Thursday, November 25, 2010

If tanks could make a difference, then USSR would still be a reality ….

As US and NATO prepare to leave Afghanistan with incomplete mission, the war tactics are quickly being revised. The United States military announced that it will be sending a company of Marine Tankers to southwest Afghanistan, bringing a much-needed armor presence to an asymmetrical fight. According to a New York Times blog, heavily armored vehicles (Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, etc.) would be excessive instruments. This argument is not merely in the context of combat or even intimidation of locals, but the tracks of a main battle tank would most likely destroy the few poorly engineered concrete roads that facilitate the Afghan economy. It is not the question whether or not these tanks are tactical requirements of war in Afghanistan, the key question is whether the new tactical shift will bring the much awaited victory before the Americans start leaving the country where no occupation army was ever welcome.  Since 2003, coalition forces traversed the battlefield in Afghanistan, from pickup trucks, to Humvees, to up-armored Humvees, to MRAPs and now MATVs -- while the Taliban escalate their IED campaign by simply building bigger bombs. 

The allied forces could have learned a lesson or two from the history; if tanks could make a difference in Afghanistan then USSR would still be a reality today.

An article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy Magazine says that a countryside littered with Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers is evidence enough that this armor vs. explosives escalation is a fool's game. While the Abrams tank will be able to deliver precision firepower at great distances, insurgents will easily be able to predict the few roads it can travel (lest we decide to demolish farmers' fields and irrigation canals) along with myriad lightly-skinned fuelers and maintenance vehicles the tank requires for sustainment. The article goes on to say that the US and allies actually need less armor, and need to be more flexible and unpredictable. Instead of dictating that no unit can leave its base unless in an MRAP or MATV, they must allow them to use Humvees, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and ruggedized pickup trucks when appropriate. Knowing their movements are being watched at all times, units need to use deception, such as varying the time of day and night they move, their routes of travel, and the types of vehicles in which they conduct missions, to keep the insurgents constantly guessing. Insurgents cannot possibly booby-trap and watch every road, trail, and wadi in Afghanistan but they can and do hammer us on the few roads that will support armored vehicles. 

This is a very unconventional war being waged in the most difficult terrain possible, and allies are responding very conventionally. Instead of allowing such ingenuity and its associated risk, the coalition's default response has been to add more armor and widgets to ever larger vehicles that are the very antithesis of basic counterinsurgency operations. The allies may not be able to "defeat" the IED, but they can make it irrelevant. To do so, the article says, will require to rely upon the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the junior leaders who are most in tune with the local dynamics and terrain, not on technology or defensive-minded mandates designed to prevent casualties at all costs. Marginalizing the IED will also require higher commanders to accept greater risk and allow their subordinates to sometimes make mistakes -- even deadly ones. But that's the only way to start connecting with the Afghan people, who are the ones who will defeat the Taliban in the end. It's time to start playing to win instead of trying to avoid losing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Fast track Balochistan destabilization on cards….

It has already been discussed in these pages that destabilization of Balochistan is a part of the New Great Game which has started on the shores of Makran. There is irrefutable evidence that India with support from CIA is arming and aiding Balochistan insurgents presently hiding in Afghanistan. Jundullah, an anti-Shia militant group is serving US interests both in Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan. The scale of insurgency in Balochistan is much higher than that of FATA. Balochistan has become a playground for Great Game players for two simple reasons: it has huge mineral resources including precious metal and fossil fuel, and it provides shortest trade route from Gwadar Deep Sea Port to Afghanistan and Central Asian States.  This trade route, if developed, can affect commercial prospects of Chabahar port in which India has direct commercial and strategic interests.

Para-military units are trying to fight the insurgency but irresponsible politicians who always play to the gallery even if their shots are against the national interests have so far been throwing spanner in the works. The Bugti event has been blown out of proportion to further aggravate the situation. In spite of all this, armed forces are holding on to all sorts of pressures in the province. It seems that the situation is not deteriorating at the planned pace which has frustrated some elements within Indian and US establishment. They now plan to destabilize Balochistan at a fast track through drone attacks. Knowing full well that allied forces are not attacked from Quetta, some 80 miles from Afghan border, they have now decided to use drone to attack Quetta to target some Shura which only CIA knows of. Washington Post has reported that the United States has renewed pressure on Pakistan to expand the areas where CIA drones can operate inside the country, reflecting concern that the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan is being undermined by insurgents' continued ability to take sanctuary across the border, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The U.S. appeal has focused on the area surrounding the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is thought to be based. But the request also seeks to expand the boundaries for drone strikes in the tribal areas, which have been targeted in 101 attacks this year, the officials said. 

