Saturday, October 23, 2010

Plain talking

Steve Coll of the New America Foundation always provides excellent analysis. The main thrust of his latest article, "Kashmir: The Time Has Come", is that Barack Obama needs to do some plain talking, as when he did about the Kashmir problem before his election in an interview:

For us to devote serious diplomatic resources to get a special envoy in there, to figure out a plausible approach, and essentially make the argument to the Indians, you guys are on the brink of being an economic superpower—why do you want to keep on messing with this? To make the argument to the Pakistanis, look at India and what they are doing—why do you want to keep on being bogged down with this particular [issue] at a time when the biggest threat now is coming from the Afghan border? I think there is a moment when potentially we could get their attention. It won’t be easy, but it’s important.

(Link to Steve Coll's article)

Coll advocates plain talking by the U.S. administration in this way:

A reconsidered American approach to Kashmir should return first of all to the tone of Obama’s Time interview: honest talk about an admittedly difficult problem. More such straight talk is now required. The United States and India share an interest in the emergence of a stable, economically successful Pakistan with an army that believes it is in Pakistan’s national interest to stop fomenting jihadi violence in Afghanistan and India. It is difficult to imagine that such a Pakistan will evolve if groups such as Lashkar are not disarmed, delegitimized, and defunded. And it is difficult to imagine that such an achievement would be possible in the absence of a political settlement that satisfies the great majority of Kashmiris and delivers economic benefits to Pakistan, such as preferential access for textiles to American markets, as well as water and energy security. President Obama and his foreign policy team should articulate this alternative to the status quo before Indian and Pakistani publics, without embarrassment.

These sentiments are correct, but missing from Coll's argument is the conversion of the Pakistan army into a normal military force, subject to political control. This, Coll should know, is the crux of the problem in South Asia. No amount of convincing Pakistanis and Indians is going to matter a whit as long as the Pakistan army's incentives remain intact: incentives that reward state-funded terrorism with American money to the military, and a military budget that finances foolhardy wars but that remains secret from civilian view, let alone civilian control.

Coll's thesis here might be more convincing if he talked more plainly about the Pakistan army and about what the U.S. administration could do to put it back in its box. Yesterday's announcement of 2 billion in fresh military aid shows that this administration does not believe it has any options, and that any diplomatic talk is just hot air.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Nilekani's ideas

An excellent, quick summary of where India is today, from Nandan Nilekani at TED.

Nilekani explains using a few key ideas, for example:

It used to be that we thought people were mouths to feed, but now we think of them as an asset.

From TED's blurb:

Nandan Nilekani, visionary CEO of outsourcing pioneer Infosys, explains four brands of ideas that will determine whether India can continue its recent breakneck progress.

In fifteen minutes, Nilekani outlines quite a vision of where India is and where it needs to be. Worth watching. (Watch 15-minute clip on YouTube)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Human rights? Meh!

Today's New York Times has a report by Jane Perlez:

An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States, American officials said.

The authenticity of the five-and-a-half-minute video, which shows the killing of the six men — some of whom appear to be teenagers, blindfolded, with their hands bound behind their backs — has not been formally verified by the American government. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants.

But American officials, who did not want to be identified because of the explosive nature of the video, said it appeared to be credible, as did retired American military officers and intelligence analysts who have viewed it.

So, what happens now?

The video adds to reports under review at the State Department and the Pentagon that Pakistani Army units have summarily executed prisoners and civilians in areas where they have opened offensives against the Taliban, administration officials said.

The reports could have serious implications for relations between the militaries. American law requires that the United States cut off financing to units of foreign militaries that are found to have committed gross violations of human rights.

But never has that law been applied to so strategic a partner as Pakistan, whose military has received more than $10 billion in American support since 2001 for its cooperation in fighting militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda based inside the country.

Holding your breath? Best you don't.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Old habits die hard

A hopeful story from Pakistan (may its tribe increase), spoiled by the usual old American habits of short-term thinking.

The New York Times tells us about the new breed of politicians rising in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, where politics has long been a matter of pedigree, Jamshed Dasti is a mongrel. The scrappy son of an amateur wrestler, Mr. Dasti has clawed his way into Pakistan’s Parliament, beating the wealthy, landed families who have ruled here.

