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Tag Archives | NATO

Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?

Roznama Jasarat’s unintentional honesty.

In Roznama Jasarat’s October 8, 2010 cartoon, there’s a palpable feeling of victory over Pakistan recent squabbles with NATO and the U.S.  But in all the excitement at having clipped NATO’s wings (or removed its tusks), the poor little talib in Jasarat’s cartoon appears to be blissfully unaware that he is actually marching off a precipice.  That poor talib could be Pakistan.


 

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Responding to Michael Scheuer

Let us not rationalize irrationality.

The Diplomat carried an article by Michael Scheuer entitled “Coming Nuclear Flashpoint” on the India-Pakistan equation as it relates to Afghanistan.  Mr. Scheuer is a foreign policy critic and former CIA Station Chief of Bin Laden Issue Station (aka Alec Station).  He is noted to have strong views on U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and on the “Israeli lobby” in D.C.

The gist of Mr. Scheuer’s article is essentially this — that India has unwisely chosen to involve itself in Afghanistan.  This has caused uneasiness in Pakistan, which may in turn result in a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors.  Mr. Scheuer attempts to substantiate his “bells of doom” theory for India by making several arguments that have no sound basis.

The first has to do with the concept of Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  This term is a particular favorite of folks in Rawalpindi and employed to sell gullible visiting U.S. and NATO generals on why Pakistan’s influence must be unchallenged in Afghanistan.  Let’s be clear about what this “strategic depth” really is.  It isn’t meant to be, as some might imagine, a last refuge for a retreating Pakistani army in the face of an invading Indian army.

The term “strategic depth” is a euphemism for territory that Pakistan wants to use to attack India and Indian interests. This has precedence:  while many in the West might have forgotten, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999, executed by Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, is still fresh in the minds of many in India.  The idea therefore, that India ought to somehow be sympathetic towards such nefarious designs is ridiculous.

Second, Mr. Scheuer attacks India’s investments in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye as far as India’s intentions go.  Specifically, he draws attention to India’s work on the Zaranj-Delaram project, which he feels can be used by Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia by bypassing Pakistan; Mr. Scheuer feels that this was deliberately designed to hurt the Pakistani economy.  Here, it would not be imprudent to ask, “what Pakistani economy?”

At the very least, this argument presupposes that India gains from an economically battered Pakistan — if this were the case, India’s contribution to such a situation would matter little;  successive Pakistani governments have themselves been single-minded in their pursuit to loot their country and destroy its economy.

Third, on Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer suggests that the mujahideen have not forgotten India’s support for Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the repercussions for this support will be apparent once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  Certainly, the mujahideen have been anti-India (supported as they are by Pakistan’s ISI) but it is wrong to think that they are representative of the people of Afghanistan.

A 2009 poll ( PDF) conducted by BBC/ABC/ARD indicates that 71 percent of the Afghans polled had a favorable opinion of  India — the highest for any foreign nation — as against unfavorable opinions of Pakistan (81 percent), the Taliban (89 percent) and Osama bin Laden (91 percent).  The same poll also showed that 56 percent of Afghans in 2009 indicated that they had access to improved road infrastructure, while 50 percent believed they had access to better medical care — two areas of significant Indian contribution.

Next, an area where I agree (if only in part) with Mr. Scheuer is on India’s exclusive reliance on soft power in Afghanistan.  Many of us at INI and other platforms have argued that over reliance on  soft power will be detrimental to India’s interests in Afghanistan.  Over at Pragati, many have made the case for India to match its soft power in Afghanistan with hard power, viz. deploying troops. Some of us have even argued that the very least India ought to do is commit to train the Afghan National Army at a time when Western forces are seeking to wind down their own commitments.

The difference between our arguments and Mr. Scheuer’s is that while we argue that soft power alone cannot be the basis of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer argues that no Indian influence — whether soft or hard — is acceptable in Afghanistan.  Given the obvious implications of a security vacuum in Afghanistan to India’s internal security, such a position is not only untenable but unacceptable.

Mr. Scheuer is right that Indian interests in Afghanistan will be increasingly targeted once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  However, the  solution to this is not for India to flee from the scene, with tail firmly between its legs.  India must counter Pakistani influence by working with like-minded countries, such as Russia and Iran and yes, even the U.S. to deny ground to the Wahhabi brigade that turned Afghanistan into a festering swamp of extremism in the ’90s.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake Mr. Scheuer commits in his article is trying to rationalize the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate irrationality.  While on the one hand articulating Pakistan’s hysteria with great clarity, he almost inexplicably accepts this institutional irrationality as valid, and appears irritated that India does not.