Pakistan has rejected the request, officials said. Instead, the country has agreed to more modest measures, including an expanded CIA presence in Quetta, where the agency and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate have established teams seeking to locate and capture senior members of the Taliban. The disagreement over the scope of the drone program underscores broader tensions between the United States and Pakistan, wary allies that are increasingly pointing fingers at one another over the rising levels of insurgent violence on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border. 

Senior Pakistani officials expressed resentment over what they described as misplaced U.S. pressure to do more, saying the United States has not controlled the Afghan side of the border, is preoccupied by arbitrary military deadlines and has little regard for Pakistan's internal security problems. According to the paper, U.S. officials confirmed the request for expanded drone flights. They cited concern that Quetta functions not only as a sanctuary for Taliban leaders but also as a base for sending money, recruits and explosives to Taliban forces inside Afghanistan. 

Pakistan places strict boundaries on where CIA drones can fly. The unmanned aircraft may patrol designated flight "boxes" over the country's tribal belt but not other provinces, including Balochistan, which encompasses Quetta. He and others spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the clandestine nature of a program that neither government will publicly acknowledge. Pakistani officials stressed that Quetta is a densely populated city where an errant strike is more likely to kill innocent civilians, potentially provoking a backlash. Unlike the semi-autonomous tribal territories, Baluchistan is considered a core part of Pakistan. 

U.S. officials have long suspected there are other reasons for Islamabad's aversion, including concern that the drones might be used to conduct surveillance of Pakistani nuclear weapons facilities in Baluchistan. In interviews in Islamabad, senior Pakistani officials voiced a mix of appreciation and apprehension over the U.S. role in the region. 

Using the ISI to funnel CIA money and arms to mujaheddin fighters in the 1980s helped oust the Soviets from Afghanistan, the official said, but also made Pakistan a breeding ground for militant groups. Similarly, Pakistan's cooperation since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has been key to the capture of al-Qaeda operatives and the success of the drone campaign. But it has inflamed radical elements in the country and made Islamabad a target of terrorist attacks. 

Barring the CIA from flying drones over Quetta, the official said, is one area in which Pakistan is now taking a stand. In other areas, CIA-ISI cooperation has deepened. The agencies have carried out more than 100 joint operations in the past 18 months, including raids that have led to the capture of high-ranking figures including Mullah Barader, the Taliban's former military chief.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Al Qaeda will have to go outside Islam to justify use of WMD….

The West is raising the threat of possible use of Strategic Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by bin Laden brigade since bin Laden and his deputy have issued edicts to justify the use on the basis of certain interpretations of Quran and Hadith. Journal of International Security Affairs was probably the first to give an in-depth analysis of Islamic reaching and the designs of al Qaeda duo to acquire and use WMD. As far as their edict is concerned, they do not qualify to issue edicts as per Islamic teachings. It is, however, clear from their edict that they could not find any clear justification from Islamic traditions and basic injunctions; they only twisted some historic events in support of their designs. The last sermon delivered on the conclusion of Hajj this week clearly issued a formal edict that terrorist activities are not sanctioned by Islam and that those who indulge themselves in the acts of terror cease to be Muslims. This should take away the justification, whatsoever that al Qaeda duo have in support of their designs.

The world should understand the fact that the only way to render al Qaeda ineffective is to strip it of the justification it carries for its acts of slaughtering innocent citizens; unjust support by USA of Israel at the cost of Palestinians and of autocratic rulers in the Muslim world. It was discussed separately while listing down 7Deadly Scenarios that USA will always remain exposed to the risk of troubles due to its failure to recognize that its international meddling has unintended consequences. Basil & Spice in its review of the book on 7 Deadly Scenarios urges USA to recognize that Israel has already brought it the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s and 9/11, and repeatedly embarrassed the U.S. by its abuse of the Palestinians. Similarly, USA’s nuclear support for India to 'balance' China and Pakistan creates new trip-wire risks of serious military conflict.

