Dropping more cash from helicopters

Change should not be another word for more of the same

Jim Hoagland’s piece on how the US should transform its Pakistan policy gets it exactly, precisely right.

And it is the case with the campaign promises of John McCain and Barack Obama to unleash ever-larger flows of U.S. taxpayer dollars to Pakistan as a way of bringing stability there and to win the global war on terrorism. They, too, would drop cash from helicopters to calm fears.

That same approach to Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf failed the Bush presidency, and it will fail new leaders in Washington and Islamabad as well. What is needed is a daring reformulation of U.S. policy toward South Asia.

Pakistan has created the world’s toughest foreign policy challenge. Its military and civilian governments have for decades profited from stirring tribal warfare in Afghanistan, then been too frightened of or complicit with their own fundamentalists to push for significant social change at home.

But Qureshi was persuasive when he outlined his determination to improve relations with India. His recent trips there convince him that the two nations must put aside hostility and help make each other rich: “We must capitalize on this opportunity.”

India’s growing economic power will leave its neighbor in the dust unless Pakistan becomes part of that prosperity. Pakistan’s future will be determined by its relations with India, not by increased U.S. aid or maintaining its support for tribal war in Afghanistan.

Recognizing and acting on that Indo-Pak reality — rather than perpetuating the illusion that the United States controls Pakistan’s fate — are the urgent tasks for new governments in Washington and Islamabad. [WP]

Clearly, the task is daunting because US policy must change Pakistani mindsets and attitudes. [See a review of Farzana Versey’s book at Pragmatic Euphony.] It certainly is a whole lot harder than dropping cash from helicopters. Moreover, as Joshua Foust writes, the dream of setting Pashtun tribes against each other is removed from reality, as it ignores the Islamist transformation of Pashtun society over the last three decades.

Change must come from within Pakistan. It is in the United States’ interests to make it happen. For India’s part, instead of focusing on peripheral, irrelevant projects like military lines on glaciers or bus services in Kashmir, a real peace process would strategically engage the sources of economic power across the border.

More on India’s military presence in Afghanistan

Over at Broadsword (linkthanks Pragmatic, Rohit), Ajai Shukla makes a curious case against India strengthening its military presence in Afghanistan.

To now throw troops into what will inevitably become a bloody struggle for power risks smudging India’s benevolent image.

Instead, Indian planners should be considering that, perhaps three years along, US and NATO forces may pull out of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai would be history, and Afghanistan itself divided into different zones of control. In that Afghanistan, India’s physical presence may well be reduced to zero. The ITBP would have pulled out; development projects would have shut down; elements politically hostile to India may well control large parts of the country; the embassy and India’s consulates may well have closed shop. This is what happened in 1996; today, only American and European support—fickle, and already wavering—prevents a return to that time.

But despite those threats, and the occasional cross-border foray, western forces in Afghanistan can hardly influence events in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Only the Pakistan army can do that, but remains unwilling to….The army brass in Pakistan—which will eventually have the final word on this—has not yet come round to accepting that the military has little choice but to transform the NWFP from a sanctuary to a battlefield.

Without that realisation in Rawalpindi, a couple of years more of rising casualties in Afghanistan could well trigger a US and NATO pullout.[Broadsword]

Now, one part of Mr Shukla’s argument is reasonable: that it is crucial for India to consider the effect its level of military presence has on the local population. It is difficult to fathom the logic of the rest of his arguments.

Mr Shukla underestimates the US commitment to win the war in Afghanistan. Far from even talking about cutting and running, both presidential candidates have committed to reinforce American military presence in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is upping the ante in the Afghan theatre. If the situation can be cast as a battle of resolves, then a “realisation in Rawalpindi” is more likely than a pullout by the United States.

In this situation, the prospect of India deploying more troops to Afghanistan can change the strategic calculations of the Pakistani brass. As Lieutenant-General (retired) Talat Masood writes, the Pakistani army continues to think that the Taliban can be used as frontline options against US troops along the Durand Line (just as it uses jihadis against the Indian army). But the prospect of Indian troops joining the fray, albeit in Afghan territory, would discourage the Pakistani army from pursuing this course. And even if it doesn’t, it still makes sense for India to prevent Pakistan from repeating its 1996 performance in Afghanistan, one that had severe consequences for India’s national security.

