Hitting Indian targets to hurt American strength

Washington and New Delhi must understand how the jihadis have drawn their battle lines

The first message, mainly for those in the Obama administration who use catchy phrases like ‘offshore strategy’ and ‘light footprint counter-terrorism’, is that with drone attacks, you can never really be sure whether the target was taken out. Baitullah Mehsud is probably dead. Rashid Rauf less so. Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri is probably alive. Because he’s giving interviews to the intrepid Syed Saleem Shehzad. Drones might be generally successful, but even with greatly improved technology, a strategy that solely relies on them is unlikely to do anything more than drive the terrorist trade, well, underground.

Now the interview itself. It is evident that Mr Kashmiri used the occasion to do more than signal his continued live existence. It is also evident that he is batting for the Pakistani military-jihadi complex (even as he is battling it, but this is a familiar Pakistani paradox). He denies that he was once a member of the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), takes the party line on Indian consulates in Afghanistan and professes loyalty to Pakistan’s interests and even to its army.

He—or perhaps Mr Shehzad—reinforces the linking of the 313 Brigade (a joint venture of the five biggest Pakistani jihadi outfits) to the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. This is important, because it suggests that although the Lashkar-e-Taiba arranged for the foot soldiers, it involved actors and organisations responsible for carrying out major acts of terrorism against India in the past. And perhaps, last week’s raid on the Pakistan army’s general headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. (Perhaps, because this requires you to believe that Mohammed Aqeel alias Dr Usman, Mr Kashmiri’s associate, was caught rather than ‘caught’ by the Pakistani forces during their hostage rescue operations.)

It is what Mr Kashmiri says about the jihadi grand strategy that is most important. He concedes that “decades of armed and political struggles could not help to inch forward a resolution of (the Kashmir issue” because:

the entire game was in the hands of the great Satan, the USA. Organs like the UN and countries like India and Israel were simply the extension of its resources and that’s why there was a failure to resolve the Palestinian issue, the Kashmir issue and the plight of Afghanistan. [Asia Times Online]

Ergo, the “real game is the fight against the great Satan and its adherents” and “al-Qaeda’s regional war strategy, in which they have hit Indian targets, is actually to chop off American strength.”

There you have, expressed succinctly and lucidly, why the United States and India are fighting the same war. The Obama administration is demonstrating strategic folly by failing to contemplate the damage to its geopolitical interests and those of its allies by demonstrating a lack of will to win in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New Delhi partly believes that Afghanistan is “America’s war” and lacks the political imagination to strengthen the military component of its presence in Afghanistan. If there was any doubt that an American withdrawal from Afghanistan & Pakistan will re-escalate the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Kashmiri has laid it to rest.

Why General Kayani is angry

Understanding the Pakistani military establishment’s objections to the Kerry-Lugar conditionalities

If it’s hard to determine the exact cause of the uproar in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it is because there are many. Simply put, every quarter in Pakistan is using it as a stick to beat its opponents. While all the outrage over being insulted (via Zeitgeist Politics), having sovereignty disrespected and being distrusted by the United States contributes to the heat, dust and entertainment, the most important question is why did the Pakistan Army—and there were reports that the navy and the air force differed from their terrestrial colleagues—publicly throw up its hands in protest?

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his senior colleagues cited “serious concern regarding clauses relating to national security” and suggested that the parliament must shape a “national response.” So what were they referring to?

The sticking points most commonly cited in the public debate over the Kerry-Lugar Bill in Pakistan are the ones attached to action against cross-border terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Now, the Pakistan army is certainly concerned about US scrutiny and pressure over these issues, but it is unlikely that these issues by themselves would cause the generals to raise the red flag. They’ve slipped out of this ring in the past, and they can do so in future.

It is more likely that the military establishment made its move because of other conditions in the Bill that seek to alter the civil-military relationship in Pakistan: by increasing development assistance, by conditioning military assistance, among others, on civilian control of the armed forces. The ambit of civilian control extends to matters like promotions of officers to senior ranks. As INI co-blogger Dhruva Jaishankar (in an email) and Pakistani blogger Kalsoom astutely point out (via Changing Up Pakistan), behind General Kayani’s missive lies the military establishment’s refusal to accept a civilian straitjacket.

There are reports in the Pakistani media about some individuals linked to the PPP government and to President Asif Ali Zardari personally played a role in encouraging the US Congress to include such terms. The insinuation is that Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, was among those responsible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Reining in the rogue military establishment is in the interests of the PPP government, and in most countries, would be considered legitimate.