An article appeared in the latest issue of Foreign Policy Magazine saying that evidence for al Qaeda’s intentions aren't hidden in encoded communications or classified intelligence. Quite the opposite: They're hidden in plain sight. Just as Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa to declare war on the United States in 1998, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a fatwa a decade later to herald a prospective next stage in the conflict. If we take him at his word, some day jihadists will use weapons of mass destruction to change history once and for all.  Of course, al Qaeda leaders have spoken of acquiring weapons of mass destruction for well over a decade. They have had little observable success in achieving their goals of producing a nuclear bomb or biological weapon capable of producing mass casualties. Fortunately, it is extremely difficult, but not impossible, for a terrorist group to acquire a strategic weapon of mass destruction (WMD). Nonetheless, the al Qaeda core has kept at it over the years, in the hopes that time and opportunity will enable it to overcome the daunting challenges in this regard.

According to the article Zawahiri chose to release a book in 2008 titled Exoneration. In it, he resurrects a fatwa issued by senior Saudi cleric Nasir al-Fahd in May 2003 -- notoriously, the only such treatise that ever endorsed the use of WMD. Zawahiri adopts Fahd's ideas wholesale. He uses the same ideas, thoughts, examples, and scholarly citations to reach the same conclusion: The use of nuclear weapons would be justified as an act of equal retaliation, "repaying like for like."
Zawahiri raises key Quranic themes to sweep away all potential objections to the use of WMD. He offers answers to questions about the legality of killing women, children, and the elderly; the justice of environmental destruction; the morality of harming noncombatants; the tactical prudence of attacking at night; and analyses of deterrence. Zawahiri adopts Fahd's examples verbatim: The Prophet Mohammed's attack on the village of al-Taif using a catapult, for instance, permits the use of weapons of "general destruction" incapable of distinguishing between innocent civilians and combatants.

The take-away from Zawahiri's book is that the use of weapons of mass destruction should be judged on intent rather than on results; if the intent to use WMD is judged to be consistent with the Quran, then the results are justifiable, even if they clearly violate specific prohibitions under Islam. The same reasoning is applied in a detailed explanation of such matters as loyalty to the state, contracts, obligations, and treaties; the permissibility of espionage; and deception and trickery. For example, on the topic of Muslims killed in combat unintentionally in the fight against infidels: "When Muslims fight nonbelievers, any Muslim who is killed is a martyr."

The article goes on to say that Zawahiri is at pains to prove his judiciousness. He cites a variety of viewpoints from the Quran and hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohammed), some of which support his judgments, others which do not. At times, he dramatically prefaces his conclusion with the words "I say ..." to draw attention to the fact that his judgments digress from the views held by some Islamic scholars; it is also a way for Zawahiri -- a medical doctor, not a religious scholar by training -- to assume authority for himself as an arbiter of Islamic law. Second, al Qaeda has reckoned with the horrific scale of a nuclear attack; indeed, Zawahiri sees mass casualties as a point in WMDs' favor. Zawahiri's book explicitly justifies a potential attack that could kill 10 million Americans. Again, that enormous figure is not merely tossed off casually by Zawahiri. He believes that such a plan requires justification, and he is satisfied, at the conclusion of his book, that he has done so.

It is notable that Zawahiri repeatedly uses the phrase "artillery bombardment" in the context of discussing the wide-scale destruction of a WMD attack. For al Qaeda, it seems, modern weapons of mass destruction are simply a form of weapon that cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants. Nuclear weapons, Zawahiri wants to argue, are no more morally significant than the catapult often cited in the Quran and hadiths. Here Zawahiri quotes Fahd once again: "If a bomb were dropped on them, destroying 10 million of them and burning as much of their land as they have burned of Muslim land,  that would be permissible without any need to mention any other proof."

Needless to say, Zawahiri's approach goes against all Western theories of just war and Islamic ethics of war. He will have to find his justification for use of WMD outside the teachings of Islam.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pakistan's textile exports figure in the US security calculation….

Pakistan’s economy is at its lowest in terms of all the macroeconomic indicators, particularly its tax-to-GDP ratio, unsustainable debt portfolio and rising inflation and energy crisis adding insult to injury. The country has inherited its borders which spell uncertain security situation; Iran on its West, Afghanistan on North West and India on the East. India is a permanent enemy who has strategic partnership with Iran and is making huge investment in Afghanistan in order to have influence in this country which was always a backyard for Pakistan. India is trying hard to encircle Pakistan and fan and fuel insurgency in Balochistan and FATA. Pakistan’s economy in its present state not only cannot support its security needs, it is creating dissatisfaction and discord. This situation is a serious threat to Pakistan’s national security. 

