The curse of obsequiousness

December 13, 2010

A version of the following was published by DNA on 14th dec 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_why-we-are-the-world-s-worst-bunch-of-kowtowers_1480850 under the title” Why we are the world’s worst bunch of kowtowers”.

The curse of endemic obsequiousness

 

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether Indian officials’ refusal to grow a backbone is an unfortunate national trait

 

The incident in Mississippi was startling: the Indian Ambassador to the US, Meera Shankar, clad in a sari, was pulled out of the security line at an airport and subjected to a humiliating pat-down, apparently because of Transportation Safety Administration guidelines about ‘voluminous clothes’.

 

This, despite the fact that the ambassador produced her diplomatic papers. I suppose one could argue that the Mississippi officers were just doing their job, although it is possible that a little xenophobia, if not a little racism, was thrown in. Somehow I can’t imagine them patting down a white woman in a voluminous bridal dress.

 

But worse, the Indian Embassy tried to hush this incident up. It turns out this is not the first time it has happened to Meera Shankar. The embassy would have done nothing this time too if a local paper hadn’t carried shocked observations by the ambassador’s hosts, who felt she had been humiliated by the pat-down in full public view.

 

It appears, sadly, that the first instinct of Indian officialdom is to swallow insults and to, if possible, insist on not having any semblance of a backbone.

 

Consider that other countries do not ‘go gentle into that good night’, but they ‘rage, rage’. When China felt that the Nobel Peace Prize was an affront to them, they simply instituted a competing Confucius Peace Prize, laughable though it may be. When the US introduced intrusive fingerprinting rules for visitors, Brazil retaliated in kind. When the US creates non-tariff barriers, others retaliate.

 

But India, oh, that’s a different matter. There seems to be a built-in level of obsequiousness. Are Indian diplomats eyeing post-retirement sinecures in the World Bank etc.? But why are diplomats from other countries willing to stand up for their national interests?

 

Perhaps it is because India has never explicitly stated what those national interests are. The late C K Prahalad once wrote an essay on ‘strategic intent’ – that is, a long-range plan with a stretch goal: difficult at the moment, but not impossible if one worked assiduously at it. It is now accepted in business circles that firms that do not have a ‘strategic intent’ are more likely to fail, because there’s nothing like a worthy goal to rally the troops.

 

The Americans have strategic intent: it was paraphrased some years ago as something to the effect of “having 8% of the world’s population, and enjoying 50% of its resources”. China similarly has a strategic intent: they want to be Numero Uno in everything: wealth, military power, soft power. And what is India’s strategic intent? To be a toady to some great power? Can’t India see that it can be more than a banana republic, it can be a great power itself? It can be the bride, not only the bridesmaid.

 

On the contrary, I find a supreme lack of self-confidence. I understand that when the Chinese once sent a demarche to the Indian Embassy past midnight – in diplomatic terms a gross insult – instead of waiting till the next day, the woman ambassador showed up at the Chinese Foreign Office at 2 am! The Chinese would have considered that to be kowtowing.

 

But when a rude Chinese diplomat claimed in Mumbai that India had no business in Arunachal Pradesh, India did not immediately declare him persona non grata and give him 24 hours to clear out of the country. Instead, he was allowed to hang around and make more offensive statements!

 

A Chinese strongman is due to visit India shortly – and some suggested that India should refrain from the Nobel ceremony in case it would jeopardize the Wen Jiaobao visit! Why this walking on eggshells? The gent is not visiting for India’s benefit. If he doesn’t come, it will make no difference – they will continue the dam on the Brahmaputra, their army’s incursions over the LOC, and proliferation to Pakistan.

 

There is no consequence to them for misbehaving with India. We should ensure there some pain to China, and others, for insulting India. That gains respect.

 

Is there a genetic problem among Indians? Are we so used to obsequiousness that it has become the way we think? Perhaps. Going back to the airport security issue, maybe you have seen the lists in Indian airports of those exempt from security checks: the President, the Chief Justice Supreme Court, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, and so on…, and, Robert Vadhera!

 

Yes, this person who holds no public office is the only one specified by name as being exempt from frisking. In all fairness to this gent, I am told he didn’t ask for it, and it was the work of overzealous flunkeys. If that groveling is the prevailing pattern in India, then perhaps it is only fair that Meera Shankar was patted-down.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant.

 

823 words, 11 Dec 2010

 

 

 

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A version of the following was published on Nov 30th by DNA at: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/column_china-s-proxies-pak-and-n-korea-are-bamboozling-us_1474172

America is bamboozled by China’s proxies, North Korea and Pakistan

 

Rajeev Srinivasan contends that instead of throwing in its lot with a declining America, it should aspire to be one of the G3 great powers

 

There is a fin-de-siecle feeling in the air, of a change of guard. America’s self-confidence is at a low, and its strategists and policymakers are conceding the world stage to China. Caught in two nasty and difficult-to-win wars, it suffers from imperial overstretch, and there are parallels between the rapid decline of Britain in the 20th century and a likely diminution of American power in the 21st.

