Painted buses and $300m of Pakistan’s ‘own money’

Another terrible report by Emily Wax

It is one thing to say that “Pakistan is pouring $300 million into Afghanistan”. It is entirely another to say that “Pakistan is pouring $300 million of its own money“. It is absurd to talk about Pakistan’s own money when it is bankrolled by the United States and the international community. Even if it’s elite didn’t stow away their cash in Dubai, London and other places, and actually paid their taxes and power bills, it is absurd to talk about $300 million of Pakistan’s own money as long as it is receiving that much or more in foreign aid.

Money is fungible. So the $300 million is quite likely to be some poor American taxpayers’ hard-earned money used to paint a few buses in the colours of the Pakistani flag. Not all of it, mind you, and quite possibly not even the majority of it, unless you happen to believe—like Barack Obama—that there is no corruption east of the Durand line.

Yet the sheer folly of the use of the phrase “Pakistan’s own money” is relatively mild compared to the overall message today’s report in the Washington Post seeks to convey. That message goes somewhat like this: India’s development assistance (mind you, not military presence or those ‘consulates’) “is causing new security and diplomatic problems” for US officials, because Washington “fears upsetting the delicate balance in its relations with Islamabad”. Pakistan is responding—apart from the case of providing some buses emblazoned with its flags—by killing Indian development workers. The unstated, but obvious, implication is that it is India that is causing problems for the United States in Afghanistan.

The Post‘s Emily Wax outdoes herself. Yes, this is the same person who asserted that the demands made on television by the ‘gunmen’ who carried out the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai reflected their real agenda; and the same person who was surprised to find that Indians do not follow Mahatma Gandhi’s dress code.

Strangely enough, other than those US officials and the Pakistani diplomat, the Afghan blokes interviewed only had nice things to say about India’s role. Like Sayed Arif, a young Afghan electrical engineer. “We very much want the Indians here,” Arif said, looking out at the power lines that India brought to his country. “That much in Afghanistan we are sure of.”

If US officials believe that what ordinary Afghans want in their own country is a problem, what it really means is that the US officials are the problem. Unless Ms Wax was attempting a satirical critique of US policy in Afghanistan, she has completely missed the plot.

Arms control, Enron style

It’s not a New START. It’s a False START.

It’s funny. The United States (and Russia) agree that when placed on bomber aircraft, as many as twenty warheads count as one. They then announce that the New START treaty has reduced the binding caps on deployed warheads by 30% and congratulate themselves. The New York Times helpfully informs us that the “history of arms control is replete with quirky counting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and the “New Start” treaty completed last week is no different.”

That’s like saying that the history of Wall Street is replete with quirky accounting rules that do not easily correspond to reality on the ground, and Enron is no different.

The experts it quotes do a much better job in describing this scam.

“It’s creative accounting,” said Pavel Podvig, a longtime arms researcher from Russia who is now on leave from Stanford University. “They found a way of making reductions without actually making them, and they were happy to accept that because nobody wanted to go to more serious measures.”

“On paper, the White House has been saying it’s a 30 percent cut in warheads” said Kingston Reif, deputy director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. “Well, it is on paper. But when you break it down, you see that the cut isn’t quite as significant.”

Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Mr. Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia’s 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190. [NYT]

Let’s put this in perspective: under the New START treaty the number of US warheads “not counted” is around the same as China’s entire nuclear arsenal.

Just remember this the next time Mr Obama gives a rousing speech on nuclear disarmament. At this time though, White House officials are apparently engaged in trying to justify why nuclear warheads on bombers are somehow more okay than nuclear warheads on missiles. Will they accept this reasoning if it came from Tehran?

Related Links: Marko Beljac at The Nuke Strategy Wonk and Pavel Podvig at his Russian strategic nuclear forces blog

The absurdity of scolding Karzai about corruption

Barack Obama’s appalling habit of kicking his allies

So he flew 13 hours non-stop to Kabul to personally scold his host about not doing enough to tackle corruption in Afghanistan.