This situation is not a threat to Pakistan’s national security alone. A Report of the Task Force of Council on Foreign Relations on US Strategy for Pakistan and Afghanistan shows that people who matter in the US security calculations are equally concerned about its implications on US national security. The Report says that: 
  • Containing the terrorist threat from Pakistan would be challenging if Pakistani and U.S. governments were at odds, intelligence sharing was reduced, and U.S. officials were forced to operate from neighboring countries.
  • NATO’s presence in Afghanistan would be jeopardized without a secure logistics route through Pakistan. 
  • At the same time, Pakistan’s fragile political and economic stability would be undermined by greater tensions with the United States. Pakistan’s military would suffer from the loss of U.S. assistance and restricted access to training, technology, and spare parts for American-made weapons and vehicles.
  • In general, U.S. coercion and containment of Pakistan could accelerate dangerous economic, political, and social trends inside Pakistan. Americans must recognize that as frustrating and difficult as Pakistan’s situation may be today, it has the potential to get even worse.
Pakistan has been trying to expand its trade to USA and other countries. It is the foreign trade and not bilateral aid, which can solve Pakistan’s economic problems. Recognizing this, the Report makes a very vital recommendation that the Obama administration should propose—and the U.S. Congress should adopt—legislation liberalizing tariffs on textile imports from Pakistan. This would help stimulate Pakistan’s economy and reinforce a partnership between the American and Pakistani people. Pakistan’s leaders have long sought greater access to Western markets. The United States is Pakistan’s top export market. 

The Report pursues the following line of arguments:
  • One-quarter of Pakistan’s exports are bound for the United States, and one-third of foreign investment in Pakistan comes from U.S.-based investors. But Pakistan still faces substantial barriers to the U.S. market. 
  • Given that the textile industry accounts for 38 percent of Pakistan’s industrial employment, this could provide employment opportunities for millions of young Pakistanis, discouraging them from paths leading to militancy. 
  • Related industries that have suffered terrible setbacks from Pakistan’s floods, such as cotton farming, would also stand to benefit from the expansion of the textile sector. 
  • This would put more money in the pockets of Pakistani consumers. It is the single most effective step the United States could take to stimulate the Pakistani economy. 
  • Relaxing U.S. textile tariffs on imports from Pakistan would not put U.S. producers at risk. U.S. imports from Pakistan make up a small share (3 percent) of total U.S. imports; imports of cotton knit shirts and cotton trousers from Pakistan, for example, are 3.6 percent of total U.S. imports of those particular products. Instead, a trade agreement would reshape the proportion of U.S. imports from China and other low-cost exporters that currently dominate this sector of the market.
U.S. assistance programming should be used to maximize the benefits of this agreement for regions most threatened by extremist movements. Supporting infrastructure and training projects could help shape where new textile industries are located. Pakistan’s cotton producing regions, including southern Punjab, would stand to benefit most from the deal. Recent experience with U.S. legislation designed to facilitate greater trade and investment in Pakistan, including the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone initiative, has demonstrated the hurdles that block efforts to liberalize textile trade with Pakistan. Domestically, labor leaders, the U.S. textile industry, and members of Congress from cotton-producing regions would need reassurances that their core concerns can be met. Recognizing these challenges, the Task Force urges the Obama administration and Congress to treat this legislation as an important national security priority and a part of America’s generous response to Pakistan’s flood recovery effort. On a parallel track, Washington will also need a diplomatic campaign to address the inevitable objections of other textile-producing states, including China and India.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Great Game for Central Asia now starts from Makran coast….

An ensuing legal battle over running the operations of Gwadar Deep Sea Port is a prelude to many interesting developments in the region. The head of Pakistan's Balochistan province, where the port is located, pledged on Tuesday to challenge in the courts what he said was a "one-sided" deal with a Singapore company to run a strategic harbor in Gwadar port. And this new development is not intended to do what was done in the times of Musharraf; this has some major economic and strategic implications.

This port which is strategically located at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, was built by China but its operations were handed over to Port of Singapore Authority (PSA). Very close to this port, an other deep sea port at Chabahar in Iran was built by India. Both the ports have the potential to link Makran coast to Afghanistan and Central Asia. But both these ports have strategic as well as commercial significance. India's aim to build the port and oversee its operations was extend its influence in the area and encircle Pakistan. But to the contrary, India will be encircled if China obtains similar influence in Gwadar. The port of Myanmar to the east of India has already been built by China.

