Pax Indica: Why they killed bin Laden now

The military-jihadi complex is likely to grow stronger

In today’s Pax Indica column on Yahoo, I warn that India has at best two summers before cross-border militancy and terrorism rise again.

You might remember a Shekhar Suman gag on Zee TV’s Movers and Shakers several years ago: An angry George W Bush announces that the United States will bomb the place where Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding.

Hearing this, Vajpayee looks under his bed, pauses, and with a characteristic flick of his wrist says: “Thank God! He isn’t here!”

Over in Rawalpindi, General Musharraf looks under his bed, sighs in relief, and says: “Thank God! He is still here!”

Shekhar Suman, more than most Western analysts, got the plot right. Keeping Osama bin Laden out of Washington’s hands was vital in order to prevent having to publicly deal with revelations of how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex not only was connected with al-Qaeda, but might also have been involved in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. [Read the rest at Yahoo!]

Direct channel to Rawalpindi

Engaging the Pakistani army chief is a good idea. Conceding anything is not.

In a Pax Indica column in September 2010 I wrote about India’s engagement paradox:

New Delhi talks to the powerless but can’t talk to those in power, or vice versa. It’s most obvious in Pakistan. General Ashfaq Kayani is the man calling the shots. India has no direct channel of communication with him. The people New Delhi does talk to — the likes of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani — have little say in the subjects that New Delhi talks to them about. This creates an illusion of movement in bilateral relations when, fundamentally, there is none. To be fair, the fact that Pakistan has such a complicated political structure (I’m being charitable here) is not India’s fault. But if the Americans can rejig their foreign policy apparatus such that some people talk to the generals while others talk to the politicians, surely, so can we. [The Acorn/Yahoo!]

Why might this be the case? In last Monday’s Business Standard column I argued that:

(One) reason why India finds itself in a bind with respect to Pakistan, where it needs to engage the real power centre but finds itself with no means to. It is not a matter of matching protocol, for it is not purely military matters that we wish to discuss with General Kayani. Washington, in comparison, handles this a lot better through Admiral Mullen and General David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, who are the primary interlocutors with the Pakistan army. Given that these admirals and generals are engaged in diplomatic activities of serious importance to India, can we afford to stay out of the military diplomatic loop?[The Acorn/Business Standard]

While India has not shied from talking to Pakistani army chiefs after they become dictators, dealing with General Ashfaq Kayani directly challenges diplomatic optics. The 26/11 attacks and their aftermath left no doubt that it was he, and not the Zardari-Gilani government, that was in charge. Yet, because he did not announce himself to be the dictator, chief executive or president of Pakistan, the Indian government couldn’t openly deal with him.

Bharat Karnad first alluded to a direct back channel engagement late last month (linkthanks Swami Iyer). However, it was a London Times report over the weekend that captured attention in India. The Prime Minister’s Office has issued a carefully worded denial while the Pakistani military spokesman declined to comment. It is highly likely that the reports are generally accurate and a direct channel, albeit with some deniability, has been in place for the last few months. [See this post at Pragmatic Euphony]

Why it makes sense to engage
It makes sense to directly engage the real centre of power in Pakistan. First, it allows India’s policymakers to both understand the Pakistani army’s motivations, thinking and demands, and also to communicate its own positions (both bilateral and those relating to Afghanistan). [See editorials in Mint and Indian Express]

Second, initiating an engagement “ten months ago” could have helped tactically buy respite from terrorist attacks during a critical period—post-crisis economic recovery and the world cup cricket tournament. Tactically again, it could be intended to reduce the heat of the 2011 summer in Kashmir.

To induce co-operation, though, India might have to indicate its flexibility on some issues: most likely, downplaying demands to prosecute Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders and playing up the resolution of the Sir Creek and Siachen issues.

Why such engagement is risky
For all its advantages, engaging Kayani & Co is not without risks.

First, there is a risk that it will lull the Indian security establishment into believing in the other sides’ bona fides, as after Vajpayee’s bus ride to Lahore. Keeping it secret mitigates this risk to some extent, but to the extent that it affects the psychologies of the prime minister and the top echelon of the national security apparatus, the risk of being backstabbed should concern us. Even if General Kayani himself were to have a miraculous change of heart, the Musharraf’s Musharraf effect, wherein the military-jihadi complex will act to pull the rug from under its own leader, cannot be discounted.

