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Tag Archives | India-Pakistan

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

There have been some excellent books on various aspects of the Pakistan state in the last couple of years. However, I found one feature missing these books: a power-centric timeline of Pakistan.

By this, I mean listing all major events since Pakistan’s independence in conjunction with the occupants of the most important positions of power. Such a database can become a ready reckoner for researchers working on Pakistan. Further, it might help derive further insights about Pakistan. Since I didn’t come across such a timeline before, I decided to make my own. With the help of my colleague Puru Naidu, we have created this timeline which is open for access [access the google sheet here].

Essentially, we have created a timeline for Pakistan starting 1947 with a quarter-year as the unit of resolution. Then we’ve listed the occupants of four most important political positions in Pakistan throughout this time period. These positions are: the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Director-General of ISI. We chose these positions based on their historical and current relevance. Moreover, our contention is that the overly centralised power structure in Pakistan allows for reducing Pakistan’s political structure to these four positions. Finally, we are listing all major political events of international importance in independent Pakistan’s history through the time period.

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan


Some points to be noted:

  1. This is a work in progress. Listing of historical events is an ongoing work.
  2. A reductionist exercise is a simplification, and might miss out some important details. For example, the DG-ISI position wasn’t an important one until the 1990s. In fact, as Hein Kiessling notes in his new book, the ISI was not even considered as the best intelligence unit within Pakistan for the first two decades after independence.

Comments and suggestions on this exercise are most welcome. Should we include any other political positions? Are we missing an important historical event? Let us know and we will make the additions. Hope this small exercise will help the growing literature on Pakistan.

[access the timeline google sheet here]

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas


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Thucydides Revisited-Indian Army’s Surgical Strike on September 29

The Indian resolve to strike at Pakistani terror camps as a fitting response to Uri attacks and call Pakistan’s bluff demonstrates clearly why Pakistan must learn from military history

The latest surgical strike by India across the Line of Control (LoC) has called off the ‘nuclear blackmail’ bluff by Pakistan. Ever since the Uri incident on September 18 in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, the laundry list of responses that India had was met with the veiled threat of nuclear retaliation by Pakistan. The TV anchors on both sides of the border had effectively decided what their government strategies would be. It now emerges that the Indian government’s response to Uri attack was a well planned riposte to repeated sabre rattling by Pakistan in the form of aggressive posturing at the UN General Assembly. Had the Pakistani Military-Jihadi complex bothered to learn a little bit from military history, they would have realised how wrong they were.

In the ‘History of the Peloponnesian’ war, Thucydides succinctly brings out the nuances of negotiation between a strong and a weak power. In what is famously known as the Melian Dialogue, there are striking parallels in what happened over the past fortnight or so. Melians were the inhabitants of Melos, a much weaker power that went to war with Athens. They had a close ally in Sparta, a geographically distant power. All along the Melians thought that Athens would not dare attack because Sparta would help Melos. Athens would not be stupid enough to ruin itself by such a risky gambit and come to grief.

In the final dialogue between representatives of both the sides, the Athenians wanted to impress upon the dire consequences that could befall Melos if it persisted with its stubborn stand. The Melians as usual were recalcitrant and unrelenting in their pursuit. The parting shot of Athenian representative summed it all.

“……judging from this decision of yours, you seem to us quite unique in your ability to consider the future as something more certain than what is before your eyes, and to see uncertainties as realities, simply because you would like them to be.

Post the Uri attack, in the diplomatic confrontation between India and Pakistan, the US always lurked in the background of Pakistani mindset as the proverbial Sparta who would come to its aid. The Pakistani establishment seemed to carry a historical baggage when the US would come to its aid in the event of any confrontation with India. The same was buttressed recently when the US stopped short of naming Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. Little did Pakistan realise that it was the same US that did not hesitate to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to kill Osama Bin Laden in a top secret mission. India gave all the warnings and tell tale signs of a fitting retaliation that fell on deaf ears of Pakistani policymakers.

‘Any crossing of the LoC would be met with severe retaliation’ was the oft repeated cliche by Pakistan. To state that such a provocation would be a red line from which India could not retreat had gained currency across the spectrum of Pakistani political and military establishments. To call off such a bluff, the strike had been planned immediately after Uri attack. Every opportunity was given to Pakistan that always hid behind the oft repeated excuse of ‘non state actors.’ As the highly successful strike by the Indian army demonstrated, a threshold in confrontation was crossed. Not only this. Like an astute chess player, the Indian political, diplomatic and security establishments would surely have their strategy mapped out for the next twenty moves or so. India did not blink. Just like Athens did not when confronted with an obstinate Melos!

