Friday, October 10, 2008

Obama's Point Man on South Asia

Lately, Senator Barack H. Obama has been taking a tough, even hostile stance toward Pakistan. He is threatening to send US ground troops into FATA if there is "actionable intelligence" to end "terrorists' safe haven" inside Pakistan. His opponent, Senator John McCain has said Obama "doesn't understand" the situation in FATA and chided him for being naive and "talking loudly" about Pakistan. Many Obama supporters dismiss Obama's tough talk as merely designed to assert his commander-in-chief credentials to appease his critics.

Is Obama's tough talk just an act? Or is it based on considered advice from the experts of the liberal think tanks to whom Democrats generally outsource policy? While there is a small chance that Obama does not really mean what he says, it is also a fact that foreign policy experts such as Bruce Reidel are advising Obama on South Asia policy.

Riedel says that there will be a renewed focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan under an Obama presidency. “Obama is determined to put a lot more resources into the war in Afghanistan — and it’s overlapped into Pakistan — than either a McCain presidency would or the Bush administration did.” He adds that Obama sees Afghanistan and Pakistan as “the central front of the war against al Qaeda and the war against extremism.” Translation: The war in Afghanistan will escalate and expand into Pakistan.

Who is Bruce Reidel? What are his credentials? How does he view US role and policy in South Asia? Bruce Riedel is a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution. He served with the Central Intelligence Agency for 29 years and retired in 2006. Riedel served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East Affairs on the National Security Council (1997-2002), Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs (1995-97), and National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Intelligence Council (1993-95). His areas of expertise include counter-terrorism, Arab-Israeli issues, Persian Gulf security and India and Pakistan.

Riedel says Obama will take a tougher line with Pakistan, and make military aid conditional upon Pakistan’s performance in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda. But he disagrees with the view, prevalent in Pakistan, that Obama dislikes that country. Instead, he says that Obama is a strong critic of the “Musharraf-centric Pakistan policy” pursued by the Bush Administration. He believes that Obama is likely to be supportive of the present PPP-led government, unless it were to engage the Taliban, a move which would prove extremely unpopular in the United States.

On India policy, Reidel says, “The Democrats are much more likely to want to revisit the nuclear proliferation implications [of the nuclear deal]". He adds, "That would complicate the relationship with New Delhi.”

“There’s talk of a strategic partnership with India. The Obama campaign buys into that,” says Riedel. “As president, he will place the same priority on India as Bush did, and Clinton did before him.”

In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, Obama pledged to halt tax sops to companies that ship jobs overseas. If Obama sticks to this promise, it will mean trouble ahead for India's IT industry. India's software and services exports stood at about $40 billion during the financial year 2008, a growth of 29%, with US as its largest market. Can Obama really curb outsourcing? It seems unlikely.

In an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Riedel's candidate Obama seemed to agree with the narrative of the Indian lobby when he accused Pakistan of "preparing for war with India".

“If Pakistan can look towards the east with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban,” Mr. Obama wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine last year.

In a recent article, Riedel wrote that “fear of India is the driving force” behind Pakistan's pursuit of relationships with Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic terrorism". He added, “The conflict with India affects all aspects of Pakistan's worldview and its self-image.”

"Coming to grips with Pakistan's obsession with India and Kashmir is critical to killing the monster," and the "time may be ripe in 2009 to move," Riedel writes, hinting at the likely policy of the new administration that is likely to be in office next year.

Answering a question about Pakistan and the war on terror at a meeting of Council on Foreign Relation, Riedel said, "Pakistan is an extremely dangerous and unstable country. We need to tread carefully. We need to get the Pakistanis to see this as their war. And that's going to require some major new initiatives on the American side. Commando raids and Predator strikes are not a long term solution to this problem".

If history is any guide, it can be fairly safely predicted that the a Democratic administration will pursue a punitive policy toward Pakistan while tilting heavily toward India, much more so than the Bush administration. Given the caution sounded by Bruce Reidel about Pakistan, the hope is that better sense will prevail in the potential Obama administration on policy toward Pakistan. However, if "President" Obama does follow through on his tough talk on Pakistan, there will be an expanded regional war involving Afghanistan and Pakistan leading to massive destabilization of the entire region and extremely dangerous consequence for the world.

Here is a comprehensive video on the origins and the positions of various parties involved in the Kashmir dispute presented by Pakistani Peace Activist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy:

Related Links:

Reidel Interview at Council on Foreign Relations

Sunil Adam on Obama's Kashmir Policy

Who is Bruce Reidel?

Obama on Renewing American Leadership


Riaz Haq said...

BRADEN's comment on your post "Obama's Point Man on South Asia":

I feel as if you posted that for me thanks. I agree that's what most of Obama's supporters are hoping. with rationality and patience we can overcome. I'm voting Obama and already I'm aware that half the things hes says he can't do. even with the expanding war I think America will try to ease it way out. especially with the financial situation coming to a head. i just hope in our retreat we we don't forget our brothers in arms. i believe, despite her shortcomings, Bhutto was correct that Pakistan is the key to this fight. so America needs to see Pakistan how the french saw us during the revolutionary war, as patriots and dignify them accordingly.

