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?

We don’t need no indecisive slobs (2)

Cite Pakistan’s failure and draw your favourite conclusion

What’s with editors of leading Indian newspapers? After Mr Gupta, the articulate Vir Sanghvi falls into the same trap: of declaring that democracy is better than dictatorship (linkthanks Pragmatic) and then tripping up while attempting to draw other conclusions. This time about the fates of states vis-a-vis their policy towards the United States.

There were only two major Asian countries that rejected the US prescription for development and foreign policy: India and China. And look where they are today. And look at America’s client states.

Of course, Nehru made mistakes. But can anybody really deny that the principal reason why India and Pakistan, once part of the same country, have followed such divergent paths is because of the choices both countries made in the years following independence?

At first, India’s priorities may have seemed (from a middle-class perspective) wrong-headed and muddled. Pakistan’s may have seemed glamorous and instantly gratifying. But, in the long run, we ended up as the superpower. And Pakistan as the failed state. [HT]

Leave aside that India is far from being a superpower. But citing Pakistan to prove that America’s ‘client’ states in Asia have done badly for themselves is shoddy analysis. Japan and South Korea too were American ‘client’ states in the second half of the twentieth century. Look where they are today. And look at us. South Korea, mind you, was a military dictatorship—much like Pakistan—for much of that time. That, it turns out, did not prevent it from jumping from a poor country to a rich one within the span of one generation. And then look at Taiwan and the other Asian Tigers—it turns out that pro-American states have done rather well for themselves.

Just as it is wrong to blame the United States for Pakistan’s failure, it is wrong to credit Nehru with India’s relative success. Assessing Nehru’s role in India’s development requires the space of several books. But one would think it reasonable to credit several hundred million ordinary people of India for doing little things right that contributed to their country being where it is. It is also reasonable to blame a small number of people for doing big things wrong that left India much behind what it could have been.

Pakistan’s situation could arguably be used to highlight the importance of democracy. But this is not an issue in India. But Mr Sanghvi appears to use it to justify a lot of things in omnibus. Therein lies the danger of comparing India to Pakistan. Almost anything will compare favourably. The irony is that Mr Sanghvi does this in an article that starts off by saying how the whole world, include Indians themselves, don’t make this comparison anymore.

The Turks who spied for Pakistan (and the Americans who aided them)

The bottom is not only foggy. It’s leaky

The Sunday Times finds Turks in the rabbit hole. Turkish intelligence agents paid senior American officials to get hold of nuclear technology related information, and passed this on to Pakistan’s ISI (and Israel). A Pakistani embassy official’s daughter worked as a translator at the FBI, equipped with a top secret securlty clearance. In addition to the well-known case of a plane-load of Saudi citizens that were allowed to leave the United States after 9/11, comes the revelation that a senior State department official managed to get a few of these agents released and repatriated after they were caught in the dragnet.

Sibel Edmonds, a whistleblower, has implicated “one well-known senior official in the US State Department” and an unstated number of “senior Pentagon officials—including household names”.

Update: Larisa Alexandrovna, over at The Huffington Post, does what The Sunday Times stopped short of: name names; and the BRAD Blog has more details; Lukery’s blog (mirrored on The Daily Kos) is also one of the places to go on this story.

Guest post: Benazir’s sacrifice changed little

In the bloody arc of history, is Ms. Bhutto’s murder truly as seismic as is being claimed?

by Primary Red

She’s been in political exile for over a decade. Her Washington influence is only of recent vintage. India has been lukewarm to her attempted return to power.

Her killing is clearly reprehensible. But it does little to change the dynamics among Pakistan’s real political powerbrokers. For them, she and her party were mere pawns and her martyrdom has changed nothing. Of the key players: the military, the ISI-jihadi nexus, Saudi Arabia, US, China, and India, the first three come out ahead. What’s new?
Continue reading “Guest post: Benazir’s sacrifice changed little”

What’s next for Pakistan

Some parties favour elections, political parties might not

Despite all the nice talk of ‘restoring democracy’ in Pakistan, the general elections of January 2008 were mostly about engineering a political outcome that would be acceptable to Gen Musharraf, tolerable to the more vocal sections of Pakistani civil society and amenable to carry out the United States’ agenda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Benazir Bhutto, who was killed yesterday, was by far the one candidate who could meet most of these requirements: needing work only in the acceptability to Musharraf bit. Given her general popularity, the thrust of the Pakistani military establishment’s political engineering effort was to ensure that her party didn’t win so many seats as to make her too powerful vis-à-vis Musharraf. It was in this context that she issued the rather undemocratic-sounding warning: that the elections results would be unacceptable to her if her party didn’t end up on top of the results tally.

With her assassination the ‘returning Pakistan to democracy’ project is suddenly confronted with the need to throw up another candidate, satisfying the three conditions are before, but with an additional constraint imposed by the January 8th election date.

Cancelling the elections is of course an option, and the leading political parties might even favour it. Bhutto’s PPP needs to find a leader who could benefit from the potential sympathy wave, but it’s not clear if a party organised around Bhutto’s personality can find one and regroup in time. Nawaz Sharif himself might now find himself the leading opposition figure, but his party will fear that a combination of the sympathy wave for the PPP and rigging by the Musharraf regime will severely affect its electoral results. Little wonder that it announced an immediate boycott. That’s a clear signal yet that it wants the elections postponed. The party that Musharraf created, Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), should be weighing its options: outside a few constituencies in Punjab, its provincial stronghold, it depends on rigging for seats. It stands to gain from Nawaz Sharif’s boycott, especially in Punjab. But it stands to lose from a pro-PPP sympathy wave. If its leadership prefers to err on the side of caution, the PML(Q) too would be in favour of delaying the elections.

Does this mean that elections will be postponed? Not quite. Because powerful quarters will want them to be held as scheduled. Continue reading “What’s next for Pakistan”

The evidence the CIA destroyed…

…might have incriminated Saudi and Pakistani governments in the 9/11 conspiracy

Over at The Huffington Post Gerald Posner reveals that the tapes that the CIA destroyed might have exposed the role of senior Saudi and Pakistani officials in the 9/11 attacks (linkthanks Swami Iyer). Because one of the tapes they destroyed concerned the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. As Posner first revealed in his 2003 book, Zubaydah’s capture was followed by the deaths of four people, three Saudi princes and one Pakistani air chief, within a few days of each other and under mysterious circumstances. And Zubaydah had named these very four people.

Zubaydah is the only top al Queda operative who has secretly linked two of America’s closest allies in the war on terror — Saudi Arabia and Pakistan — to the 9/11 attacks. Why does Bush, and the CIA, continue to protect the Saudi Royal family and the Pakistani military, from the implications of Zubaydah’s confessions? It is, or course, because the Bush administration desperately needs Pakistani and Saudi help, not only to keep Afghanistan from spinning completely out of control, but also as counterweights to the growing power of Iran. The Sunni governments in Riyadh and Islamabad have as much to fear from a resurgent Iran as does the Bush administration. But does this mean that leads about the origins of 9/11 should not be aggressively pursued? Of course not. But this is precisely what the Bush administration is doing. And now the cover-up is enhanced by the CIA’s destruction of Zubaydah’s interrogation tapes.

The American public deserves no less than the complete truth about 9/11. And those CIA officials now complicit in hiding the truth by destroying key evidence should be held responsible. [The Huffington Post]

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.