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow in Geostrategy programme at Takshashila Institution

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How Media is Feeding the Jingo Nationalism

By Dr. Suma Singh

India @70 – as a nation we are celebrating the various facets of the historic seventy years of life as an independent nation. The story however is a mixed bag of hits and misses, tales of indomitable spirit and success which have brought smiles on our faces and tears in times of adversity. But in these seventy years we have also managed to create a media industry which seems to believe it is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Primetime on leading channels has become more of agenda warfare and propaganda. Interspersed with nationalistic jingo, our television anchors have taken up the cause of being the first on the line of control and seem to display raw patriotism more than our defence forces.

Post Uri tragedy, electronic media seems to have decided that war is the best form of revenge and the entire media machinery is devoted to the cause of whipping war frenzy, what with talk of a war-room in South Block. The few sane voices which have appeared on the various shows have been muzzled by the vocal power of the anchors and warmongers. Call for a military reply to the dastardly attack is not taking into consideration the ground reality. We may have one of the largest armed forces in the world but they are bogged down by the chinks in the armour like the outdated and poorly maintained weaponry and a large number of fighter planes and ships that are not serviceable, according to a report in 2014 by IHS Jane, a defence publication. The larger issue is how war may take us back by a couple of years and derail the economic achievements of the last twenty five years.

Another exasperating story on primetime in leading English news channels was the issue of banning Pakistani artists from Indian entertainment industry. The argument was taken to ridiculous extents when a prominent news anchor wondered why the heartthrob of millions across both sides of the border, Fawad Khan, would not tweet to condemn the dastardly attack on the army camp in Uri when he made crores in India. Firstly, can you imagine a Tendulkar or Bachchan Sr. tweeting and condemning any action of the government and defence forces on the ground of humanism?! The backlash they will face will be led by the same electronic media and anchors. Secondly, people to people contact is the need of the hour, more so as it makes us appreciate the common roots the two nations share. If a jihadi factory has emerged in Pakistan it is largely to be blamed at the educational system which has painted all Indians as kafirs and nurtured generations of youth on anti-India propaganda. India should not fall into the same trap and become a nurturing ground for hatred as this will backfire on us given our large minority population.

As Indians, a Uri and Pathankot hurts us but we cannot be swayed by pure emotions and allow media to set the agenda for Government responses and decisions. To quote Albert Einstein “Nationalism is nothing more than an idealistic rationalization for militarism and aggression” and this seems so apt for the nationalism which electronic media is whipping up today. War makes for good TRPs but at what cost? Electronic Media must behave in a more constrained responsible manner and reasonable voices must be heard out.

Dr. Suma Singh is an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, Mount Carmel College, Bengaluru

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India and the US—Pakistan partnership

How should India view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which the US will cease its support to Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

In my previous post, I had written about the 3 schools of thought on India—US partnership. Well, Pakistan is the main protagonist in one of the three strategies and hence it makes sense to look at the US—Pakistan equation in greater detail from an Indian perspective.

This Pakistan centred line of thinking goes as follows: why should India support the US when it continues to support and even encourage Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex (MJC), an irreconcilable adversary of India? This perspective has further found an availability heuristic too: our minds are fresh with the news of approval on the sale of F-16 to Pakistan, further confirming the bias that the US continues to play a double-game with India.

So, how should we view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which US will cease its support to Pakistan’s MJC?

The US continues to mull over its relationship with Pakistan. The policy paralysis on this front was explained in this article. Suffice to say here that at present, Pakistan is important to the US national interest for two reasons. First, US still continues to see Pakistan as a part of the solution to the Afghanistan problem. There is no scenario in which US policymakers see a decline in threat from Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan without an active role of Pakistan.

Second, Pakistan’s demand for war machinery, F-16s for example, serves the US military-industrial complex well. In fact, the optimal scenario from a US perspective is not the one where it blocks equipping Pakistan militarily, but a scenario where the US military-industrial complex can be a service provider to India and Pakistan, both. In that sense, a simmering localised conflict between India—Pakistan is not a particularly adverse outcome for the US.

Given that these are the two policy priorities for the US with regards to Pakistan, what will wean the US influence away from Pakistan? First, India has to demonstrate leadership in working with Afghanistan and other countries in restoring peace in that country. The US is desperately looking for alternatives but hasn’t managed to cobble up anything apart from an already faltering quadrilateral peace process. If this goal is beyond India’s capabilities, India will have to make peace with US—Pakistan cooperation on the Afghanistan issue in the near term. This also means a realisation that the co-operation will remain fungible—benefits accrued to Pakistan on its western front will, in turn, be used against India.

The second scenario in which the US might be forced to reconsider its Pakistan policy is when China becomes a major threat to US interests in East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. In such a case, it would be in direct interest of the US government to ensure that India is focused on one common adversary only. It might then seriously reconsider its support to the MJC in the form of both arms and money. Whether India chooses to align itself with the US or chooses to be a swing power will then become an important question.