 

Several incidents in the recent past suggest that American power may diminish even more precipitously than British power. Consider America versus the insurgent, China.

 

In three major wars since 1950, Chinese proxies have faced Americans. In Korea, Chinese allies fought the Americans to a standstill; the North Vietnamese (then friends of China) defeated the Americans; in Afghanistan, Chinese ally Pakistan is humiliating the Americans after getting $25 billion in largesse from them. In other words, score: China 3, America 0.

 

It is clear that China uses Pakistan and North Korea as force-multipliers. It is a safe first-cut assumption to believe that everything these two rogue nations do is intended to advance Chinese interests, as they are virtually on Chinese military and diplomatic life-support.

 

Take the recent North Korean artillery barrage against a South Korean island. This is not an isolated incident, nor is China an innocent bystander by Zbigniew Brzezinski (“America and China’s First Test”, Financial Times, Nov 23) claims. Cold Warriors are still fighting the last war in Europe against the Soviets: they labor under the misconception that China is benign.

 

On the contrary, chances are that North Korean belligerence is an indirect Chinese response to US President Obama’s recent Asia swing, wherein he appeared to be building a coalition – India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea – to thwart China’s soaring ambitions.

 

China has been a consistent proliferator of missiles to North Korea, and nuclear weapons to Pakistan; the two swap technologies as well, with plausible deniability for China. Via the AQ Khan nuclear Wal-mart, these weapons were hawked to rogue regimes everywhere.

 

A while ago, saber-rattling North Korea launched long-range ballistic missiles to threaten Japan. So it is not surprising that a couple of weeks ago, North Korea amazed visiting American scientists by demonstrating its advanced weapons-grade uranium enrichment program. The Pakistan model, whereby China supplies screwdriver-ready nuke components, may well be at work here too.

 

Then there was the North Korean torpedo sinking a South Korean ship a few months ago; the sudden shelling of the South Korean island is part of marking out a zone of Chinese influence in the Yellow Sea. This fits into their recent aggressive behavior, bullying neighbors and declaring in effect that the South China Sea is a Chinese lake.

 

The most recent Pakistani incident is even more intriguing. It has been obvious for some time that the CIA is entirely clueless in the region, and is being led by the nose by the ISI – which surely receives advice and materiel from China. In 2001, the siege of Kunduz demonstrated how the ISI bamboozled the CIA into letting them airlift a thousand alleged Taliban officers (in reality Pakistani Army/ISI brass) besieged by the Northern Alliance.

 

A few months ago, seven CIA officers including their station chief in Afghanistan were blown up when a Jordanian double agent, presented as a senior al Qaeda insider, detonated explosives hidden in a suicide vest.

 

Now it turns out that an alleged top-level Taliban leader, who the Americans and Afghans were negotiating with, was a total impostor: he was in it for the big bucks from the gullible Americans. This demonstrates painful realities: the Americans lack decent intelligence on the ground, and being desperate to withdraw, they will clutch at straws. The clever ISI will, accordingly, manufacture various straws on demand and extract more billions from the CIA.

 

This latest Pakistani exploit reminds me of Graham Greene’s wickedly funny “Our Man in Havana” where an underpaid spy (and sometime vacuum cleaner salesman) sends fanciful details of an advanced Cuban/Soviet doomsday machine back to his bosses who are awed; only these were photos of the insides of a vacuum cleaner!

 

If this is the level of the competence of the almighty CIA, then I fear for America. And I fear even more for India, which seems to have a drop-dead, unerring instinct for allying with countries that are in terminal decline: first it was the Soviets, now it is the Americans.

 

Unfortunately, the idea that it need not ‘align’ with anybody does not even occur to India’s mandarins, as a result of an institutionalized inferiority complex. India, with its Hanuman Syndrome of not recognize its own strength, does not, alas, aspire to the creation of a G3: India, China, America, in that order.

 

Rajeev Srinivasan is a management consultant

 

825 words, Nov 26th

A version of the following appeared on rediff.com on July 21st at http://news.rediff.com/slide-show/2010/jul/21/slide-show-1-rajeev-srinivasan-on-moving-beyond-the-indo-pak-peace-talks.htm

Moving beyond the Indo-Pak ‘peace talks’, as the Afghan end game nears

Rajeev Srinivasan on how apportioning blame for the failure of the talks misses the big picture on the ground – the Great Game is afoot

I am always amused at the great expectations that some Indians harbor about India-Pakistan palavers, contrary to sense and prior experience. I suspect nothing will ever come of any Indo-Pak talks, because the dominant Pakistani ethos, indeed the very raison d’etre of that State’s existence, is based on being not-India and anti-India.

