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Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Obama’s Af-Pak Strategy

US President Barack Obama revealed the much anticipated “Af-Pak” strategy today in Washington.  The text of the speech is certainly more candid than previous Bush-era speeches.  But how different is this strategy really to what has already been tried and tested?

“So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just. And to the terrorists who oppose us, my message is the same: We will defeat you.”

Notice how the “clear and focused” goal makes no mention of the Taliban.  The goal now appears to be to aggressively pursue and incapacitate al Qaeda in the region.  On the face of it, rendering al Qaeda inoperable is no different from GWB’s own strategy; the one difference now is that the US has “boots on the ground” and is far less reliant on assistance  from the ISI.  Why wasn’t the Taliban mentioned? Well, because it gives the United States enough wiggle-room to play the “divide and conquer” game that the West has played so well in Asia and Africa:  i.e., play the  “good” Taliban against the “bad” Taliban.  Pit Mullah Omar against Baitullah Mehsud.  And Baitullah Mehsud against Maulana Fazlullah.  This strategy is going to be challenged in the coming weeks, as Mullah Omar and Mehsud appear to have patched up their differences, as reported in The New York Times.

The plan to go after al Qaeda and the “bad” Taliban without prior Pakistani consent was implemented in November 2008 and will continue to be part of Obama’s Af-Pak strategy.  The added goal of holding Pakistan accountable to action reflects Washington’s exasperation with Pakistan’s double handed game, something that India knows all too well. The United States’ strategy towards Pakistan will basically include:

  • Extending non-military aid by way of the Kerry-Lugar bill ($1.5 billion) and through other international fora.  A bad idea, as the lack of transparency in the dissemination of funds invariably results in Pakistan using the money to arm itself against India, or grease politicians’ pockets;
  • Pressuring India to take the initiative in restarting the “peace process” with Pakistan;
  • Working with Gen. Kayani on coordinating attacks in NWFP and Baluchistan, while paying lip-service to the civil government and democracy.

In Afghanistan, Obama will deploy an additional 17,000 troops to counter the insurgency, particularly in Helmand province, where the British have been taking heavy fire.  In addition, there will be another 4,000 troops designated to train Afghani security forces to counter the “uncompromising core of the Taliban”, basically the Taliban who refuse to be bought by the US.

The forging of the “Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan”, whose members include the US, several Arab states, Central Asian republics, Russia, China, Iran and India shows a shift from the NATO/”coalition of the willing” dominated mandate of GWB’s policies.  How effective this new contact group will be will remain to be seen, but there now appears to be a realization in Washington that the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be decided without consensus from regional powers like Iran and India.  In the past, because of Washington’s allergy to Iran, the Islamic republic was never consulted on Afghanistan.  Similarly, because of Pakistan’s objections, India was never consulted on either Pakistan or Afghanistan.  The thinking has clearly changed.

However, the gaping hole in the Af-Pak strategy is the exclusion of Punjabi terror outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayiba.  These groups present a clear and direct threat to Washington’s goal of strengthening civilian government in Pakistan and to security in India.  Whether because they were blind sighted by the situation in NWFP (unlikely) or because of Pakistan’s insistence, these groups were not included as part of the Obama administration’s strategy.  The exclusion of these groups in the US’s Af-Pak strategy is a perpetuation of the fallacies of the Bush era.

Which brings me back to my original question — what is Obama’s real objective in Af-Pak? Is it to keep things relatively quiet in Pakistan for a period of time to allow the US to affect a less than ignominious exit from Afghanistan?  Or is it to comprehensively engage with the Pakistanis to eradicate terrorism from the region and build a credible and stable civilian government?  If it is the latter, it cannot be achieved without Washington’s committment to act against terror groups that operate in heartland Pakistan.  Despite utterances to the contrary, the US’s strategy seems to betray an intention to use and dispose of Pakistan, much like it did after the Soviet-Afghan war.  An “Af-Pak” strategy is fine.  But the question on Indian security analysts’ minds will be: “To what end?”

Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, helmand, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba, NWFP, Pakistan, Terrorism

12 Easy Steps to Destroy India: A Handguide

Well really, there’s just 1 easy step to destroy India: have the UPA government hire R Vaidyanathan as chief strategist in the fight against terrorism. He will swiftly ensure that the anarchy in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan will spread like cancer to eastern Pakistan, and then eventually to all of India as well. Vaidyanathan wrote 8 things India Inc, govt must do against Pakistan“, a masterfully crafted economic and strategic treatise, and followed that up with “12 steps to shock-and-awe Pakistan’s economy” the very next day, apparently in response to overwhelming feedback to the first article. Nothing will ensure India’s discombobulation faster than the implementation of some of his plans.
Vaidyanathan’s proposed assaults on Pakistan’s economy include the following gems:

Identify the major export items of Pakistan (like Basmati rice, carpets, etc) and provide zero export tax or even subsidise them for export from India. Hurt Pakistan on the export front.

