Iran gets hit by cross-border terrorism

Complicated, the matter is

One more country has joined the queue. “We have heard,” said Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Iran’s president, “that certain officials in Pakistan cooperate with main agents of these terrorist attacks in the eastern part of the country.”

The Iranian government summoned the Pakistani charge d’affaires in Teheran and protested against the use of Pakistani territory to launch the terrorist attack against Iran. The co-ordinated double strike at a Shia-Sunni reconciliation meeting in Sistan-Baluchestan province killed several tribal leaders and a number of senior military officers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Jundollah, a Pakistan-based Baloch-Sunni rebel group, claimed responsibility. Mr Ahmedinejad accused the Pakistani military establishment of supporting Jundollah. Ali Larijani, an influential Iranian leader and speaker of parliament, went further and called the attack “an outcome of US measures”.

Both Pakistan and the United States have denied responsibility for the attack. There is very little in the public domain about Jundallah. It does not help that there is another Pakistani Sunni outfit—possibly a joint venture of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen—by the name and which has figured in attacks within Pakistan. Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett write that “many experienced observers of US intelligence activities in Central and South Asia believe that US intelligence agencies have their own ties to Jundallah.”

There are several explanations for the attack: first, it was an attack by the Balochi-Sunni extremists against the Persian-Shia state. Second, it was an attack on the Republican Guard by Iranians opposed to the Khamenei-Ahmedinejad faction. Third, the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) instigated it to destabilise Pakistan’s relations with Iran by precipitating a crisis. Fourth, it was carried out at the behest of the United States to keep Iran under pressure. Fifth, it could well have been instigated by Iran’s Middle Eastern Arab-Sunni rivals—with the Pakistani military establishment acting as the midwife. Many of these explanations overlap.

In any event, there will be new pressure on the Pakistani government to act against anti-Iranian groups in Pakistan. While there is likely to be less public outrage in Pakistan against Iranian accusations, a crackdown against anti-Iranian groups—to the extent that the Pakistani government launches one—will risk a sectarian backlash. The likes of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other Sunni jihadi groups would target Pakistan’s Shia minority, not least in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan. Unless Iran is satisfied with mere promises of action, Iranian angle will add to Pakistan’s domestic woes.

It also complicates the relationship between the United States and Iran. Teheran will find itself in a dilemma: to counter what some see as a US campaign to destabilise the Iranian regime or to co-operate with US forces to tackle the Sunni jihadi threat emanating from Pakistan.

Rejecting Rebiya Kadeer’s visa application

…was a prudent and astute move by New Delhi

Rebiya Kadeer is indeed a remarkable woman. In recent weeks—not least due to China’s propaganda campaign to demonise her—she has emerged internationally as the best known symbol of Uighur separatism in China’s Xinjiang province. She has unequivocally advocated a non-violent political struggle, claimed that she is inspired by the Dalai Lama’s principles and is almost surely sustained by US government funding.

The Calcutta Telegraph reports that India has denied her a visa (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony via twitter). That is both prudent and astute. Whatever the merits of the Uighur cause, it is not in India’s interests to further escalate the level of direct antagonism with Beijing. Doing so would almost certainly draw attention away from the real faultline: between China and Turkic-Islamic world.

The ethnic riots in Xinjiang have caused a major rift in China’s relations with Turkey, after Receb Tayyib Erdogan, the popular Turkish prime minister, accused Beijing of conducting genocide and suggesting that it be taken up at the UN Security Council. China-Turkey bilateral relations are at a low. The Central Asian republics are also likely to be re-examining their own positions with respect to relations with China.

