The answer is good governance, not secession

Reversing alienation is difficult, but not impossible

At a time of crisis, the UPA government’s abject lack of leadership shows. In the absence of a resolute voice and action from the national leadership, the punditry in New Delhi has gotten into tailspin of defeatism. So it is good to see a timely editorial in Mint that helps put things back in perspective

India is no stranger to secessionist movements and Kashmir is no different in this respect. India has had to weather insurgencies in many states in the 20th century and has always succeeded in stemming this tide. There has been no exception.

The events of the last one month have, however, made commentators think otherwise. It is now being openly argued that such is the extent of alienation in Kashmir valley that, except for letting it go, there is little else that can be done. We believe this is a misreading of the situation and there is little to theories of Kashmiri exceptionalism.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), more than any other state, has suffered from a deficit of good governance. Since 1953, when autonomy of the state was greatly whittled down, most elections have been rigged there. This has deprived the people living there of precious public goods such as uncorrupt public representatives, equality of opportunity in public employment, and finally security. New Delhi’s preoccupation with security fundamentally eroded what it sought. This has greatly fuelled alienation.

But there’s more to this story. There is no way of providing public goods efficiently in a centralized manner. As a result, border provinces have problems in getting the right quantity of these goods. Punjab and states in the North-East have seen separatism. So, in that sense there is nothing exceptional to Kashmir’s current woes. This is where the Left (and now liberal) opinion misreads the situation. [Mint]

God save the US from its pundits

Don’t they read the news?

A certain Nirav Patel from the Center for New American Security—a newish think-tank—argues that “President Bush should quickly dispatch the necessary high-level authorities to mediate and resolve the current Kashmir crisis before it becomes a reason for war” leveraging its “economic and military co-operation with both countries”. (linkthanks Pragmatic)

Mr Patel is not reading the daily news. It turns out that the economic and military co-operation—the tens of billions of dollars of it—is not even allowing the United States the leverage to prevent the Pakistani military establishment from using the Taliban to shoot at American soldiers in Afghanistan. That apart, Mr Bush’s envoys have too many things on their hands in Pakistan to expend what little leverage they have out there on defusing the situation in Kashmir.

But it’s clear Mr Patel is not referring to Pakistan. He is more concerned about what India might do. “Nationalist sentiment in India”, according to him, “is quickly transforming pragmatic policies toward Pakistan into hard-line and reactionary approaches. India is unlikely to sit on the sidelines much longer.” Now, how did Mr Patel arrive at that conclusion? Without supporting facts, such conclusions can only be described as fanciful.

That’s not all, actually. He actually fears a breakdown in nuclear deterrence. Because “Rational leaders in both countries have thus far successfully managed ethno-nationalist impulses. However, as India continues to feel cornered by and vulnerable to terrorist threats originating in Pakistan, it will find it increasingly difficult to ignore the impulse to attack.”

Perhaps Mr Patel could point to a single credible voice from any part of India’s strategic establishment or indeed from a political party, that is advocating a military attack on Pakistan. So his opinion is nothing more than mere presumption. And if he would only begin to read the daily news, he will notice that it is the Pakistani army that is routinely violating the ceasefire. What can the United States do about this? Precious little.

The days of cross-border firing are here again

The two-many-Musharrafs problem has gotten much worse.

Rajinder Puri’s analysis is to the point:

Benazir’s assassination, Musharraf’s loss of power and Pakistan’s post-election scene reduced terrorist attacks to some extent. Meanwhile, the Pakistan army sought peace with terrorist outfits. Result: terrorism is deflected to India. And the cease-fire violation by the Pakistan army suggests that the old army-jihaadi nexus is back in business. It matters little if Pakistan’s military chief General Kayani is in control or not, or whether it is the Pakistan army or only certain elements in it that collude with terrorism. The end result is the same. For India, it is a question of survival. Whether hapless or complicit, the Pakistan government’s inability to deliver on terror is unacceptable. The Pakistan army’s role is intolerable. [Outlook]

He goes on to recommend that:

On Tuesday May 20 the Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue will resume. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be interacting with his counterpart. The Indian government might ask the Pakistanis bluntly which endgame they are aspiring for: Gilani’s, Musharraf’s or the army’s. Unless that is clear, peace talks will be a waste of time.

But because there are so many players in Pakistan, with various alignments of interests, just talking to the hapless Pakistani foreign minister won’t be of much use.

More importantly, it is necessary for the Indian government to quickly determine the particular actors responsible for the violation of the ceasefire and ‘discourage’ them. [See C Raja Mohan’s op-ed]

Weekday Squib: Pashmina and plagiarism

What’s some cross-border plagiarism?

On January 10th this year, the Wall Street Journal carried a report by Vibhuti Agarwal on Pakistan’s taking issue an Indian move to register a Geographical Indicator tag for Kashmiri pashmina. Doing so would accord the real pashmina with legal protection, not least against those synthetic China-made shawls that make the exotic fabric affordable for all. Now, since pashmina is produced on both sides of the Line of Control, Pakistani manufacturers would stand to lose if they can’t sell their stuff as Kashmiri pashmina. That dispute is being sorted out by a tribunal.