Second, there is a risk that the flexibility that the Indian negotiator must show in order to induce co-operation will end up locking New Delhi in. There is a perception that Siachen, for instance, is a low-hanging fruit that India can “give” to show sincerity. This is wrong: India must climb down from the Saltoro ridge entirely on its own terms. The larger issue here is that allowing the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to believe that the threat of terrorism under a nuclear umbrella will force India to concede anything is a very bad idea.

Third, a consistent impression has been created in the Indian mind that India’s approach to Pakistani aggression is to turn the other cheek. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s dogmatic approach to pursuit talks, first with Zardari-Gilani & Co and now with Kayani, risk a public backlash that risk undermining any mutual gains that might have been made as a result of it.

Fourth, Dr Singh is bargaining from a position of personal weakness, the worst position to be in while opening negotiations. He has long been out on a limb on Pakistan policy, and is just one terrorist attack away from being out of office. His government is now on the ropes on the matter of corruption and malgovernance. This compounds the risks of him making concessions in order to stay afloat.

Finally, New Delhi is reducing the pressure on General Kayani at a time when Washington is raising it. The Pakistani military-jihadi complex must be contained in the short-term. Squandering opportunities to bring forward the crunch time in Rawalpindi is an unwise move.

So what should we make of it?
On the balance, that New Delhi has chosen to open up a direct line with the Pakistani Army’s GHQ is a good thing. It could have been better timed though. We should be concerned that it is a dogmatic Dr Singh who is handling the secret, opaque process. For that reason, public debate and the political process should put a backstop on the proceedings. Opposition parties, especially the BJP, would do well to prohibit the Prime Minister from making even the smallest concession of substance.

Hanging by its kerry

The US-Pakistan relationship is fraying but not yet broken

So the New York Times reports that “it is increasingly apparent that (the United States and Pakistan) have differing, even irreconcilable, aims in Afghanistan.”

With the Afghan endgame looming, suspicion is overwhelming faint cooperation between the United States and Pakistan, as each side seeks to secure its interests, increase its leverage to obtain them, and even cut out the other if need be, American and Pakistani officials say.

No one in Pakistan or in Washington now speaks of returning to the strategic alliance made by President George W. Bush and Gen. Pervez Musharraf immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the primary goal was to operate joint intelligence efforts to capture operatives of Al Qaeda. Military officials from both sides say that arrangement was never bound to be a longstanding affair.

“There was never a level of trust,” said a former American military official who served in a senior position in Pakistan. “I’m convinced now they don’t want our help.” [NYT]

We have long been of the view that this is bound to happen.

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat…[Mint/The Acorn]

We had argued that it was in India’s interests to force such a reckoning sooner rather than later. In the event, India acted neither to accelerate nor decelerate this process, things took their course, and the moment of truth is now much closer than it was when the Obama administration took office. Yet, the United States has an enormous interest in ensuring that the breakup doesn’t happen, and if it does, happens without violence or an emotional breakdown. The military-jihadi complex in Pakistan has created a public atmosphere in Pakistan where General Kayani will be feted if a breakdown were to occur. Washington too is aware of this.

All is is part of a broader negotiating game. If the Pakistanis take you to the edge of a cliff its because they are relatively more comfortable bargaining from there.

Tailpiece: A kerry, according to the Meaning of Liff, is the small twist of skin that separates two sausages.

The Raymond Davis Drama

Looks like the North Waziristan operation will be postponed again

From the very beginning, it was hard to shake off the suspicion that the Raymond Davis affair involved covert operatives from both the United States and Pakistan. That Mr Davis was engaged in diplomacy by other means should have been clear to anyone with a passing familiarity of the business (attained, perhaps, by the study of the scholarly works of David John Moore Cornwell or Ian Lancaster Fleming). Once the US embassy confirmed that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity it was a matter of pedantic or professional interest as to whether he worked for the CIA, DHA, State Department or indeed was a private security contractor employed by the US government.

But what was less discussed, at least until a couple of days ago, was that the two Pakistanis men (referred to as ‘youths’ or ‘boys’ in the Pakistani media) he killed might have also been engaged in diplomacy by other means. (Incidentally, Express Tribune pulled the initial report, here’s the cached article). Diplomats and foreign journalists who have served in Pakistan are familiar with such diplomacy, not infrequently conducted from a motorcycle. It would be of pedantic or professional interest as to whether they worked for the ISI, Intelligence Bureau or some other “agency”.

