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Tag Archives | taliban

Don’t feed the Cookie Monster

Forget Pakistan and move on.

I came across this article in Foreign Policy by Teresita and Howard Schaffer entitled “Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir: A grand bargain?”  Ambassadors Teresita and Howard Schaffer are true paragons of the U.S. foreign policy community and have extensive experience in the subcontinent (indeed, Mrs. Schaffer is fluent in Hindi and Urdu).  However, and as someone with tremendous respect for their contributions, I found some of  the recommendations in the article surprising.

The article calls for a review of U.S. strategic options with Pakistan and postulates a “grand bargain,” which essentially involves “giving” Pakistan what it wants in Afghanistan, but on two pre-conditions: first, making Pakistan responsible for preventing terrorism emanating from Afghanistan (yes, only Afghanistan), and second, getting Pakistan to agree on a settlement on Kashmir on the present geopolitical lines.  In all fairness, the article both recognizes the challenges inherent in such a plan, and accepts that the likelihood  of such a bargain coming to fruition is rather low.  However, there are elements in this “grand bargain” that I find either disturbing or infeasible.

The first element of this “grand bargain” involves accepting Pakistani hegemony in Afghanistan. Pakistan, not the civil administration in Afghanistan, will be empowered to undertake negotiations between Kabul and “whatever elements of the Taliban” to work towards a post-war settlement.  The article also envisages the U.S. accepting Pakistan’s demand of eliminating Indian involvement in Afghanistan.  Such logic should greatly concern New Delhi, which recently signed a “strategic partnership” with Afghanistan involving an enhancement of bilateral ties in education, economics and security. This article fails to explain why Afghanistan or India would ever entertain this, and how the U.S. and Pakistan feel they are in a position to transact such an arrangement without resistance from India and Afghanistan.

Next, in return for this “grand bargain,” the article recommends that the U.S. warn Pakistan that it would be held responsible for any act of terror originating from Afghanistan or Pakistan. The article doesn’t delve any further into how this fete is to be accomplished.  The Pakistanis have acted with an ascending sense of impunity in conducting sub-conventional operations in a region already dominated by U.S. forces.  If the U.S.’s strategy with respect to Pakistan’s proclivity for terror has failed to yield tangible results thus far, what other tools does the U.S. suppose it has to force Rawalpindi into compliance? And by the way, has the U.S. held anyone responsible for the discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan this past May?

The third component of this bargain pertains to Kashmir. According to the article, the U.S. would “tell” Pakistan that it would publicly call for a settlement on Kashmir based on existing demarcations along the LoC and “give India advance notice” of the announcement.

Advance notice! One wonders if the U.S. thinks that it is in a position to orchestrate such a grand settlement especially at a time when its own power is fading relative to other actors on the global stage.  The U.S. would do well to  imbibe an espresso shot of reality here.  Where is the appetite for such an arrangement in a rabidly anti-India Pakistan?  Pakistan’s political parties created an uproar just last week in  response to the inconsequential issue of granting India the status of “Most Favored Nation.”  For a nation bred on the notion that Kashmir is rightfully theirs, any compromise on the issue will elicit a response that Rawalpindi and Islamabad will be incapable of dealing with.

And while India in very broad terms would like a settlement based on turning the LoC into a permanent border, it is in no particular hurry to make the move.  India today is focused on restoring relative peace to Jammu & Kashmir; to that end, it has encouraged dialog between the Centre and political parties of all hues in the Valley.  However, an external reconciliation of Jammu & Kashmir is just not a priority.

The weak coalition in New Delhi does not have the political capital necessary to conclude on such a significant transaction, even if it wanted to.  Simply, Kashmir is a “core issue” for India, and as the U.S. has already realized, is one where India is demonstratively inflexible. If an impoverished India of the past managed to stave off U.S. pressure on Kashmir, what makes the U.S. think that an ascending India will do otherwise?  Any expectation that India will march to the U.S.’s tune merely on being told to do so, is very far removed from reality indeed.

In the end, if the U.S. hopes to move on from its engagement in Afghanistan and ensure that the country does not return to a pre-9/11 jihadi haven, it must stop encouraging Pakistan’s institutional irrationality.  This involves recognizing that U.S. and Pakistan’s interests are divergent, and that Pakistan isn’t the solution, but the problem.  Further, it must realize that even assuming Kashmir is resolved  by some miracle, this will not necessarily mean an end to Pakistan’s obsession with India.