Create assets to print/distribute their currency widely inside their country. To some extent, Telgi types can be used to outsource this activity. Or just drop their notes in remote areas.

I fail to see how this is going to make matters better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things could get much worse. It is a fact that terrorist organizations like LeT and Al Qaeda prey on frustrated, impoverished, disenfranchised youth for recruitment. By his own admission, Ajmal Amir, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, was a laborer and a petty thief before being recruited by the Lashkar. There is a history of young men living under conditions of unemployment, poverty and helplessness turning to terrorism. It’s no surprise that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (one of the world’s fastest growing unemployment rates, at 12%) and Yemen (unemployment rate of 35%). I bring this up because India’s economic muscle is very real, and can inflict substantial damage on Pakistan’s economy. Nothing will please the Lashkar more, since hordes of Ajmal Amirs will be lining up outside their recruitment offices in Muridke, in much the same way that Indians line up to work for Infosys or Wipro.

But wait, it gets better. Vaidyanathan continues…

We should realise that a united Pakistan is a grave threat to the existence of India. Hence, we should do everything possible to break up Pakistan into several units. This is required to be done not only for our interest, but for world peace.

Not only for our interest, but for world peace? How very benignant of him. Pakistan as a federation is already teetering on the brink of collapse. There is already a struggle going on in Baluchistan. In Swat, Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban against the imposition of a parallel Sharia law. South Waziristan has unilaterally declared independence, which the government in Islamabad has tacitly accepted. The “real” Pakistan now exists only in Sindh and Punjab, and even in Sindh there are several secessionist movements.

If Pakistan as a federation falls, the whole area from Helmand province in Afghanistan to Wagah will be in a state of anarchy. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, and India will be ill equipped to handle the influx of refugees from this region. Worse, once in India and bereft of any viable employment opportunities, many of these refugees may turn to theft and militancy. One only has to look at the Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan to get a sense of what to expect, if it were to occur in India. Secondly, and more importantly, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The threat of rouge Army officers, and/or ISI agents in cahoots with their Al Qaeda, LeT and JeM buddies launching attacks on India with those weapons is very real. To ward off such a possibility, Indian troops, along with US and NATO forces will be forced to enter into mainland Pakistan in search of the weapons, where our troops will get summarily slaughtered in close combat situations à la the US in Iraq. It takes only five minutes for a nuke from Pakistan to hit India. How soon can India’s forces track down and decommission Pakistan’s warheads?

India has already shown, post-Kargil, that it does not have the appetite to go after Pakistan unilaterally.  Indeed, off-late, India’s strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan appears to be to make the United States do its bidding in Pakistan — a bungling miscalculation, since the US itself is tied down by its own compulsions in the Afghan-Pakistan border.  India has not articulated a credible strategy towards Pakistan.  Relying on the US somewhat to use its influence on Pakistan is fine, as long as it is only part of a coherent, multidimensional strategy that India, as a soverign, independent nation adapts, taking into consideration its own national interests.  Flexing India’s economic muscle is also fine, as a means to an end — the end being the ultimate termination of anti-India militant forces in Paksitan, and not the capitulation of the state of Pakistan itself, as proposed by Vaidyanathan.

India must make it clear to Pakistan that it has multiple non-military arsenal in its inventory that it can use to bleed Pakistan, in the same way that Pakistan, implicitly or explicitly, aims to hurt India.  For example, India should make it clear that it is willing to violate the Indus Water Treaty, and severely or completely choke the westward flow of the Chenab, dealing a blow to Pakistan’s agricultural output for domestic consumption and external trade.  Similarly, India should be able to affect a de facto deep water import blockade of the port of Karachi, ostensibly with an intent to ward off pirate activity from the Horn of Africa. A substantial volume of import trade with Pakistan, will then need to originate from or be routed to the Arabian Penninsula, from smaller ports in Muscat or Sharjah; smaller trade volumes means increased per-unit costs of imports.

If in the future, India is to be the global force that many are predicting it to be, then Pakistan’s stability will be vital to the fulfillment of that prophecy. An unstable Pakistan will mean an unstable India. Rather than seeking to destroy and disintegrate Pakistan, India must work to ensure that its voice is heard in Pakistan.  India’s sphere of infleuence must effectively include, not exclude Pakistan.  Any carrot-and-stick policy that India adopts with regards to Pakistan must show our neighbor that its interest lie in working with, rather than against India.  The benefits in working with India must be conspicious and very apparent, as must the consequences of attempts to destablize India.  To this end, where necessary, India should be willing and able to unilaterally use non-military tools at its disposal to punish Pakistan.  However, a constant, ineffectual, quasi-military, adversarial posturing with Pakistan, such as the one currently in favor in New Delhi, will leave India muddled in the internal quagmires of South Asia, and unable to break free from its shackles to project power and influence beyond this impoverished and chaotic region.

Filed under: 11/25/2008, 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Congress I, economics, helmand, India, Indian Army, isi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Toiba, let, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, november 25, nuclear weapons, nukes, Pakistan, pakistan army, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Wagah, Yemen, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)

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