Believing and acting on a pessimistic prognosis might well bring it about. Far from discarding the military option out of pessimism or concern for the erosion of ‘soft power’, it is important to keep it on the table.

The road that India built

…in Afghanistan

Zaranj-Delaram Map

The 218-km road connecting Delaram (on the Kandahar-Herat highway) to Zaranj, on the border with Iran has been completed (via Swami Iyer). The strategic importance of this road—as news reports never fail to mention—is to provide landlocked Afghanistan an alternative access to the sea, allowing it to break free from Pakistan’s traditional stranglehold.

Since this route passes through several hundred kilometres of Iranian territory before connecting to Chabahar on the Persian Gulf, it remains to be seen if Iran will prove to be a better neighbour than Pakistan. From a purely economic standpoint though, Afghanistan should benefit from the competition between the two routes.

There is a lot of hope pinned on this alternative route. For Afghanistan, this is an opportunity to regain better access to the Indian market that it lost in 1947. For India, it is an opportunity to regain better access to Central Asia that it too lost in 1947. To the extent that Pakistan remains wedded to its traditional strategic rent-seeking behaviour it is likely to attempt to foil these plans. And as the attack on the Indian embassy has shown, it remains wedded to old tactics as much as it is to old strategies.

This being so, it is strange that the India should be considering withdrawing four companies (around 400 personnel) of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police currently deployed in Afghanistan. There is a case for a robust Indian military presence in Afghanistan; with force levels carefully calibrated, on the one hand to secure Indian interests, and on the other, to avoid being seen by the local population as an ‘occupying’ force. Reducing India’s military presence at a critical phase in Afghanistan’s counter-insurgency war is uncalled for at this stage.

Strange stories on the LoC

Pakistani soldiers get killed…by jihadis

Last week Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air-strike by US forces in the Mohmand Agency, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

And yesterday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir…by jihadis, who, it is suspected, failed to cross over to the Indian side.

Allies are killing Pakistani soldiers on both sides.

A lesson in statecraft, for Mr Varadarajan

Nepal is Nepal, and India is, well, India

“If the Indian Maoists have something to learn from their Nepali comrades,” Siddharth Varadarajan argues, “the same is true of the Indian establishment as well. While Nepal’s erstwhile ruling parties are building peace with their Maoists, India is stuck with the disastrous Salwa Judum.”

Now the use of Salwa Judum by Chattisgarh is wrong, and is the most obvious indicator of the UPA government’s failure to develop a cohesive strategy towards subduing the Naxalite movement. But it is also important to remember that Salwa Judum is a relatively new phenomenon (India’s Naxalites have been around for almost four decades) and is restricted to just one state. So to equate India’s long war against the Naxalite movement is more misinformation than analysis. Mr Varadarajan ignores the anti-Naxalite strategies adopted in other states and at other times. For instance, under Chandrababu Naidu’s chief-ministership, the Andhra Pradesh police almost broke the Naxalites’ back. That advantage was lost not because the use of force by state authorities didn’t work. It was lost because the Congress Party decided to lower the heat and attempt negotiations. The Maoists used the opportunity to regroup and before long, returned to their armed struggle.

But what of Mr Varadarajan’s lesson in statecraft, from Nepal to India? Well, he argues

“If the Indian establishment wants the Maoists to give up their armed struggle and take part in elections like their Nepali comrades, it will have to rely on more than political osmosis. For the Nepali ‘model’ is not just about the Maoists adapting creatively to changes in the national and international arena; it is equally about the ‘bourgeois’ parties there demonstrating a degree of statesmanship that has so far been completely absent in their counterparts south of the border.

Indeed, so backward is our political culture in relation to Nepal’s that instead of seeking ways of peacefully ending the naxalite insurgency, the Government of India has actually fuelled a new civil war.

