The Zardari dilemma

Balancing the pushes

If Asif Zardari doesn’t push back against the Americans, Cyril Almeida, a columnist at Dawn argues, he will be “pushed out by the army.”

What Mr Almeida doesn’t consider, and what must be weighing on President Zardari’s mind, are the implications of pushing back against the Americans.

The Americans won’t merely push. They’ll shove.

Kill the invaders

Say the corps commanders of the Pakistani army?

Bruce Loudon of The Australian reports that the Pakistani army’s corps commanders have ordered their troops to retaliate against US troops crossing over into their territory.

What amounts to a dramatic order to “kill the invaders”, as one senior officer put it last night, was disclosed after the commanders—who control the army’s deployments at divisional level—met at their headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi under the chairmanship of army chief and former ISI spy agency boss Ashfaq Kayani.[The Australian]

That is something if at all it is true. No other major news sources are reporting this, and there is no official announcement to this effect. So the dramatic order might have been intended for purposes of drama. In any case, these orders are not too useful against Predator strikes.

But it will be interesting to see what happens the next time US special forces conduct a raid into Pakistani territory.

The stuff for military novels (2)

The flying assassin

In line with what some readers suggested, and also in line with Sharon Weiberger’s post over at Danger Room, the new secret technique that the Americans have brought to bear in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan (possibly) involves unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with a networked “tagging, tracking and locating” system.

The new system now being deployed was first used on aircraft in Afghanistan, then was installed on Predators in Iraq starting about a year ago. Officials said introduction of the devices coincided with the 2007 U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, and was an important, but hitherto unknown, factor in the subsequent drop in violence in that country.

The technology allows suspects to be identified quickly. “All I have to do is point the sensor at him,” said a military officer familiar with the system, “and a missile can be off the rail in seconds.”

The devices are roughly the size of an automobile battery, but are heavy enough that outfitted Predators in some cases carry only one Hellfire missile instead of two. At times, the systems also have been in short supply, requiring that crews move the devices from one Predator to another as they land and take off.

The unique capabilities have prompted competition among U.S. forces for access to specially equipped Predators, military officials said. The fleet being assembled for use in Pakistan has been assigned to the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command, meaning fewer of the aircraft are available for conventional forces. [LAT, linkthanks Vivek Hirpara]

The stuff for military novels

A revolution in counter-insurgency affairs?

Bob Woodward claims that the United States used a new “secret technique” in its counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

But beyond all of that, Woodward reports, for the first time, that there is a secret behind the success of the surge: a sophisticated and lethal special operations program.

“This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs,” Woodward told Pelley.

“But what are we talking about here? It’s some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for? The leadership of the enemy?” Pelley asked.

“I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to,” Woodward replied.

“Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?” Pelley asked.

“Yeah,” Woodward said. “If you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town.” [CBS News]

Mr Woodward doesn’t offer more details—not even in his new book—but adds to the suspense by saying that “it is the stuff of which military novels are written.”

Meanwhile, Dawn‘s correspondent thinks that the same technique is being used by US forces against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s FATA. Whatever the technique is, to the extent that it increases collateral damage, it is bound to have different effects in the Pashtun geography.

Reading the Arthashastra: On declaring war

Calculations of relative power

The decision to go war, according to the Arthashastra, is a rational one—the king should choose war or peace, whichever is most advantageous. So Kautilya is not a pacifist, but neither is he a warmonger, for he advises that in the event expected advantages are of equal character, “one should prefer peace”, for war always comes at a disadvantage.

If that sounds reasonable, it was ignored in the decades following his death. The vast empire his protege Chandragupta Maurya founded in the fourth century BCE quickly fell apart after Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhist pacifism. As Paddy Docherty writes in The Khyber Pass, “The decline of the Mauryan dynasty after Ashoka was dramatic…Princes schooled in otherwordliness—in a concern for Dhamma and the freeing of oneself from the ego—make bad rulers.” (pp 57)

Kautilya used calculations of relative power to determine war or peace decisions: peace with kings with equal or superior power, and war against weaker kings. The metaphors are pithy: attacking a stronger king will meet the same fate as that of a foot-soldier opposing an elephant; attacking an equal power is like the mutually destructive collision between two unbaked mud vessels; attacking a weaker king is like a stone hitting an earthenware vessel.

When confronted with superior power, Kautilya advises pragmatism: the weaker king should submit to the stronger one and take the attitude of a conquered king. Or, alternately, seek the protection of a stronger power. For his part, he advises the stronger king to accept proposals for peace from the weaker one, lest the latter be provoked into war. Here it is implicit that Kautilya thinks that such a confrontation is undesirable and hence, to be avoided.