In contrast, the ‘Muslim world’ of popular imagination—the one that President Barack Obama spoke to in Cairo—has been conspicuously silent. Apart from a threat by a North African ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaeda, even the tapeworm and his traveling videographic studio has been silent about Chinese atrocities on Xinjiang’s Muslims. It is understandable that the regimes of such representatives of the ‘Muslim world’ as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran are beholden to Beijing but even the civil society in these countries has given China the pass. But if the Uighur unrest continues, it is likely that Islamabad, Riyadh and Tehran will be put in an uncomfortable but well-deserved position. [Update: Rohit Pradhan notes that “Death to China” chants were heard at Rafsanjani’s rally in Tehran]

India should let the issue play out among the direct and self-appointed stakeholders. Intervening in a way that China sees as unfriendly will only draw the heat away and give the megaphone-wielding, concern-expressing capitals of the ‘Muslim world’ an undeserved reprieve.

The issue of an Indian visa for Ms Kadeer is only of symbolic importance. If she wants to meet the Dalai Lama, she could catch up with him on his travels abroad.

My op-ed in Mint: Pakistan’s nuclear expansion

A less self-centred perspective

In today’s Mint I argue that at the margin, more warheads do not provide more security for Pakistan vis-à-vis India. So, an analysis of Pakistan’s motives must consider alternative explanations.

Bruce Riedel, who chaired US President Barack Obama’s policy review for Afghanistan-Pakistan, points out in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal that there have been “persistent reports of some kind of understanding between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for Islamabad to provide nuclear weapons to Riyadh if the Saudis feel threatened by a third party with nuclear weapons.” And although they both deny a secret deal, “rumours of one continue to surface as Iran gets closer to developing its own bomb”.

British journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, citing former senior US and Pakistani officials, write that the Saudis wanted the “finished product, to stash away in an emergency, and Pakistan agreed to supply it in return for many hundreds of millions of dollars”. Pakistan also brokered the transfer of the nuclear-capable CSS-2 missiles from China to Saudi Arabia in the late 1980s.

As Iran gets closer to building a nuclear arsenal, Saudi Arabia—the Iranian Shia theocracy’s geopolitical and ideological rival—is likely to seek a nuclear balance across the Persian Gulf. Using Pakistan to hold its arsenal in trust allows Saudi Arabia to stay clear of violating its non-proliferation commitments.

Now, even if Pakistan’s own insecurities with respect to its eastern neighbour are kept out of the calculation, Iran’s nuclearization suggests that Pakistan will have to build additional capacity for its Saudi Arabian partner. In other words, Pakistan is in a nuclear arms race all right—but it’s probably a West Asian one. [Mint]

Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East

China must act forcefully to stop North Korea and Pakistan from expanding their nuclear arsenals

The Obama administration tasted its first—and crunching—diplomatic defeat at the hands of the North Korean regime last week. After threatening to interdict North Korean ships, just about the only action the US government will take in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests is that the US navy will effectively merely tail those ships around, not stop, board or seize them.

Washington might be helpless in stopping North Korea from expanding its nuclear arsenal or periodically threaten its neighbours, but it can protect South Korea (and quite likely Japan) under the US nuclear umbrella. Yesterday, Mr Obama signaled just that. According to Yonsei University’s Chung Min Lee “This sent a strong signal to North Korea. The move should also allay concerns in some quarters that South Korea and Japan may need to pursue their own nuclear options.” Unfortunately, even this is insufficient to create a stable nuclear balance based on mutual deterrence.

The missing factor is China. Continue reading “Nuclear umbrellas in East Asia and the Middle East”

Why is Pakistan cranking up its nuclear weapons capacity?

Rather, who is it cranking up for?

Consider the following:

—There have been, as Bruce Riedel points out in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “persistent reports of some kind of understanding between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for Islamabad to provide nuclear weapons to Riyadh if the Saudis feel threatened by a third party with nuclear weapons.” And although they both deny a secret deal “rumours of one continue to surface as Iran gets closer to developing its own bomb.”

—After 9/11, the United States took steps to ‘secure’ Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which included transfer of technology to prevent their unauthorised use. The Acorn has previously argued that this suggests that Pakistan is likely to protect its nuclear autonomy by creating a second, more secret, and perhaps less secure arsenal. In a recent Times of India report, Chidanand Rajghatta points to a briefing document by the US Congressional Research Service which says that Pakistan has developed a “second strike capability”, and infers implications for the India-Pakistan nuclear balance. While the inferences are debatable, it supports the second arsenal hypothesis.