There’s a post about this on a new blog started by reporters at Dawn, the well-regarded Pakistani newspaper. Ironically, in a post about an IPR dispute, it has taken a few lines from the WSJ report without due attribution. Here’s the Dawn blog:

The tribunal is expected to decide on the issue some time soon. It may bring it down to a compromise that allows both India and Pakistan to use the term or the tribunal may ask India to re-file a joint application with Pakistan. If the decision ends up in India’s favour, already bitter relations could get even worse. [The Dawn blog]

And here’s the original:

The tribunal is expected to decide on the issue as soon as mid-January. It may stitch together a compromise and allow both India and Pakistan to use the term. Or it may ask India to refile a joint application with Pakistan. Or it could sour relations further by declaring a victory for India. [WSJ]

Like the pashmina, not quite the same. But not that different either.

Update: The good people at the Dawn blog have since linked to the WSJ article.

Oops! We were counting on Musharraf

The sinking value of unsigned promissory notes

The Acorn has been steadfastly against the ‘peace process’ that India (first under the NDA and then under the UPA) had been engaging with General Musharraf. Because the ‘peace process’ also involved negotiations over Kashmir, which invariably meant that India would make concessions that would be hard to reverse should Musharraf’s successors (or Musharraf himself) repudiate the deal.

And even if the squeezed-from-all-directions Gen Musharraf is forced to make a deal with India, there is little reason to believe that such a deal will outlive his rule. Just ask those who are holding on to contracts signed by Suharto, Marcos or Leonid Kuchma. Fears of Islamic fundamentalism may (or may not) be overstated, but it is the corporate interests of the Pakistani army that are of primary concern. Can the Pakistani army remain in power if India is no longer ‘the enemy’? Any number of Musharraf’s potential successors are not quite on board on the trade-offs that must follow if the peace process is to go anywhere. Given that Musharraf himself came to power thanks to a ‘doctrine of necessity’, a future Pakistani regime can always cite a some other ‘doctrine’ to repudiate all or part of Musharraf’s concessions. What then? Call the White House?

These risks are serious enough by themselves, but they are greatly magnified by Musharraf’s extremely poor record in keeping promises. His modus operandi has been to strike tactical compromises whenever he is under pressure, and renege on them as soon as the situation permits. [It’s all about trust, May 2005]

Now here’s the thing: Praveen Swami writes about how negotiators who had worked out an elaborate set of solutions to the future of Kashmir now find themselves looking into an uncertain future. Zardari and Nawaz Sharif lack the clout to do a quid pro quo, even if they have the willingness. General Kiyani shows no sign of abandoning the proxy war strategy. Tragic? Yes. Predictable? Entirely. It is only luck, perhaps, that Musharraf began visibly losing his grip over power before India made any further concessions.

Deals signed with a military dictatorship stand a good chance of being repudiated when a ‘democratic’ transition takes place. It was not hard to foresee that this will happen sooner or later. And deals signed with a civilian dispensation stand a good chance of being frustrated by the military establishment. This too is not hard to foresee. What this means is that a ‘final settlement’ is impossible because Pakistan is not ready for it. Rushing to complete “deals” with one or the other, therefore, is not a very good idea. Peace process enthusiasts—now energised by the prospects of a civilian prime minister in Islamabad—better take note.

The route to peace and stability in the meantime lies neither in trying to ‘settle’ the Kashmir dispute or in building pipelines. It lies in ensuring that the Pakistani elite have a stake in maintaining the peace. It alies in ensuring that the balance of power is overwhelmingly in India’s favour. And it lies in ensuring that ensuring that the international environment does not allow Pakistan to escalate the proxy war.

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?

Should India love Musharraf?

Love him or hate him. But it’s not about him.

M K Narayanan, India’s National Security Adviser (no less!) has declared a ‘grudging admiration’ for Pervez Musharraf. Now, stating that India would do business with whoever is in power in Pakistan is the right thing to do at a time when Pakistan is acutely unstable. But to declare admiration—grudging or otherwise—is pushing it too much. But then, Narayanan was always more comfortable in backrooms of internal security. He never had a flair for the front room of international diplomacy. J N Dixit died too early.

Then Maverick, a voice this blog respects, writes that India’s perceptions of General Musharraf have changed over the years. And that he “howsoever grudgingly has earned that respect from India”.

If this admiration and respect is for the manner in which Musharraf managed to ensure his own political survival in the face of political tumult and rising unpopularity, that’s fine. But it would be dangerously naive to believe that the ‘sombre, determined’ Musharraf somehow is now the best thing for India. Stephen Cohen’s 1999 thesis—that a Pakistan under military rule will be in India’s interests—has been recalled. This theory is the mirror image of those, like Rohit Pradhan, argue that a democratic Pakistan will be better.

Both these views just leaps of faith. What really matters is the balance of power. As long as this prevents Pakistan from pursuing ambitious projects at India’s expense, the type of dispensation in Islamabad is not of primary consequence. So India’s policymakers can entertain whatever fancies they like regarding Musharraf, as long as they are paying attention to what really matters.