What about a king of equal power who resists proposals for peace? The answer, well, is what we would today call tit-for-tat.

When a king of equal power does not like peace, then the same amount of vexation as his opponent has received at his hands should be given to him in return; for it is power that brings about peace between any two kings: no piece of iron that is not made red-hot will combine with another piece of iron. [Arthashastra VII:3]

That’s consistent with the conclusions of modern game theory: tit-for-tat is the optimum strategy for iterated prisoner’s dilemmas.

One important factor tempers the war or peace decisions derived from calculations of relative power—the disposition of the people.

When a king in peace with another finds that greedy, impoverished, and oppressed as are the subjects of his ally, they do not yet immigrate into his own territory lest they might be called back by their master, then he should, though of inferior power, proclaim war against his ally.

When a king at war with another finds that greedy, impoverished, and oppressed as are the subjects of his enemy, still they do not come to his side in consequence of the troubles of war, then he should, though of superior power, make peace with his enemy or remove the troubles of war as far as possible. [Arthashastra VII:3]

Kautilya doesn’t explain why this should be so. But we can make some inferences: in the first case, the weaker king can neutralise his weakness by weakening his stronger adversary’s hold over his estranged citizens. In second, popular support adds to the strength of a weaker power, narrowing the gap.

Related Links: The reading the Arthashastra series archive.

In case of fire, head for the exit

…ideally, in a calm and dignified manner
Fire Exit

You don’t have to go beyond the oft-repeated cliche about Pervez Musharraf—that he is a commando, and doesn’t back down when he’s cornered—to grasp the limits of his political wisdom. Forget politics, this motto does not even make a lot of sense in a broader military context. That his advisers should refer to his commando credentials now, when the politicians have given him possibly the last chance for the most decent exit possible under the circumstances, brings home the enormity of his folly.

If it was a threat to deter Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif from going ahead with the plans to remove him, it is not too credible. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani is unlikely to want to overtly wade into a political quagmire when he can wield power behind the scene. And if Mr Musharraf does intend to “fight back”, he will be seen the source of additional instability, and hence a liability that no one—neither the army nor the United States—can afford. This may cause him to be removed from the scene.

Messrs Zardari and Sharif have demanded that he seek a vote of confidence in the provincial and national assemblies, failing which impeachment proceedings will be initiated against him. They have not only given him room and time to head for the exit, but also—in their communique—refrained from criticising his foreign policy. What was left in catered to the domestic audience. What was left out should appeal to his personal friends in high places abroad. [Update: Those friends have started disowning him]

Related Posts: Finding a home for Mushie, Graceful exit wounds, the curious incident of the General in the night-time

My op-ed in Mint: Pomegranates, polls and power

Why India must strengthen its military presence in Afghanistan

In today’s op-ed in Mint Sushant and I call for India to increase its troop levels in Afghanistan. A slightly edited version of the following appeared in print.

Image: Malay Karmakar/Mint
Image: Malay Karmakar/Mint

Afghanistan exported US$1 billion worth of drugs last year. In contrast, its pomegranate exports amounted to only US$1 million. Poppies or pomegranates, the Afghan farmers who grow them earn around the same amount of money—around US$2000 per hectare every year. If somehow they could be made to grow a lot more pomegranates, and a lot less poppy, Afghanistan, India and the world would be a much better place indeed.

That’s because growing pomegranates and other legitimate cash crops requires water, electricity and most importantly access to foreign markets. Now, much of the international assistance flowing into Afghanistan aims to build and repair dams and connect villages to the electricity network. India, for instance, is financing irrigation projects in Northwest Afghanistan and power projects in Herat and Kabul.
But the one Indian project that could transform Afghanistan’s economic landscape is the just completed 218km road link connecting the town of Delaram on the Kandahar-Herat highway to Zaranj adjacent to the border with Iran. From there Iranian roads run to the port of Chabahar on the Persian Gulf. This will be Afghanistan’s fastest overland route to the sea. Last year, because they had to be air-flown, only 1000 of the 40,000 metric tonnes of Afghan pomegranates made it to markets in India, Dubai, Singapore and Pakistan. With the new road, Afghan farmers can export a larger fraction of their produce to the rapidly expanding Indian market. The competition from this route will compel Pakistan to review its policy of throttling the Afghan transit trade. In time, the Zaranj-Delaram road can be expanded into a trade and energy corridor that connects landlocked Central Asia to Indian and global markets.

This sounds wonderful, and it is. The problem, however, is that its success hinges on two key factors: on Afghanistan’s stability and on the nature of relations between India, Iran and the United States.
Continue reading “My op-ed in Mint: Pomegranates, polls and power”

Pragati August 2008: Should India send troops to Afghanistan?

