Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pakistan and India: the costs of habitual hostility

The Pakistani army has now driven the Taliban from the city of Mingora in the Swat valley -- something which has happened before and has not lasted. Even if it proves a more durable victory on this occasion, questions will remain about Pakistan's capacity to prosecute an offensive against (portions of) the Taliban as long as its strategic focus remains glued on India.

As Graham Usher writes in the June 8 issue of The Nation:

"Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has said that after Swat, the army will take the war to South Waziristan. But that is hyperbole. The overstretched army has about 150,000 men fighting on five fronts. Holding these territories and extending the fight to South Waziristan would be possible only if reinforcements came from the 250,000 men stationed on the eastern border with India. And that's not going to happen.

....Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani has reportedly told Washington he would move troops from the border if India did the same. Delhi's response was to mount three days of 'war games.' On May 15 Kayani told Parliament there would be no movement of troops from east to west.... Parliament applauded.

In other words...Pakistan's 'threat recognition' hasn't changed. The tactical foe is the Pakistani Taliban, but the strategic adversary remains India. The Pakistani army will act ruthlessly against those who challenge the state, such as the Taliban in Swat and Al Qaeda-linked militants elsewhere. But it will not act against those who, like the Afghan Taliban [headquartered in the Pakistani city of Quetta], seek only a haven from which to fight America and NATO in Afghanistan. On the contrary, should the cold war on the eastern border become hot, such militants could again be proxies to hurt India's interests in Afghanistan or Kashmir."
The decades-long animosity between India and Pakistan has taken on a routinized, habitual quality, perhaps lending credence to the argument that such persistent enmities can provide states with "ontological security" in which a fixed adversary becomes part of the state's identity (see Jennifer Mitzen, "Ontological Security in World Politics: State Identity and the Security Dilemma," European Journal of International Relations, v.12 n.3, 2006). Some outside shock may be needed to disrupt this routine, but if a full-fledged insurrection by extremist groups posing a direct challenge to the government has not sufficed, it is hard to know what would. Mitzen (op.cit., p.363) suggests that "calling on states to justify publicly their actions...should foster habits of reflection, which offer the potential to de-rigidify attachment to competition." Unfortunately, such "habits of reflection" seem not to have taken hold yet in either Islamabad or Delhi.

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