In particular, Pakistan is a State owned by an Army, and the Army would have no reason to exist if peace were, by some miracle, to break out with India. Survival instinct alone, therefore, suggests that the Pakistani Army could not possibly afford peace. After all, the continuous state of covert war sustains a very comfortable living for the generals – a story in the New York Times on July 19th talked about how parts of Islamabad look like a tidy, affluent Los Angeles suburb.

However, I am overwhelmed by déjà vu, because I could repeat verbatim what I wrote in June 2001, in a column titled “Because it’s their nature, their custom: Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed”, [http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jun/18rajeev.htm] about the much-ballyhooed 2001 talks with General Musharraf. I offered several analogies, including one with two sets of Polynesian islanders with widely differing visions of what ‘peace’ might be – absolutely appropriate in the India-Pakistan context.

I concluded with the following, and in hindsight I was wrong in assuming that India could drive Pakistan to bankruptcy with an arms race, much as the Americans had done to the Soviets:

“It is clear that Pakistan — or, to be precise, their ruling military establishment — wants, or needs, war. We can oblige: India can continue to bear the cost of war better than a much smaller, economically stagnant Pakistan which is liable to collapse under its own internal contradictions and runaway religious terrorism.”

Of course, this was before 9/11, and I did not anticipate then that the Pakistanis would get the Americans (and the Chinese) to underwrite their war against India, and that the Indian government would be so unwilling to or incapable of deterring Pakistan by imposing costs on misadventures. Instead, Pakistan is convinced that India does not have the guts to stand up to them.

Pakistanis are justified in believing this: for all practical purposes, the Mumbai attack in 2008, 11/26,  has been forgotten, and this so-called ‘peace process’ is proceeding from the Indian side as though the humiliation of that frontal attack on India’s financial nerve-center never happened. The small matter of 180 Indians being massacred, and India’s inept response to the crisis, both broadcast live around the globe, are forgotten.

Indeed, the name of the game today in India is finger-pointing: mandarins are running around trying to find a scapegoat to blame for the ‘failure’ of the talks. They have found a good candidate in Home Secretary G K Pillai, who is now the fall guy for having dared to mention some unmentionables.

A news item suggests that the Prime Minister is unhappy with Pillai for having aired David Coleman Headley’s confessions about the involvement of the ISI and the LeT in the Mumbai invasion. It seems the Prime Minister would have preferred it if this minor detail were swept under the carpet! What were the talks about, if they were to ignore the Pakistani establishment’s culpability in cross-border terrorism?

Where do the ‘concessions’ end? Wasn’t it enough that the Government of India quietly handed over 25 Pakistani terrorists – with no reciprocity – as  a ‘goodwill gesture’ to apparently smooth the way for the talks? And why didn’t the ever-vigilant English Language Media utter a word about this rather strange, and servile, way of engaging a foe?

There is also a basic flaw about the coverage of the talks – the issue is not whether the talks were successful. The issue is whether there is any progress made in the larger issue of protecting India’s national interests. Once again, we are losing the forest for the trees – the talks are tactical, the pursuit of national interests is strategic.

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, recent violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and subterfuge.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the Indians on the run”. So why, they ask reasonably, should they negotiate, when they are winning?

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network.

Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns. Pashtuns account for only about 40% of the Afghan population, along with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was excluded from previous talks about that nation, and now seems to be grudgingly included.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the line. Pashtun parts of Afghanistan, and the erstwhile North-West Frontier Province and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan would be its component parts.

This, of course, would be a disaster for Pakistan, as it would induce restive and oppressed Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well, leaving just a rump Pakistani Punjab, which would be too small to cause much damage to anybody but itself.

In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem. (There are clearly potential problems for India, too – perhaps there will be pressure to create a separate Kashmiri State; similarly Iran may end up losing its Baluch province of Sistan/Baluchistan to an independent Baloch State).

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable position of confronting the ISI’s ‘strategic depth’, which it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to checkmate it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

There is only one small silver lining in this cloud, and it is based purely on geography and demography. That silver lining is that the ISI may have been too clever for its own good, and that its ‘victory’ in Afghanistan may well be Pyrrhic, if it results in the unraveling of the country. There are those in India who say that a ‘stable, prosperous’ Pakistan is in India’s best interests. Hardly. On the contrary, a weak, balkanized Pakistan is.