—A country in the middle of a long political and economic crisis, financial bankruptcy, several insurgencies and a war within its own borders, and clearly dependent on the international community for life support, is not only increasing its stockpile of fissile material for nuclear weapons, but also expanding its capacity to produce more. And until November 26th, 2008, Pakistan was still engaged in a ‘peace process’ with India.

—Given the subcontinental nuclear equation, it doesn’t matter to India if Pakistan has 60 warheads or 120, and whether or not it has a “second strike capacity”. Why has India built no new plutonium reprocessing plants—relatively simple projects that don’t need a lot of money and for which competent indigenous technology exists—in the last decade? The Pakistanis are not entirely oblivious to this, and recognise that the marginal utility of the additional capacity to produce nuclear weapons is very low. In other words, there’s little additional security to be had vis-a-vis India for the kind of investments they are making.

So why is Pakistan adding capacity?

Here’s a hypothesis: the additional capacity is partly meant for Saudi Arabia’s proxy arsenal that Pakistan manages in trust. It is linked to a Saudi-Iran nuclear balance and linked to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons capacity. The additional capacity is also meant to strengthen the “second arsenal”, because Pakistan fears that the first one is compromised either by US supervision, snatch plans or both.

What does this imply?

First, that there is a new nuclear arms race—not in the subcontinent, but between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Pakistan acting as the latter’s bomb factory.

Second, that because the US has been unable to fully ‘secure’ Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, it has caused Pakistan to build more warheads/capacity that has increased nuclear risks to yet unquantified levels.

Pragati February 2009: Pakistan needs a MacArthur

Here’s the February 2009 issue of Pragati, a special on Pakistan.

This issue argues that if a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan is in the common interests of India, the world’s major powers and indeed the wider international community, then it is incumbent upon them to engage in a MacArthur-like intervention to transform Pakistan. Merely providing more financial assistance, albeit under different budgetary heads, is unlikely to suffice. In fact, as our in-depth look at one of Pakistan’s biggest jihadi organisations suggests, the export of terrorism from the country is only likely to grow.

In a discussion on India’s options, we examine the role of the use of force; surgical strikes are a fallacy, but credible military capabilities are a necessity. And as the book extract shows, there is a need for skilful diplomacy to use external pressures to bring about internal changes in Pakistan.

In a second perspectives section, we review Pakistan’s relations with its key benefactors—the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and Europe—and highlight how the dynamics of these relationships are changing. The composite picture suggests that after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, and the arrival of the Obama administration, there is an opportunity for India to engage in bold, imaginative diplomacy to galvanise the international community to radically change Pakistan’s course.

Pragati – The Indian National Interest Review
Issue 23 – February 2009

Contents [Download 2MB PDF]

PERSPECTIVE

MacArthur should return
Only an international intervention can transform Pakistan
Nitin Pai

Pakistan 2020
Nine alternative futures
K Subrahmanyam, Pakistan Planning Commission, United States National Intelligence Council, Sohail Inayatullah, MD Nalapat, Nadeem Ul Haque, Stephen P Cohen, Rohit Pradhan & Harsh Gupta and R Vaidyanathan

FILTER

Essential readings of the month
Ravi Gopalan & Vijay Vikram

IN DEPTH

The assembly line of international terrorism
Why the threat from Jamaat-ud-Dawa is set to rise
Wilson John

PERSPECTIVE

Surgeries are messy
Surgical strikes are a conceptual fallacy and not a prudent option
Srinath Raghavan and Rudra Chaudhuri

Kind words and guns
Effective diplomacy needs credible military capacity
Sushant K Singh

Allies, not friends
The US and Pakistan will need to recast their awkward relationship
Dhruva Jaishankar

