Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just What We Need - Another Conflict in Afghanistan

When it comes to foreign policy, the Bush/Cheney regime has been an unmitigated disaster, the perfect storm of indifference, over-confidence and inconsistent goals.

Toppling Saddam was supposed to spark the spread of democracy through the Middle East. Instead it resulted in the ascendancy of fundamentalist Shiite influence from Iraq to Iran, Syria to Lebanon.

In its War (without end) on Terror, the United States has fractured Trans-Atlantic solidarity and undermined NATO unity. Bush has done a lot to try to mend fences over the past two years but it'll take a new American administration and an awful lot of diplomacy to restore those relationships.

Already faced with being eclipsed economically by an emerging China, the US has driven China and Russia into each other's arms through clumsy attempts at containment. This is not to say the Shanghai Cooperation Organization wouldn't have emerged otherwise but US efforts certainly gave it unhelpful impetus.

Then there's Afghanistan. We're busy trying to hold the Taliban and al-Qaeda at bay while the country literally rots beneath our feet. Fundamentalist Islamist warlords rule most of the country, barely tolerating a notional central government in Kabul that is both feeble and terminally corrupt. We're struggling to save the irredeemable.

We keep saying the key to stopping the Taliban is the neighbouring state of Pakistan. Then Washington gives Islamabad ample cause not to cooperate by encouraging rival India to expand its presence in Afghanistan. Bloody minded idiocy!

With warlords, drug barons, insurgents and a corrupt government and security service, what we all need now in Afghanistan is another source of conflict, especially a proxy battle between Pakistan and India. Yet that's exactly what's happening.

India has a history of meddling in Afghanistan to bring pressure on Pakistan's western front. As Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, reported in Asia Times Online, Indian-Pakistani rivalries are very much in play in Afghanistan:

"All through the painful twists and turns, Indian policy towards Afghanistan was steeped in pragmatism and remained largely Pakistan-centric. But things seem to be changing. The horizons appear to have vastly expanded. According to Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid, Kabul is "replacing Kashmir as the main area of antagonism" between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani security establishment has convinced itself that Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies are engaged in undermining Pakistan's security. American analysts say Afghanistan has explicitly become a theater of Pakistan-India adversarial relations. But there is a much larger dimension.

The Pakistani establishment is also sizing up the new geopolitical reality - the unprecedented pro-India tilt in the US's regional policy. It is having a hard time coping with the trilateral consensus between Kabul, Delhi and Washington, which pillories Islamabad as the "primary and near-exclusive trouble maker" in the region. The Pakistani establishment cannot accept that while Islamabad remains a key partner for Washington in the "war on terror", it is Delhi that is on the way to becoming a stakeholder in US global strategies.

...the Pakistani perspective sees the emerging regional equations as a dangerous slide toward Indian military superiority and regional "hegemony". How does the Pakistani military, weaned on adversarial feelings towards India, countenance such a challenge?

First, Pakistan will assert its legitimate interests in Afghanistan, no matter what it takes. Make no mistake about it. The Pakistani generals know what transpired when American and British top brass met in Britain last month to exchange notes on Afghanistan. The conclave assessed there were huge problems with the Karzai regime's performance and the war might last for another 30 years, which is a hopeless scenario, as "war fatigue" is setting in among North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and the tide of public opinion is turning against the war. But that isn't all.

...though Indian rhetoric on Afghanistan is carefully couched in terms of countering terrorism, Pakistan doesn't see it that way. Instead, it views it in much larger terms as an Indian thrust, supported by the US, as the pre-eminent regional power in South Asia. In recent weeks, Pakistani military raised the ante along the Line of Control bordering the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The resurgence of tensions seems a calibrated move. Islamabad is sending some signals.

Nasim Zehra, a relatively moderate, sensible voice in the Pakistani strategic community, wrote recently, "It is time for Pakistan to categorically state: enough of Pakistan bashing, enough of vacuous Kantian moralizing in a Hobbesian world, enough of the do-more mantra and enough of partisan analysis, enough of selective perceptions, enough of double standards ... Pakistan will play 'as clean as the world around it'. Take it or leave it. There is no 'going it alone' for any of Pakistan's neighbors."

...The message is simple: If Pakistan goes down, it will take India down with it. There is no such thing as absolute security."

Indian meddling advances the interests of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan very little and, while Karzai may treasure India's engagement as a foil to Pakistan, it is Pakistan's help we need in Afghanistan.

1 comment:

LeDaro said...

Undoubtedly it is a dangerous situation. Both India and Pakistan are a nuclear power. Bush and Cheney are playing with fire here. Sooner Bushy leaves office better it would be for the world peace. I hope the new President of US will have the foresight to take care of these issues.