The corps commanders have clearly drafted their statement carefully. Not only does it register their opposition to accepting aid under the terms of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, it also suggests that it is the parliament—not the Zardari government, which is the executive—that should make the decision.

Neither General Kayani nor the military establishment are hurt politically if Pakistan rejects the Kerry-Lugar assistance. The prevailing schizophrenia among the public over Pakistan’s role in sponsoring international terrorism and rampant anti-Americanism will probably make them more popular. And if the Pakistan economy goes into a tailspin, it will be the Zardari government that takes the rap.

This should signal to the Obama administration that its biggest problem in AfPak is Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex. The message from Washington should be “take it or leave it.”

The roots of Obama’s Af-Pak predicament

US power is bound to decline if it continues to rely on a trans-Atlantic alliance

Henry Kissinger injects a strong dose of strategic wisdom into the squabbly-wobble that is being passed off as an Afghanistan policy review on by the Obama adminstration.

Concurrently, a serious diplomatic effort is needed to address the major anomaly of the Afghan war. In all previous American ground-combat efforts, once the decision was taken, there was no alternative to America’s leading the effort; no other country had the combination of resources or national interest required. The special aspect of Afghanistan is that it has powerful neighbors or near neighbors—Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Iran. Each is threatened in one way or another and, in many respects, more than we are by the emergence of a base for international terrorism…Each has substantial capacities for defending its interests. Each has chosen, so far, to stand more or less aloof.

The summit of neighboring (or near-neighboring) countries proposed by the secretary of state could, together with NATO allies, begin to deal with this anomaly. It should seek an international commitment to an enforced nonterrorist Afghanistan, much as countries were neutralized by international agreement when Europe dominated world affairs…If cooperation cannot be achieved, the United States may have no choice but to reconsider its options and to gear its role in Afghanistan to goals directly relevant to threats to American security. In that eventuality, it will do so not as an abdication but as a strategic judgment. But it is premature to reach such a conclusion on present evidence. [Newsweek, emphasis added]

Dr Kissinger highlights one manifestation of the broader issue: across the world, the United States is attempting to solve twenty-first century problems relying on a twentieth-century alliance of nineteenth-century powers.

The Atlantic alliance—between the United States and Western Europe—might have been useful (see tailpiece) to deal with the mainly Europe-centric conflicts (the two ‘world wars’ and the Cold War) of the last century, but it has proved to be rather useless in addressing the emerging security challenges of this century: the rise of China, the growth of international jihadi terrorism, nuclear proliferation and environmental/natural disasters.

Accusations of an arrogant Washington apart, it is also true that the European states were more interested in showing their flag in Afghanistan than to actually do the fighting. Unwilling to take casualties towards a cause they see as remote, Europe has been looking for a flight out of Afghanistan for a good part of the last eight years. Moreover European states have a vastly different strategic perspective as far as jihadi terrorism goes—they have the luxury of believing that by appeasing them at home, they can escape being targeted.

The Obama administration would do well to heed Dr Kissinger’s advice. One reason Washington’s Af-Pak strategy is in such a rut is because it has neglected exploring options that would leverage the interests of Afghanistan-Pakistan’s neighbours. As long as it tries what is effectively a unilateral route (the European & international component of the coalition being negligible) the United States will find its policy options restricted to withdrawal, attrition or escalation. A new partnership—that weaves regional powers into a co-operative framework—would change the rules of the game. If it is an extraordinary challenge, then in Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama has the extraordinary man to handle it.

Tailpiece: The much celebrated Anglo-American alliance that won the Second World War had as many as 2.5 million Indian troops fighting on its side.

Kerry-Lugar, not much sugar

The United States has set the rules of good behaviour for Pakistan. It has assigned indicators to measure progress. The devil lies in between

There is a deluge of ‘analyses’ of the Kerry-Lugar bill in the Pakistani commentariat: barring some exceptions, you will find high polemic, rhetoric, idiom, metaphor and bravado. There is little by way of asking and answering who else is willing to provide financial life-support for the Pakistani government on more relaxed terms. After all, all the Friends of Democratic Pakistan met in New York last week, swore eternal goodwill and friendship, posed for the cameras but did not add much to what they had already promised. For all the outrage, it is rather unlikely that the Pakistani elite will suddenly stop cheating on their taxes and begin paying their water & electricity bills to help stand their broken republic, as the metaphor goes, on its own feet.

