similarly, during the Mumbai attacks, it was Pakistan — not India — that tried to sell the rest of the world the story of an impending nuclear war with India. But such Pakistani hullabaloo is only to be expected — conveying the threat of a nuclear fallout is  a vital component to insulating itself, while continuing to use sub-conventional warfare against India — a “derivative of nuclear deterrence,” as K. Subrahmanyam called it.

The blogpost further states:

The greatest risk for nuclear war in our time is the scenario in which a Pakistan-based terror group with ties to ISI launches another attack on India. It’s nearly happened before. Aparna Pande, a fellow at the Hudson Institute, described the strong pro-nuclear strike faction in Indian politics after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the common sentiment of, “if Pakistan can cross the border and hit us, why can’t we hit back?”

I would submit that Ms. Pande’s quote is presented out of context.  When one state continues to use terrorism as an instrument of policy against another, isn’t it only logical that the victimized state would assess its response options?  Why does the blogpost assume that India’s response would necessarily be nuclear?  In fact, given India’s conventional superiority wrt Pakistan, why would India ever consider such an option?  “Pro-nuclear strike faction” indeed!

And the pièce de résistance:

A journalist for the Pakistani Spectator, in worried and urgent tones, told the panel that, with the prevailing popular opinion in Pakistan, the United States is “pushing Pakistan in the corner, and they are depending more on the weapon because Pakistan is literally collapsing.” It will be up to the international community, and largely the United States, to help buttress Pakistan’s faltering democracy. The success or failure of stabilization efforts in the next several years will determine which cliché the Pakistani bomb will become: common ground, bargaining chip, or loose cannon.

First, this blogger would like some clarification on what corner Pakistan is being pushed into, who is pushing it into said corner, and what all this pushing-about business has to do with its accumulation of nuclear weapons.  Are we to understand from the Pakistani Spectator’s journalist that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are no longer India-centric and that it is now acquiring nuclear weapons as a contingency against the U.S. (the alleged entity pushing Pakistan into a corner)?  And second, how would Pakistan’s continued accumulation of nuclear weapons save it from collapsing?  Nuclear weapons, after all, are built to destroy, not built to build.

As this blogpost has pointed out previously, Pakistan sees value in portraying itself an an irrational and unstable state. A nuclear-armed Islamic state teetering on the precipice is bound to attract Washington’s attention, and benevolence. There is simply no link between the sort of assurances that the U.S. seeks to obtain on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons project and the emergence of true democracy in Pakistan.  In fact, Pakistan’s proliferation track record under the leadership of the likes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto should worry D.C. even more.

But if you think you have heard this sort of spiel somewhere before, it’s because you have.  Many in D.C. are so captivated by the theme of India and Pakistan — each apparently as equally likely as the other to initiate a nuclear attack — endangering the region unless the U.S. steps in to resolve their disputes, that they have long forsaken much required rational assessments of the situation in the subcontinent.

Yet, that these sorts of dangerous arguments are perpetuated in high profile opinion pieces does the world no favors. In a recent, carefully articulated op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Messrs. George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Hunn, wrote as follows:

Fifth, we recognize that for some nations, nuclear weapons may continue to appear relevant to their immediate security. There are certain undeniable dynamics in play—for example, the emergence of a nuclear-armed neighbor, or the perception of inferiority in conventional forces—that if not addressed could lead to the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and an increased risk they will be used. Thus, while the four of us believe that reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective, some nations will hesitate to draw or act on the same conclusion unless regional confrontations and conflicts are addressed. We must therefore redouble our efforts to resolve these issues. [The Wall Street Journal]

Thinking in the U.S. will hopefully evolve to understanding the nature of Pakistan’s nuclear brinkmanship and its impact on India, the U.S. and the world.  This will require folks in D.C. to truly examine what Pakistan is seeking to achieve and depart from the tedious narratives about a non-existent regional nuclear arms race.  Not altering the current trajectory of thought, and not doing so quickly, will be the worst offense.

 

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Gen. Kayani’s extension

Beware the General with the extended contract.

When Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani announced his government’s decision to extend COAS Gen. Kayani’s term for another three years, he was merely formalizing an arrangement that many had already foreseen months ago.  Media reaction to Gen. Kayani’s extension in Pakistan has swayed from grudging acceptance (The News) to complete endorsement  (نوائے وقت, ایکسپریس).  On the face of it, this is a matter internal to Pakistan, and the Government of India has rightly chosen not to comment on the extension.

