June 25, 2011

Hunker down

The upcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan should warn India against renewed tensions with Pakistan, analyzes N.V.Subramanian.


24 June 2011: There are no surprises in president Barack Obama's Afghanistan troops' withdrawal plans. While the Pentagon thinks he is aggressive about the drawdown, Obama looks likely to reorient his aggression against Pakistan. The US president says anti-American terrorists will meet Osama Bin Laden's fate, and he is pugnacious about it. And there seems likelihood of increased drone attacks against Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorist leaders in Pakistan from Afghan bases.

In other words, America is finally doing the unthinkable. It is going to target Pakistan for terrorism without declaring formal hostilities. Pakistan's nuclear weapons insofar as they are likely to fall into terrorists hands may also come under the closest American scrutiny ever. Anything can happen thereafter.

How is India to handle both the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan and America's growingly hostile Pakistan-centricity?

At the time of writing, details of the Indo-Pak foreign secretaries' talks, especially on Jammu and Kashmir, were publicly unavailable. So this piece will analyze the India position from the Af-Pak perspective, and take special note of the rising American anger towards Pakistan's duplicity on terrorism.

American withdrawal plans from Afghanistan were known in advance. Obama has merely stuck to the timetable, resisting Pentagon pressure to stay on indefinitely in Afghanistan. He has taken a political call as he seeks reelection, and he knows the risks.

But America is not turning its back on Afghanistan. Both Obama and foreign secretary Hillary Clinton have used unusually blunt language about Pakistan's perfidious truck with terrorism. Obama has reached a conclusion that American forces can do no more in Afghanistan but that the scourge of terrorism really lies across the border in Pakistan. In a small way, it is a vindication of this magazine and this writer's position.

Afghanistan is not so much a terrorist state as Pakistan. Pakistan needs to be punished for making terrorism state policy.

It would appear that the US has reached the limits of its patience with Pakistan, and that levels of acrimony with the Pakistani military-ISI-terrorist establishment will sharply rise. India must keep this in mind while engaging Pakistan in so-called peace talks.

The point of the peace talks (there can be no negotiations on J and K) would appear to be to strengthen the elected Pakistan government vis-a-vis the army-terrorist establishment and to undertake CBMs to remove misgivings of any perceived Indian hostile intentions. The point is badly taken.

America is the sole superpower. It has given more than $20 billion in aid to Pakistan since 9/11 to fight terrorism. If both these factors cannot dissuade the Pakistan military and intelligence establishment to effect distance with terrorists, what leverage has India to make this happen? Obviously, none at all.

In the circumstances, to expect that Indo-Pak peace talks will somehow strengthen the civilian government against the terror establishment is wishful thinking and gross misjudgment. And India's anxiety to have CBMs with Pakistan covering nuclear and conventional weapons will be construed by the military-terror establishment as appeasement, and its harsh consequences will follow.

There is absolutely no reason to make any concessions to Pakistan, assuming the Indian government is contemplating some, as L.K.Advani alleges. This is the time for India to hunker down against renewed Pakistani terrorism.

On the other hand, India must pitch negotiations with Russia and Iran in light of US withdrawal plans, and even perhaps broker a meeting of all the four states with huge stakes in Afghanistan.

China may feel left out. But it would need to convince it has genuine interest in Afghanistan's peace and stability and should pledge against resource extraction in that benighted country with Pakistan's assistance.

Hard times are returning to the neighbourhood. Pakistan faces an existential crisis. Without contributing to it, India must figuratively wall up on the west. While peace talks are welcome, this is not the moment for it.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor, www.NewsInsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs.

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