Pakistan has made a career out of running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It was obvious as long ago as the siege of Kunduz in 2001 and the ensuing ‘Airlift of Evil’ that the so-called Taliban officers are serving or retired Pakistani Army and ISI brigadiers and colonels wearing baggy pants and beards and turbans. The ISI has had a great run with the fiction that the Taliban is distinct from itself.

With luck, this may be coming to an end. Former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill endorsed a formulation of a de-facto partition of Afghanistan, with the northern portion (including Kabul) to be under an American-NATO umbrella, and the southern, Pashtun, portion, to be left to the tender mercies of the Taliban/ISI. This is surely a trial balloon from the US Administration.

In effect, this would mean the old Northern Alliance would be re-constituted, with the US/NATO supporting it and keeping the Taliban at bay, as it was before 9/11, the only difference being that ten years have passed and $300 billion has been spent, a fair bit of which has spirited away by the ISI and friends. And Massoud has been assassinated.

If this is the final end game in Afghanistan, India had better be prepared to play an active role. Otherwise, in the new Great Game being played on the fringes of Indian territory, it will end up just a spectator. India should be looking to parlay its long tradition of relations with Afghanistan to establish strong commercial linkages, especially now that it turns out the country is chock-full of minerals.

The Indo-Pakistan ‘peace process’ is merely a ritualistic sideshow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The real strategic imperative is a plan for India in a post-Pakistan scenario, especially to prevent China and America from dividing up the Af-Pak region into their spheres of influence. With some luck, Pakistan may yet implode without any help from India. India should look beyond its obsession with Pakistanis strutting about, and pursue its national interests.

2000 words, 20th July 2010

A version of the following appeared in Daily News & Analysis on Jul 13th, 2010 at http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/main-article_india-s-strategic-blunders_1408958, and a PDF version of the page is at http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/13072010/12main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Strategic blunders hurt India

Rajeev Srinivasan on how Pakistan has outsmarted India through clever foreign policy

Several distinct but related events have shown that India’s alleged Pakistan policy is either non-existent or self-defeating. First, there is the all-but-complete transfer of two 635-megawatt Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan, which will allow the latter to build 24 more nuclear bombs every year in addition to their existing stockpile of 70-90, already bigger than India’s.

Second, the violence in Jammu and Kashmir is a direct result of the decision by the GoI to withdraw 30,000 troops a few months ago. Third, the apparent willingness by Afghan President Karzai to cooperate with the intensely anti-India Haqqani network implies the total failure of India’s efforts to be a stakeholder in that nation.

China has simply ignored the pro-forma noises that the US made at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group regarding likely weapons proliferation because of the new reactors being transferred to Pakistan. Selig Harrison, writing in the Boston Globe, pointed out how proliferation is part of Pakistani national policy. Despite this, and despite all the GoI’s exertions to ram the so-called ‘nuclear deal’ down India’s throat, America has no qualms about the Pakistani stockpile.

Thus the dubious nuclear deal has had the effect of strengthening Pakistan’s hand, while constraining India’s own puny efforts at building a deterrent against China, almost exactly as opponents of the deal said, while the GoI proceeded with it in a haze of lies and dissimulations.

It appears the sudden upsurge of violence in Jammu and Kashmir is almost certainly a calibrated and calculated ratcheting up of tension by the ISI. Intercepted phone calls suggest that the ISI and pals like the LeT are paying ‘rage-boys’ to indulge in stone-throwing and other violence, expecting to induce over-reaction by the stressed-out paramilitary troops and police. This, then, can lead to manufactured ‘martyrs’.

The ISI has reason to believe it is on a winning track. Successive statements by the Prime Minister in Havana, Sharm-al-Sheikh and Thimphu have all implied that, succumbing to American pressure, India is willing to cede Kashmir to Pakistan, the only issue being how to market such a climb-down to the Indian public.

The coded talk of ‘creative solutions’ and ‘trust deficit’ have been interpreted by them as a ‘deficit of will’, and the likelihood that they can make J&K simply too expensive for India to hang on to. The proximate cause is the withdrawal of 30,000 troops. To the ISI, this spells “we have the UPA on the run”. They perceive a ‘backbone deficit’ and lack of will.

Intriguingly, this is almost exactly the same feeling that the ISI has about the Obama administration after its disastrous declaration of a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. They, and their proxy the Taliban, feel that all they have to do is to wait things out – the Americans have no will to fight, or stay on. Apparently President Karzai implicitly believes this – witness his alleged overtures to the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Karzai, Taliban and Haqqanis are all Pashtuns.

Pashtuns account for about 40% of the Afghan population, with large groups of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras among others. India has traditionally had good relationships with the Pashtuns but even better ties to the Tajiks, who, under the charismatic military genius Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Northern Alliance, held off the Soviets and then the Taliban.