If, as expected, President Obama signs it into an Act, the legislation will require the US State Department to certify that the Pakistani government is on the straight and narrow in winding down nuclear proliferation and cross-border terrorism. Now, the Pakistani mindset sees these conditions—especially the mention of preventing attacks by “Lashkar-e-Taiba” and “Jaish-e-Mohammed” on “neighbouring countries”—as a sign that the United States has bowed to India’s concerns. But the hard-headed politicians in the US Congress don’t insert clauses on behalf of other countries—however friendly or strategic they might be—unless those clauses are first in the United States’ own interests. However, the Pakistani reaction, to the extent that the commentariat represents popular opinion, should rightly cause thinking Indians to challenge the lofty-softy premise that at the popular level, the Pakistani people—as against their ruling military-jihadi establishment—are against terrorist attacks in India originating from their soil.

From an Indian perspective, while a bill with such conditions is better than a bill with no such conditions, the fact remains that the Obama administration’s certification of Pakistan’s compliance will be subject to Washington’s foreign policy positions. Like the late 1980s when successive US presidents lied to Congress about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, like the famous State Department list of state-sponsors of terrorism that still doesn’t include the worst of them all, certifications under the Kerry-Lugar legislation will depend on factors that transcend truth and factual accuracy.

The extent of the gap between fact and certificate will be an indicator of the Obama administration’s own exigencies. Periodic reporting requirements also allows US interlocutors to exert regular pressure on their Pakistani counterparts. But none of this will result in the military-jihadi complex abandoning its old agenda, strategies and tactics. If the Washington’s metrics are any good, they will reflect this. And then what? Another policy review?

Ilyas Kashmiri, Stanley McChrystal and the Obama wobble

India should ensure that the main location of Pakistan’s proxy war remains far away from home

Those who believe that the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ that began in 2004 is responsible for the decline in terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir are making the oldest policy mistake—confusing correlation for causation. To understand, take a look at the curriculum vitae of Ilyas Kashmiri, an exemplary product of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, and who was reportedly killed in a US drone strike recently.

Ilyas Kashmiri onced belonged to the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), just like General Pervez Musharraf. He fought the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and when that war came to an end, devoted his attention to the jihad in Kashmir, changing uniforms, organisation-names and affiliations in the process. He was active on that front until he fell out with the ISI management over a corporate restructuring exercise, but by 2003, moved to Waziristan to join battle against American troops across the border. There he fought until the US drone got him. Ilyas Kashmiri didn’t move from Afghanistan to Kashmir, and from Kashmir back to Waziristan alone. His group moved with him. Nor was Ilyas Kashmiri’s outfit the only one that moved back-and-forth in this manner.

So the reason why the jihadi guns fell silent in Jammu & Kashmir was, in all likelihood, because the Pakistani military-jihadi complex didn’t have the capacity to fight a two-front war. To the extent the ‘irregular’ jihadi army was employed along the Western front it was unavailable for the proxy war against India. Now, if President Barack Obama myopically decides to retreat from Afghanistan it follows that the jihadis will make their way back to the east. Whatever this does to the geopolitical stature of the United States, it is possible that the Obama administration will attempt to appease Pakistan in order to purchase political cover for its exit from Afghanistan. As Marc Ambinder writes on his blog (LT @dubash) over at The Atlantic, Kashmir’s fate will be seen as “crucial” to the “dynamic” of Pakistan’s quest for “for living space to the north.” [Also see Manish Vij’s post on Ultrabrown]

Let us be clear: it is in India’s interests for the United States to stay in Afghanistan and fight Pakistan’s proxies and allies there. India is engaged in a proxy-war with elements, surrogates and offshoots of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. This is a war that is imposed on India, and New Delhi should persevere to keep the battlefields of that proxy-war west of the Hindu-Kush, not east of the Pir Panjal range.

Given the stakes, it is unfortunate—and unforgivable—that India has not been more than a mere spectator with respect to US policy. Indeed, even after the Obama administration began its series of policy reviews, the Indian input to the equation has been invisible. Invisible might not necessarily mean non-existent, but if there was something, then it seems to have been ineffective. Keeping Kashmir out of Richard Holbrooke’s mandate was a minimalistic achievement—ensuring that Pakistani jihadis stay out of India is the real prize.