It is possible that the dust-up between Mr Davis and the two Pakistanis was the result of the escalation of free and frank discussions to a higher calibre. It is also possible that the two Pakistanis, and one of their innocent counterparts, lost their lives in the risky venture of creating a dust-up.

Consider. There are two possibilities why Lahore police would arrest a white American man who identified himself as US diplomat with immunity. First, that they were told to do so by higher authorities. Second, that the local authorities were so radically anti-American—consistent with general public sentiment—that they were willing to disregard claims of diplomatic immunity, and brazen out the consequences. This is unlikely, not least because it would mean some people would lose their jobs in the process.

General Kayani’s guidance to the interior minister reminding him to keep Mr Davis’ military background in mind supports the hypothesis that the military-jihadi complex instigated this drama. Why?

That is hard to say. It is, however, the biggest beneficiary of the crisis. Politically, it is the Zardari government—which it has no love for—that is on the ropes, caught between an increasingly tough Washington and an increasingly anti-American public sentiment. Even if the matter is resolved in a few days’ time by getting the judiciary to affirm his diplomatic immunity, the episode can be offered as a reason, yet again, for the Pakistani army to avoid launching the much delayed operation against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in North Waziristan. The overall rise in temperature works to call for a reduction in US drone attacks, using the argument that doing so is necessary to lower anti-American feelings.

The Pakistani military leadership calculates that the United States can suspend bilateral relations or aid for a short while, but overall, the risk of a permanent break is low. It is not wrong. That is why it can afford to rock the boat—with terrorist attacks or diplomatic dramas—to pre-empt US coercion. After all, for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, poking the United States in the eye is less risky compared to having to really fight itself.

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Related Link: Najam Sethi has an excellent analysis of the affair.

Bruce Riedel’s underwhelming new book

It doesn’t tell us any more than we already know

It is hard to see what Bruce Riedel’s new book “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad” seeks to do.

It covers the history of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan from Partition onwards, but is too brief and too shallow to provide a good picture. Dennis Kux and Howard Schaffer deal with this in much greater detail. As an analysis of Pakistani politics and civil-military relations, it is a subset of Stephen P Cohen’s excellent book. As a narrative of the creation and growth of the military-jihadi complex, it is supered by Ahmed Rashid and Hussain Haqqani, who go much deeper. Finally, as an account of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, it has little to add to Bob Woodward’s book published last year.

Coming from one of the most astute analysts of Pakistan, and from someone who was “in the room” during important moments in contemporary history, the book is a disappointment. Mr Riedel could well have cited Kux, Schaffer, Cohen & Rashid as references in his introductory chapter and gone on to provide us with a deeper, broader analysis of Pakistan’s current situation and fleshed out the possible directions it may take in the future. Yet, we are left with just one single chapter on the implications of one single—what he calls “possible (but not probable)”—outcome: the implications of a jihadist state in Pakistan. That begs the question: what about the probable outcomes? Shouldn’t the book be discussing those in detail?

Perhaps because he is still too close to the policy-making in Washington, Mr Riedel uses statements like “the United States currently has better relations with both India and Pakistan than any other time in the past several decades”. This, after he lays out in great detail how deeply unpopular the United States is in Pakistan (not least because of Washington’s improved relations with India), how the Pakistani military is at loggerheads with its US counterpart, and after mentioning incidents like the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost. Let’s hope Mr Riedel was merely being diplomatic and politically correct, because the alternative is unflattering.

The disappointment deepens when you see the author accepting the trite argument that Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis India will be assuaged if there is a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, even on Pakistan’s own terms. A person who correctly sees a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a victory for al-Qaeda’s global jihad somehow fails to consider the geopolitical implications of India yielding to Pakistan’s military-jihadi blackmail. To be fair, Mr Riedel recommends nothing more than what was agreed in India-Pakistan back channel talks, but even so, the premise that Pakistan will pose less of a threat to international security if only India were to make some concessions takes the heat off the protagonists—Pakistan and its scaffold states. And no, privately nudging the Indian leadership to pursue dialogue with Pakistan is unlikely to be any more effective than doing so publicly.

