By D Suba Chandran
In his recent article, C Raja Mohan has reviewed the situation in Af-Pak, and based on the premise that the game is changing for Pakistan, he has made four specific recommendations for India. Is the game really changing in Pakistan? Should the proposed military action by Pakistan’s military in North Waziristan be considered as change or a mere tactical response by Gen Kayani to ease American pressure? Can this change be seen as Gen Kayani’s strategic manoeuvering?
Yes, there is American pressure – both political and military. The anti-American sentiments within Pakistan and the rhetoric of the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty have not cut much ice in the White House. Obama seems to be sternly maintaining his strategy of applying political pressure on the Pakistani polity and military, and militarily continuing with the American drone attacks.
However, the change in Pakistan’s military, if there is one, cannot be attributed to American pressure alone. More than the killing of Osama bin Laden, the attack on PNS Mehran is likely to be the game-changer for Pakistan’s military vis-à-vis the militants, including the Taliban and al Qaeda. According to recent reports, especially those since the fatal one penned down by Saleem Shahzad, which cost him his life, the attack on PNS Mehran is not a revenge attack (for killing OBL), as the political and military establishment in Pakistan want the rest of the world to believe. Rather, it seems to be the beginning of the manifestations of the reach of radical elements in Pakistan’s security forces.
Now getting back to the original question – is the game changing? If yes, who is changing it? Of course, there is American pressure, but one should not discount attacks by radical groups (led more by the Pakistani Taliban than the Afghan Taliban or the al Qaeda) and pressure from within the Pakistani military to control the TTP backlash. A cursory look into the recent history of Pakistan will reveal that this has been the game for the last few years – defined in terms of American political and military pressure, the Taliban backlash and Pakistani military operations. What has changed now?
From an Indian perspective, what needs to be analyzed in the above game is Pakistan’s response. Are the change and Pakistan’s military operations tactical or strategic? Is there a change in the GHQ’s long-term objectives (and even strategies) in Afghanistan? From New Delhi’s perspective, the question of a suitable strategy will be more important, irrespective of the game. Should it be aimed at adapting to changing game, and pursuing strategies to the changing environment? Or should it be aimed at pursuing a strategy which will change the nature of the game itself?
This is where C Raja Mohan’s recommendations are pertinent. First and foremost, a long-term commitment to the Afghan people (more than the Karzai regime), irrespective of who rules Kabul. The Prime Minister’s recent visit and his statement in the Afghan Parliament should be pursued as a long-term strategy to change the game, and not to adapt to the changing environment. If the international community and Afghan people are convinced that talking to the Taliban (Good, bad or moderate) will help them achieve stability (if not peace!), so be it. Besides financial commitments, New Delhi should also look for an opening with the Taliban. Of course the Taliban may not have given a visiting card to the Indian embassy or a postal address, as many in India will criticize. But the Taliban is not a monolithic entity; it is a deeply divided umbrella organization, with the Quetta Shura, Huqqani network and various warlords using the Taliban banner.
However, the real challenge in what C Raja Mohan has prescribed is reaching an understanding with China on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Are the recent activities of Beijing vis-à-vis Pakistan based on bilateral concerns, or are they a manifestation of Chinese fears over the Indo-US nuclear deal and growing strategic partnership between the two democracies? How will Beijing be convinced that Islamabad and the GHQ are using the Beijing card successfully vis-à-vis Washington?
This is where a trilateral dialogue between India, China and the US on the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the latter’s nuclear assets will be productive and fruitful, more so than a bilateral dialogue with the US and China separately. If New Delhi and Washington are able to convince Beijing that the Indo-US strategic partnership is not targeted against China, the Karakoram Highway and Gwadar port may not remain issues that are higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the oceans! Anyway, other than the investments in Pakistan’s nuclear programme and infrastructure, Chinese assistance to Islamabad has been totally exaggerated by the Pakistani public. Does the common Chinese see Sino-Pak relations the same way? Especially those who share borders with Pakistan?
Finally, as has been suggested, it is important to ensure that there is no military tension along the Indo-Pak border. However, this will have more to so with how Pakistan reacts or responds to the game. India could shape this response by engaging Afghanistan, the US and China, rather than hoping to directly influence Pakistan. Perhaps the road to Islamabad goes through Kabul, Washington and Beijing!
D Suba Chandran
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