Three issues, however, feature prominently in Pakistan’s press on favoring an extended tenure for Gen. Kayani — the war on terrorism, upholding the laws of the nation, and security.  It is the third that should be of concern to India; indeed, if history has taught us one thing, it is that secure generals in Rawalpindi have taken decisions that negatively impact India’s internal security.  Men in power at GHQ have historically been poor judges of how far they can push the button, either internally or as it relates to India.  We need not delve too far back into history to realize that precedents exist.  The events leading up to October 1999 serve as a reminder.  Nazim Zehra explains:

Musharraf had then clearly stayed away from the political situation as journalists had queried about the ability of the present system’s ability to ‘deliver’ given Pakistan’s major problems. His response to a question related to constitutional change was unambiguous. This relates to constitutional changes, an issue which only the country’s political leadership can address, he had definitively said. He was straight and honest recalling that when he had taken over as the COAS people around me held different views about Nawaz Sharif ‘s relations with the army leadership.

What was striking about the general was how he related to the team around him. Not only did he ensure the presence of at least half a dozen of his key lieutenants through his press encounter, he also let them speak. More so let them interrupt him, correct him on occasions. Only a general, secure about his authority would allow such public display of freedom of expression from his men. Musharraf had come across as a secure general; a team player. [Defence Journal]

Then there was Kargil.

The difference between 1999 and 2010, of course,  is that in Parvez Musharraf, you had a general who had no backing from the United States (up until the events of 9/11), while Kayani today enjoys popular support from folks in Arlington, Vir. And the U.S. is notorious for its weakness for scotch-drinking Pakistani generals; even more so when they are graduates of army colleges in the U.S.  Gen. Kayani is described in the U.S. as a “soft-spoken intellectual” and “apolitical.”  As if this “soft-spokenness” is a virtuous quality.

Yet, of all the 14 chiefs of army staff to have served Pakistan, only one man holds the distinction of having commanded both Pakistan’s premiere intelligence agency, the ISI, and the Pakistani army.  That man is Gen. Kayani.  That Gen. Kayani played an integral part in ensuring that talks between S.M. Krishna and his counterpart in Pakistan failed should be no surprise.  What Gen. Kayani does or doesn’t do within the confines of Pakistan’s political environment is a matter entirely internal to Pakistan.

However, “secure” Pakistani generals have displayed a knack for misunderstanding their relative power within the Pakistani establishment and misconstruing their ability to force India’s hand on “unresolved issues.”  And this is something that India needs to be wary of.

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In a false quarrel, there is no true valor

The “Long March” is at an end.  A banner in the The Dawn proclaims “Mission Accomplished“, in Bush 43-esque vein.  The International Herald Tribune announces a victory to “Justice”.  “It’s a people’s victory”, The Nation declares. People blogged about it on the internet.  Protesters tweeted live as  they marched towards Islamabad.  Others like Tahira Abdullah wept on national television, imploring the (former) Minister for Information to “Save Pakistan”.  On the other side of the Wagah, journalists were at their ignorant, amateur best.  The Hindustan Times called the PML-N leader “Sure shot Sharif”.  Barkah Dutt exalted him as the “Sher-e-Punjab”.

Thankfully, not everyone drank the Rooh Afzah.

This was no battle for democracy.  This was a protest launched by a shrewd politician who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the misdeeds of a bumbling President.  Nawaz Sharif doesn’t care about democracy any more than did Stalin.  Those who took to the streets and endured police assaults only succeeded in supplanting one set of cronies with another.  This should become painfully obvious to the delirious intelligentsia fairly soon.  The issue isn’t whether Sharif can do a better job than Zardari.  Or if Iftikar Chaudhry can bring back the rule of law in Pakistan.  There is something rotten in the State.  Politicians in Pakistan have proven that they are incapable of governance.  Or maybe they just don’t care.  The sense of elation from yesterday’s “victory” is similar to popular sentiments that prevailed when Benazir returned to Pakistan in 2007, and when Musharraf was given his marching orders last year.  However, so monumental was the task of rebuilding the country, and so incompetent were its politicians, that the jubilation quickly turned into despair.  This time will be no different.

Political inertia is already crippling Pakistan socially and economically.  Inflation is close to 20%.  Throw in a projected GDP growth of 3% and the math doesn’t add up.  The issue that should be patently obvious is that at this precarious point in Pakistan’s history, the quarrel shouldn’t be about which Chief Justice serves party interests better or how to settle personal vendettas by launching impromptu uprisings that cripple the state.  Instead, Pakistani politicians should be working to reconstruct the parameters of engagement within the nation in a manner that will allow them to effectively govern, if and when elected.  In addition to common maladies such as poverty, illiteracy and unemployment that plague the subcontinent, Pakistan has to contend with two serious challenges to the writ of State — Talibanization of the frontier provinces and the scourge of terrorism in the heartland.   Nawaz Sharif has already proven, on two separate occasions, that he is incapable of  governing the country.  Zardari and Gilani have done little over the past few months to prove that they are any better.  Unless citizens are able to hold politicians’ feet to the fire and make them accountable for the larger issues of the state, this farce will continue.

Barely a day the “Long March” concluded, a suicide bomber attacked a crowded bus stand in Rawalpindi, killing 15 and injuring several more.  Unless the gravity of the situation in Pakistan is comprehended by politicians and citizens alike, very little will change.

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