What is the book’s big prescription for Pakistan? The combination of carrots (Kerry-Lugar long-term aid) and sticks (drone attacks and suchlike) that are currently employed by the Obama administration. There is very little by way of identification and evaluation of other options. This might, again, be due to the fact the Mr Riedel was recently a part of, and still very close to, the ongoing deadly embrace. By that token, this book might have come too early.

Some bollocks

What is that they are smoking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Yesterday, it was David Pollock’s turn to make an incredible argument: that Pakistan won’t stop supporting the Afghan Taliban and other jihadis unless the US “accommodates” its interests in Afghanistan. In short, according to Mr Pollock, that means pushing the Indians out and sending Afghan officials to Pakistan for training.

It’s unclear what expertise Mr Pollock has over Afghanistan & Pakistan, but you would have thought that people in Washington are aware of the events of the 1990s. Afghanistan came to host a number of international jihadi groups, in addition to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, because Pakistani interests were accommodated in the manner he suggests. We know how that turned out for the United States, India and for Afghanistan.

You would have also thought that people in Washington are aware of what many Afghans think of Pakistan. Sending Afghan security personnel to Pakistan (instead of India) for training might sound like a good idea, until you hear Afghan men and women tell you exactly what they feel about Pakistan. According to a survey conducted by ABC News, ‘BBC’ and others, 81% of Afghans had unfavourable views of Pakistan, 73% felt that it is playing a negative role in Afghanistan. Maybe, just maybe, Mr Pollock should worry about accommodating their wishes and interests.

It is no one’s argument that Pakistan should be stopped from promoting its interests in Afghanistan or anywhere else. The main problem is Pakistan’s use of jihadi terrorism and Islamist extremism as instruments of state policy. There is nothing to suggest that appeasing the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will miraculously cause it to abandon its long-standing strategy. On the contrary, just like what happened after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, an emboldened military-jihadi complex will just get more ambitious.

Related Post: Robert Kaplan misses the plot

Pax Indica: Obama and the “K” word

Mubarack O!

Barack Obama has come a long way over Kashmir from his interview to TIME’s Joe Klein to his press conference with Manmohan Singh in New Delhi yesterday. This is the topic of today’s Pax Indica column:

Excerpt:

In his informative little book (“The South Asia Story: The first sixty years of US relations with India and Pakistan”, Sage Publications) Harold Gould writes that in addition to the underlying geopolitics, the personalities, levels of awareness and intellectual capacities of US presidents determined their policy positions over Kashmir. The hopes Mr Obama raised in Islamabad, in parts of the Kashmir Valley and indeed in Washington, were not unfounded. So it will be interesting to know what caused him to change his position: was it merely an acknowledgement of the limits of US influence or does he now have a better appreciation of the subject two years after coming to office?

Mr Obama’s thinking on the Kashmir issue matters, because if he sticks to his dogmatic insistence on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the middle of next year, he will face internal pressures to buy a face-saving exit from the war. Unless there is a dramatic change on the ground, the United States depends upon the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to prevent a bloodbath once US troops leave.

General Ashfaq Kayani will not oblige without extracting a price. It’s hard to say what Pakistan won’t ask for. But its top three demands are likely to include: the handing over of the keys to Kabul to its Taliban proxies; legitimacy for its nuclear weapons in the form of a nuclear deal; and, of course, a “settlement of the Kashmir issue”. [Yahoo!]

Related Post: Mubarack O?

Hanging around the Y-junction

The United States can only delay making the real strategic decision

It was interesting to see, towards the end of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, members of the Obama administration realise that the United States is in the same place today as it was in early 2009. Recent events validate that assessment. Frustrated with the Pakistani army’s refusal to shut down taliban safe havens, the US-led forces attacked across the border killing Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani military retaliated by shutting down the supply route, letting taliban militants destroy some trucks and show that it has the ability to inflict some pain. This was roughly the state of affairs when Barack Obama took over as president.

This is exactly what we had argued:

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat. [Operation Markarap]

What now? It is unlikely that President Obama would choose “direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex” just yet. The race to find options short of that is almost certainly on, and a “throw them a bone” alternative will be sought. There are three possible bones. First, to accept a pro-Pakistani political dispensation in Afghanistan. Second, to accept the “legitimacy of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”. Third, to press India to compromise on Kashmir.