Now all the blood and treasure – hundreds of millions of dollars – that India has poured into reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan seem to be in jeopardy because Pakistanis have convinced Americans and others that India has no business whatsoever in Afghanistan. India was not even invited to talks about that nation.

The irony is that the Pashtun issue is one of Pakistan’s key weaknesses – the Durand Line arbitrarily divides Pashtun territory into Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pashtuns themselves have never recognized it, and if given a chance, would create an independent Pashtunistan on both sides of the Durand Line. This, of course, would be disaster for Pakistan, as it might induce restive Baluchis and Sindhis to secede as well. In fact, some analysts suggest just such a Balkanization to solve the Pakistan problem.

Somehow, the enterprising ISI has turned this weakness into a strength, by hijacking the Pashtun elements into their proxy Taliban. Similarly, the ISI, which faced the wrath of America after 9/11 with its peremptory warning to President Musharraf to behave, or else, has turned it into a $25 billion bonanza. Ironically, the Americans are in effect subsidizing the Pakistani purchase of Chinese reactors!

Instead of containing Pakistan with a pincer movement with one front in Afghanistan, India is now in the unenviable situation that the ISI has achieved the ‘strategic depth’ it has always craved. Uncertain about its goals and ever-eager to appease, India has allowed a failing State one-seventh its size to smother it. Lack of strategic intent has led to dismal failure yet again.

825 words, 10 Jul 2010

A version of this appeared in Daily News & Analysis on June 29th. Here is the URL: http://www.dnaindia.com/opinion/comment_losing-in-afghanistan_1402597

and the pdf of the page can be found here: http://epaper.dnaindia.com/epaperpdf/29062010/28main%20edition-pg12-0.pdf

Losing the new Great Game in Afghanistan

America has gotten itself into an unholy mess thanks to Pakistani duplicity

The news from Afghanistan is not good for the US, nor for India. US President Obama dismissed the commander of his troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, ostensibly because of rude comments he made in a magazine article, but in reality because a scapegoat was needed for the increasingly inept war efforts there. The same fate befell his predecessor too.

The facts on the ground indicate that Obama’s announced plan – surge, bribe, declare victory, and run like hell – is not working. The current thinking is no longer about winning, but about spinning a face-saving retreat. Says the Washington Post, “[the] administration is looking for a decent, negotiated exit. The Pakistani intelligence service would act as a surrogate (and guarantor) for the Taliban… The deal might leave the Taliban in control of large parts of Afghanistan…  ”

In other words, Obama is explicitly outsourcing the war to Pakistan’s ISI. This would be a questionable choice anyway. But given that the Taliban are basically ISI in baggy pants and beards, an instance of diplomatic theater (after all, it is astonishing that these alleged theology students suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes), the policy is suicidal. A recent report from the London School of Economics and Harvard University emphasized the links between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban.

This report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, indicts the ISI, which, it says, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” insurgents. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it claims Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”.

A New York Times report suggests further that “Pakistan is presenting itself as the new viable partner for Afghanistan to President Hamid Karzai, who has soured on the Americans. Pakistani officials say they can deliver the network of Sirajuddin Haqqani, an ally of Al Qaeda who runs a major part of the insurgency in Afghanistan, into a power-sharing arrangement.”

The Haqqani network and the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are among the ISI’s assets. Ironically, Hekmatyar, now a sworn enemy of the US, received over half of the billions that the CIA lavished on the war against the Soviets, thanks to his friends in the ISI.

It is remarkable that the ISI has hoodwinked the Americans to such an extent. ISI protégés are killing Americans, while the ISI and the Pakistani Army pretend to be fighting on the side of the Americans. In other words, the Americans are fighting people whom they are indirectly funding! It is as though, in Vietnam, they were funding not only the South Vietnam Army, but also the Viet Cong guerillas.

When the history of the Afghan war is written, historians may pinpoint the exact moment the Americans lost it. That was the siege of Kunduz in 2001. The rampaging Northern Alliance had much of the top brass of the Taliban corralled at the fort in Kunduz. Unbelievably, the CIA authorized an airlift by the Pakistanis (now called “Airlift of Evil”). At least a thousand of the Taliban were spirited away – and the open secret is that they were mostly midlevel Pakistani Army and ISI officers in turbans. That singular event sealed the fate of the entire campaign.

It is high time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but Pakistan’s scheming Army and ISI.

The ISI has also put about an interesting theory, that Afghanistan is per se not conquerable. That is not quite true: Greeks, Persians, Mongols, et al, did conquer. Yes, the British were routed. That was because, despite propaganda, the British were poor warriors: they were able to win victories in India only because of a disastrous Indian habit of betrayal. There are Mir Jafars aplenty in India; but Afghans do not betray their own to foreigners.

