General Kayani’s cigarette

…opens a window into his mind?

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has done well to cultivate the aura of inscrutability around him. Those who know him, like the anonymous CIA official New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti quotes, admire him for being a “master manipulator”.

Until late last year, when he was elevated to the command of the entire army, the Pakistani spymaster who had been running the I.S.I. was Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. American officials describe this smart and urbane general as at once engaging and inscrutable, an avid golfer with occasionally odd affectations. During meetings, he will often spend several minutes carefully hand-rolling a cigarette. Then, after taking one puff, he stubs it out. [NYT, linkthanks Rohit & Swami Iyer]

In the Cold War days, the US intelligence community used to have a battery of specialists—including psychologists and physicians—making assessments about Soviet leaders from photographs and television footages.

In the same spirit, The Acorn approached some specialists to explain General Kayani curiously masterful manipulation of the cigarette. One expert warned of the dangers of extrapolation from a single observation. But according to Prem Panicker:

Smokers do weird things to quit, or at least reduce. This is one of them: urge to smoke hits you, you make a ritual out of it that takes more time than you would need to smoke the thing. And then you feed the habit with a single puff. Satisfies the craving, and hopefully doesn’t do as much damage. Hopefully being the operative word.

So it turns out that General Kayani is grappling with cognitive dissonance. The good news is that he recognises smoking is harmful and that he must put a stop to it. The bad news is that he still has to take puff.

Could he be approaching the Pakistani army’s addiction to the jihadis in the same way?

Dropping more cash from helicopters

Change should not be another word for more of the same

Jim Hoagland’s piece on how the US should transform its Pakistan policy gets it exactly, precisely right.

And it is the case with the campaign promises of John McCain and Barack Obama to unleash ever-larger flows of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Pakistan as a way of bringing stability there and to win the global war on terrorism. They, too, would drop cash from helicopters to calm fears.

That same approach to Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf failed the Bush presidency, and it will fail new leaders in Washington and Islamabad as well. What is needed is a daring reformulation of U.S. policy toward South Asia.

Pakistan has created the world’s toughest foreign policy challenge. Its military and civilian governments have for decades profited from stirring tribal warfare in Afghanistan, then been too frightened of or complicit with their own fundamentalists to push for significant social change at home.

But Qureshi was persuasive when he outlined his determination to improve relations with India. His recent trips there convince him that the two nations must put aside hostility and help make each other rich: “We must capitalize on this opportunity.”

India’s growing economic power will leave its neighbor in the dust unless Pakistan becomes part of that prosperity. Pakistan’s future will be determined by its relations with India, not by increased U.S. aid or maintaining its support for tribal war in Afghanistan.

Recognizing and acting on that Indo-Pak reality — rather than perpetuating the illusion that the United States controls Pakistan’s fate — are the urgent tasks for new governments in Washington and Islamabad. [WP]

Clearly, the task is daunting because US policy must change Pakistani mindsets and attitudes. [See a review of Farzana Versey’s book at Pragmatic Euphony.] It certainly is a whole lot harder than dropping cash from helicopters. Moreover, as Joshua Foust writes, the dream of setting Pashtun tribes against each other is removed from reality, as it ignores the Islamist transformation of Pashtun society over the last three decades.

Change must come from within Pakistan. It is in the United States’ interests to make it happen. For India’s part, instead of focusing on peripheral, irrelevant projects like military lines on glaciers or bus services in Kashmir, a real peace process would strategically engage the sources of economic power across the border.

More on India’s military presence in Afghanistan

Over at Broadsword (linkthanks Pragmatic, Rohit), Ajai Shukla makes a curious case against India strengthening its military presence in Afghanistan.

To now throw troops into what will inevitably become a bloody struggle for power risks smudging India’s benevolent image.

Instead, Indian planners should be considering that, perhaps three years along, US and NATO forces may pull out of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai would be history, and Afghanistan itself divided into different zones of control. In that Afghanistan, India’s physical presence may well be reduced to zero. The ITBP would have pulled out; development projects would have shut down; elements politically hostile to India may well control large parts of the country; the embassy and India’s consulates may well have closed shop. This is what happened in 1996; today, only American and European support—fickle, and already wavering—prevents a return to that time.

But despite those threats, and the occasional cross-border foray, western forces in Afghanistan can hardly influence events in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Only the Pakistan army can do that, but remains unwilling to….The army brass in Pakistan—which will eventually have the final word on this—has not yet come round to accepting that the military has little choice but to transform the NWFP from a sanctuary to a battlefield.

Without that realisation in Rawalpindi, a couple of years more of rising casualties in Afghanistan could well trigger a US and NATO pullout.[Broadsword]

Now, one part of Mr Shukla’s argument is reasonable: that it is crucial for India to consider the effect its level of military presence has on the local population. It is difficult to fathom the logic of the rest of his arguments.

Mr Shukla underestimates the US commitment to win the war in Afghanistan. Far from even talking about cutting and running, both presidential candidates have committed to reinforce American military presence in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is upping the ante in the Afghan theatre. If the situation can be cast as a battle of resolves, then a “realisation in Rawalpindi” is more likely than a pullout by the United States.

In this situation, the prospect of India deploying more troops to Afghanistan can change the strategic calculations of the Pakistani brass. As Lieutenant-General (retired) Talat Masood writes, the Pakistani army continues to think that the Taliban can be used as frontline options against US troops along the Durand Line (just as it uses jihadis against the Indian army). But the prospect of Indian troops joining the fray, albeit in Afghan territory, would discourage the Pakistani army from pursuing this course. And even if it doesn’t, it still makes sense for India to prevent Pakistan from repeating its 1996 performance in Afghanistan, one that had severe consequences for India’s national security.