This is a big change. As the article explains,
For years, feudal lords reigned supreme, serving as the police, the judge and the political leader. Plantations had jails, and political seats were practically owned by families.

Instead of midwifing democracy, these aristocrats obstructed it, ignoring the needs of rural Pakistanis, half of whom are still landless and desperately poor more than 60 years after Pakistan became a state.

But now, it seems, the stranglehold of the feudal classes slowly loosens. Newer, more populist candidates get elected, who actually meet with their constituents and try to address their concerns. Of course, many of them are rough men with criminal records, but:

Whatever the case, he is deeply appealing to Pakistanis, who have chosen him over feudal lords for political seats several times. Local residents call him Rescue One-Five, a reference to an emergency hot line number and his feverish work habits. Constituents clutching dirty plastic bags of documents flock to his small office for help, and he scribbles out notes for them on his Parliament letterhead like a doctor in a field hospital.

Contrast this example with a feudal lord:

Mr. Mehmoud, 48, is a wealthy man of leisure, who spends more time relaxing in his house — a pink replica of a Rajasthani palace with a hand-carved facade — than on his job as a lawmaker. Sometimes he talks to his constituents, but more often he watches them go by from the window of his speedy, white Hummer.

For years, people voted for him anyway, partly out of habit. His ancestors were considered to be distant relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, which inspires awe and respect. But more important, his constituents were tied to him economically. His family owned the land they worked and often their houses. His carpet has a worn patch where generations of peasants sat in supplication.

No wonder the feudals are losing their seats, as labor becomes more mobile and more people wake up to their rights.

So, does the American analyst see this as a hopeful sign? Of course not:

The result is a changing political landscape more representative of Pakistani society, but far less predictable for the United States. Mr. Dasti, 32, speaks no English. His legislative record includes opposition to a sexual harassment bill. He has 35 criminal cases to his name and is from the country’s conservative heartland, where dislike of America runs deep.

So, it doesn't matter if he's popularly elected: he doesn't speak English, is a Neanderthal like Newt Gingrich, and comes from a backward and xenophobic area, so we have a problem with it? We still haven't changed our old habits in how we look at Pakistan.

And finally, this is the paragraph that made Boston Brahmin sputter out his morning coffee:

The changes also leave room for Islamists. In the neighboring district of Dera Ghazi Khan, a hard-line mullah, Hafiz Abdul Karim, came within a few thousand votes in 2008 of unseating Farooq Leghari, a former president of Pakistan. His weapon? Efficient, Islamist campaign workers and free water pumps.

So far, Islamists have not tapped popular frustration in a systematic way at the ballot box, and the military, the country’s oldest, strongest institution, would probably put down any broader uprising, analysts say.

Ah -- not to worry. Our favorite nephew, the Pakistan army, will take care of the uppity natives if needed.

This analysis is wrong on so many levels. Let me just list three: first, even if the hard-line mullah's workers are Islamists, if he is running for elections with free water pumps, this can only be a good thing, no? Second: do we still really want the Pakistan army to intervene in politics? If running for elections and winning by giving the people water pumps is the "broader uprising", then we need more of those in Pakistan. What legitimacy does the army have in intervening? And third: have we not learned yet that the army is an ally of the Islamists, in fact the sponsor and protector of some of them? In every army action, the army picks and chooses its favorite Islamists.

One would think that the U.S. troops being killed in Afghanistan by Pakistan army-sponsored Islamists might give these analysts pause. But no. Before Pakistan, the real change, it seems, is needed in our own analysts, whose old habits die hard.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Sun in the Sky

A recent paper by Matt Waldman of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government documents systematic and ongoing support by the Pakistan military of the insurgency in Afghanistan.

Some excerpts, based on interviews with several Taliban and Haqqani commanders:
Support to the Afghan insurgency is official ISI policy. It appears to be carried out by both serving and former officers, who have considerable operational autonomy.
A number of analysts suggest that due to American and international pressure in 2006, 2007 or later, Pakistan has curtailed its support for the insurgents, but there is little evidence to support this.

Waldman summarizes that:
Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude. The conflict has led to the deaths of over 1,000 American and 700 other foreign military personnel; thousands of Afghan soldiers, police, officials and civilians; and an unknown number of Afghan, Pakistani and other foreign insurgents. It has already cost America nearly $300 billion, and now costs over $70 billion a year. As a Haqqani commander put it: ‘Of course Pakistan is the main cause of the problems [in Afghanistan] but America is behind Pakistan.’