Riaz Haq said...

From The Daily Times today....

Why not have a joint Kashmir?’

* PDP president calls for having ‘dual currency’ to encourage trade
* Says LoC should be made ‘irrelevant’

NEW DELHI: The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Indian-held Kashmir has called for unifying both Kashmirs and having a “dual currency” to encourage trade.

Speaking at an Indo-Pak conference on Sunday, PDP President Mehbooba Mufti said, “Can’t there be any joint mechanism between the two Kashmirs? Why can’t we have a joint council consisting of representatives from both sides?”

LoC: She said the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir should be made “irrelevant”. She said the recent militancy-related incidents in IHK should not influence New Delhi’s decision to withdraw troops from the disputed territory. “We know that the aim of any terror attack is to sabotage the dialogue process. The Lal Chowk attack should not influence the intention of the Indian government to withdraw forces [from IHK],” she said. The PDP leader said wars between India and Pakistan had only resulted in accumulation of security forces in IHK. Mehbooba said the peace process should be de-linked from terror incidents, adding that resumption of composite dialogue between India and Pakistan was the need of the hour.

The situation in IHK “has improved over the period of time and the people are turning to peaceful means to raise their grievances”, she said. Mehbooba said India and Pakistan should engage themselves in a result-oriented dialogue, adding that Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone was killed because “he wanted dialogue”. The PDP president urged the two countries to make a policy shift on Kashmir by reaching out to the people and practicing peaceful and democratic ways to build a new South Asia.

Mufti said that Kashmir would be the “first and the worst victim” if something happens to Pakistan. iftikhar gilani

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a recent Op Ed by Indian career diplomat M K Bhadrakumar on India's worries in Afghanistan:

...The big question is whether Delhi is pragmatic enough to accept that new thinking has become necessary. First and foremost, it does not help if India ignores the nascent processes of Afghan national reconciliation. Delhi on its own is incapable of calibrating the Afghan reconciliation process and the Indian and US approaches diverge. Enduring peace can only come out of an inclusive political settlement in Kabul.

Delhi lost much time quibbling over the "good" and "bad" Taliban while the international community and regional players moved on. There was initially some uneasiness that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai was seeking reconciliation with the insurgent groups.

But more worrisome for Delhi is the fact Karzai has begun seeking help from Pakistan. The fault lies entirely with the Indians in having failed to support him in recent months. Delhi backed losing candidate Abdullah Abdullah in last year's presidential elections on the facile assumption that Washington wished to see him in power. That was a disastrous error of judgment.

Karzai is expected to unfold a road map on reconciliation within the next six weeks. He hopes to hold a loya jirgha (grand council) on April 29 with a view, as he put it, to "get guidance from the Afghan people on how to move forward towards reintegration and reconciliation [with the Taliban]". And in his estimation, if there is greater participation by insurgent elements in parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in August, then further coalition-building becomes possible.

Delhi can anticipate that in all this, Karzai hopes for cooperation from Pakistan and as a quid pro quo he can be expected to factor in Pakistan's interests. The day after Menon concluded his visit, Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kiani met Karzai in Kabul to discuss "matters of mutual interest". Karzai followed it up with a two-day visit to Islamabad that started on Wednesday.

Pakistan's assertiveness is bothering Indian strategists but Delhi seems to have overlooked that many factors work in Islamabad's favor. The Afghan elites in Kabul have close social and family kinships with Peshawar. The Afghan economy is dependent on imports from Pakistan. Pakistan has influence over Taliban groups and unlike in the past it has also cultivated the non-Pashtun groups of the erstwhile Northern Alliance. It also shouldn't be forgotten that more than 80% of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supplies for the war in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan.

And most of all, Delhi underestimated that Pakistan is the US's key non-NATO ally in the war and that implicit in this is Pakistan's expectation to be recognized by Washington as a regional power. In fact, the US has been harping on a fundamental theme: Pakistan has a choice to make, namely, whether it wants to have a comprehensive partnership with the US and NATO; and if so, that it must cooperate with Washington's strategies in the region.

The prevailing view in India is that the Pakistani military continues to play it both ways. But they may be in for disillusionment as there strong likelihood is that Pakistani army chief Kiani may have begun to explore the potential of the US offer.

Pakistan estimates that it is closer than at any time before to gaining "strategic depth" in Afghanistan - and this time, Washington may acquiesce....

Riaz Haq said...

Ex #US Amb to UN John Bolton on $1.67B aid to #Pakistan: ‘Grit your teeth’ and pay - Washington Times:

“You also have to weigh … [that] if we didn’t support this government, the government could fall to Pakistani radicals,” he said.
The larger issue, Mr. Bolton said, is preventing terrorists from wresting control of the country’s 60 to 100 nuclear weapons that could deploy to the U.S. Turning the admittedly chaotic Pakistan-U.S. relations into something colder could prove a sizable security issue, he said. via @washtimes