The first option doesn’t appeal to General Ashfaq Kayani at this stage because he believes he can get there without the United States. The second option is a status symbol they can do without, not least because China continues to support the expansion of the Pakistani arsenal. The third option might just do the trick, because which Pakistani general is immune to the potential glory of being the one who won Kashmir?

So expect Washington to exert pressure on India over Kashmir. Expect pressure to restart the composite dialogue and suchlike. It’ll take the Obama administration a year or so to realise that this is a dead-end. General Kayani will probably realise it a little before Washington does. And then what?

Well, we told you already. Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat.

Post-deluge Pakistan

An assessment

At the risk of being entirely wrong, here is an assessment of the political implications of floods in Pakistan.

1. Fears of Pakistan ending up as a “failed state with nuclear weapons” are overblown. The disaster is unprecedented and the response understandably inadequate but it does not set off an explosive dynamic along political faultlines.

2. Political changes are unlikely. The disaster has further cemented the army’s popularity, allowing it to claim credit for the government’s successes (for it is a part of the government) but avoid the blame for the failures (which accrue to the civilian political leadership). Given the immense challenge of rehabilitation and reconstruction that lies ahead, General Ashfaq Kayani would have to be a conceited fool–which so far at least, he has shown no signs of being–to want to countenance a change in the political set-up. A weak, powerless and unpopular President Asif Zardari is just what he needs. Nawaz Sharif’s hopes to become the prime minister are unlikely to fructify before the next election because he is popular, has political weight and could challenge General Kayani’s hold on power.

3. Pakistan will not only receive debt waivers but also see a relaxation of conditions relating to financial assistance. While this will come as a relief for the government and the elite, it will weaken the endogenous factors that will aid recovery by delaying the implementation of important macro-economic reforms. It will also ensure the perpetuation of the current political setup because debt waivers and unconditional assistance will come much easier if there’s a facade of a democratic government. Furthermore, given that a significant part of the international assistance will be routed through international agencies and NGOs, it will not strengthen the Pakistani government’s civilian capacity.

4. Jihadi militant organisations will become more powerful but will not be allowed to increase their political profiles. This disaster, like the 2005 earthquake, is being used by organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to bolster their credentials as a providers of social services. However, to the extent that the Pakistani government will be dependent on international assistance–and it will become more so in the immediate future—the military establishment will not allow such organisations to make a direct play for power. Let’s not forget that the LeT is a surrogate of the Pakistani military establishment, which, if it wants to, can directly seize power in a coup.

5. The military establishment will use the disaster as an alibi for downgrading its war against the Tehreek-e-Taliban-Pakistan in North Waziristan and elsewhere. Engaging in disaster relief will draw on military resources from the battle against the taliban, but there are deeper reasons for the army’s unwillingness to sustain battle against them. How quickly and to what extent it will resume the fight depends almost entirely on how much the United States can coerce the army.

6. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan will not be interrupted. The US will find it difficult in the coming months to press the Pakistan army to cooperate in counter-insurgency operations because of the alibi. The direction of the war in Afghanistan will therefore depend on the Obama administration’s political will and determination.

7. Pakistan’s domestic stability is set to worsen. In the short-term, resettlement of internally displaced persons will complicate the ethnic and sectarian tensions in cities like Karachi, Hyderabad and Quetta. While this is likely to result in greater violence, it is unlikely to lead to collapse of the state. Instability will place an economic cost on Pakistan, damaging endogenous factors that can aid recovery.

8. The insurgency in Balochistan is likely to be contained. To the extent that the army is willing to use brute force and targeted killings to keep the lid on the conflict, and to the extent that the Baloch lack outright political support internationally, the prospects of secession are dim.

9. While radioactivity-leakage risks are low there is some risk to the security of nuclear plants, equipment and material. Such facilities are likely to have been built to withstand such contingencies. However, in the confusion that accompanies such events, there is a higher chance that physical security of nuclear installations can be breached. So far, there are no media reports flood waters affecting nuclear installations.

10.Disaster relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation will be decently funded. Despite the slow start in fundraising, despite concerns over aid distribution, the international community is unlikely to ignore humanitarian needs during the relief phase. However, it is unclear if the Pakistani government has the inclination and capacity to use the funds and goodwill to sustain its efforts beyond the short-term relief phase into the medium-term rehabilitation & reconstruction phase.

