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12 May 2009
Running out of ideas

By Prakash Shah

Ambassador Prakash Shah was a senior member of the Indian Foreign Service, who rose to become India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Later he was UN Under Secretary General and Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on Iraq.

Published in Hindustan Times, May 7, 2009

Barack Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) strategy, his thoughts on a nuclear weapon-free world and universal adherence to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) make Pakistan the centrepiece of his plan and India the real target. It would seem that the Indian government’s honeymoon with the Obama administration is over even before an Indo-US matrimonial alliance could begin.

Clearly, a limp government in New Delhi has been complacent about the lasting Indo-US relations built up during the previous Geroge W. Bush regime. It hardly paid any attention to cultivating either Senator Obama or his potential advisors and cabinet members in the weeks since the new President’s election. A cabinet in which our Prime Minister was medically incapacitated, a Home Minister whose familiarity with security issues is doubtful and a Foreign minister who believes that brave words are a substitute for foreign policy actions, can’t be expected to direct diplomats on the dramatic but known changes in the US administration.

Our rather distorted interpretation of the ‘Code of Conduct’ during the general elections further stopped the government from taking any policy decisions. It also restrained the Opposition from pronouncing its stand on international relation policies. As a result, two of the major policy announcements that the Obama administration made — critical to India’s security — have gone unnoticed by our political leaders, partly because they believe that abusing each other is the only way to win votes.

The Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy is to make Pakistan a partner in the task of defeating insurgency and terrorism within its territory and globally. It’s indeed strange that the Indian government and leadership have been quiet over this strategy when large parts of the Pakistani leadership and military — that considers India as a bigger threat than the Taliban or al-Qaeda — have brushed aside the American offer. For more than 60 years, the Pakistani military has equipped itself to fight a potential Indian invasion, disregarding threats from its other volatile borders with Iran and Afghanistan.

We cannot expect a young and an inexperienced US President to be familiar with this complicated and fragile part of the Indian sub-continent. We can only hope that the naïve Obama strategy on Pakistan and Afghanistan achieves success. But we know — from experience and information from Pakistani military and leadership — that the strategy is less likely to succeed, despite America’s multi-billion dollar aid to Pakistan.

What’s tragic is that the Indian government is neither willing nor able to publicly express its views on the faultlines of the strategy. It is even unable to caution the Obama administration that a logical conclusion of its strategy will only enhance the power of the extremists and other Pakistan-based Islamic terrorist organisations. Even with the election season on, no political party has come out with a reasoned analysis of the strategy, its implications for India and Afghanistan, its impact on Pakistan and its ultimate effects on the oil-rich Gulf countries.

The Obama administration needs to be educated on what Pakistanis think about the American and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) forces on the one hand and the Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents on the other.

According to a former Pakistani Interior Minister, for Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Pakistani military, checking the growth of extremism and terrorism is an American cause. One would have thought that the Indian government would have educated the American leadership on the real Pakistan problem. Such a move would have helped the US test Pakistan on its real intentions behind resolving terrorism and insurgency and gauge its activities on its soil and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir before granting any aid to that nation. It would also helped the Americans realise that while its objectives to convert the Pakistani leadership, armed forces and the religiously-oriented awam to join America and India in their fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda are noble, the State Department should first have done his homework before sending the Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, to ask for India’s help in containing extremism in Pakistan.

It’s true that our security apparatus is ill-prepared to deal with domestic security issues. We don’t have any visionary statesman to discuss India’s emerging role as a participant in regional and, hence, global stabilisation. Most of our leaders and commentators seem to have reacted defensively to even examining the possibility of joining the international effort to stop the Taliban and the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, an old friend of India.

Prakash Shah can be contacted at prakashun@yahoo.com



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