China figures in as the most important factor in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Their military relationship has often been regarded by the leaders of both the countries as all-weather and time -tested. This relationship between two Asian countries, who share a common border, is important in the world's geo-strategic alliances. The policy of having good relations between the armed forces was taken by the leaders to counter the balance of power in the Asia. In recent years this relationship has deepened even further by having defense agreements between Pakistan and China and the latter has been a steady and reliable source of military equipment to Pakistani Army and also has helped Pakistan set-up mass weapons production factories. 

In this backdrop, it is strategically very critical to carefully decide the question of Gwadar port. It may also be kept in mind that India is hell-bent to ensure that Balochistan province remains unstable so that Pakistan cannot build necessary infrastructure connecting Gwadar with Afghanistan and Central Asia. This is for economic as much as strategic considerations. The following elements of this new Great Game may be of interest to the readers:

  1. India has built Chabahar Port on the Makran Coast to keep a watchful eye on Pakistan’s Gwadar Port on the same coast. USA’s and Indian’s interests converge to the extent of the utility of this port to check China and Pakistan. 
  2. Iran is pursuing a multi-billion dollar railways project which was named "Iran's Eastern Corridor". It will connect Chabahar port to Central Asia, Afghanistan and Central Iran. This project would have three branches including Chabahar-Iranshahr Fahraj County, Chabahar-Iranshahre-Zahedan-Mashahd and Chabahar-Iranshahr-Zahedan-Milak. India is helping develop the Chabahar port, which will give it access to the oil and gas resources in Iran and the Central Asian states. This is done by India to compete with the Chinese, who are building Gwadar Port, in Pakistani Balochistan. 
  3. Iran plans to use Chabahar for transshipment to Afghanistan and Central Asia, while keeping the port of Bandar Abbas as a major hub mainly for trade with Russia and Europe. India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. 
  4. Work on the Chabahar - Milak - Zaranj - Dilaram route from Iran to Afghanistan is in progress. Iran with Indian aid is upgrading the Chabahar-Milak road and constructing a bridge on the route to Zaranj. India's BRO is laying the 213-kilometer Zaranj-Dilaram road. It is a part of its USD 750 million aid package to Afghanistan by India. India and Iran are discussing building a gas pipeline between the two countries along the bed of the Arabian Sea to bypass Pakistan, using the Chabahar port. 
In this background, the politics of operations of Gwadar port have external dynamics which is evident from the fact that the separatist elements have been trying to disrupt the construction  and operation of the port on nationalist pretext. It is not difficult to conclude whose interests are being served through Balochistan insurgency and why USA has no concerns about it. It is a more serious threat to Pakistan’s integrity than the troubles in FATA. 

Will China push for a major say over the port to back its bid to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean, is a question only time will answer. Pakistan, struggling to revive its debt-hit economy, is keen to become a conduit for trade to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia. It has three major ports -- Gwadar in Baluchistan and two at Karachi, 450 km (280 miles) to the east.

As initially envisaged, former president Pervez Musharraf's government gave management and operational control of the deep-sea port to Singapore's PSA International Ltd in February 2007 for 40 years. Reuters has reported that the chief minister of the government of Baluchistan, the southwestern province where Gwadar port is located, said he would seek its cancellation by the Supreme Court this month. But nobody seems to understand that PSA has failed because no infrastructure was available to link the port with rest of the country. It is a Great Game now being played on the shores of Makran.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

President Obama disappoints Indians by refusing to bash Pakistan....