You will be forgiven for thinking that Barack Obama’s host, Hamid Karzai, didn’t have to worry about taliban types conducting brazen urban warfare right in the middle of Kabul city, or managing a tenuous web of relationships with warlords aligned against the Taliban. And you don’t have to condone corruption to understand that in a near-anarchic war-zone, with a barely visible state apparatus, the use of term ‘corruption’ itself is debatable. The fight in Afghanistan is about putting in place a state where it would make sense to use the word ‘corruption’ in the same manner as you would in Sweden or California, but for that to happen, one side—the desirable side—must prevail over the other, undesirable side. Until that time, it’s absurd to talk about anti-corruption.

What makes it worse is that President Obama, in the amateurish manner that has become his hallmark—witness the Netanyahu episode—chose to publicly undermine the credibility of the one person whose legitimacy is critical for the success of the US enterprise in Afghanistan. Lectures on tackling corruption need not have been released to the international media. Perhaps Mr Obama was playing to his home crowd. But then, it’s pretty easy to score points by kicking your ally in the groin. Pashtuns—and not just Mr Karzai—have long memories.

Mr Obama’s grandstanding is all the more ironic because, despite providing the funds, the United States is primarily responsible for the weakness of the Afghan government. By refusing to route funds through the Afghan government, not only did the Washington deprive the local government of capacity, it deprived it of legitimacy as well.

There is little on practical grounds to suggest that corruption is big enough an issue for Mr Obama to chastise Mr Karzai so publicly. What about principle, then? Well, if it is principle, it seems to be a very geography-specific type, constrained by the Durand Line. All that aid to Pakistan and no lectures on corruption at all? If Hamed Wardak’s NCL Holdings transports US military containers, so does Pakistani army’s NLC. If NCL finances shady types to ensure that the trucks reach their destination, so does the NLC. [See this post on how the racket works from Karachi to Khyber] Yet Mr Obama has not let it be known that he brought up the issue of corruption with President Asif Ali Zardari or General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

It is no secret that there is no love lost between Mr Obama and Mr Karzai (and there is none between Richard Holbrooke and Mr Karzai). But allowing personal chemistry to cloud an important relationship is a sign of political immaturity. Perhaps Mr Obama has decided that Mr Karzai is irrelevant to US policy in Afghanistan. If so, that would be an expensive mistake.

Young Americans like India more

The mutual popularity of India and United States

Results from Gallup’s latest Country Favourability poll (linkthanks Rohit Pradhan) show that India continues to be among the most popular countries in the United States. There’s been a slight decline in percentage of respondents who rated India positively—from 69% in 2008 to 66% in 2010—but this is part of an overall trend affecting other countries too. Either US public opinion is seeing the world a little less favourably (hey, even Canada —Canada!—dropped 2%) or it’s something to do with statistics.

Notably India is more popular with younger Americans—76% in the age group of 18-34, 67% in the age group of 35-54 but only 60% among people 55 years or older. That holds promise for the future.

The love is more than reciprocated. Pew Global Attitudes survey results over the last few years show that the United States’ popularity in India has been steadily rising since 2006, and last year stood at a record high of 76% among those surveyed.

But does the United States’ popularity suggest an endorsement of the US leadership? The Pew survey suggests that Indians have more confidence in President Obama than in President George W Bush (77% vs 55%); but a Gallup poll shows that their approval ratings fell in the same period (from 31% in 2008 to 26% in 2009). Different surveys, different questions yes, but to the extent that the questions are related, the responses point in opposing directions.

President Obama’s campaign rhetoric (remember the reference to Bangalore and that bit about appointing a special envoy for Kashmir?) and policy agenda in his first year (approach to China, Af-Pak policy) might have contributed to increase in Indian disapproval. On the other hand, his persona might have caused Indians, like their American counterparts, to have greater confidence in his leadership.

From the archive: March 2008: 7 in 10 Americans think favourably of India (what happened to the other three?)