Issue 17 - Aug 2008
Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Making a leader
Excerpts from a lecture on leadership and discipline
Sam HFJ Manekshaw

Our voice in our history
Academic freedom, private funding and historical research
Jayakrishnan Nair

Letters
On whether or not India has a coherent foreign policy

FILTER
A survey of think-tanks
On China policy; Fixing the FATA; An Indo-Israeli alliance?
Vijay Vikram

IN DEPTH
Hold steady in Afghanistan
India is on the right track and it should stay that way
Shanthie Mariet D’Souza

A bigger military presence is essential
…if India is to shape Afghanistan’s future
Sushant K Singh

The myth of Taliban tribalism
The folly of trying to set tribes against each other
Joshua Foust

IN PARLIAMENT
Monsoon Session 2008—What’s in store
Legislative brief
Sarita Vanka

ROUNDUP
When it’s good to slow down
The why and what next about rising inflation
V Anantha Nageswaran

The historical roots of the services sector
…calls for a strategy that plays to India’s strengths
Stephen Broadberry and Bishnupriya Gupta

Profiting from education
Resistance against commercialisation is fruitless
Atanu Dey

BOOKS
Four books about Pakistan
On nuclear proliferation, military politics and society
Nitin Pai

The ISI in the dock

Two many Musharrafs…and too much noise

The gloves have come off. The US government has let it become known that not only was the ISI responsible for the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, but also cut the kerry that went by the name of “rogue elements” (who used to do things like passing information to the Taliban or fly C-130s to North Korea). This is a historic day in the history of US-Pakistan relations—and an unfortunate one in the career of Yusuf Raza Gilani. Not because the US government offered proof to the Pakistani government that the ISI has been up to some very naughty things. But rather, because the US government told the rest of the world about it, albeit through the New York Times.

So what happens next? Well, it’s hard to say. In the good old days, the army chief would issue orders to the commander of the X Corps in Rawalpindi, who would, in turn, task the commander of the 111 Brigade to hop over across the bridge and take control of the government. That is tough these days. Because taking control of the government is not a predicament that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani will wish onto himself. Forget those uppity lawyers and just-won’t-retire judges, who wants to go to the White House, and pleasantries and photographs done, to answer questions like “Who is in control of the ISI?”.

Asif Ali Zardari might well have found a whipping boy in Prime Minister Gilani, but these are ultimately his problems. To be sure, reforming the ISI is a solution—for the United States and for India, and most importantly, for Pakistan itself. But to execute it will be a political task of the toughest kind. It will require popular and elite support, it will require determination and will, and it will require great tact. Other than some popular support, Mr Zardari lacks the rest. If last weekend’s fiasco over the ISI is any indication, Mr Zardari looks like he is way out of his depth.

For the time being, as Bruce Riedel put it, every meal the US troops eat, and every bullet they shoot arrives in Afghanistan courtesy of the Pakistani military. The US government might authorise more missile hits from unmanned aerial vehicles, but this is limited by the counter-productive effects caused by the collateral damage. Unless the US is ready to explore alternative ways—a rapprochement with Iran comes to mind—this is about as much the US can do.

What does all this mean for India? Well, the good news is that the Pakistani government has almost no wiggle room left on ending its support for the Taliban enterprise. The bad news is that the Pakistani ‘government’ is nowhere near being in charge of the Taliban enterprise. Where once there were two players India had to engage—those who control its jihadis and those who control its nukes—it now has to engage them through those who make the speeches. C Raja Mohan argues that “India needs several simultaneous policies towards Pakistan”, ranging from shaping Pakistan’s internal politics, to direct talks between the two armies, to signaling that India is ready to impose a two-front war on Pakistan. The Pakistani army is unlikely to be warm up to the first two, but a two-front war? They’ll probably have to game that before making up their mind, not least because the US Congress is said to be linking aid to developmental goals.

Banana

Putting the ISI in its place

For a few tense hours between late night on Saturday and the wee hours of Sunday morning, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was “under the administrative, financial and operational control of the Interior Division”. That’s about as long as the civilians that presumably run the government can even pretend to keep it under their control.

It was endearing to see Major-General Athar Abbas, the army’s spinmeister, tell us why Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s order was misunderstood: “The MI-5 is responsible for internal security, while the MI-6 deals with external security matters in the United Kingdom. It is illogical to place the MI-6 under the MI-5. Similarly, the ISI cannot be placed under the Interior Ministry’s control.” [Yes, yes, we know. General Athar was misunderstood too. He meant the UK Home Office, not MI-5. A clarification is on the way]

But seriously, what was Mr Asif Ali Zardari thinking? That Rule 3(3) of the Rules of Business of 1973 would suddenly start applying…that too to the ISI?