Saturday, September 27, 2008

Needed: a Pakistan-India-Afghanistan agreement

The blog Over the Loon's Nest (see sidebar for link) mentions a piece in by the prolific C. Raja Mohan.

An excerpt:

"Once it recognized that Gen. Pervez Musharraf, America's strongman in Pakistan since 9/11, was part of the problem rather than the solution, Washington leaned on him to hold free and fair elections, shed his uniform and eventually resign as the president. Although the American effort to depersonalize its Pakistan policy--on which the entire effort in Afghanistan hinged--never looked either decisive or pretty, Washington got it right in the end. Its efforts were indeed instrumental in ensuring the return of civilian rule in Pakistan.

Yet it was one thing to get rid of Musharraf and entirely another to compel the Pakistan Army to mend its ways. Since 9/11, the U.S. policy in Afghanistan relied entirely on the promised cooperation from the Pakistan Army and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence in hunting down Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It took nearly six years after 9/11 for the U.S. security establishment to convince itself that the Pakistan Army and the ISI were hunting with the hounds and running with the hare.

Since 2007, the U.S. has stepped up its direct attacks on terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistani soil. This policy culminated earlier this month in a foray by U.S. ground troops into Pakistan. Although this incursion, a clear violation of Pakistan's sovereignty, angered the new civilian leaders in Islamabad, it helped concentrate their minds on the stark choice that confronted them: If they did not act against the militant groups, the U.S. armed forces would.

Torn between the terrorist groups who were pressing the new civilian government to divorce itself from the unpopular U.S. war on terror, a Washington that was demanding an escalated military effort in the tribal regions, and an army that was playing both sides, Pakistan's civilian leaders appear to have chosen to go with Washington. In response, the terrorists drove a truck bomb into the Marriott hotel in downtown Islamabad on Saturday night.

Having nudged Pakistan's civilian leaders into making the right political choice, the Bush Administration now needs to assist them in two important interconnected goals: 1) gaining control over the military establishment and 2) making peace with Afghanistan and India.

In his first address to a joint session of Pakistan's parliament on Saturday, hours before the suicide bombers ripped through the Marriott hotel, the new civilian president Asif Ali Zardari said all the right things on fighting terrorism and seeking a rapprochement with Afghanistan and India.

Zardari's problem, however, is that it is the army that has always defined Pakistan's objectives toward Kabul and New Delhi and brooked no interference from the civilian leaders. Pakistan's instrumentalization of Islamic extremism over the last three decades has been part of a deliberate policy of the army to extend its influence into Afghanistan and wrest the disputed region of Kashmir from India.

In trying to regain the civilian right to set national security objectives, Zardari has reached out to both Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, both of whom have responded warmly. Karzai attended Zardari's swearing in as president last week, and Singh has established a back-channel with the Pakistani leader.

The Pakistan Army, however, will not easily cede its traditional prerogative to set the policies toward Afghanistan and India and has a variety of means to wreck Zardari's attempt at regional reconciliation. That, precisely, is where the U.S. needs to step in. By coordinating a new peace initiative with Afghanistan and India, the Bush Administration can help deliver a set of visible political gains for Pakistan's civilian leaders and allow them to establish their supremacy over the armed forces.

The U.S. objectives of the war on terror and South Asia's peace and prosperity are now tied inextricably to a fundamental transformation of civil-military relations in Islamabad."

A few of Mohan's inferences here may be doubtful. Is it clear, for example, that the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott was directly linked to recent developments in the border regions? I'm not sure this has been established yet, especially as the group that claimed responsibility is a fairly obscure one. Nonetheless, a lot of Mohan's analysis seems to make quite a lot of sense. The only practical problem is that, as a very lame duck administration, the Bush people probably are in no position to start trying to help orchestrate a Pakistan-Afghanistan-India pact. That will have to go on the agenda of the next administration.

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