Let us be clear — India’s actions in Afghanistan have as much to do with its desire to help rebuild a war-ravaged nation as they do with mitigating national security risks.  India need not apologize — to anyone — nor back down from doing everything it can to protect its people and its interests.  Now Pakistan’s interests may be incompatible with this, but that’s unsurprising, given that the Pakistan military-jihadi complex’s position is antithetical to the existence of India.  Giving credence to such irrational positions is an exercise in appeasement that will come back to haunt the rest of the world and India.

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Mowing the grass

The similarities between Washington, D.C. and Wanat, Nuristan.

UK’s spokesperson for military operations in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger was at a New America Foundation sponsored event in Washington, D.C., talking about COIN operations and Operation Moshtarak in Marja.  Since the invasion in 2001, COIN operations in Afghanistan  have assumed a “clear-hold-withdraw” pattern, where coalition forces mount operations against  insurgents, maintain momentary control, and either partially or entirely withdraw over a period of time.  This withdrawal invariably creates a power vacuum, which the Taliban return to fill — resulting in another series of coalition COIN operations.  “Mowing the grass, ” The New York Times calls this.

Gen. Messenger spoke at length about the pattern: (h/t nukesofhazardblog.com)

How exactly does one prevent merely mowing the grass?  It sounds simple enough: make sure an Afghan security force is in place to fill any potential security void upon the end of an operation.  Operations should be jointly planned and executed, all the way down to the lowest level, by both ISAF and the Afghan national forces.  Substantive partnering with Afghans will set the groundwork for a strong eventual US and NATO transition out of the country that is not conditions based, said Messenger.  Properly trained Afghan forces (ANP and ANA) gradually taking on an increasingly large percentage of operations planning and execution will allow for ISAF forces to confidently withdrawal and leave a solid security foundation.

Of course, joint operations with Afghan security forces seems theoretically sound and practically feasible.  There’s just one small problem – after spending eight years and billions of dollars, Afghan’s security forces remain staggeringly under-equipped and untrained.  The extent of the lack of operational readiness of indigenous forces is only now being understood by civilian leadership in Washington.  Mark Hosenball observes (h/t pragmatic_d):

[A]t a March 12 briefing in the White House Situation Room, President Obama asked his senior advisers if Afghan police will be ready for action by July 2011 when the scheduled draw down of American troops is supposed to begin. The answer, from Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, the American officer in charge of building Afghanistan’s security forces, was not encouraging. “It’s inconceivable, but in fact for eight years we weren’t training the police,” Caldwell told the president and his assembled senior advisers, who included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, and top military, national security, and intelligence chiefs. “We just never trained them before. All we did was give them a uniform,” Caldwell said, according to a senior official who was in the room—and who asked for anonymity when speaking about sensitive information.

The president, said the official, looked stunned. “Eight years and we didn’t train police?” Obama said.  “It’s mind boggling.” The room went silent. [Newsweek]

This “mowing the grass” is being replicated on the field in Eastern Afghanistan as it is in Washington, D.C.  That Afghan security forces are untrained is known.  Desertion rates (25% each in the ANA and ANP ) are high and institutional corruption is pervasive.  Building a credible security forces under the circumstances is tough enough, without having to factor in shortages in available US and NATO trainers (currently numbering less than 2,000).  These are all long-standing issues which short-term, duct-tape fixes will not solve.  However, even after Mr. Obama’s major review of operations in Afghanistan in November, 2009, the same mistakes are still being committed.

If the goal is to train the 83,000 ANA and 90,000 ANP fast enough for them to be able to begin taking over from coalition forces in 2011, the US must elicit assistance from the pre-eminent military power in the region — India.  Even with Indian assistance, this is going to be a mad dash to the finish line.  For a country admired (and oftentimes disliked) for doggedly pursuing its national interests, even when they conflict with those of its allies, US reluctance in India’s involvement because of Pakistan’s “sensitivities” is inexplicable.

As things stand today, there is a 1:85 ratio of trainers to Afghan security personnel; the numbers just don’t add up.  This is a significant gap whose resolution requires a recognition of the enormity of the challenge, a change in mindset and a commitment to leave behind a stable, secure and functioning democracy 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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