That General Stanley McChrystal’s report was leaked to the media is understandable, not least after Mr Obama’s national security advisor had made it clear that the White House was prejudiced against strengthening US military forces in Afghanistan. Yet, even as President Obama began the initial movements of U-turn on his own commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is nothing from the UPA government to try to make him stick to his old promises.

To be sure, India’s first option should be to encourage the United States to repeat the MacArthur programme in Pakistan. If the chain of Af-Pak strategy reviews are throwing up unsatisfactory policy recommendations it is because they are too fearful to accept the reality: that the solution to the problem of international jihadi terrorism lies in dismantling the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan. But if this is asking for too much, the second-best option is to ensure that the US stays on in Afghanistan.

New Delhi needs an entirely different orientation towards Washington’s Af-Pak policies: it must cast aside its quietly, quietly defensive approach to a more assertive, muscular stance.

Clueless in Kandahar

Helping Af, helpless on Pak

Let’s be fair to Richard Holbrooke. He could not have pre-empted an upcoming announcement of benchmarks of success that the Obama administration has set for its Af-Pak policy. That’s why when asked how success will be measured, he could only say “We’ll know it when we see it”. Yes, he did get some flak for that.

In all likelihood, we’ll get some benchmarks in the coming weeks. But one thing is clear: the “limited set of objectives” President Obama promised have effectively become “the expansive goals of “armed state building”.” So there’s a lot of soul-searching among the United States’ allies on why they are in Afghanistan and what they are doing there.

The opportunity cost of the debate over “What we’re doing in Afghanistan” is brought out by Sam Roggeveen over at the excellent Lowy Interpreter:

It’s all a reminder that the real danger (nuclear terrorism) is in Pakistan, and although there’s no obvious solution anyone can offer to that country’s problems, that does not excuse the fact that we are throwing so many resources at the wrong problem.

It’s said that when a drunk drops his keys, he looks for it under the lamp-post, because that’s where the light is better. Time to sober up. [TLI]

Americans just want to be loved

And they’ll pay for it

“The aid—and particularly its pledge of five years of uninterrupted help—is intended,” the New York Times writes in today’s editorial, “to demonstrate that this time Washington is in for the long haul. Many Pakistanis still accuse the Americans of using and then abandoning them after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. We fear that any more delay on the promised assistance would only reinforce that suspicion and bitterness.”

Astounding naivete from the NYT, because Washington has already delivered seven years of uninterrupted help amounting to US$15.449 billion in direct overt assistance (according to Alan Kronstadt/CRS) and yet, almost 6 in 10 Pakistanis feels that the United States is the greatest threat to their country (according to Al Jazeera/Gallup).

Unwarranted as their fear is, it leads the NYT’s editors to throw diligence through the winds. Arguing against attaching strings to the aid package in a hopeless attempt to be loved it warns against “bullying language on Pakistan’s nuclear program that would inevitably increase tensions with Islamabad and alienate the Pakistani public.” But isn’t nuclear proliferation something that it should care about? “We, too, are very concerned about Pakistan’s history of nuclear proliferation” it says, “But this aid bill is clearly not the vehicle.” Then pray, what is?

The editorial is silent about the real issues: how does the United States ensure that Pakistan delivers on its many promises on fighting al-Qaeda, fighting the Taliban, fighting the Lashkar-e-Taiba, preventing nuclear proliferation? How does the US government ensure that the money is spent on reforming education, healthcare and economic development?

This kind of loose thinking is perhaps symptomatic of the general mood in the United States these days: just throw more taxpayers’ money at the problem and hope it’ll go away.

Kayani wins this round

But it’s likely to go downhill for him from here

One of the primary tasks Ashfaq Pervez Kayani set for himself when he took over from Pervez Musharraf as Pakistan’s army chief was to restore the image of the Pakistani army at home and abroad. It was in November 2007 when the popularity of the Pakistani army had hit rock bottom. Now, in May 2009, it is clear that General Kayani has succeeded in that objective. After the ‘successful’ military offensive against the Mullah Fazlullah’s Taliban militia at Swat the army has regained a lot of the respect that it had lost in the final months of General Musharraf. The United States can’t be too unhappy either.