When properly handled, Afghanistan can be conquered and held, as Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Empire demonstrated not too long ago. The reason most conquerors left Afghanistan is that it is stark, inhospitable territory with no apparent value: the returns were not worth the cost of holding it. Of course, that may change now that they say the country holds trillions of dollars worth of strategic minerals: that may encourage Americans to hold on.

But a comprehensive American defeat in Afghanistan would be strategically bad for India too. It would encourage triumphalist fundamentalists, who could now reasonably claim to have defeated both the Soviets and the Americans. Worse, it would mean that China, through its proxies, has defeated the Americans yet again: this would be number three in a row, after Korea and Vietnam. Imagine their hubris!

825 words, Jun 26, 2010

A version of this appeared on rediff.com on Jun 21st at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/21/rajeev-srinivasan-on-americas-afghan-plans.htm

A U-turn on Afghanistan?

Rajeev Srinivasan wonders whether the US is making a mid-course correction on Afghanistan

These are not good times for US president Obama. Hailed as a savior if not a messiah just eighteen months ago, he is now reeling from several crises. The BP oil spell has left him looking incompetent and uncaring. The $1 trillion stimulus package may have avoided a Great Depression, but unemployment hovers near 10%. His big achievement, healthcare reform, has left a sour taste with almost all sections of society.

But most of all, the Afghanistan quagmire is getting worse. Just this week, seven US soldiers were killed in a single day; the public is getting tired of body bags and elusive promises of success. Maybe there’s a re-think. A series of unexpected events took place recently that, if put together, may signal a mid-course correction by the US:

  1. A report from the London School of Economics and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University that emphasized the very high level of co-operation between Pakistan’s government, ISI and the Taliban
  2. A major story in the New York Times about the discovery of large mineral deposits in Afghanistan
  3. Severe ethnic riots, resulting in a breakdown of normal activity, in the republic of Kyrgyzstan, where an important US air force supply base in Manas is used to support the war effort
  4. The resignations of Afghanistan’s interior minister and security chief, among other things, taking responsibility for an attack on a loya jirga, but also suggesting a hardening of ethnic differences
  5. Reports that the Afghan President Karzai has lost faith in the ability of the NATO forces to actually win the war
  6. Reports that the much-anticipated counter-insurgency surge in Marjah, which was hailed at the time as momentous, has bogged down and that the rebels are gaining strength

All these have to be seen in the context of Obama’s policy of increasing the number of soldiers on the ground first, and then beginning to wind down the US war effort and withdrawing troops in 2011, just in time to declare victory and use the halo effect to effortlessly win the 2012 presidential elections.

That dream is, to put it mildly, in some jeopardy now. The Obama plan was to surge, bribe, declare victory and run like hell. They have done the surge part, and are in the process of bribing (usually the ISI and its pals), but it’s not going well. The bribees are not acting as expected – Afghans seem to be taking the bribes and merrily continuing what they were doing anyway.

The US’s intent to declare victory and leave requires someone to be the ‘keeper’, as it were, of Afghanistan. The ISI has volunteered itself for this role. This is why it is intriguing that the LSE/Kennedy School report has come out at this time. The Kennedy School is close to the US government, and so it is a fair conjecture that the US administration wants to put the screws on someone.

At first glance, if you read the litany of things in this report, “The Sun in the Sky: The relationship between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan insurgents”, it sounds like a damning indictment of the ISI which is quite transparently the prime motivator, financier, and provider of cover to the Taliban and related groups.

The ISI, says the report, “orchestrates, supports and strongly influences” them. It “provides huge support in training, funding, munitions and supplies”, which is “official ISI policy”, not the work of some rogue elements. Furthermore, it is not just the ISI, it claims that Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari promised to release jailed Taliban leaders if they kept quiet about it. This amounts to “collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state [Pakistan]”, the bracket in the original. Interesting that an American is calling Pakistan an enemy state, not the trademarked “major ally in the war on terror”.

Unfortunately, the author, Matt Waldman, has the standard simplistic solution to all this: the way to end the ISI’s cooperation with the Taliban “is to address the fundamental causes of Pakistan’s insecurity, especially its latent and enduring conflict with India”. Of course, if only India were to give Kashmir to Pakistan, the ISI would stop arming the Taliban, and Americans can go home. Simple! QED.

The answer, therefore, is for India to give more: which might explain the Indian PM’s offer to ‘walk the extra mile’ and the latest euphemism, ‘creative solutions’ to the Kashmir problem. India must give up territory so that Americans can exit Afghanistan, in return for… exactly what? Eternal love and fellowship? Just like India sacrificed Tibet and got eternal love and friendship?