A flawed sense of security
The Saudi-Pakistan relationship, underpinned by opportunistic security interests, has run its course
Bernard Haykel

New dynamics of an all weather friendship
China’s influence in Islamabad has been subordinated to US priorities in the region
Zorawar Daulet Singh

Europe’s dilemma
Europe can do little in solving Pakistan’s problem
Richard Gowan

BOOKS

The logic of containment
Using external pressures to bring about an internal transformation
C Raja Mohan

An all-American dogma the size of Iran

The solution is staring at Barack Obama’s face—if he has the audacity to grasp it

It is good to hear General Petraeus acknowledge that Iran “had common interests with the United States and other nations in a secure Afghanistan.” Although he hinted that such interests might make talks with Iran feasible, he said he would leave the topic to diplomats and policy makers.

“I don’t want to get completely going down that road because it’s a very hot topic,” General Petraeus told a conference…Nonetheless, he said, “there are some common objectives and no one I think would disagree.”

Like the United States, Iran is concerned about the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the resurgence of extremists there, he said. “It doesn’t want to see Sunni extremists or certainly ultrafundamentalist extremists running Afghanistan any more than other folks do,” he said, while acknowledging that the United States and Iran have “some pretty substantial points of conflict out there as well.” [NYT]

And the most substantial point of conflict is Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Yet, it may well be that the best way to convince Iran to temper its quest for nuclear weapons might well be for the United States to engage it politically. After all, hostility with the United States and Israel is one key reason why Iran seeks those weapons (the Saudi Arabia-Pakistan nuclear nexus is another).

In fact, it is amazing how the US foreign policy establishment is thinking up options and throwing up names for special envoys without questioning whether the holy cow, or rather the holy taboo, of not engaging Iran is a position that has run its course (if it was ever tenable in the first place). If intellectual blinkers and dogma prevent US policymakers from considering the merits of engaging Iran, what prevents countries like India that would benefit from a US-Iran rapprochement from lubricating it? There is a need for strong, credible voices to support the likes of General Petraeus in helping the United States break the ice with Iran.

Aside: The word “ultrafundamentalist” now enters the lexicon thanks to General Petraeus. As for “ultrafundamentalist extremists”, now, there’s way too much redundancy built into that phrase.

Naval intervention foiled two hijack attempts

Double Hurray!

Yesterday’s operation by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden saved two ships: the Saudi Arabia-registered MV NCC Tihama, in addition to MV Jag Arnav. According to TOI’s Rajat Pandit:

INS Tabar, a Talwar-class guided-missile stealth frigate, was cruising in the Gulf of Aden at about 10 am when it got a frantic distress call from Saudi Arabian chemical and oil carrier NCC Tihama.

Tihamas call said two to three high-speed boats, with several armed men, were trying to hijack the ship which was headed westwards. An armed Chetak helicopter, with four marine commandos, was immediately launched from INS Tabar, said a senior Navy officer.

Even as the Chetak hovered over Tihama, the marine commandos opened fire with their automatic weapons at the pirates trying to board the Saudi tankship after surrounding it. Deterred by the fire, the pirates promptly turned tail and fled in their speedboats into Somali waters.

It was around this time10.30 am or sowhen the Chetak was still in the air, that INS Tabar received another SOS call. This time, the message was that Indian merchant vessel Jag Arnav—which is owned by the Mumbai-based Great Eastern Company and was eastward bound after transiting through the Suez Canal a few days earlier—was being ambushed by another band of pirates in two boats about 60 nautical miles east of Aden.

The Chetak was then diverted towards Jag Arnavs position, about 25 nautical miles away from INS Tabars location, with instructions to Tihama to follow the Indian frigate for safety.

There was no need to fire even warning shots this time. Seeing the helicopter approach Jag Arnav, which had a 25-member crew, the pirates promptly jettisoned their hijack plans and sped away, said the officer. [TOI]

As long as the anti-piracy forces are better-armed and equipped than the pirates, such operations will increasingly deter pirates from attacking their targets with impunity. A key task for international forces engaged in Somalia, as well as the flotilla that has assembled off its coast, is to prevent the pirates from acquiring more sophisticated weapons. Since the Puntland coast is awash with piracy-generated income, weapons transfers to the region must be watched very closely.