Pakistan’s problem is not Kashmir, it is India and India’s existence.  Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan — an agenda duly entertained in the article — is directly tied to its preoccupation with India. If there were no India, there would be no need for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  Therefore, how does India attain peace with Pakistan, when Pakistan’s definition of peace involves India’s dismemberment?  Questions for the Schaffers and the U.S. to ponder over.

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The Afghanistan endgame

Time for India to get its act together.

The United States Institute for Peace (USIP), along with the Jinnah Institute (JI), recently co-convened a project to study the perceptions of Pakistan’s “foreign policy elite” towards the Afghanistan endgame.  A summary of the discussions is available on USIP’s website (PDF), while detailed findings will be published soon.  A cursory review of the document tells us nothing new about Pakistan’s perceptions with regard to endgame scenarios in Afghanistan.  The document highlights three outcomes sought by Pakistan in Afghanistan — a “degree of” stability in Afghanistan, an inclusive government in Kabul, and limiting Indian presence to development activities.

Pakistan’s foreign policy elites perceived U.S. strategy in Afghanistan to be inconsistent and counterproductive to Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and the region.  Hardly surprising, since Pakistan’s interests never converged with those of the U.S. in Afghanistan, a fact that has only recently become apparent to some in D.C.  It should also be clear that regardless of outcomes, Pakistan will continue to seek “strategic depth” — a euphemism for territory Pakistan hopes to use against Indian interests — in Afghanistan.  But what does mean for the U.S. and India?

Some home truths, first.  Since May 2, 2011 and the events that have followed, it is now clear that Pakistan’s ability to negotiate a favorable outcome in Afghanistan is significantly diminished.  Pakistan is more marginalized today than it has ever been since 2001 in influencing outcomes in Afghanistan.  Contrast this against the sense of being on the doorsteps of victory that prevailed in Rawalpindi 16 months ago.

The discovery of bin Laden “hiding in plain sight” in Abbottabad has left Pakistan with very few fans in D.C.  While the U.S. has always sought to lessen its reliance on Pakistan, these plans have gained significant momentum.  The so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN) now accounts for about 65% of traffic to Afghanistan (contrast this to 2010, when 70% of the traffic was routed through Pakistan).  In addition, the U.S. is now in direct negotiations with the Taliban (“direct,” because they bypass Pakistani negotiators).

How fruitful these negotiations will be remains to be seen.  There are conflicting reports in the Pakistani press that indicate that negotiations have collapsed, while reports in the U.S. indicate otherwise.  Indeed, news reports now suggest that Afghan officials, fearful that direct U.S.-Taliban negotiations would undermine President Karzai, scuttled the talks.

But the realities in Afghanistan are that President Karzai is largely isolated and running out of allies.  Apart from the fact that relations with the U.S. are chilly, Mr. Karzai is also not a popular personality in Pakistan, and is increasingly isolated from his own people.  The security vacuum, particularly in southern Afghanistan, has claimed the lives of thousands of Afghan citizens and officials, including President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and mayor of Khandahar, Ghulam Haider Hamidi over the past many months.  This security vacuum can only be addressed by helping Afghanistan protect itself and its citizens.  This means providing Afghanistan the necessary security assistance and training to allow the much-maligned ANA and local law enforcement units to play a larger role in defending the country.

It is also true that Pakistan, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, cannot be excluded from influencing  the endgame in Afghanistan.  And contrary to Pakistan’s protestations, neither the U.S. nor India would want Pakistan not to play a constructive role in shaping the future of its neighbor.  But given Pakistan’s historic involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, its continuing support to Mullah Omar and the Haqqani network, and its quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s credentials are at best tainted, and are a cause for concern in India.

Further, Pakistan crying “Wolf!” over every real or imagined instance of Indian engagement in Afghanistan is a red herring.  Many of us have argued for an Indian military presence in Afghanistan and for India to train ANA personnel.  While India has trained some ANA officers, deploying a contingent of the Indian army appears remote now, given India’s preoccupation with  domestic political issues.  India has assisted Afghanistan in reconstruction and development efforts, even constructing the Zaranj-Delaram highway, which links Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar.  Of course, Pakistan’s Taliban proxies now control the highway.  It should be pretty apparent then that there is no way that New Delhi can accept Pakistan’s terms for Indian engagement in Afghanistan.