Well, be that as it may, it is also possible that finally the US is recognizing the obvious: the ISI has been running with the hares and hunting with the hounds from day one. Maybe the judicious leak is a way of putting the ISI on notice that it had better ratchet things down to some extent. Maybe the Obamistas are actually planning to stay for a while.

Such an eventuality would explain why the NY Times, also known to the close to the US government, made such breathless noises about newly-discovered minerals in Afghanistan (“1 trillion worth!” “Might fundamentally change the war!”). Perhaps Obama has decided that it is not such a good idea to exit in 2011, possibly handing the terrorists a morale-boosting victory.

This story about minerals is not new – months ago, I heard about this from the intrepid foreign policy analyst who goes by the name Pundita. She suggested this meant Americans would stay on: there was no way they would leave all this loot to the Chinese, who have already snapped up a giant copper mine. Perhaps the NYT minerals story is a red herring to divert attention away from the real issue of American failure in Afghanistan.

That failure is evident in the subdued talk about Marjah now; instead of the cocky self-assurance then, there is grim talk now of the difficulty in clearing the area and keeping in clear. No wonder it appears Karzai has lost faith in American staying power – and even in their military tactics; and he is also probably tired of being painted as the villain and blamed for the failure of American plans.

In this context, the resignations of the interior minister Hanif Atmar and the security chief Amrullah Saleh sent ominous signals. In particular, Saleh, an ex-aide of the assassinated military genius and commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud, appears to have been one of the most competent ministers. And as an ethnic Tajik, his departure may signal increasing ethnic fractures in the Afghan government.

It is easy to underestimate the impact of ethnic divisions in Central Asia. There are differences of opinion between the Pashtuns (Karzai is one and so are the Taliban) and the smaller Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara minorities. Sometimes these break into open warfare – the Taliban, for instance, massacred Hazaras, and that was partly because the latter were Shia, so the Shia-Sunni religious divide can also be potent.

A case in point about ethnic divisions is the sudden outburst of rioting and killing in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the Kyrgyz are apparently killing Uzbeks (which may be normal in Central Asia where majorities severely oppress minorities). This has an impact on the US – if Manas air support base becomes less available for operations, it increases the US’s dependence on Karachi and the ISI that much more.

Thus, nothing seems to be going according to plan, and a gloomy headline in the NY Times suggesting that “Setbacks cloud US plans to get out of Afghanistan”. No kidding. The Americans may have to accept they are in it for the long term: Afghanistan may not be another Vietnam, but a tar baby. They simply cannot cut and run. They have to clean up this unholy mess of their own making.

It is time that America recognized that the problem is not Afghanistan, but the chimera Pakistan, an imaginary homeland. The very existence of Pakistan – a state with no raison d’etre, is the root cause. The random Durand Line, that slices the Pashtun nation into Afghan and Pakistani areas, was never taken seriously by Pashtuns, and the British-brokered treaty that created it expired in 1993. Until a united Pashtun nation is created including the appropriate areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, this problem is going to fester: tribal loyalties run supreme in those mountains.

The Americans may be thinking of contracting the running of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth to the ISI, much as the latter have been exploiting the mineral wealth of Baluchistan while severely oppressing, and occasionally massacring, native Baluch. It is not clear that this tactic will work with the Afghans.

Instead of giving the ISI the ‘strategic depth’ they crave by allowing them run rampant in Afghanistan, the answer would be to create a Pashtun nation, a Baluch nation (part of it is in Iran), a Sindhi nation, leaving the rump of Pakistani Punjab too small to do too much damage to anybody but themselves.

If this has finally dawned on the Americans, the $300 billion that they have already poured down the endless money-pit of this war can be chalked up to experience. Otherwise, they would, in Talleyrand’s memorable indictment of the French monarchy, have “learned nothing and forgotten nothing”. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome is that they will press India to give in to the ISI, or, equally disastrously, ask for Indian troops to join them in Afghanistan.

1550 words, June 15, 2010

Versions of the following appeared on rediff.com and India Abroad. The rediff.com version from June 16th is at http://news.rediff.com/column/2010/jun/16/rajeev-srinivasan-on-indias-relationship-with-america.htm

India needs a relationship of equals, and the US will not offer that

Rajeev Srinivasan on the poor prospects of an Indo-US rapprochement

The just-concluded ‘Strategic Dialog’ between India and the US certainly sounds important. The big question is whether there is any substance behind the rhetoric. Going by past history, it is likely that this will be yet another false dawn in Indo-US relations. An incisive analyst, Brahma Chellaney, summed up Indian skepticism in a tweet:

“The US has realized the simple way to keep Indians happy: An occasional ego-massage. After Obama’s eulogy, Indians will stay content for a while.“

It is true that the oratory emanating from Obama administration, both from under-secretary William Burns and from president Obama himself, has been honeyed, but then pretty speechifying is Obama’s forte. However, there isn’t any steak behind the sizzle: just two weeks ago the US silently acquiesced to the Chinese giving Pakistan, with no strings attached, a nuclear deal which is as good as the ‘deal’ India got at great strategic cost to itself.

