India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

ajtr

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India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week – in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new “strategic dialogue”; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan’s star has been rising in Washington while India’s has been falling.

If the United States wants to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, it needs Pakistan’s help. And Pakistan has shown by arresting Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others that it intends to keep control of any negotiations. In return for its cooperation, it expects Washington’s help in securing Pakistan’s own interests, including through a scaling back of India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

By contrast, the relationship between India and the United States which blossomed under the Bush administration has been fading as Washington looks to China and Pakistan to help meet respectively its economic and security needs. An initial outpouring of sympathy and international support for India following the Mumbai attack - which led to intense pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the assault – has dissipated over time.

Nowadays the mantra in Washington is that India and Pakistan must talk to each other to resolve their differences. Pakistan, after initially cracking down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, eased the pressure on the group in the second part of 2009. India suspects the Lashkar-e-Taiba is not only active again but may have been involved in last month’s attack in Kabul which targeted Indian interests. If true, this would suggest that Lashkar-e-Taiba is acting in conformity with the interests of the Pakistan Army, which is deeply sensitive about India’s growing presence in Afghanistan following the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001.

To rewind briefly, it has always been unclear how far the Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency could go in dismantling the Punjab-based militant group it once nurtured to fight India in Kashmir. While few doubt it could shut down the Lashkar-e-Taiba if it chose to do so, the risk has been that action against an organisation which has been scrupulous in avoiding attacks within Pakistan itself would shatter it into splinter groups which would make common cause with al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. A raid on the Pakistan Army’s own headquarters last October highlighted just how vulnerable the country could be to an alliance between militants in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and those based in its heartland Punjab province.

So the debate amongst analysts has been whether relative inaction against the Lashkar-e-Taiba has been driven by self-preservation or a desire on the part of the ISI to retain the group’s operational capacity to use it against India. Islamabad is convinced India’s own intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), is using Afghanistan as a base to destabilise Pakistan, particularly by funding separatists in its Baluchistan province. Any evidence of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s involvement in the Kabul attack would therefore reinforce suspicions that the Pakistan Army is still using it as part of a proxy war between the two countries’ intelligence agencies. (Both countries deny the accusations levelled at each other’s intelligence agencies.)

One person who might be able to shed light on the relationship between the ISI and the Lashkar-e-Taiba is Headley, accused of working closely with the militant group in planning the Mumbai attack. And that is precisely why India is so suspicious of the U.S. reluctance to grant Indian investigators access to him.

Now to return to Washington’s policy towards India and Pakistan. The United States has been at pains to insist that improved relations with one country is not at the expense of the other - although in the zero sum game mindset prevalent in South Asia that is likely to be the way it is perceived.

The worry on India’s part is that in its haste to find a solution to Afghanistan, Washington will grab whatever help it can get even if this means putting Pakistan’s interests first. That could also mean giving priority to action against the Afghan Taliban while turning a blind eye to anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, as it has been accused of doing in the past.

The enthusiastic reception given to Pakistan Army head General Ashfaq Kayani in Washington this week - belying earlier U.S. promises to nurture democracy - has already raised concerns about a tilt towards the military which has traditionally taken a harder line on India than civilian governments.

“… in its search for an exit route from the quagmire of Afghanistan, the Obama administration is in danger of becoming over-dependent on Pakistan,” the Hindu newspaper says in an editorial. ”The presence of Pakistan’s army and intelligence chiefs at the strategic dialogue underlined the abnormality of the situation. Terrorism and extremist politics in the AfPak region are mainly the product of the Pakistani military establishment, which nurtured and patronised jihadi groups as a force multiplier. Despite this, a solution is now being sought by valorising and even strengthening the role of this establishment at the expense of Pakistan’s civilian structures of governance.”

Pakistan, on its part, has bitter experience of being used to further the U.S. agenda in ways which are not necessarily good for its own long-term interests – notably when it worked with the CIA to support the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989, and then found itself left to handle the blowback of Islamist militancy alone when the Americans lost interest in the region and left.

