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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Washington challenge


Unfortunately, after recovering from the crisis created by America’s ‘kinetic’ actions in 2011 (Raymond Davis, the Abbottabad incursion and the Salala attack), the Pakistan-US relationship appears to be headed for another showdown.
The first ominous signs emerged during US National Security Adviser, Susan Rice’s visit to Islamabad several weeks ago, during which threats of halting reimbursements for Pakistani counterterrorism operations were held out unless Islamabad acted more forcefully against the Haqqani network. Simultaneously, proposals were advanced to halt Pakistan’s long- and short-range missile programmes and fissile material production. Pakistan was also pressed to act decisively against the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Pakistan-US relationship appears to be headed for another showdown.

In a meeting with the prime minister in New York during the UN General Assembly last month, the normally polite and patrician US secretary of state was ‘emphatic’ in his demarche (reportedly thumping the table with his fist while addressing the Pakistan prime minister by his first name). President Obama’s special assistant was evidently even more offensive in a meeting with Pakistan’s foreign secretary.
The American press has reported that the US is exploring a ‘deal’ with Pakistan to limit the scope of its nuclear programme. An American arms control expert, George Perkovich, is quoted as saying: “If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and essentially amount to parole [!]”. But Pakistan is not in any ‘jail’ and the proposed ‘deal’ is no bargain at all. It amounts to asking Pakistan to compromise its national security in exchange for a good chit from Washington.
Pakistan’s long-range missiles are designed to neutralise the Indian missiles deployed as far away as the Andaman Islands which, if immune, would provide India a secure second-strike capability and a pre-emptive attack option against Pakistan. Asking Pakistan to accept such limits while aiding the build-up of India’s long-range and intercontinental missile capabilities amounts to collaborating with India to erode Pakistan’s strategic deterrence.
Similarly, Pakistan’s plan to deploy dual-capable short-range missiles is specifically designed to break up Indian strike formations in the event of a surprise attack in accordance with its ‘Cold Start’ doctrine. India will shortly hold a large military exercise along Pakistan’s borders to confirm the validity of this doctrine. Rather than discourage such Indian military provocations, Washington again demands that Pakistan disavow its defensive response.
The US has also resuscitated the call to halt Pakistan’s fissile material production. Islamabad has amply explained that its expanded production is in response to India’s ability to exponentially enlarge its nuclear arsenal because the US-sponsored exemption for India has enabled it to import nuclear fuel for its civilian programme and use its indigenous stocks for weapons purposes.
The only deal that can work is one that puts balanced restraints on both India and Pakistan. This is what was called for in Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998). Reciprocal restraint is what Pakistan proposed under the South Asia Mutual Restraint Regime. It was the basis of the parallel dialogue conducted by undersecretary of state Strobe Talbott with India and Pakistan.
American demands regarding the Haqqani network evoke a sense of déjà-vu. For several years, Washington pressed the Pakistan Army to march into North Waziristan and cleanse it of the several militant groups holed up there. The Zarb-i-Azb operation has achieved this. However, to escape the Pakistan Army’s offensive, the TTP and affiliated terrorist groups and the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqanis, have crossed over into Afghanistan, intensifying the militant operations in and from Afghanistan.
When President Ashraf Ghani asked Pakistan to promote talks between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, Islamabad was obliged to re-establish contacts with them, including the Haqqanis. After a good start, these talks were scuttled by the revelation from the Afghan National Directorate of Security that Mullah Omar had died sometime ago.
The consequences were predicable. Without the presumed authorisation of Mullah Omar to talk, the Afghan Taliban broke off the dialogue and reverted to the default option of fighting. Ghani chose to blame Pakistan for the fresh uptick in violence, castigating Pakistan’s contacts with the Afghan Taliban which he had himself encouraged. In the US, the India lobby went into overdrive, as illustrated by the vituperative article from journalist Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post placing the entire blame for America’s failure in Afghanistan on Pakistan.
With its Afghan campaign — like its Syrian, Iraq and Middle East endeavours — in confusion and collapse, President Obama has given in to his military and decided to keep a large contingent of troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is often cited as a form of madness.
Pakistan has rightly reaffirmed the general consensus that there is no military solution to the conflict within Afghanistan. The prime minister has offered to continue efforts to bring the Taliban back to the negotiating table. But, as Pakistan’s UN ambassador stated in the Security Council: “What Pakistan will be unable to do is bring the Afghan Taliban to the table while it is being asked simultaneously to kill them.”
The US demands reveal the deeper American alliance with India to contain the rise of China. They may be driven by the desire to score a few more diplomatic successes for Obama’s meagre legacy. They may also reflect an assumption that Pakistan’s civilian leadership is more amenable to American pressure than its military.
Under the circumstances, it would have been wiser to postpone the prime minister’s Washington trip. During the visit, he will be obliged to give a firm response to the unacceptable US demands. He cannot afford another Ufa.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2015

Gambling against Armageddon

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.IN an opinion piece last year, Henry Kissinger observed that over the next couple of decades a nuclear war was likely to take place between India and Pakistan. The nuclear factor was in play in four major and one minor India-Pakistan crises: in 1987, 1990, 1998, 1999 and 2002.
In 1987, when an Indian army chief launched the Brasstacks military exercises along Pakistan’s exposed desert borders, Pakistan responded by deploying its forces in the north where India was vulnerable. Prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s agreement to a mutual stand-down no doubt also took into account the informal threat from Islamabad to bomb India’s nuclear reactors in case Pakistan was attacked. (After the crisis ended, the Pakistan-India agreement not to attack each other’s nuclear facilities was jointly formulated in one day.)
In January 1990, when the anti-Indian insurgency erupted in Kashmir and India threatened Pakistan, a conflict was forestalled by US intervention. The US acted when it learnt that Pakistan had begun to arm its nuclear-capable aircraft.

