December 24, 2010

Feckless in diplomacy

December 24, 2010 9:09:45 PM
G Parthasarathy

Secret US cables exposed by WikiLeaks raise serious doubts about whether India has any consistent policies in dealing with terror emanating from Pakistan

The WikiLeaks cables exchanged between Washington, DC and Islamabad have been immeasurably useful for Indians to understand the limitations in the support the Obama Administration can or will provide India as it confronts the challenges posed by terrorism unleashed by the Pakistani Army. They also raise doubts about whether our Government has indeed fulfilled its primary responsibility of ensuring that our armed forces are equipped, prepared and trained to respond swiftly, appropriately and effectively to provocations like the 26/11 strike in Mumbai. They will, hopefully, introduce a measure of long overdue realism in those who advocate that mere sweet words can convince the hard boiled Generals in Rawalpindi to shed their compulsive hostility towards India. But, as cables containing details of meeting with members of the Indian establishment become public, serious doubts and misgivings arise about whether New Delhi has any consistent policies in dealing with its western neighbour.

When the then US National Security Adviser Gen James Jones called on Defence Minister AK Antony on June 28, 2009 and raised the issue of dialogue with Pakistan, the latter responded: “Unless there is some tangible follow-up action by Pakistan against the perpetrators of the 26/11 attack, discussions with Pakistan will be difficult.” Gen Jones promised to take this up with the Pakistanis while adding there was “need to move forward on a broader strategy of building confidence and trust”. Barely a fortnight later, on July 16, Mr Manmohan Singh strangely agreed that “action against terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and these should not be bracketed”. What prompted this serous and unexplainable U-turn in policy within a fortnight? No one argues that we should shun all dialogue with Pakistan. But, at the same time, agreeing to unconditionally resume the ‘composite dialogue process’ without Pakistan fulfilling its assurances of ending terrorism against India emanating from territory under its control undermines our position on the centrality of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism

The Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement strangely noted that “Prime Minister Gilani mentioned that Pakistan has some information about threats in Balochistan and other areas”. Yet, the WikiLeaks documents reveal that when the issue of Balochi leaders like Brahmdagh Bugti, leading the uprising in Balochistan, operating out of Afghanistan was taken up by the Americans, President Hamid Karzai retorted: “Fomenting uprising does not make one a terrorist. The real terrorists are Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Afghanistan needs a sign that Pakistan will stop supporting these terrorists.” Responding to American queries about why Bugti was not being extradited to Pakistan, Mr Karzai asserted, “The Bugtis are not terrorists and represent nobility in Afghanistan, so it would be hard to hand them over to Pakistan.” Mr Karzai categorically rejected Pakistani allegations of Indian involvement in Balochistan, adding, “Pakistan will continue to think India is involved. There is lot of misinformation out there.” If Mr Karzai was so forthright on Balochistan, why has India been so defensive in debunking Pakistani accusations?

While the flip flops on dialogue with Pakistan have naturally drawn flak, India can look back with satisfaction on the firmness it has shown in dealing with developments in Afghanistan. In its early days the Obama Administration was persuaded by the arguments of Pakistani writers like Ahmed Rashid that it should appoint a special envoy to resolve differences between India and Pakistan on Jammu & Kashmir. New Delhi reacted decisively by debunking such talk and, thereafter, by rejecting visits to India by Richard Holbrooke during the course of his frequent visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke was forced to publicly clarify that his charter of responsibilities did not include India and his visits to New Delhi were for exchanging views on AfPak developments. In his meeting with Gen Jones last year, Mr Antony made it clear that India wanted that the international community’s operations in Afghanistan should succeed, adding, “India cannot, for a moment, imagine a Taliban takeover of its extended neighbourhood.” With Nato now clarifying that it intends to continue combat operations in Afghanistan till the end of 2014, there is a wider consensus in the US about the inadvisability of leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan which would lead to a Taliban takeover.

A recent report of the Centre for New American Security prepared by the former ISAF Commander in Afghanistan Gen David Bruno makes substantive recommendations for a modified American strategy in Afghanistan. The report realistically recognises that “the war in Afghanistan is unlikely to have a well-defined end with clear winners and losers”. It calls for restructuring governance in Afghanistan with more power devolved to provinces and districts. Moreover, it advocates a “responsible transition” which allows the US to “focus its resources in countering transnational terrorist groups based in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region”. Writing in the Foreign Affairs, Mr Robert Blackwill advocates that the US should stop talking of an “exit strategy” and adopt a long-term strategy of counter-terrorism in Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan, accepting that the Taliban will inevitably control most of southern and eastern Afghanistan, while undertaking “nation building” with support from Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and “supportive Pashtuns” in northern and western Afghanistan. He, however, adds that the US should continue to provide arms and intelligence to Pashtun tribal leaders ready to challenge Taliban hegemony.

Acknowledging that his strategy could result in a de facto partition of Afghanistan, Blackwill advocates the reduction of troop levels in Afghanistan to between 35,000 to 50,000 troops. He argues that “such a strategy would reduce Islamabad’s capacity to use the US ground role in southern Afghanistan to extract tolerance from Washington regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan”. What is interesting is that both these recent studies by prominent American analysts with firsthand knowledge of AfPak developments reject any possibility of rapid American withdrawal from Afghanistan as that would “trigger a global outpouring of support for jihadi ideology and increased terrorism against liberal societies more broadly”. Moreover, both reports acknowledge that Afghanistan can be ruled effectively only by traditional decentralised power structures and that effective action is required against “transnational terrorist groups”. India will have to focus its diplomatic efforts on securing international support for strategies that enable Afghans to run their country overcoming the pernicious ambitions of neighbouring Pakistan. This can happen only when Pakistan realises that it will have to pay a heavy price for its present policies of support for transnational terrorist groups.

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