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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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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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12 Easy Steps to Destroy India: A Handguide

Well really, there’s just 1 easy step to destroy India: have the UPA government hire R Vaidyanathan as chief strategist in the fight against terrorism. He will swiftly ensure that the anarchy in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan will spread like cancer to eastern Pakistan, and then eventually to all of India as well. Vaidyanathan wrote 8 things India Inc, govt must do against Pakistan“, a masterfully crafted economic and strategic treatise, and followed that up with “12 steps to shock-and-awe Pakistan’s economy” the very next day, apparently in response to overwhelming feedback to the first article. Nothing will ensure India’s discombobulation faster than the implementation of some of his plans.
Vaidyanathan’s proposed assaults on Pakistan’s economy include the following gems:

Identify the major export items of Pakistan (like Basmati rice, carpets, etc) and provide zero export tax or even subsidise them for export from India. Hurt Pakistan on the export front.

Create assets to print/distribute their currency widely inside their country. To some extent, Telgi types can be used to outsource this activity. Or just drop their notes in remote areas.

I fail to see how this is going to make matters better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things could get much worse. It is a fact that terrorist organizations like LeT and Al Qaeda prey on frustrated, impoverished, disenfranchised youth for recruitment. By his own admission, Ajmal Amir, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, was a laborer and a petty thief before being recruited by the Lashkar. There is a history of young men living under conditions of unemployment, poverty and helplessness turning to terrorism. It’s no surprise that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (one of the world’s fastest growing unemployment rates, at 12%) and Yemen (unemployment rate of 35%). I bring this up because India’s economic muscle is very real, and can inflict substantial damage on Pakistan’s economy. Nothing will please the Lashkar more, since hordes of Ajmal Amirs will be lining up outside their recruitment offices in Muridke, in much the same way that Indians line up to work for Infosys or Wipro.

But wait, it gets better. Vaidyanathan continues…

We should realise that a united Pakistan is a grave threat to the existence of India. Hence, we should do everything possible to break up Pakistan into several units. This is required to be done not only for our interest, but for world peace.

Not only for our interest, but for world peace? How very benignant of him. Pakistan as a federation is already teetering on the brink of collapse. There is already a struggle going on in Baluchistan. In Swat, Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban against the imposition of a parallel Sharia law. South Waziristan has unilaterally declared independence, which the government in Islamabad has tacitly accepted. The “real” Pakistan now exists only in Sindh and Punjab, and even in Sindh there are several secessionist movements.

If Pakistan as a federation falls, the whole area from Helmand province in Afghanistan to Wagah will be in a state of anarchy. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, and India will be ill equipped to handle the influx of refugees from this region. Worse, once in India and bereft of any viable employment opportunities, many of these refugees may turn to theft and militancy. One only has to look at the Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan to get a sense of what to expect, if it were to occur in India. Secondly, and more importantly, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The threat of rouge Army officers, and/or ISI agents in cahoots with their Al Qaeda, LeT and JeM buddies launching attacks on India with those weapons is very real. To ward off such a possibility, Indian troops, along with US and NATO forces will be forced to enter into mainland Pakistan in search of the weapons, where our troops will get summarily slaughtered in close combat situations à la the US in Iraq. It takes only five minutes for a nuke from Pakistan to hit India. How soon can India’s forces track down and decommission Pakistan’s warheads?

India has already shown, post-Kargil, that it does not have the appetite to go after Pakistan unilaterally.  Indeed, off-late, India’s strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan appears to be to make the United States do its bidding in Pakistan — a bungling miscalculation, since the US itself is tied down by its own compulsions in the Afghan-Pakistan border.  India has not articulated a credible strategy towards Pakistan.  Relying on the US somewhat to use its influence on Pakistan is fine, as long as it is only part of a coherent, multidimensional strategy that India, as a soverign, independent nation adapts, taking into consideration its own national interests.  Flexing India’s economic muscle is also fine, as a means to an end — the end being the ultimate termination of anti-India militant forces in Paksitan, and not the capitulation of the state of Pakistan itself, as proposed by Vaidyanathan.

India must make it clear to Pakistan that it has multiple non-military arsenal in its inventory that it can use to bleed Pakistan, in the same way that Pakistan, implicitly or explicitly, aims to hurt India.  For example, India should make it clear that it is willing to violate the Indus Water Treaty, and severely or completely choke the westward flow of the Chenab, dealing a blow to Pakistan’s agricultural output for domestic consumption and external trade.  Similarly, India should be able to affect a de facto deep water import blockade of the port of Karachi, ostensibly with an intent to ward off pirate activity from the Horn of Africa. A substantial volume of import trade with Pakistan, will then need to originate from or be routed to the Arabian Penninsula, from smaller ports in Muscat or Sharjah; smaller trade volumes means increased per-unit costs of imports.

If in the future, India is to be the global force that many are predicting it to be, then Pakistan’s stability will be vital to the fulfillment of that prophecy. An unstable Pakistan will mean an unstable India. Rather than seeking to destroy and disintegrate Pakistan, India must work to ensure that its voice is heard in Pakistan.  India’s sphere of infleuence must effectively include, not exclude Pakistan.  Any carrot-and-stick policy that India adopts with regards to Pakistan must show our neighbor that its interest lie in working with, rather than against India.  The benefits in working with India must be conspicious and very apparent, as must the consequences of attempts to destablize India.  To this end, where necessary, India should be willing and able to unilaterally use non-military tools at its disposal to punish Pakistan.  However, a constant, ineffectual, quasi-military, adversarial posturing with Pakistan, such as the one currently in favor in New Delhi, will leave India muddled in the internal quagmires of South Asia, and unable to break free from its shackles to project power and influence beyond this impoverished and chaotic region.

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