In Nepal, the political parties and the Maoist rebels realised that the civil war in their country would not be resolved militarily. The king was the only one who failed to recognise this reality and paid the price for his folly. In India, however, despite the military stalemate which prevails, both the establishment and the Maoists continue to believe in the supremacy of arms.” [The Hindu]

Mr Varadarajan, like some other people who write in the opinion pages of the Hindu betrays a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Indian state. He fails to understand the fundamental difference between legitimacy of a democratic republic and that of a sometimes-absolute, sometimes-constitutional monarchy. Even if one were to ignore the immense differences in the state’s hard capacity—in the ability to muster up economic and military resources—the government of India enjoys a moral strength (of course, the Naxalites and their apologists will deny this) that no government of Nepal ever had. [See There are alternatives to Naxalism]

In other words, unlike Nepal, the Indian state won’t simply lie down and surrender. Here Mr Varadarajan would do well to learn some lessons from Indian history: in the end, it is the insurgents who cry Momma. The second lesson for Mr Varadarajan is that the democratic nature of the Indian state allows these militarily defeated insurgents to honourably enter mainstream politics.

Indeed, Mr Varadarajan might discover the ultimate lesson of statecraft were he to examine how Nepal’s Maoists came to power. Narratives of Indian pusillanimity apart, does he really believe that Pushpa Kumar Dahal would be so close to political power, and legitimacy, if the ‘Indian establishment’ hadn’t allowed it?

It is not as if negotiations haven’t been tried in India. They have. That they have not led to the Naxalites dropping dogmatic armed struggle and entering mainstream politics tells you where the problem lies. It is understandable that Mr Varadarajan is heady with vicarious triumphalism due to the success of Nepal’s Maoists. He should restrict himself to savouring the moment. As for lessons in statecraft, there’s a lot that Maoists—on either side of the India-Nepal border—have to learn.

If India asks America to run Kashmir

Some more departures into the unthinkable

If their mandate is to think the unthinkable, then Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon are making a good job of it over at the Brookings Institution. In November last year, they wrote an op-ed in the New York Times outlining how the United States might have to confiscate Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and fly them to New Mexico. And now, in a policy brief arguing for the US to increase the size of its armed forces, they construct a scenario wherein American troops may have to enter Kashmir.

Responding to War over Kashmir What if war breaks out between Pakistan and India over Kashmir? U.S. interests in Kashmir are not great enough to justify armed intervention on one side in such a war, and no formal alliance commits us to step in. There are other ways in which foreign forces might become involved, however. If India and Pakistan came close to using, or actually used, nuclear weapons, they might consider what was previously unthinkable (to New Delhi in particular)—pleading to the international community for help. For example, they might ask the international community to run Kashmir for a period of years in order to prevent a nuclear war that would kill tens of millions, shatter the tradition of nuclear non-use so essential to global stability, and make Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal vulnerable to extremists.

What might a stabilization mission in Kashmir entail? The region has about half of Iraq’s population and area. That suggests initial stabilization forces of about 100,000, with a U.S. contribution of 30,000 to 50,000. The mission would make sense only if India and Pakistan blessed it, so there would be little point in deploying a force large enough to defeat one of those countries. But, robust monitoring of border regions, as well as counter-insurgent and counter-terrorist strike forces, would be necessary. [Brookings]

Now, Kagan and O’Hanlon are entitled to think of far out challenges, even if they are too far out and contain too many leaps of logic. But it is remarkable that they should think that a force of just 100,000 troops is sufficient for stabilisation, even of the ‘initial’ kind. There are far more than that number today just on India’s side of the Line of Control. And what about troop levels after the initial period? They don’t say. Perhaps that’s because doing so will not fit their conclusion—that the US needs at least another 100,000 active duty soldiers and marines. Indeed, that’s the greatest weakness in their analysis: for the kind of global policing role they envisage for the US, they grossly underestimate the numbers of troops required. For all the advances in military technology, the business of holding territory is a numbers game. To acquire the capability to match its intentions, the US needs to put many times more than number in uniform.

The irony is if Kagan and O’Hanlon were to argue for, say, 300,000 more troops, no one will take them seriously. For that is truly unthinkable in America.