For Barack Obama, ignorance is bliss when it comes to the Afpak region

India’s re-hyphenation with Pakistan returns in US policy

 

From Obama’s call for Indo-Pakistan dialogue to Holbrooke’s second visit in seven weeks, US policy has returned to its traditional position of looking at India through the subcontinental prism while ignoring its security concerns

 

Brahma Chellaney

Asian Age, April 8, 2009

Despite America’s broken policy on Pakistan, President Barack Obama has unveiled the largest-ever US aid package for that country. Indeed, Islamabad is being made the biggest recipient of US aid in the world. If military, non-military and counterinsurgency aid and reimbursements to the Pakistani military were totalled, Pakistan — under Obama’s latest proposals — would overtake Israel and Egypt as the single largest recipient of American aid.

To supposedly mend a wrecked policy, Obama is doing more of what helped create the failure — dispensing rewards upfront. He has decided to shower billions of dollars in additional aid on Pakistan without even defining benchmarks for judging progress.

Worse yet, the Obama administration has neither acknowledged Pakistan’s role in staging terrorist strikes in India nor made the slightest effort to help bring the Pakistan-based planners of the unparalleled Mumbai attacks to justice. In the detailed, inter-agency “Afpak” policy unveiled by Obama, there is not even a passing mention of Pakistan’s use of proxies to wage a terror war against India. In other words, when Washington refuses to even recognize the problem, can New Delhi really expect the US to be of any help?

 

In fact, Washington is doing the opposite — making light of Indian concerns vis-à-vis Pakistan by asking New Delhi to adopt a flexible approach toward Islamabad so that the US can win greater Pakistani military cooperation on the Afghan front. Put simply, Washington is making short shrift of India’s interests in order to pursue its narrow regional agenda, centred on Obama’s resolve to extricate the US from the war in Afghanistan.

 

But make no mistake: Obama, through his rewards-in-advance policy, is only emboldening the Pakistani military establishment to continue its war by terror against the Indian republic.

 

Asked bluntly at his G-20 London summit news conference what “America is doing to help India tackle terrorism emanating from Pakistan”, Obama’s reply, while evasively long-winded, was revealing. He began by calling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “a wonderful man”, just as he had described his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, as “marvellous”. But unlike Sarkozy, Singh had begun his bilateral meeting by asking for Obama’s autograph.

Obama then disclosed that he and Singh had discussed terrorism “not simply in terms of terrorism emanating from Pakistan… But we spoke about it more broadly…” Obama went on to say that “at a time when perhaps the greatest enemy of both India and Pakistan should be poverty, that it may make sense to create a more effective dialogue between India and Pakistan.”

This was before he meandered into a professorial sermon on energy efficiency and “reducing our carbon footprint”.

So the question he was asked went unanswered. The truth is that Obama has no intent to help pull India’s chestnuts out of the Pakistan-kindled fire; rather he wants India’s help on his misbegotten Afpak policy. Indeed, that policy is set to make things more difficult for India by reinforcing America’s dependence on the terror-procreating Pakistani military establishment — not only for the transport of the extra war supplies to meet the US military “surge” in Afghanistan, but also for help to negotiate with and co-opt the Afghan Taliban leadership that the Pakistani intelligence has long sheltered in the Quetta area.

How blind Obama and his special representative, Richard Holbrooke, are to the realities on the ground is evident from their separate claims that the hub of terrorism is Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan. Little surprise the Afpak policy paper concludes by saying “the international community must work with Pakistan to disrupt the threats to security along Pakistan’s western border”. Holbrooke, ingenuously, has even linked terror attacks in India to elements operating from that ungoverned border area.

It is past time the Obama team faced up to the fact that the real problem is not at the Pakistani frontiers with Afghanistan. Rather it is the sanctuaries deep inside Pakistan that continue to breed and export terrorism. None of the 10 terrorists who attacked Mumbai last November came from Pakistan’s tribal belt. India is being targeted by Punjabi terror groups, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, operating from Pakistan’s heartland with the military’s connivance.

Yet the naïveté in Washington is astonishing. Almost every Obama policy assumption has an Alice in Wonderland ring to it.

Take, for example, the decision to disburse $3 billion in additional military aid to Islamabad in the name of a “Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund”. The attempt to get the Pakistani military to focus on counterinsurgency misses the point that what the Obama administration calls insurgents remain prized proxies for the Pakistani generals.

Or take the Obama policy premise that the “surge” can be used, Iraq-style, as a show of force to cut deals with the “good” terrorists. This surge-and-bribe assumption overlooks the fact that the Afghan militants, with cosy sanctuaries across the borders, have more leeway than their Iraqi counterparts.

Also, the new rewards being doled out disregard the reality that the Pakistani generals have little incentive to lend genuine cooperation at a time when Obama has barely disguised his exit strategy. The generals and their surrogates — the Taliban — just need to patiently wait out the American exit to reclaim Afghanistan.

Through his policy contradictions, Obama has tied himself up in knots. His policy rejects his predecessor’s institution-building approach in Afghanistan as an attempt to create “some sort of Central Asian Valhalla”. Yet it proposes $7.5 billion in civilian aid for an increasingly Talibanized Pakistan to win hearts and minds there — a Valhalla even more distant.

The upshot of Obama’s blinkered approach is India’s re-hyphenation with Pakistan in US policy. This is so evident from Holbrooke’s recurring visits to New Delhi and American calls — from the president down — that India reopen dialogue with Islamabad, even if it has to countenance more Pakistan-scripted terror attacks.

For long, Washington has realized that the best way to handle India is to massage its ego. It was thus claimed that in deference to India’s sensitivities, Kashmir had been removed from Holbrooke’s job description and that his mission would stay restricted to the Afpak belt.

 

In reality, Washington took India and Kashmir out of Holbrooke’s agenda only publicly. As Holbrooke has shown by coming to New Delhi twice in seven weeks — this time with the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman — India is very much part of his mandate. In fact, Washington’s proposals for troop reductions and de-escalation clearly bring in the Kashmir dispute.

 

Obama’s aides contend it is impossible to disentangle Kashmir from any effort to win Pakistani cooperation. So the way forward, they argue, is to work on Kashmir behind the scenes while pretending the issue is not on the agenda.

 

Still, asked by a Senate committee about tension reduction in Kashmir, Centcom chief, General David Petraeus, admitted last week: “Together with my great diplomatic wing man, Ambassador Holbrooke, this effort actually has started”. And National Security Adviser James Jones, while keeping up the pretence that there is no problem on Pakistan’s eastern side, earlier declared “we do intend to help both countries … build more trust and confidence so that Pakistan can address the issues that it confronts on the western side”.

 

When India is deeply immersed in an election process, why has Holbrooke come a second time in quick succession, knowing New Delhi is anything but happy about his visit? The reason is that he is using this interregnum to show his turf includes India. But more than a turf-defining mission, what Holbrooke desperately needs is a primer on the roots of terrorism, lest he continue to betray his abysmal ignorance.

 

(c) The Asian Age, 2009.

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