Until these two scenarios unfold, the US will continue to secure its partnerships with both India and Pakistan — and its support to the military—jihadi complex is a bitter reality that India will have to swallow.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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A representation of the US policy on Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

We have long argued that Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two: the putative state (represented currently by a civilian government), and the military—jihadi complex (MJC) that has captured the commanding heights of power. One way in which the MJC continues to thrive is to utilise Pakistan’s foreign relationships for self-perpetuation.

In this regard, Pakistan’s relationship with the US is of special significance. Hussain Haqqani’s Pakistan: between mosque and military (2005) postulated that securing finances from the US is one of three legs of Pakistan’s policy tripod, the other two being a pursuit of religious nationalism and near manic obsession for a confrontation with India.

The US fails to differentiate between the MJC and the putative Pakistani state. Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “The Obama Doctrine” for The Atlantic says this about Pakistan:

He [Obama] questioned why the US should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all.

These lines succinctly sum up the world’s Pakistan conundrum. When the policy response of a two-term president of the world’s most powerful nation-state towards a “disastrously dysfunctional” ally is merely restricted to “private questioning”, we know that Pakistan continues to confound all international stakeholders. US Ambassador Richard Olson’s testimony to the US House Foreign Relations Committee further displays the confusion.

The former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill also conveyed his frustration over US policy towards Pakistan. He pins the blame on the lack of continuity between successive administrations on taking tough steps against Pakistan. His argument can be summarised in this flowchart:

A cyclical problem

US policy towards Pakistan: A cyclical problem

MJC’s relationship with the US continues to be a prime concern for India.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Thoughts on India’s approach to China’s 1B1R initiative

How can India respond to a Chinese project that is aimed at creating a geo-strategic realm for itself?

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Last week saw two articles in Indian media on the challenges and opportunities for India posed by China’s One Belt One Road (1B1R) project. This post looks at the arguments made in the two reports and puts down thoughts on India’s response to 1B1R.

To understand what 1B1R is, look no further than this succinct The Wire article by Shyam Saran. Suffice to quote this section in the piece that points to the strategic angle of the project:

China sees the twin-dimensional initiative as a long-term project to secure its geo-strategic realm, which has both a continental and a maritime dimension. It is not just an economic initiative. It has obvious political and security implications. In any case, China’s strategists do not draw lines separating economic and security objectives. Each dimension reinforces the other, even though the economic dimension may sometimes mask the security imperative.

1B1R then, is likely to remain the anchor around which China’s global outreach will be shaped. How should it be seen from an Indian National Interest perspective? Two pieces that appeared in the Indian newspapers last week offer a few leads while responding to this critical question.

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

The first piece in The Hindu while conceding that “Chinese political expansion and economic ambitions, packaged as 1B1R are two sides of the same coin” argues:

India needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. This will require New Delhi to not only overcome its chronic inability to take speedy decisions with respect to defence partnerships and procurement, but will also necessitate a sustained period of predictable economic growth; OBOR can assist in the latter.

Besides resuscitating economic engagement with the world, there are other advantages of being a part of groups such as 1B1R. A thumb rule helps: in the amoral setting of geopolitics, it benefits an entity to be a member of many clubs, rather than being outside them. It is easier to be a part of the clubs and use them to build one’s own capacities, rather than spend inordinate efforts on opposing such formations. Hence, this author strongly supports India’s presence at other clubs like BRICS, AIIB and SCO as well. Applying this thumb rule to 1B1R, India is better off being a part of it, particularly because the capabilities for India to float a competing vision altogether, possibly in partnership with the Japanese PQI just don’t exist.

Even if India decides to be a part of 1B1R, two critical questions raised by the authors remain unanswered: Can India seek reworking of the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) by Beijing in return for its active participation? Furthermore, for the stability of the South Asian arm of OBOR, can Beijing be motivated to become a meaningful interlocutor prompting rational behaviour from Islamabad?

On the first question, India finds it unacceptable that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. However, as the second editorial on 1B1R in Mint rightly points, New Delhi might now find it too late to extract Chinese concessions on CPEC in return for support on 1B1R. Moreover, India’s opposition or otherwise to CPEC will have little impact on the project itself. A more realist approach would be for India to de-hyphenate the CPEC leg from the overall 1B1R initiative.

On the second question, it is highly unlikely that China will restrain Pakistani actions against India in any meaningful way. In fact, China is most comfortable keeping the India—Pakistan conflict on the boil: on one hand, the conflict keeps India focused on its western border. On the other, the conflict allows gaining Pakistani friendship at minimal costs.

Overall, India can look at 1B1R from the dual lens of competition and complementation: In the Indian sub-continent, visualise 1B1R as an aggressive competitor: use it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, look at complementing 1B1R. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of 1B1R to expand its own reach.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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