If its new-found popularity with Washington comes at the price of a narrow focus on following U.S. interests, it could once again find itself at the losing end of the bargain.

Pakistan, writes Ayesha Siddiqa in Dawn, really needs to decide for itself the kind of country it wants, its type of government and its attitude to militant groups long seen as strategic assets against India. “We have been keeping some of the ‘strategic assets’ because of the Pakistani military’s concern for India’s nefarious activities in Afghanistan. Let’s say that we manage to convince the U.S. to give us a role in Afghanistan where we could ensure our larger strategic interests. Would we then be willing to shut down the jihad machine?” she asks.

“Pakistan’s internal dialogue would require an assessment of how far it can go in using force to draw benefits and estimating strategic benefits and costs. While it must aim for gaining a foothold in Afghanistan to secure its position, a policy to force other neighbours out would prove counter-productive. It would help if Islamabad combined the acquisition of a role in Afghanistan with multilateral assurances that India or any other country would not threaten its core interests.”

One of the more obvious ways for India and Pakistan to get off the U.S. see-saw – where when one is up, the other comes crashing down – would be for them to take control over their own relationship.

Both India and Pakistan have an interest in a stable Afghanistan. This is not Kashmir, whose disputed status goes right to the heart of both countries’ identities - Islamic Pakistan first laid claim to Muslim Kashmir on religious grounds back in 1947; secular India says Kashmir’s fate cannot be determined on the basis of religion. Afghanistan has however been a battleground for a proxy war for decades, run by intelligence agencies whose activities have probably been far bettter known to Washington than to the people of either India or Pakistan.

But finding common ground on Afghanistan would require both countries to build on the dialogue which began last month when India invited Pakistan’s foreign secretary to talks in New Delhi. The alternative – as amply demonstrated over the past week – would be to leave it to Washington to set the agenda.
 

ajtr

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Track the options

As Washington and Islamabad reaffirm their commitment to a “wide-ranging, long-term and substantive strategic partnership”, New Delhi must resist the temptation to protest. The UPA government must carefully assess the results from the just concluded strategic dialogue in Washington between the US and Pakistan. But India has no reason to be neuralgic about US-Pakistan ties. India’s relations with the US are too deep and wide-ranging today for Delhi to make them a hostage to the current unseemly and ultimately unsustainable political bargaining between Washington and Islamabad. Having objected repeatedly to the hyphenation of American relations with India and Pakistan, it would be self-defeating for Delhi to do the same.

A close reading of the joint statement issued in Washington on Thursday suggests that the optics of the strategic dialogue have been more impressive than the results. There is no doubt that the Obama administration, so dependent on the Pakistan army for making a success of American intervention in Afghanistan, wants to make nice. General Ashfaq Kayani has put up a price for the services he can render. The gap between the two positions could either expand or shrink depending on the ground realities in Afghanistan and Obama’s political calculus for re-election in 2012.

One concrete result from the Washington talks is the imminent American arms transfers to Pakistan — including the F-16 fighter aircraft. Any objection from Delhi that the US arms to Pakistan would change the military balance of power with India would be laughable, especially since our own ministry of defence seems unable to spend money on buying arms. Any Indian retaliation to downgrade military cooperation with the US would be welcomed by Pakistan and its friends in Washington who believe that under the Bush administration the Pentagon had tilted too much in favour of India. In any case, India’s problem is not that American arms will tilt the South Asian military balance in favour of Pakistan. What should bother India is the real possibility that America’s embrace of General Kayani will embolden his army to step up support for anti-India terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Delhi must make it clear that if Washington cannot persuade Kayani to shut down the LeT, India will be under no compulsion to show military restraint. Delhi must also convey to Washington that if the US accepts Pak primacy in Afghanistan, India will be free to turn to other powers, including Iran, to stop Kayani from turning southern and eastern Afghanistan into a base for violent extremism.
 