President Obama has disappointed Indians by refusing to label Pakistan as a country harboring terrorists. To the contrary he expressed his understanding of why Pakistan has been slow in ending militancy. He also disappointed Pakistan by politely refusing to play any role any resolution of Kashmir dispute. It was reported in these pages that President Obama has a very difficult task at hand while he is touring India these days. He has very successfully concluded economic deals with India which will help US economy to grow and create about 50,000 new jobs. And this is no mean achievement.
He has so far been successful but has stopped short of clearly toeing the Indian line, like British premier did, apparently disappointing Indians. He has done one or two sensible things and has advised his hosts that a stable Pakistan is in their interests. He clearly understands that for his Afghanistan mission, peaceful relations between these two South Asian neighbors are very crucial. President Barack Obama called on India on Sunday to bolster peace efforts with Pakistan that have floundered since the 2008 Mumbai attacks, relations seen as crucial to his troubled efforts to win the war in Afghanistan.
Reuters has reported that Obama has toed a cautious line between the two nuclear-armed foes, saying both were needed to help stabilize Afghanistan where thousands of U.S. troops battle militants. On the second day of his official visit to India, Obama faces a diplomatic tightrope in fostering ties with the growing global power, while at the same time helping Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and promoting wider peace in Afghanistan.
"India's investment in development in Afghanistan is appreciated," Obama added. "Pakistan has to be a partner in this process; in fact all countries in the region are going to need to be partners in this process.
India has given $1.3 billion in aid to Afghanistan, a policy that genuinely unnerves Pakistan which sees its northern neighbor as its own backyard of influence. India wants stability there to stop the country being used to harbor anti-Indian Islamist militants.
On Saturday, Obama announced the United States would relax export controls over sensitive technology, a demand of India's that will help deepen U.S. ties with a country that now has more trade with China. The White House also announced Obama would support India's membership of four global non-proliferation organizations.
Sify News  has reported President Barack Obama as saying that India has 'the biggest stake' in a successful and stable Pakistan. He asserted that it was in India's interest to remove the 'distraction' of insecurity in the region when it was moving ahead on the global economic stage. He also asserted that Pakistan was an 'enormous country' which was a 'strategically important country not just for us, but for the world'.
'Obviously the history between India and Pakistan is incredibly complex and born out of much tragedy and violence. It may be surprising, but I am absolutely convinced that the country which has the biggest stake in Pakistan's success is India. If Pakistan is unstable, that's bad for India. If Pakistan is stable and prosperous, that's good because India is on the move.' 
In response to many targeted questions on militancy in Pakistan, he admitted that 'progress is not as quick as we like' and it was partly due to the difficult terrain of the terrorist havens in the North-West Frontier Province and also because the Pakistan army was slowly adapting to its changed focus.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Watch your balance Mr. President, you are walking a tight rope.....

President Obama’s India visit is being given a little excessive significance as if he was the first ever US President to set his foot on Indian soil. The arrangements made for his reception and security are unprecedented. US taxpayers’ money is being made to flow like water, as they would say in Indian language. This trip may have economic significance for the US arms industry but there are various voices, some of them quite powerful, expecting the President to do as much as arbiter the settlement of Kashmir issue and play his role to denuclearize South Asia. The world should stop to expect too much from this visit.

This may be a tall order by every standard. India would never allow US President, or anyone for that matter, to utter the “K” word. The way its brutal security apparatus is trying to silence dissent and public uprising in Kashmir was reason enough for President Obama to call off his India trip. As for the nuclear issue of South Asia, no one except India and Pakistan themselves can resolve it. The moment India decides to stop brow-beating its non-pliant neighbor, the nuclear issue would go to rest automatically. For Pakistan, the N-bomb is a credible deterrent; it is a weapon against aggression by the bigger power, but it is not the weapon of first choice. Today, if the two countries decide to enter into economic partnership and trade, they would start having stakes in each other’s well being. And well being will follow soon because both of them are unable to afford the luxury of arms race.

An article which appeared in the latest edition of Foreign Policy Magazine suggests that during his upcoming India trip, Obama should quietly encourage Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to declare that his country will not increase its rate of fissile production and will put additional nonmilitary reactors under safeguards. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could help monitor whether India sticks to such a pledge. As part of the 2005 deal to exempt India from nuclear trade standards, New Delhi pledged to support a verifiable, global fissile-material cutoff treaty, but Indian leaders have yet to do anything to that end.

On the other hand, Washington Post has reported that President Obama's decision to spend three days in India beginning Saturday, while bypassing Pakistan, has sparked anxiety among government officials here who warn that Obama risks upsetting the delicate balance of power between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Among the Pakistanis' chief concerns are the Obama administration's apparent unwillingness to get involved in the long-standing dispute over Kashmir; the blossoming U.S.-India civil nuclear partnership; and the symbolism of Obama starting his visit at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, site of the 2008 siege that killed 173 people and that has been blamed on Pakistani militants.

Although the Obama administration recently proposed a new $2 billion aid package for the Pakistani army and last year signed off on a $7.5 billion civilian aid deal, government officials here said this week that the United States has yet to prove itself a reliable partner. "Unfortunately, on core issues, the U.S. continues to stick to its traditional anti-Pakistan policies - whether it is our nuclear energy program, the Kashmir dispute, our relations with India or our position vis-a-vis Afghanistan," said a senior Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the relationship. "So long as Washington does not revisit these issues, it will continue to be very difficult for Washington to make any headway on winning hearts and minds in Pakistan."