Obama’s quasi-ultimatum to Pakistan

Okay, it’s a strong prod

In his opening remarks at the first Takshashila Executive Programme on Strategic Affairs, hosted by the National Maritime Foundation yesterday (wire report) (pic), K Subrahmanyam noted that the India media has ignored reports of how the Obama administration has put the squeeze on Pakistan asking it to jettison its duplicitousness with respect to jihadi groups. He chided Indian strategic analysts for assuming—on the basis of a lack of public statements over what the Obama administration intended to do about Pakistan—that Washington didn’t actually have a well-considered plan.

Today’s report in the New York Times supports Mr Subrahmanyam’s argument.

The Obama administration is turning up the pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban inside its borders, warning that if it does not act more aggressively the United States will use considerably more force on the Pakistani side of the border to shut down Taliban attacks on American forces in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said.

The blunt message was delivered in a tense encounter in Pakistan last month, before President Obama announced his new war strategy, when Gen. James L. Jones, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, met with the heads of Pakistan’s military and its intelligence service.

United States officials said the message did not amount to an ultimatum, but rather it was intended to prod a reluctant Pakistani military to go after Taliban insurgents in Pakistan who are directing attacks in Afghanistan. [NYT]

Well, it looks like the Obama administration’s answer to the question this blog has been asking for the past year is: drone strikes and ground-based covert operations deep inside Pakistani territory.

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.”

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.

Mubarack O?

President Obama has many real crises that he must handle. Kashmir is not one of them.

So Barack Obama waited until the very last stage of the campaign before actually revealing what exactly he had in mind when he said he wanted to “facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis”. He meant that the United States would appoint a “special envoy”—that unhappy graveyard of diplomacy, given their record of failure—to “figure out a plausible approach”.

…and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing, why do you want to keep n being bogged down with this particularly at a time where the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan boarder? I think there is a moment where potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.

Q. Sounds like a job for Bill Clinton.

A. Might not be bad. I actually talked to Bill, I talked to President Clinton about this when we had lunch in Harlem. [Joe Klein/Swampland/TIME]

If the good Indian-Americans at USINPAC had heard that before—and Mr Obama’s campaign probably made sure they didn’t—they might have had something different to say. That apart, what Kashmir crisis? In a world that’s not short of events that fit that description, Kashmir—even after this summer’s incidents—is not in crisis. So Mr Obama would do well to “devote serious diplomatic resources” to places where there really is a crisis. Like the geographical region to the West of the India-Pakistan border. The special envoy could walk any distance westwards from the Line of Control and find any number of crises that he needs to solve rather urgently.

In fact, for a platform that emphasises change, Mr Obama’s ‘Kashmir thesis’ is a remix of an old idea that didn’t ever work. [See these older posts] In the current geopolitical and geoeconomic situation, it’s even less likely to work. In fact, the special envoy might be told that “you guys are on the brink of not being an superpower, why do you want to keep on messing with this?”

But the Indian reaction can be more sophisticated. New Delhi could welcome a special envoy and have meetings with him in exotic locations around the subcontinent. (Clocking frequent flier miles comes with the job of being a special envoy). In the best case, it won’t achieve much beyond what is already taking place bilaterally between India and Pakistan. What is more likely though, is that it will create false hopes among sundry separatists and delay Kashmir’s return to normalcy.

If Mr Obama really wants change, he’d do well to tell the Pakistanis to stop worrying about the wishes of the Kashmiri people and start worrying about their own. He doesn’t actually have to tell them, though, because that’s what they are doing these days anyway.

The business of attempting to increase America’s popularity in Pakistan by getting involved in solving Kashmir has run its course. Getting involved in the Kashmir dispute is unlikely to assuage Pakistani opinion as long as the US continues to carry out attacks in Pakistan. But Mr Obama must realise that if the United States does not try to keep India on its side in Afghanistan, it’ll have no one left. That’s something that the Indian government must impress on America’s new president at the very outset.

Update:Mint’s Samanth Subramanian quotes from this post as he looks for the pulse of the Indian blogosphere.