ajtr

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Hype and hyphen

The US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Washington marks the formal beginning of the endgame on the Afghan war. The Americans are searching for a grand bargain with Pakistan to help destroy Al-Qaeda and its proliferations and to conclusively break their link with the Taliban. Total destruction of the Taliban is no longer on the agenda. If the Obama administration can report success on this, it can claim victory and bring back most of its forces from Afghanistan in a victory of sorts rather than in a retreat in defeat. A bit like the story unfolded finally in Iraq.
The Pakistanis know this but somehow seem impatient. As if this is their one great, last opportunity and as if Brand Pakistan will go out of fashion. Let us, for a bit, look at the picture from Pakistani eyes, rather than ours. We can then see why the Pakistanis nurse grievances for the Americans. They see 1965, and even 1971, despite the Kissinger-Nixon side-show, as Great American Betrayals of an ally they were treaty-bound to protect. In the fifties they entered into military-strategic nuptials with the Americans on the pretext of fighting communism. They are, to date, bewildered as to why the Americans took that so much on face value that they objected to the use of military hardware gifted by them against India in 1965, and then banned any fresh supplies in punishment. This, the Pakistanis believe, hurt them grievously in 1971. In spite of the short but spectacular “tilt” in 1971, Washington dumped a defeated, dismembered Pakistan that was no longer of use. Worse, it was led by Bhutto whose fake, leftist, anti-American demagoguery was only matched by his genuine love for aristocratic, decadent high life.

It took the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to make the Americans re-discover Pakistan. Remember, this came just when the first post-1971 US-Indian warmth was beginning, with Jimmy Carter becoming the first US president to visit (Morarji Desai’s) India in 15 years. This was the peak of the Cold War: the Americans, as also the Chinese, were desperate to trap the Soviets in Afghanistan and Pakistan became an indispensable ally. Zia-ul-Haq, who was till now being charged with the murder of Bhutto and Pakistan’s constitution, was hailed as the second stalwart ally, after Ayub in the sixties. Aid, both military and civil, flowed in again. And then what happened? As soon as the Soviets left in 1993, the US began lecturing Pakistan on democracy and moderation while warming up to India. Again, Kargil and the Clinton visit to the subcontinent both convinced the Pakistanis — with good reason — of an American tilt away, towards India. Bush only leaned further in the same direction, and while the post-9/11 turnaround helped Musharraf gain legitimacy, and Pakistan strategic relevance, India had now broken away as a strategic and politico-economic entity.

To sum up, therefore, the story from the Pakistanis’ eyes reads as follows: when the Americans have a strategic purpose of their own, they embrace us. The moment it is over, they go right back where their hearts and long-term interests belong, to India. When they need us, they give us some hardware, and then they tell us not to use it against India and hit us with moratoriums. The Americans can’t be so delusional as to believe that we need their weapons to fight their battles against communist expansion, Al-Qaeda-Taliban or whoever threatens them next. Our (Pakistanis) strategic concerns are not the same as theirs (Americans). And unless they accept that India is the central, and mostly only, focus of our strategy, they are dishonourable, seasonal, disloyal cheating allies.

This is what the Pakistani establishment is hoping to change this time round. The stakes for Obama in Afghanistan are much higher than for Reagan and Bush Sr in the last jehad. Also, the American dependence on Pakistan is total this time round. If reports of the talks so far are accurate, the Pakistanis have almost got the Americans to confess and apologise for their past “betrayals”. The question now, particularly for India, is how the Americans will compensate Pakistan for these let-downs of the past, and what guarantees they can offer for the future.

It is for this reason that the Pakistanis are approaching this as some kind of a strategic clearance sale and attempting to fill their shopping cart as high as possible with goodies, discounted as well as freebies. This is the exact meaning of their 56-page list of demands that preceded this dialogue. It’s as if Brand Pakistan or its strategic currency will go out of fashion the moment the military part of the Af-Pak project is over.