This has come due to, and at the cost of, the complete wrecking of the process of rapprochement with India—the attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the 26/11 terrorist attack on Mumbai and its aftermath. But then, General Kayani never did say that good relations with India were part of his plans. Continue reading “Kayani wins this round”

The Indian hand

Misled by theory

Obviously, the enemy has to be India, the United States and Israel. So it is hardly surprising for the Pakistani people and the media to deal with its cognitive dissonance over the Taliban by blaming it on the Indian and American hand.

How bad is the dissonance? Well, take a look at the editorial section of today’s Daily Times, this blogger’s favourite Pakistani newspaper. Its unsigned editorial laments the myth-making tendency of the media and government spokesmen and warns that immediately attributing terrorist attacks to the Indian or American hand “is a self-damaging policy as it will finally derail our national direction and let the terrorists go scot-free.” But the same page has an op-ed by Ejaz Haider (a follow-up piece on the borders-and-troops discussion) that says:

One Indian reader, a former army officer, wrote saying that “Z”, the internal threat, is more pressing and unfolding. True. I never said it was not and have written repeatedly about it. But addressing Z [the Taliban —ed] does not mean taking one’s eyes off X [India —ed]. Also, if indirect war is the game in town, X may find it opportune to worsen Z for Pakistan even as Z is not X’s creation.

There is increasing evidence of that now.

That completes the circle. Pakistan faces Z threat; Pakistan also faces X threat. There are linkages between X and Z. So by fighting against the Z threat, Pakistan is also addressing the indirect threat from X.

Nothing to grudge X for. If the model is conflictual and if X thinks that it now has the opportunity to pay Pakistan back, so be it. Only, that makes a hash of arguments against lowering the guard and using cooperative strategies. [Daily Times emphasis added]

Now, realist calculations would suggest that the enemy’s enemy being a friend, the Taliban and India should be bedfellows. But it is entirely a different matter to assert that they are bedfellows. The latter requires evidence. If there is ‘increasing evidence’, then it ought to be produced, not least because it would delight many people in India who’d like to believe that Pakistan is being paid back in its own coin.

Yet the reality is that while New Delhi might have been supportive of the idea of a Pashtunistan born out of a sense of Pashtun nationalism, the idea of a Talibanised nuclear neighbour doesn’t really warm the cockles of many in India. And even those who argue that Pakistan’s capture by the Taliban won’t make much of a difference would hardly advocate throwing resources and taking unnecessary risks when Pakistan is demonstrating that it can implode without their help.

Indeed, the realist logic can be applied differently: the Pakistani government could make peace with its rear enemy (India) to conserve its energies for the battle against the forward enemy (Taliban). This would, however, require Pakistani strategists to adopt new thinking. There’s hardly any evidence of that.

To not have the bluff called

The attachment of impossible conditions is revealing

Across the border, Ejaz Haider opines that “if Pakistan is asked by the US and other western capitals to pull out troops from the eastern border and deploy them to the west, then perhaps India should also be asked to thin its much-heavier Pakistan-specific deployment.” He goes on to demand Pakistan be financially compensated for committing more troops to fight the Taliban. (Hey, but we thought they were Pakistan’s enemy too.)

As we’ve argued, India must call this bluff by pulling back troops from the international border. In response to our op-ed, a prominent strategic analyst privately noted that such a move is politically impossible unless Pakistan first delivers something tangible on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A job, it seems, for Richard Holbrooke.

Mr Haider, though, asks for too much. It is unnecessary to address all of Pakistan’s threat perceptions vis-a-vis India in order to get it to commit more troops to its western front. It is plainly obvious that Pakistan’s structural insecurity with respect to India cannot be addressed merely using policy, money or military movements. The power differential between India and Pakistan is large and growing and the only way for Pakistan to avoid feeling more insecure is to drop its points of conflict with India. This is cold realism (and yes, it applies to India too, via-a-vis China). This is a larger problem but it need not get in the way of solving the issue at hand, which concerns releasing more troops for the war against the Taliban.

We have argued that Pakistan can move as many as 150 infantry battalions (150,000 soldiers) from the border with India, without changing the military balance along the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, and on the battlefront in the Siachen region. Mr Haider asks for the impossible when he asks for India to lower its troop levels in Kashmir: not least when Pakistan has escalated its infiltration attempts, the demands of counter-insurgency remain and when part of the Indian military deployment in the state addresses China, not Pakistan.

Often, asking for the impossible is a way to kill the whole idea. We are sure that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex would like the idea killed. But we’d like to believe Mr Haider doesn’t.