Furthermore, Indians have not forgotten that India’s prime minister was not in the list of twenty world leaders Obama telephoned after his accession to the presidency; there was the plan to make Richard Holbrooke a mediator on Kashmir; the appointment of Ellen Tauscher, arch-non-proliferation-ayatollah and harsh critic of India, as under-secretary for arms control; and most of all, the hard-to-defend hedging on letting Indian officials interrogate David Coleman Headley, suspect in Mumbai’s 11/26.

There are plenty of large reasons why the hurrahs about an alleged Indo-US rapprochement are premature. First, even the Bush-era friendship was narrowly-focused – Indian leaders, for unknown reasons, plumped for a hard-to-justify nuclear-based energy future. Indian eagerness was exploited by Americans to strait-jacket India into non-proliferation regimes that severely constrain its strategic options.

Second, the other Bush objective, to build India up as a counterweight to a rampant China, fell by the wayside with the Obamistas’ clear preference for a G2, suggesting that a China-US duopoly is inevitable, and conceding to China the role of hegemon in Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the western Pacific Ocean, and explicitly in the Indian subcontinent.

Third, Obama has stated unequivocally that he intends to cut and run from Afghanistan. He believes he needs a Pakistani fig-leaf to claim victory in the face of a humiliating defeat and a head-long retreat like Saigon in 1975. Therefore, he leans on India to give ‘concessions’ to Pakistan: it costs him nothing.

Fourth, there is a history of American duplicity. American promises of eternal, undying love are pure theatrics. Bitter experiences with reneging on treaty obligations for fuel for Tarapur, a slew of nuclear treaties such as NPT, CTBT, FMCT, etc., all aimed at India in particular, and the decades-old acceptance of Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, suggest American bad faith.

Fifth, the fundamental premise behind an Indo-US relationship is flawed. There is an underlying assumption that the world will remain unipolar and American-dominated, with at best China being a secondary, less appealing second pole, and that therefore it is incumbent on India to align with the US lest it be left out in the cold.

The facts on the ground do not support this assumption. America is waning. Yes, it will continue to be the biggest world power for a while yet, but the US in 2050 will be much less dominant than in 1950. In 1950, America bestrode the world like a colossus, intact in a World-War II-ravaged world. In 2050, China and India will be nipping at its heels.

India can never ally with imperialist China, which seeks to dominate Asia, if not the world. They leave no room for a rival, and systematically undermine all potential competitors. It appears that, after a series of reverses, it has dawned on the US that the alleged G2 – although favored by unreconstructed cold-warriors like Zbigneiw Brezezinski and apologists for empire like Niall Ferguson – is of greater advantage to China than to itself.

This may explain the sudden interest in India by the Obamistas. The Democrats’ natural instinct is intensely anti-India. This is standard ‘liberal’ hypocrisy, wherein they pay lip service to democracy and freedom and other motherhood, but secretly admire fascist thugs, despots and dictators – such as those in China, Pakistan and Iran, all the targets of Obamista overtures.

There is also the pragmatic reason that India’s economy is growing rapidly. Much like the 19th-century British, Americans seek markets. China, the other large market, is difficult, and extracts its pound of flesh, as seen in Google’s troubles. Especially as India will invest in buying armaments, aircraft and other big-ticket items where the US still has a competitive edge, it is a tempting market. That’s good for the US.

But these are not reasons for India to ally itself with the US. In fact, there has been little improvement in scientific, technical or other ties. The Indian space effort remains cut off by law from much American technology. In other ways too, India is treated as a pariah by the US government, on par with dangerous, failing states. There is also the perennial litmus test – when will the US unambiguously endorse India for a veto-holding permanent seat in the UN Security Council?

No relationship can survive when the benefits are one-sided. Therefore, India will be better-off not tying itself to a waning power, at a time when it is itself on the rise. An America beset with financial problems, with receding self-confidence, and with the Gulf oil-spill as metaphor for its decline, is not worth allying with. At least, not unless India gets concrete, and massive, benefits in return. Time favors India.

There is no point in being a satellite to a sinking, unreliable America – instead, India should strive to establish itself as a pole in a multi-polar world consisting of, perhaps, a G3 or G4 – including itself and the EU. Better to live two days as a tiger than two hundred years as a sheep, a quote attributed to Tipu Sultan.

1000 words, 6 Jun 2010