Should India worry? Our responses so far have been generally measured. This is welcome. It is natural for the Pakistanis to demand everything we have, the nuclear deal being one. Deep down, armaments apart, what the Pakistanis wish for most dearly is the rehyphenation of American policy in the subcontinent. It is almost as unlikely a possibility as the Americans delivering anything on Kashmir to anybody. It is for us, therefore, to move with caution and avoid any of the traditional neuroses. An increased American engagement with Pakistan, and I dare to say even a US nuclear deal with them, may be beneficial for us, as it forces greater transparency in the Pakistani nuclear establishment and moderates its militaristic vision.

And of course we have to start making use of the new strategic space of our own, particularly after that much-celebrated de-hyphenation. Only we must not let ourselves down. We look stupid protesting any arms consignment to Pakistan when we fail to buy even one of our desperately needed and budgeted artillery guns just because some dim-witted CBI director produced a list of charges against one likely vendor on an unsigned sheet of plain paper. We have to fix that nonsense, because big powers must learn to look after their own security. Similarly, India should exploit this expanding strategic space to look more carefully at the world besides America and terrorism. The continuing vote against Iran at the IAEA is principled and should continue. But we have to be less shy of negotiating energy deals with Iran, giving visas to its students, even launching its civilian satellites. The Af-Pak endgame in Washington also signals an opportunity for India to dehyphenate its own America policy.
 

ajtr

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'US building deeper ties with India, Pak'

The United States is building a deeper relationship with both India [ Images ] and Pakistan which are facing the common threat of terrorism in the region, a top Obama [ Images ] administration official has said.

"It (terrorism) is a shared threat for Pakistan, it's a shared threat for India, it's a shared threat for others. I just would caution that we should not see this in zero-sum terms," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley told mediapersons in Washington, DC.

He said the US is building 'a deeper relationship' with India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"This is good for the United States, it's good for these countries individually, and it's also good for the region as a whole."

Terming the US-Pak strategic dialogue, which took place here this week, as 'very successful,' he said the two sides 'characterised a much different, much broader relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect.'

This can be seen in the memos of intent that were signed on Thursday in terms of rehabilitation of electricity projects and roads within Pakistan, he said.

The two-day dialogue, co-chaired by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and US Secretary of State Clinton, was the first ever at the Cabinet level, which concluded on Thursday with a joint statement in which the two countries pledged to joint work together against terrorists in the region.

At the conclusion of the strategic dialogue, the Pakistani delegation, including army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani [ Images ], went to the White House for a meeting with Gen (Retd) James Jones, the US National Security Advisor.

"Jones hosted a meeting at the White House with Foreign Minister Mahmood Shah Qureshi, who has been leading a delegation of Pakistani senior government officials for meetings in Washington this week," White House spokesman Mike Hammer said.

"The meeting was the Foreign Minister's last in Washington before his departure and presented an opportunity for Gen Jones to recap the success of various bilateral engagements and office calls throughout the week," he said.

"Also joining the meeting were (Pakistan) Defence Minister (Ahmed Mukhtar), Chief of Army Staff and Pakistani Ambassador to the United States (Husain Haqqani). Vice President (Joe) Biden dropped by the meeting with Foreign Minister Qureshi and the delegation to express his appreciation for the progress made this week on issues of bilateral interest," Hammer said.

Crowley said the civilian component of the strategy is geared towards identifying ways to meet the needs of the Pakistani people, strengthening institutions, the rule of law and civilian governance within Pakistan.

"We have gone beyond the security lens that remains a key component but not just now the only lens through which you can evaluate the US-Pakistani relationship.

"As Foreign Minister Qureshi reflected, we have taken the various sectors that we have cooperated on," he said.

"They've increased from four to 10, so I think we leave this week with very encouraged by the dynamic discussion that we had here. There will be sectors, groups that will follow up over the next few months during the course of the dialogue," Crowley said.

Clinton is committed to visiting Pakistan again later this year to continue the high-level dialogue, he said. "So we are very encouraged by what is taking place."

The US official said the administration is encouraged by steps that have been taken by Pakistan in recent months against terrorism because he thinks Islamabad [ Images ] now recognises that this is a shared threat.
 

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