IMF to Pakistan’s rescue?

It looks like Pakistan will have to go in for an IMF rescue package to stave off a sovereign default. The countries who used to historically come to its aid—the United States, Saudi Arabia, China and the UAE—might even prefer it this way. In fact, according to one (rather inspired) news report, the United States made its support for even an IMF package conditional on Pakistan staying on the course in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The United States and Saudi Arabia are co-chairing the Friends of Pakistan club—but judging by the Richard Boucher’s comments, this forum will kick in to support the Pakistani economy after it is rescued by the IMF.

The Pakistani government is left with little choice but to negotiate an arrangement with the IMF (and such is the state of affairs that the IMF team has refused to travel to Islamabad due to fears over its security, choosing to meet in Dubai instead). After the post-rescue condition of the economies it rescued in the 1990s, the IMF’s rescues are something that economies, and most certainly their leaders, shudder to even think about.

Now it is possible that the IMF might have learnt from its previous mistakes and is today more sensitive to the political side-effects of its economy policy prescriptions. But beyond the hyperventilations of the Pakistani media about the ignominy of it, the Pakistani government is unlikely to want the IMF’s straitjacket—or any straitjacket—to constrain their hand, so that they could go about business as they have always done. But the straitjacket might hurt Pakistan in other ways:

A commitment to economic reform is the precondition for more money; Pakistan has been asked to reduce its fiscal and trade deficits, reduce its current and development expenditure, reduce its subsidies, and increase its tax-to-GDP ratio. These are all good, sensible measures that Pakistan needs to achieve stable medium-term growth. However, they are not enough. Pakistan must think long and hard about economic reforms that will incur the displeasure of western governments and the IFIs. Consider the case for capital controls. Dismantling barriers to the entry and exit of capital made Pakistan an attractive investment destination in the 21st century. While the world was awash in liquidity and investors were looking far and wide for opportunities to earn money on their capital, Pakistan basked in the glow of foreign money. However, the same mechanism that made it easy to quickly attract money has become a millstone around our necks now that the economic tide has reversed. So while reform is certainly needed, the government must avoid the temptation to simply follow foreign dictates once again. [Dawn]

Related Link: Simon Cameron-Moore explains the situation; Mosharraf Zaidi has an interesting op-ed on the role of bankers and bureaucrats in this context. And Ikram Sehgal calls for capital controls…on the hawala channel.

Pakistan awaits a bailout

And on the kindness of friends

Pakistan’s effective foreign exchange resources are down to US$3 billion—sufficient to cover about a month’s worth of essential imports. And other than a tranche of US$500m from the Asian Development Bank, it has received few firm promises. After Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s sovereign long-term foreign-currency rating to CCC+, with a negative outlook, it has become “the world’s riskiest borrower according to credit-default swap prices from CMA Datavision.”

The Friends of Pakistan, perhaps too preoccupied with the global financial crisis, have postponed this month’s scheduled meeting. Pakistan is sending a team to the United States, seeking US$10 billion of emergency assistance—at a particularly inopportune time. Even the Saudis—Pakistan’s traditional bailors—have stalled announcing the US$6 billion oil credit facility. The Saudis are very likely trying to teach the PPP government a lesson (even as they remain thick with Nawaz Sharif). There are no reports of China providing direct financial assistance. It is a member of the Friends of Pakistan group, and might lend through that channel.

The Pakistani government is attempting measures like securitising future remittances, but given its credit rating and the mood of the global financial markets, the success and the efficacy of such moes is likely to be limited. That leaves approaching the International Monetary Fund. But an IMF loan will come with the condition of an “intensive economic reform programme”. In Pakistan’s current political climate, trying to implement the kind of programme that the IMF will demand is a recipe for disaster.