Whether Pakistan likes it or not, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan and transform its ties from merely the donor-benefactor relationship that currently exists.  New Delhi’s hesitance in forging deeper ties with Afghanistan haven’t hurt India as badly as it could have, because many of us have consistently underestimated Pakistan’s propensity and willingness to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

However, the U.S.’s plans to withdraw forces from Afghanistan beginning in 2014, and Pakistan’s waning influence in D.C. on Afghanistan-related issues present new opportunities to India that it must act on.  As the U.S.’s role in Afghanistan changes, so must too India’s.  India should be looking to expand ties with Afghanistan and transform the donor-benefactor relationship to one between trading partners.  Given the common threats India and Afghanistan face, deepening military and intelligence cooperation is equally important.  The question that needs to be asked is if New Delhi will take cognizance of these opportunities and act on them, or will it fritter them away, as it unfortunately has with so many countries in its immediate neighborhood.

 

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Waqt-i-Leaks

Nawa-i-waqt and its ilk must be called out.

The Nawa-i-Waqt Group launched an insidious campaign to malign India, all the while purporting its source to be classified comments made by U.S. officials, now made public through the Wikileaks exposé.  The trouble for the Nawa-i-waqt Group is that The Guardian, which does have full access to the all of the undisclosed Wikileaks content, confirmed that nothing akin to what was being claimed existed in the leaked cables.  In other words, Nawa-i-waqt was making stuff up and passing it off as fact.  And anyone familiar with Nawa-i-Waqt’s body of work will know that the media group has a long and storied tradition in fabricating news.

Until very recently, its English-language newspaper, The Nation, was edited by Dr. Shireen Mazari, a former Director, Institute of Strategic Studies (Islamabad) and columnist for the Jang Group‘s The News, from where she was summarily dismissed, (for allegedly) having pushed propaganda pieces once too often for the U.S.’s liking.  Dr. Mazari was subsequently hired as editor of The Nation, where she ran an editorial accusing a Wall Street Journal Pakistan correspondent Matthew Rosenberg of being a chief operative for the CIA, Blackwater and Mossad, putting his life at risk in the country.  Her editorial campaigns against India are well known to those who have followed Pakistan’s media over the years.  She recently parted ways with the Nawa-i-Waqt group, allegedly over editorial differences.

The Nawa-i-Waqt group’s status as an anti-India propaganda machine is well-documented.  It is chaired by (Spin) Doctor Majid Nizami, who routinely calls for a nuclear confrontation with India, offers vocal support to LeT’s Hafiz Saeed, and hopes one day to see the reunification of Pakistan with Bangladesh.  Dr. Nizami is also chairman of the Nazaria-i-Pakistan Trust, whose Advisory Council includes, among others, former DG-ISI Hamid Gul, who openly declares his solidarity with the Taliban and al-Qaeda (he refers to Osama bin Laden as a “great Muslim warrior”).

Even so, the Nawa-i-Waqt Group’s own Wikileaks — the Waqt-i-Leaks — are perfidious and vulgar.  Some statements, purportedly made by U.S. officials about India and senior officers (past and present) of the Indian Army are listed below:

The U.S. has said that India’s Hindu extremist groups are far more dangerous to global and regional peace than al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The Indian Army is involved in supporting Hindu extremist groups, whose objective is to portray their terrorists acts as having been conducted by India’s Muslims, the Pakistani Army and intelligence agencies.  Another U.S. cable indicated that the ISI was not involved in any terrorist acts in India.  [نواےوقت]

Yet another cable suggested that the current Army Chief of Indian General VK Singh was having an aggressive approach and believes that “offense is the best defence”. General Singh has also been described as “Pakistan, China centric”, with an added aggression towards China. The cable mentioned General Singh as an egotist, self-obsessed, petulant and idiosyncratic General, a braggadocio and a show-off, who has been disliked (and barely tolerated) by all his subordinates. An earlier cable described Indian Army in gross Human rights violations in Indian Held part of Jammu and Kashmir while some Lt. Gen HS Panag, the then GOC-in-Chief of the Northern Command of the Indian Army was equated with General Milosevic of Bosnia with regard to butchering Muslims through war crimes. [The Nation]


An earlier cable did rule out any direct or indirect involvement of ISI in 26/11 under Pasha’s command while Mumbai’s dossier, based on prime accused Ajmal Kasab’s confessional statement was termed funny and “shockingly immature”. Another cable confirmed the interception of radio communication by Pakistani and NATO forces in regional Indian languages in the Waziristan agencies [The Nation]

Of course, these could all be rated somewhere along the mildly amusing — hysterically funny continuum, were one not to account for the fact that the Nawa-i-Waqt Group is one of Pakistan’s largest media groups (in terms of circulation) and that half a million people in Pakistan read this propaganda peace, believing most of it. The Guardian coming out to highlight these cooked-up stories is important, but it is equally important for condemnation to come from the Indian media as well.

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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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