The Quad is dead

Australia has decided that it pays to be nice to China

There’s an interesting discussion going on down under about the death of the “Quad”, a grouping involving India, Japan, Australia and the United States. It was not only seen as an Asia-Pacific “concert of democracies”, but more importantly, as a quiet attempt to balance China’s rising power in the region.

Over at the Lowy Interpreter, Raoul Hienrichs argues that more than the election of pro-China governments in Japan and Australia, the Quad died because China killed it (peacefully, of course).

But there is also something quite revealing about this dynamic. That the Rudd Government did not have to explicitly defer to China’s concerns, because Tokyo and New Dehli had already backed away from the quadrilateral arrangement, is itself a clear indication of China’s rising influence and perhaps Washington’s gradual relative decline in Asia. Moreover, China’s willingness to use its considerable diplomatic weight to prevent the emergence of a regional grouping perceived to be inimical to its interests suggests a new level of confidence in China’s foreign and strategic policy, and an increased awareness among its policy makers of their capacity to independently shape China’s strategic environment. [Lowy Interpreter]

Clearly, at a time when the Australian economy is witnessing a sustained boom thanks to resource exports to China, and that the economic news coming out of the United States is getting worse, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government might have calculated that now is not the time to attempt to balance China. Snubbing Japan, though, was wholly unnecessary. For if ever Australia changes its mind on its own position vis-a-vis China’s strategic rise, Japan, India and the United States are the only ones it can count on. For them, the interests that led to the move towards the quadrilateral initiative are fundamental—even if current governments are lukewarm about a showy new regional grouping.

Engaging the South-Central Asian Raja-Mandala

Applying ancient Realism in the modern age

“American military assistance to Pakistan in the last 15 years will, I believe, be listed by historians as among our most costly blunders”, wrote an American diplomat who had served as ambassador to India. No, this is not Robert Blackwill writing in 2007. It was Chester Bowles writing in the New York Times in 1970.

That’s what Vanni Cappelli points out in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, in which he argues that the United States must contain Pakistan.

In my essay “Containing Pakistan: Engaging the Raja-Mandala in South-Central Asia” (published in the winter 2007 issue of Orbis), I argued that the United States should change course and commit itself to an American-Indian-Afghan alliance aimed at containing Pakistan and the Islamic ideological and terrorist threat that it poses under military rule. Only by joining with secular democratic and other anti-extremist forces in the region can the United States combat the violence perpetrated in the name of an “Islam in danger.”

Cutting off military and economic aid to Pakistan, formally designating it a state sponsor of terror and working with its neighbors to contain it will allow the United States to effect the same internal collapse of a dictatorial order that occurred when the Soviet Union’s weak economy proved unable to sustain its military superstructure. Rawalpindi’s possession of nuclear weapons need not deter such a policy any more than Moscow’s did the successful Cold War containment strategy.

A new alliance would cripple Pakistan’s capacity to support militants and give the country’s secular democratic forces their first real chance to transform their troubled land into one that is no longer a threat to international security. [SFGate via The Conjecturer]

Give ’em Kashmir, for stability’s sake

To believe that an American tilt against India will stabilise Pakistan is to ignore the new realities

As expected, some commentators have begun suggesting that the way for the US to regain influence in Pakistan is to “tilt” towards its ‘national security’ interests by, you guessed it, rethinking Washington’s India policy. Never mind that much of the assistance that the US has transferred to the Pakistani military establishment is already doing exactly that. Even amid all the turmoil after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the United States found it appropriate to announce the sale of F-16 fighter aircraft to Pakistan.

Now Kaveh Afrasiabi cannot be ignorant of all this. So when he calls for Washington to rethink its India policy, what he really means is that the US must take Pakistan’s side over Kashmir.

Bhutto never criticized U.S. policy that seemed to elevate India in the region, thus many in the Pakistani military elite saw her in a negative light.

Bhutto’s assassination has tipped the scales in favor of the ruling politico-military elite focused on national (security) interests. The latter’s overriding concern now is to have some breathing space domestically.

The United States needs to seriously consider recasting its India policy in favor of a more balanced approach, while steering clear of Pakistan’s domestic politics. Otherwise, the United States risks further alienation of Pakistan’s political elite. [SFGate]

Dr Afrasiabi is wrong on several counts: there is no reason to believe that appeasing the politico-military elite will stabilise Pakistan. As the American media is discovering belatedly, the crisis runs deeper. And more than rethinking its India policy, American politicians, officials and commentators would do much better not to engage in loose talk about snatching Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. That worries the politico-military establishment a lot more than Kashmir.

It is amazing how Dr Afrasiabi overlooks the costs of rethinking. Surely, he doesn’t expect such a policy change to be inexpensive to Washington?

Why the US paid big money to Pakistan

The US government’s complicity is not without reason. Although the reasons wouldn’t be the ones it can put in front of Congressional auditors. That’s because the money that the US was paying the Musharraf regime was the only way—short of messy, and far more expensive, military methods—it could retain a hold over its actions.

American dollars were not “wasted”, even if they won’t please prissy auditors

So the New York Times reports that all that money that the United States is giving to the Pakistani military establishment is being “wasted”. Musharraf’s regime is not only overcharging the United States, siphoning off much of it and not spending the money on fighting terrorism, as it should. One European diplomat is quoted as saying that the Americans are being taken for a ride.

Yet none of this is the least bit surprising. The US government knew before and during the entire period that the Pakistani establishment would behave exactly as it is behaving. The lessons of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s in Afghanistan point to that. Musharraf’s contemporary shopping list—F-16 fighter aircraft, P3-C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and anti-ship missiles—was not exactly secret either. The smart people in Washington won’t be unaware of the principle of fungibility of money, as also the fungibility (to a large extent) of military hardware and training. The European diplomat is either being charitable or being naive. The US government is not a victim of the Pakistani military establishment: it is a willing accomplice.

But its complicity is not without reason. Although the reasons wouldn’t be the ones it can put in front of Congressional auditors. That’s because the money that the US was paying the Musharraf regime was the only way—short of messy, and far more expensive, military methods—it could retain a hold over its actions. The US essentially bought the co-operation of the Pakistani military establishment. The itemised billing was for show. Indeed, this strategy required the US to allow its money to be used, abused, siphoned and spirited away by the Musharraf regime. The idea was not to insist on transparency and accountability on how the funds were spent. Rather, it was to hold Musharraf accountable for the results. The pertinent question that needs to be asked—and criticism leveled against the Bush administration—is how far it pursued the latter. It is also reasonable to ask, in the interests of good governance design, how far the former affected the latter.

Let’s not forget externalities. Supplementing Pakistan’s military budget allowed the Musharraf regime to purchase more weapons than it could otherwise have changing the military balance with respect to India. And the US stands to benefit (via Atanu Dey, who has a lucid explanation of dollar auctions and deadly games) from the inevitable Indian response. If there is a victim in this story, it is the poor Indian taxpayer.