Monday, July 28, 2008

Indian Country (UPDATED)

Recent horrifying bomb attacks in India have brought further to the fore the long-festering tensions between India and Pakistan. These attacks, whose level of brutal sophistication suggest capabilities beyond those of the home-grown Indian extremist groups who have unconvincingly claimed "credit," bear distinct traces of the sorts of tactics employed by Salafist Jihadi groups like al Qaeda. There are strong indications of naan-crumbs leading to Bangladesh and Pakistan.

In his invaluable book, America's Secret War, George Friedman of Stratfor described some of the tactics quietly employed by the US in the wake of 9/11/01 to bring Pakistan and its nukes to heel. These involved enhanced relations with India, Pakistan's mortal enemy and erstwhile American co-pariah (for their illicitly developed nuclear weapons programs). Islamabad was served notice that it had better play ball with the US in its war on Jihadi extremism, lest the US lend its greater support to New Delhi. You may recall the news stories in 2001-2002 about the potential nuclear standoff between the two nations over the disputed territories of Kashmir. Once Pervez Musharref stepped up and declared himself an ally of the US in its efforts (however erratic that alliance later proved itself to be), those stories seemed to drop off the radar screen in fairly short order. It seemed that the message had been received.

Recently, however, the Pakistani government, military, and Intelligence services have been behaving in such a way as to indicate the need for a refresher course on the consequences of hindering our efforts to interdict and defeat Islamist extremists in their rugged backyard. It is bad enough that Islamabad has been cutting wafer-thin deals left right and center with the Taliban and AQ on its border with Afghanistan. For there to be evidence (or even just a perception) that it is permitting or abetting interference and mayhem within the borders of the world's largest democracy may be a bridge too far:

The recent bomb attacks come at a time when the Pakistan-India peace process is under strain. Amid one of the sharpest exchanges between the neighbors since they launched peace talks in 2004, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said that "elements" in Pakistan were behind a resurgence in militant activities, including the recent bomb attack at the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 58 people, including two Indian diplomats.

"There have been statements by leaders of Pakistan, inciting terror," Mr. Menon said. "There are such statements from some government officials and this incitement of violence has culminated in suicide blasts.... All investigations point to Pakistan being behind the blast."

Into this mix, I submit that one might legitimately throw the fact of the latest iteration in the on-going regularization of relations between Washington and New Delhi on the matter of nuclear technology. While there are legitimate concerns about this set of agreements from the standpoint of non-proliferation, it is difficult to argue that India would be a less or even equally-reliable partner than Pakistan in civil and military nuclear tech. Given the growing economic, political, and, yes, military prominence of India in the region, there is much to be gained in its own right from bringing them out from the cold with respect to their nukes.

But the opportunity to put the screws back into Pakistan can very defensibly be posited as a sub rosa motivation for this deal at this time. It is the sort of subtle, back-channel gamesmanship which has characterized the better moments of this Administration's dealings abroad, and which contrasts so very sharply with the shallow, counterproductively public broadsides from the likes of Barack Obama. For someone like the latter, for whom the primacy of Diplomacy is such a cherished priority, this kind of shrill sabre-rattling is worthy of note for the degree to which it undermines our efforts (by triggering a truculent counter-posture), while failing to present the kind of credible yet deniable pressure which really gets things done while saving face for those whose energies we wish to coopt.

If I am right, and this deal with India is part of a larger pattern of putting much-needed pressure on Pakistan, then it is the kind of win-win which results when grown-ups are engaged in the business of geopolitics.

One can only hope that the Pooh-bear isn't put in charge of guarding the picnic-basket.

(edited for embarrassingly long-unnoticed typo in last sentence ["one" for "once"]).

UPDATE: On re-reading this post, it occurred to me that I presented both the STRATFOR analysis and my own extrapolation of it in rather too definitive terms. So, let me get out ahead of potential valid criticisms and emphasize that, as with much of the business of intelligence work (governmental and private) there is a certain amount of tea leaf reading involved. You take the open-source information, draw connections and fashion narratives, and watch the unfolding of events for signs that they continue to fit the emerging data. The answer to the question of whether the above-mentioned machinations viz India and Pakistan were a deliberate strategem lies well outside of my (alas, non-existent) pay grade and security clearance. As for the proprietary analytical methods and sources employed by STRATFOR, I cannot speak with anything resembling authority. They have gotten some things pretty glaringly wrong in the past. In this case, however, the narrative hangs together pretty convincingly and continues to track with emerging data set in ways which continue to inspire confidence. Readers of these pages may take from this what they see fit, and subject it to what challenges they deem appropriate. For me, I continue to see it as a relatively robust formulation.

As ever, your mileage may vary.

1 comment:

Mr.Hengist said...

I think your analysis is largely correct but incomplete. I'd add two things:

- I'm not entirely convinced that Pakistan is sliding away from the U.S. in terms of being an ally in the GWOT. Although the nominal government of Pakistan has effectively ceded control of large swaths of its territory to their native tribal Jihadists, the U.S. (under the flag of NATO) has been conducting airstrikes (and in one case, returning artillery fire) inside Pakistani territory, and that's something new. My sense of this is that Musharraf is playing both sides; he makes peace while we attack. He can make the objectively reasonable case to the Taliban that although he wants peace and is willing to make deals with them he can't keep the mighty Americans from conducting military operations within Pakistan. The occasional noises of protest his government makes on those occasions bolsters the appearance of indignation at these incursions but I think that, in concrete terms, - and this is key - Pakistan will not lift a finger to prevent it or to retaliate. It's not a bad deal for the U.S., either; although it's always preferable to have a local government deal with its own problems, we've seen Pakistan use force to that end with poor results. We're much better at kinetic operations and so we can get better results than we got when we relied on the Pakistani armed forces to carry out their own operations.

- India has been a nuclear power for over thirty years and the United States has been trying to stuff that genie back in the bottle for most of that time. It hasn't worked and the future looks bleak for that preferred outcome. Nobody can reasonably say that this approach hasn't been given a fair shot or that this agreement was rushed. Despite the limited scope of this agreement it's better than no agreement and having no prospects of an agreement in the foreseeable future.

We're bringing India's nuclear program under partial international supervision and strengthening the ties between India the United States, with a particular eye towards countering the influence of China and the threat of Pakistan. Less than an ideal outcome but reasonably good overall, IMHO.