The operation of mutual deterrence between India and Pakistan is being eroded.

During the night of 26-27 May 1998 — the night before Pakistan conducted its nuclear explosions in response to India’s tests — Pakistani radar detected unidentified aircraft flying towards its territory. Islamabad issued warnings of instant retaliation to India and relayed these to the US and Israel. This may have been a false alarm; but it illustrates the danger of accidental conflict in the absence of real-time communications.
During the 1999 Kargil war, the nuclear dimension was implicit, given that the crisis occurred a year after the India-Pakistan nuclear tests.
During the 2002 general mobilisation by India and Pakistan, the director general of the Pakistan Armed Forces Special Plans Division enunciated its nuclear ‘doctrine’ in a news interview. The ‘doctrine’ envisaged that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons if: it was being militarily overwhelmed; its nuclear or strategic weapons or facilities were attacked; and it was subjected to an enemy blockade.
The projection of this doctrine, including at a UN news conference by this writer in July 2002, sparked a fall in the Indian Stock Exchange, the evacuation of foreign personnel and embassy families from New Delhi and a demarche by Indian business leaders to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and reportedly led to the Indian agreement for a mutual drawback of forces.
The operation of mutual deterrence displayed in 2002, however, is being eroded by several developments.
One, the conventional military balance is becoming progressively unfavourable to Pakistan. India is engaged in a major arms build-up. It is the world’s largest arms importer today. It is deploying advanced and offensive land, air and sea weapons systems. Pakistan’s conventional capabilities may not prove sufficient to deter or halt an Indian attack.
Two, India has adopted the Cold Start doctrine envisaging a rapid strike against Pakistan. This would prevent Pakistan from mobilising its conventional defence and thus lower the threshold at which Pakistan may have to rely on nuclear deterrence.
Three, Pakistan has had to deploy over 150,000 troops on the western border due to its involvement in the cross-border counterterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, reducing its conventional defence capacity against India.
Four, the acquisition of foreign nuclear plants and fuel, made possible by the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, will enable India to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile significantly. To maintain nuclear balance, Pakistan has accelerated production of fissile materials. Both nuclear arsenals are now large and growing.
Five, given its growing conventional disadvantage, and India’s pre-emptive war fighting doctrine, Pakistan has been obliged to deploy a larger number of nuclear-capable missiles, including so-called ‘theatre’ or tactical nuclear-capable missiles. The nuclear ‘threshold’ is now much lower.
Six, the Kashmir dispute — once described by former US president Bill Clinton as a nuclear flashpoint — continues to fester. Another insurgency is likely to erupt, certainly if the Bharatiya Janata Party government goes ahead with its platform promise to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian constitution (which accords special status to Jammu & Kashmir). A renewed Kashmiri insurgency will evoke Indian accusations against Pakistan and unleash another Indo-Pakistan crisis.
Seven, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has obviously decided to adopt an aggressive posture towards Pakistan, no doubt to appeal to his hard-line Hindu constituency. The recent ceasefire violations along the Line of Control are an ominous indication of such belligerency.
Eight, India is reportedly involved in supporting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the Baloch Liberation Army to destabilise Pakistan internally.
Nine, India has terminated the ‘composite dialogue’ with Pakistan. Its precondition for talks — an “absence of violence” — is impossible for Pakistan to meet.
Ten, the US and other major powers evince little interest in addressing the combustible mix of live disputes, terrorist threats, conventional arms imbalance and nuclear weapons in South Asia.
During the parallel dialogue initiated by the US with Pakistan and India following their 1998 nuclear explosions, Pakistan proposed a ‘strategic restraint regime’ with India which would include mechanisms to resolve disputes, including Kashmir; preserve a conventional arms balance and promote mutual nuclear and missile restraint.
India rejected the concept of a mutual restraint regime.
The US at first agreed to consider Pakistan’s proposal. However, as their talks with India transitioned from restricting India’s nuclear programme to building a “strategic partnership” (against China), the Americans de-hyphenated policy towards Pakistan and India, opened the doors to building India’s conventional and nuclear capabilities and disavowed any interest in the Kashmir dispute. Currently, Indian belligerence is bolstered by US pressure on Pakistan to halt fissile material production and reverse the deployment of theatre nuclear-capable missiles.
If a South Asian Armageddon is to be prevented, it is essential to build a structure of stable deterrence between India and Pakistan and find ways to deal with Kashmir and other outstanding disputes. Reviving consideration of a strategic restraint regime would be a good place to start.
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.
Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2014

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