Feb 25, 2009

It is Af-Pak-Ind; OBAMA

By Asif Ezdi
Having declared during the election campaign that Afghanistan was the central front in the fight against terrorism – the "good" war on which America should have been focussing all along – Obama has taken some quick steps to demonstrate how serious he is about winning it. Within days of taking office, he appointed Holbrooke to execute a new Afghanistan policy and despatched him to the region. A day later, he authorised drone attacks on targets in Pakistan. These attacks, which take place with the connivance of the Zardari government, have continued since then and their scope has been expanded to include Baitullah Mehsud and his followers, besides militants from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On Feb 17, Obama announced plans to send an additional 17,000 troops to the 33,000-strong contingent already there. Ultimately, 30,000 additional troops could be deployed in the coming year or so. At the same time, the Obama Administration is moving to complete a review of its Afghan strategy before NATO holds its next summit on April 2. The new strategy will pursue a more comprehensive regional approach. Pakistan will have a crucial role in that strategy in view of the perception that safe havens provided to Al Qaeda and Taliban elements in FATA is a major cause of the growing insurgency in Afghanistan. Obama has declared that his administration would approach the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan ("Af-Pak" in Washington-speak) as a single issue. Many American analysts believe that if a terrorist attack takes place on the United States, it is likely to be launched from FATA. Obama has said there was "no doubt" that there were safe havens along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan where terrorists were operating. A classified Pentagon report urges Obama to concentrate more on targeting sanctuaries inside Pakistan with the aid of Pakistani military forces. Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence, told Congress on Feb 12 that no improvement was possible in Afghanistan without Pakistan taking control of its border areas. The peace agreement reached by the government in Swat has further heightened US concern about safe havens for the Taliban on Pakistani territory. There is also said to be a lot of nervousness in the Obama Administration about the "fragility" of Pakistan, particularly as it has nuclear weapons. Pakistan is seen as slipping deeper into political, economic, ethnic and religious chaos. About the only way Al Qaeda is likely to get its hands on a nuclear weapon, so the argument goes, is if Pakistan collapses or its government is toppled and loses control of its nuclear stockpile. Obama is reported to have said privately that Pakistan "really scares" him with its mixture of a nuclear arsenal and rising Muslim fundamentalism. The stability of Pakistan is therefore seen as a critical US security interest. A nearly completed study by the US Central Command is expected to say that nuclear-armed Pakistan, not Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran, is the most urgent foreign-policy challenge facing Obama. Besides Pakistan, neighbouring countries which have the ability to impact the situation in Afghanistan are also to be included in the broader regional strategy. Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that a regional approach would also include Iran, as well as India. Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, has spoken out in favour of involving even more countries. A resolution of the Afghanistan problem, he said recently, requires "a regional approach...that includes Pakistan, India, the Central Asian states and even China and Russia, along with perhaps, at some point, Iran." India has predictably welcomed the bracketing together of Afghanistan and Pakistan and its own inclusion in the regional approach, but has succeeded in excluding Pakistan-India relations, in particular Kashmir, from its scope. US officials later clarified that although Kashmir is not officially part of his job, Holbrooke would try to draw New Delhi into the conversation because India-Pakistan tensions affect stability in the region. There is nothing new about the Indians having a fit when Kashmir is mentioned outside a bilateral framework with Pakistan. It is, in fact, a regular part of India's tantrum diplomacy on Kashmir. Therefore, India's outbursts against Obama and Miliband for having suggested a resolution of Kashmir were entirely predictable. However, the exclusion of Kashmir from Holbrooke's remit is not so tragic from the point of view of either Pakistan or the Kashmiris. Firstly, any discussion on Kashmir under the present circumstances would have as its starting point the deal which Musharraf had been negotiating with India for a "settlement" on the basis of recognition of existing borders, plus the creation of cross-border institutions and enhanced autonomy, which really would amount to a sell-out of the Kashmiris' aspiration for azadi. Secondly, a government under Zardari, who not so long ago equated the Kashmiri freedom-fighters with terrorists and is completely beholden to Washington, can hardly be expected to espouse the cause of the Kashmiris effectively in any such negotiations. As a candidate, Obama recognised that Pakistan's concerns in Afghanistan derive in large part from its concerns about India. In an article in Foreign Affairs (2007), he wrote that he would "encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work toward resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their historic differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look toward the east with greater confidence, it will be less likely to believe that its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban." Later, shortly before his election, Obama raised the possibility of appointing Bill Clinton as a special envoy to deal with the Kashmir question. Other American officials and experts have also acknowledged that to address Afghanistan, it is essential to address Pakistan-India issues. As Mullen put it in a recent interview, you cannot "do Pakistan without doing India." Bruce Riedel, who has been designated by Obama to carry out an interagency review on Afghanistan policy, also conceded that Pakistan's concerns in Afghanistan derive in large part from its concerns about India. The same point was made by NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in an article in The Washington Post on Jan 18: "Afghanistan's problems cannot be dealt with exclusively within its borders. The challenges faced by Pakistan are organically linked to those of Afghanistan; so, politically, are Pakistan's relations with India." Pakistan's concern at India's role in Afghanistan does not, of course, date back only to the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. It started with the independence of the two countries in 1947 and was greatly intensified when in 1955 the Soviet Union joined in encouraging the Daoud government in Kabul to lay claim to Pakistani territory. India's support for the Soviet-installed regime in Kabul in the decade of the 1980s was a continuation of the same policy of encircling Pakistan. In an interview prior to his appointment to the interagency policy review on Afghanistan, Riedel said that an agreement on the legitimacy and permanency of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border would be an important first step towards getting that border secured. "After all, if we want Pakistan to provide border security, a good step in the right direction would be an agreement on that border," Riedel said. However, the British weekly Economist (Feb 21) has advised Obama not to attempt a resolution of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The newspaper is right. The drawing of the border is final under international law and does not need any further confirmation by Kabul. What Pakistan should insist on in talks with the Obama Administration is that India should stop using its presence in Afghanistan to fuel terrorism, insurgency and subversion in Pakistan. It will not be easy to get India to kick its old habits. But Washington should try. The success of the regional approach to Afghanistan, which the Obama Administration advocates, depends to a great extent upon good behaviour on the part of India. Clearly, "Af-Pak" requires a further hyphenation. It should be "Af-Pak-Ind." The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service

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