Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pakistan, Afghanistan, India

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari

Graham Usher in this article from the London Review of Books focuses on a critical element of Pakistan's foreign policy that gets very little attention in American commentary on the AfPak War, the central role of its conflict with India over the disputed province of Kashmir: Taliban v. Taliban 04/09/09. He writes:

Pakistan and India have been at war since 1948. There have been occasional flare-ups, pitched battles between the two armies, but mostly the war has taken the form of a guerrilla battle between the Indian army and Pakistani surrogates in Kashmir. In 2004 the two countries began a cautious peace process, but rather than ending, the war has since migrated to Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas on the Afghan border. ‘Safe havens’ for a reinvigorated Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, the tribal areas are seen by the West as the ‘greatest threat’ to its security, as well as being the main cause of Western frustration with Pakistan. The reason is simple: the Pakistan army’s counterinsurgency strategy is not principally directed at the Taliban or even al-Qaida: the main enemy is India. [my emphasis]
Usher goes on to explain various aspects of the role India plays in Afghanistan and how that effects Pakistan's policies toward various elements among the Pushtun groups that the Pentagon lumps into "the Taliban":

India is one of [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai's few remaining champions. Delhi sees the new Afghanistan as a part of its sphere of influence. It has four consulates in Afghanistan and has given its government $1.2 billion in aid: a remarkable sum for it to donate to a country that is 99 per cent Muslim and with which it has no common border. Delhi has also put up the new parliament building and chancery, and has helped to train the army. India’s most ambitious – and, for Pakistan, most alarming – Afghan project is a new highway that will provide a route to the Iranian port of Chabahar. Not only will Afghanistan no longer need to use Pakistani ports, the road’s destination is a clear indication of India’s intention to consolidate an alliance with Iran in western Afghanistan in order to counter Pakistan’s influence in eastern Afghanistan. The road network, as they see it, is a new way to fight an old war. It’s precisely in order to resist the India-Iran bloc – as well as the emerging axis between Delhi and Washington – that the ISI has aligned itself with the Afghan Taliban and [anti-American Afghan warlord Jalaluddin] Haqqani.
India just held a general election that, Reuters reports, Poll mandate give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh greater political flexibility in improving relations with Pakistan, which his Congress Party is more inclined to do than the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). (Poll mandate gives Singh freer hand on Pakistan Gulf Times [Qatar] 20.05.09.

Another book-review journal, the New York Review of Books also has a recent article on Pakistan, Pakistan on the Brink by Ahmed Rashid 07/14/09 (06/11/09 issue) this one reflecting something more in tune with the Obama administration's and the Pentagon's crisis view of that country. Like other such pitches, this one sounds drearily like a continuation of the long-standing US preference for military governments over civilian ones in Pakistan:

... Pakistan is now reaching a tipping point. There is a chronic failure of leadership, whether by civilian politicians or the army. President Zardari's decision to invade Swat in early May came only after pressure was applied by the Obama administration and the army and the government had been left with no other palatable options. But with the Taliban opening new fronts, it will soon become impossible for the army to respond to the multiple threats it faces on so many geographically distant battlefields. The Taliban's campaigns to assassinate politicians and administrators have demoralized the government.

The Obama administration can provide money and weapons but it cannot recreate the state's will to resist the Taliban and pursue more effective policies. Pakistan desperately needs international aid, but its leaders must first define a strategy that demonstrates to its own people and other nations that it is willing to stand up to the Taliban and show the country a way forward. [my emphasis]
The "Taliban" warlords whose only appeal is among the 10% or so of the Pakistani population that are Pashto (Pushtun) tribes clustered near the Afghan border is not going to take over Pakistan. So far, the biggest destabilization threat related to the Pashto warlords is the large number of refugees being generated by the government's military campaign against them, undertaken at the demand of the United States.

Rashid mentions the Pakistani concern with India:

As the Taliban stormed south from their mountain bases near the Afghan border in northern Pakistan in late April, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the parliament that they posed no threat and there was nothing to worry about. Interior Minister Rehman Malik talked about how the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai was supporting the Taliban and how India and Russia were sowing more unrest in Pakistan.
But he dismisses this casually as a merely a "sense of unrealism". He does return later to how the army views India in the context of the AfPak War:

The army has always defined Pakistan's national security goals. Currently it has two strategic interests: first, it seeks to ensure that a balance of terror and power is maintained with respect to India, and the jihadis are seen as part of this strategy. Second, the army supports the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against US withdrawal from Afghanistan and also against Indian influence in Kabul, which has grown considerably. Containing the domestic jihadi threat has been a tactical rather than a strategic matter for the army, so there have been bouts of fighting with the militants and also peace deals with them; and these have been interspersed with policies of jailing them and freeing them—all part of a complex and duplicitous game. ...

Despite US military aid, anti-Americanism has flourished in the army, public opinion, and the press and television, fueled by the idea that Pakistan was being made to fight America's war, while the Americans were unwilling to help Pakistan regain influence in Afghanistan. The US is accused both of helping India gain a strong foothold in Kabul and of declining to put pressure on New Delhi to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Bush's signing of the nuclear deal with India last year was the last straw for the Pakistani army. In military and public thinking, Pakistan was seen as sacrificing some two thousand soldiers in the war on terror on behalf of the Americans, while in return the Americans were recognizing the legitimacy of India's nuclear weapons program. Pakistan's nuclear weapons got no such acceptance. [my emphasis]
He does mention this as a problem. But it's not at all clear why he thinks these concerns as just part of a "sense of unrealism". To Pakistani leaders, and not just military ones, those are real national interests that they have to address.

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