Believing and acting on a pessimistic prognosis might well bring it about. Far from discarding the military option out of pessimism or concern for the erosion of ‘soft power’, it is important to keep it on the table.

The road that India built

…in Afghanistan

Zaranj-Delaram Map

The 218-km road connecting Delaram (on the Kandahar-Herat highway) to Zaranj, on the border with Iran has been completed (via Swami Iyer). The strategic importance of this road—as news reports never fail to mention—is to provide landlocked Afghanistan an alternative access to the sea, allowing it to break free from Pakistan’s traditional stranglehold.

Since this route passes through several hundred kilometres of Iranian territory before connecting to Chabahar on the Persian Gulf, it remains to be seen if Iran will prove to be a better neighbour than Pakistan. From a purely economic standpoint though, Afghanistan should benefit from the competition between the two routes.

There is a lot of hope pinned on this alternative route. For Afghanistan, this is an opportunity to regain better access to the Indian market that it lost in 1947. For India, it is an opportunity to regain better access to Central Asia that it too lost in 1947. To the extent that Pakistan remains wedded to its traditional strategic rent-seeking behaviour it is likely to attempt to foil these plans. And as the attack on the Indian embassy has shown, it remains wedded to old tactics as much as it is to old strategies.

This being so, it is strange that the India should be considering withdrawing four companies (around 400 personnel) of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police currently deployed in Afghanistan. There is a case for a robust Indian military presence in Afghanistan; with force levels carefully calibrated, on the one hand to secure Indian interests, and on the other, to avoid being seen by the local population as an ‘occupying’ force. Reducing India’s military presence at a critical phase in Afghanistan’s counter-insurgency war is uncalled for at this stage.

Debating UN peacekeeping

Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal

Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.
Continue reading “Debating UN peacekeeping”

My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back

The case for India to scale down its UN peacekeeping contributions

Sushant K Singh and I argue that controversy in Congo is a wake-up call for India to review its policy on UN peacekeeping. A slightly edited version of the following appears in today’s Indian Express.

A recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama found that Indian peacekeepers were among those engaged in smuggling drugs, arms, gold and ivory at the UN mission in Congo. In a recently released report, UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) found three army personnel guilty of minor charges but did not find evidence on the more serious ones. (Indian Express, 11 June).

To be sure, Indian blue helmets were not the only black sheep. But the fact that India finds some of its troops in the dock along with those of the Pakistani army should provide little comfort to defenders of India’s continued involvement in the poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations that characterise UN peacekeeping.

In response, the Indian government has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. Now, the UN itself has little incentive to pursue the allegations aggressively. Given that there is more demand for peacekeepers than its member nations are willing to supply, it is hardly likely to do anything that will embarrass countries—most of them from the developing world—that do contribute troops. So it was perhaps the outcry over the Congo episode that compelled it to announce that “the same (Indian) peacekeepers will not be accepted in future missions”.
Continue reading “My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back”

Framing the Pakistani army’s problem

Saving those who have crossed over

Khaled Ahmed puts it very well:

Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support. Meanwhile, the anarchists have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West they inspire fear and loathing, but when they kill Muslims in Pakistan it leads to conversion. The army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy. [DT]

By Invitation: They didn’t make it to Sam’s funeral

India’s political establishment and its shabby treatment of a national hero

By Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd)

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw whose mortal remains were laid to rest with military honours on Friday, June 27, 2008 in his beloved Nilgiri Hills will remain a legendary figure for the Indian ‘fauj’ and the manner of his departure in many ways symbolizes what he represented to India and its people.

The astute military leader who led India to its greatest military victory in the 1971 war for Bangladesh (the last such decisive military victory for Bharat was under Chandragupta Maurya in 300 BC!) was given an emotional farewell by millions of Indians across the country—and among the diaspora abroad. The mass media did the departed soldier proud and tributes and accolades continue to pour in to pay homage to one of India’s most accomplished yet humble sons.

But the Indian state was less than generous in its response to the Field Marshal’s demise and it has already attracted adverse comment that the UPA government could only send a Minister of State for the funeral—despite the official announcement that in a “rare” gesture, the government would accord him a state funeral. The fact that none of the three service Chiefs participated in the final ceremony—or for that matter that the Defence Minister chose not to go personally—due to ‘political’ compulsions is difficult to ignore. Furthermore, not a single Member of Parliament was able to join the people of India in paying their final respects to a soldier who almost single-handedly restored the ‘izzat’ of the Indian fauj after the debacle of the 1962 China war—thereby instilling a sense of confidence in a very de-moralized nation.

But these are the ‘petty’ realities of the Indian political culture—and maybe Sam Bahadur’s omission was that he was too much of a ‘bahadur’ and the military as an institution has remained marginal to the Indian ruling elite. Continue reading “By Invitation: They didn’t make it to Sam’s funeral”

Manekshaw and the boy

He outdrank, outfought and outlived his adversaries

The little boy was very impressed when told that in that little town lived Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. He lived close enough, but the boy never got a chance to meet him.

Some years later, the little older boy found that he was just a little too young to be in the guard of honour parade. The chief guest, of course, was Field Marshal Manekshaw. The boy never got a chance to meet him.

Field Marshal Manekshaw outdrank, outfought and outlived his adversaries. He received his final movement orders last night.

The boy never got a chance to meet him.

Dear Yusuf Raza Gilani

Regarding freezing defence expenditure

Your decision to freeze Pakistan’s defence expenditure as “a show of its desire for peace with neighbours” is welcome. We even hope that you will someday be able to control that budgetary head.

You also hoped “to see a reciprocal gesture from our neighbour for the sake of peace and prosperity of the region”, which we are told is an “obvious reference to India.” While your sentiments remain worthy of praise you should have also asked your neighbours to the North and to the West to reciprocate too. It’s a pity you didn’t.