Why is Pakistan doing this? Their overriding concern is India.
As Steve Coll explains (The New Yorker, 1 March 2010): ‘Pakistan’s generals have retained a bedrock belief that, however unruly and distasteful Islamist militias such as the Taliban may be, they could yet be useful proxies to ward off a perceived existential threat from India. In the Army’s view, at least, that threat has not receded.’

So, what does Waldman conclude that the U.S. should do?
The priority must be to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, in particular its latent and enduring conflict with India. This requires a regional peace process and, as Bruce Riedel has argued, American backing for moves towards a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

So, in other words, if the Kashmir dispute is resolved, the Pakistan army will no longer see India as a threat, and they will then stop sponsoring terrorism? This conclusion sounds weak, because it is based on the assumption that the Pakistan army's hatred of India is a rational response to something India has done or not done.

But this hatred is not based on what India does or does not do. It is a self-sustaining mechanism of survival for the Pakistan military, whose enormous clout and influence within Pakistan depends on always having an external threat. Their hatred of India is institutionalized since the founding of Pakistan, and especially since Zia's Islamization.

And that is as clear as the Sun in the Sky.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hearts and minds in Afghanistan

The latest ABC NEWS/BBC/ARD poll from December 2009, Afghanistan--–where things stand, naturally concentrates on the increasing confidence (since last year) that Afghans have in U.S. and ISAF forces and in the Afghan National Army.

But buried within the report is a question whose answer has been almost unchanged since last year:
Overall, please say if you think each of these countries
is playing a positive, neutral, or negative role
in Afghanistan now?

12/23/09 – Summary table

Positive Neutral Negative No opinion
a. Russia 22 38 31 9
b. Iran 27 29 39 5
c. Pakistan 9 13 73 5
d. India 36 44 13 6
e. U.S. 45 18 31 6
f. U.K. 28 31 31 10
g. Germany 32 39 19 9
There is also an "overall impression" question, whose results are similar:
Now I’m going to ask what you think about some people and groups.
Is your opinion of [INSERT] very favorable, somewhat favorable,
somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable?

12/23/09 – Summary table

----- Favorable ----- ---- Unfavorable ---- No
NET Very Somewhat NET Somewhat Very opinion
a. The Taliban 10 3 7 89 13 75 1
b. Osama Bin Laden 6 2 4 91 13 77 3
c. The U.S. 51 8 43 46 21 25 3
d. Pakistan 16 2 13 81 32 49 3
e. Great Britain 39 7 32 53 28 24 9
f. Iran 50 18 32 45 25 20 6
g. Germany 58 17 42 34 21 14 8
h. India 71 29 42 22 14 7 7
i. Hamid Karzai 82 55 28 13 8 5 5
j. Al Qaeda and other
foreign jihadis 8 3 5 86 19 67 6

The most popular entity here, after Hamid Karzai's 82 percent favorable rating, is India. And the most disliked, after the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is Pakistan.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Problem avoidance

Ex-CIA officer Graham Fuller wrote in the Huffington Post about why the United States should de-escalate in Afghanistan:
India is the primary geopolitical threat to Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore always maintain Afghanistan as a friendly state. India furthermore is intent upon gaining a serious foothold in Afghanistan -- in the intelligence, economic and political arenas -- that chills Islamabad.
(Link to his May 10, 2009 article).
This line may be straight out of General Kayani's diary. It accurately describes the perception in the leadership in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Fuller presents this "geopolitical threat" from India as an objective truth. As Shashi Tharoor said last month in an interview, Pakistan has nothing that India seeks.

Fuller's article is also dishonest because it leaves out an obvious part of the equation: Pakistan's continuing support of Islamist militas as leverage against its neighbors. If, as Fuller suggests, America draws down its military footprint in Afghanistan, then the Taliban will come back with Pakistan's support, either overt or tacit. Afghanistan will return to the pre-9/11 clutches of the Taliban--- a hell-hole for ordinary Afghans, and where the 9/11 attacks were hatched.

The problem with the knee-jerk anti-war movement is that is avoids the truth and seeks to bring us back into our shells. That's no way to engage with the world.