11. The US will make only small gains in popularity despite playing a leading role in relief and reconstruction. China and Saudi Arabia are likely to make disproportionately large gains. (In the short-term though, the situation is likely to be the opposite, because the narrative will be factual.)

Tailpiece: Pakistani officials and commentators would do well to avoid using the “unless the world gives money Pakistan will become a nuclear-armed failed state” bogey as it has been used so many times by so many people that it reeks of a shakedown. The humanitarian tragedy is serious enough a reason for well-meaning people and governments around the world to help.

Why have one Afghanistan

…when you can have two?

The call for the partitioning of Afghanistan is not new. In December 2003, for instance, Randall Parker of the ParaPundit blog argued that “(it) would be less trouble in the long run if Afghanistan was just split up with the Pashtuns getting their own country while the other groups either form a single country for a few separate countries. The other groups could even take pieces of Afghanistan and merge them with their ethnic brothers who speak the same languages and have much the same cultures in bordering northern countries.”

Yet, despite ethnic heterogeneity, foreign invasions, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the contemporary weakness of the Afghan state, the people of Afghanistan have a strong sense of nationhood. So while partitioning the country might have its attractions for geopolitical strategists, it is unlikely that the Afghan people will countenance such a project.

So what should we make of the recent debate that started after Robert Blackwill, one of the most astute American strategists, called for a de facto partition of Afghanistan?

The least worst option for the United States, Mr Blackwill contends, is to give the south to the Taliban, and concentrate on holding and building the north and the east of Afghanistan. This will not only turn the Pakistani military establishment’s dream of “strategic depth” into the nightmare of Pashtun nationalism, but also upset the tenuous ethnic balance in Pakistan by weakening Punjabi dominance. At a time when the conventional wisdom in Washington is to prevent the collapse of Pakistan, this is heretical. However, since this is also a time when the Obama administration is looking for ways out of the mess it is in—not least in terms of domestic politics—heresies might stand the best chance of gaining acceptance.

Mr Blackwill has already succeeded in exposing the weaknesses in the arguments of his critics. Ahmed Rashid points out that partition won’t be popular with Afghans (as if a Taliban takeover will be) and otherwise points to the bloodiness that accompanies a redrawing of borders (as if the status quo is bloodless). The “only solution” according to him, “is dialogue between the genuine Taliban leadership, Kabul and Washington for a power-sharing deal at both the centre and in the provinces.” This, from the man who wrote the book about the genuine Taliban leadership!

Chimaya Gharekhan and Karl Inderfurth reject the partition proposal and propose, instead, that “the solution lies in less or zero interference, not more, and certainly not military intervention, in Afghanistan’s affairs.” That is a very good idea. The question is how? The authors propose “that someone, preferably the Secretary-General of the United Nations, should engage in a diplomatic exercise to hold talks with all the parties and states concerned to establish a consensus, however defined, on arriving at a compact of mutual non-intervention and non-interference among all of Afghanistan’s neighbours.”

Now this might sound convincing if you are an optimist with faith in the United Nations, but the authors are silent about just why the Pakistani military establishment will play along? Pakistan might even sign such a treaty if the price is right, but if the force of US arms didn’t prevent the Pakistani army from interfering in Afghanistan, a piece of paper and the UN Secretary General’s platitudes are, to put it mildly, less likely to.

Perhaps the best critique of Mr Blackwill’s proposal comes from Pratap Bhanu Mehta. He charges the strategic establishments with hubris where “the relations between intention and action, ends and means, instruments and goals, costs and benefits seem to all be obscured by the self-satisfaction that we are at least making a next move.” His case for caution is well-made: that India “should not be tempted into actions whose consequences it cannot control.”

However, this injunction must be balanced against the concern that India should not be lulled into inactions whose consequences, likewise, it cannot control. What ultimately is likely decide the issue is the nature of the strategic cultures. Washington, with its action bias, ends up suffering the consequences of its action. New Delhi, with its (in)action bias, ends up suffering not only the consequences of its own inaction, but also the consequences of the actions of others.

For now, the call for the partition of Afghanistan, as both K Subrahmanyam and Mr Mehta note, is likely a shot across the bow, a warning for General Ashfaq Kayani. Even so, New Delhi would do well to prepare for such an outcome too.