The United States views Pakistan as a critical ally in fighting the extremists who have taken refuge in Pakistan's mountainous tribal areas along the Afghanistan border. But the two governments remain wary of each other, and U.S. officials have often cast doubt on whether Pakistan is doing all that it can to combat radical Islamist insurgents - many of whom have long-standing ties to the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Pakistan and Afghanistan, emphasized this week that Obama's three-day visit to India is not at Pakistan's expense. But that has not stopped Pakistanis from interpreting it that way. In recent years, U.S. presidents have often coupled visits to India with a stop in Pakistan - even if it is brief. Though Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi requested several times that Obama also stop in Pakistan on this trip, according to Pakistani government officials, the president declined and instead promised to visit Islamabad next year.

Still, the decision could prove risky for Obama, whose popularity here is lower than it is in any other Muslim country. A Pew Research Center poll released this summer found that just 8 percent of Pakistanis expressed confidence in Obama, down from 13 percent in 2009. Pakistani officials say they are particularly interested in seeing Obama push India to do more to settle the decades-old dispute over Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan. More than 100 Kashmiris, mostly young people, have been killed since June in a series of anti-Indian demonstrations in the region. India has said Pakistan must get serious about cracking down on homegrown militancy before there can be an agreement on Kashmir.
Yet even if Obama refrains from challenging Pakistan directly, officials here said, they fear the president will seek to enhance the civil nuclear partnership with India. That, they said, could disturb the military balance on the subcontinent. "If there is an effort to build India up as a regional influence, a country that is assigned the responsibility for security in the region, that is unacceptable for Pakistan," said Maleeha Lodhi, another former ambassador to Washington. "Clearly, for deterrence to work, we need the minimum threshold of conventional balance."

It seems that the India visit will be a like a tight-rope walking for the President. Balance of power aside, he will have to keep a balance of relations with India and Pakistan. None of the two balances the President can afford to disturb at this point in time.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A long-awaited romance finally takes a start…..

The US and Russia have finally found a way to narrow their differences. The controversial October 28 joint Russian-U.S.-Afghan counter-narcotics raid may be a sign that both have started flirting after ignoring the bitter memories of cold war.  A long-awaited romance seems to have started. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president has condemned the raid.  By saying that the raid was undertaken without the permission of his government, he has reinforced the perception that he is merely a mayor of Kabul city. It is not understood why they should seek permission to enter an area where Karzai government has no writ.
The operation marked the first time that Russian agents had joined their Afghan, American, and other NATO counterparts in such an airborne raid, which in this case destroyed four narcotics laboratories in Nangarhar province. The Russian government estimated the street value of the drugs destroyed at $250,000. U.S. officials, however, gave a considerably lower figure.
Foreign Policy Magazine has reported that the flood of opium entering Russia from Afghanistan has emerged as a major source of tension between Moscow and NATO, as Russian officials blame the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for failing to curb that country's exploding opium production. Russian officials have been lobbying especially hard for the aerial spraying of herbicides to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy.
NATO governments have made clear their reluctance to meet Russian demands to eradicate the opium crops through aerial spraying of poppy or other actions against individual Afghan farmers. They fear that such direct action against large numbers of Afghans would prove a public relations disaster, alienating Afghans and facilitating Taliban recruitment.
However, following a formal change in U.S. policy announced in June 2009, ISAF forces have focused their efforts on destroying large warehouses storing illicit drugs as well as interdicting the flow of narcotics out of Afghanistan and the drug money that the Taliban uses to finance its operations, a policy more in line with long-standing Russian requests of NATO. In an interview with the author in Washington last month, Victor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), stressed that, "Laboratories are a fundamental issue. This is precisely where narcotics processing occurs.... The farmers in the fields are not organized crime, but slaves. But laboratories - this is organized crime."
Despite the condemnation of Russian involvement in the raid by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian officials celebrated it as a new step in Russian-U.S. relations. In a news conference run by government-supported RIA Novosti news agency, Ivanov described his agency as having played a major role in the raid, which he said "shows that there are real actions being taken amid the reset in relations between Russia and the United States." Other Russian officials besides Ivanov have applauded the expanded Russian-U.S. cooperation against Afghan narcotics and expressed hope it would continue.