Tag Archives | 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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Pakistan’s economic challenge

Thinking beyond CPEC

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Dawn editorial (10th December) makes a case against Pakistan’s overreliance on CPEC to solve its economic woes.

there are multiple roads to integration, and placing all the emphasis on CPEC alone risks putting too many eggs in one basket. [The Dawn, 10th December 2016]

CPEC has been projected as a panacea for Pakistan’s economic woes. A Deloitte report from earlier this year estimated that:

if all the planned projects are implemented, the value of those projects would exceed all foreign direct investment in Pakistan since 1970 and would be equivalent to 17% of Pakistan’s 2015 gross domestic product. It is further estimated the CPEC project will create some 700,000 direct jobs during the period 2015–2030 and add up to 2.5 percentage points to the country’s growth rate. [Deloitte]

Unsurprisingly, the potential benefits accruing from CPEC have been played up by sections of the Pakistani press, government, and the army. Among other things, two separate force formations, each comprising of more than 15000 security personnel, have been mobilised in order to ensure security for the project and for Chinese workers. And as Khurram Hussain highlighted in another Dawn article titled ‘Hidden costs of CPEC‘, the cost of these forces is now being bundled into the power tariff and passed on to the consumers.

Thus, The Dawn editorial accurately identifies the need to think beyond CPEC. It suggests two alternatives: change in the terms of the FTA with China, and increasing trade with Iran, beginning with the natural gas pipeline. However, both these alternatives are unlikely to solve Pakistan’s economic woes for the following reasons.

A renewal of the FTA with China in no way reduces Pakistan’s dependence on China. Pakistan has already acceded unusual diplomatic and political maneuvering space for China in a bid to revive its economy. Take, for instance, the conduct of Muhammad Lijian Zhao, a Deputy Head of Mission at China’s Islamabad embassy, who single-handedly fends off the mildest of reservations against CPEC by Pakistanis on Twitter. It is unusual that the concerns of Pakistani citizens, instead of being addressed by the provincial government of Balochistan or the Federal Government, are being swatted off by a Chinese bureaucrat.

Images such as these common on Twitter

Building a China—Pakistan friendship narrative: Images such as these are common on Twitter

The issue of raising a Special Security Division also reflects Chinese domination in the China—Pakistan equation. Raising a special division for Chinese projects and nationals, in regions where ordinary Pakistanis themselves fear for their lives, is further stoking alienation.

The opening of trade with Iran, without a peaceful settlement of political issues in Balochistan and Afghanistan, is also an unfeasible alternative. Pakistan’s economic growth centres are near its eastern borders (in Punjab and Sindh) and any trade with Iran will have to pass through the troubled western areas. Thus, it is unlikely that trade with Iran will take off unless Pakistan addresses the aspirations of the Baloch, and stops its overt and covert support for the Afghan Taliban.

What might resolve Pakistan’s economic challenge, then? Moeed Yusuf suggests that Pakistan has no option but to open up economically to India.

He makes an excellent argument:

Even when we add up realistic appraisals of possible reforms, includes CPEC, and factor in new export markets Pakistan can tap, we still end up well short of what the country needs to keep competing with India and other peer countries.

More importantly, it is absolute, not relative, gains that matter. We need to be concerned about the additional growth we would generate from acting as a trade and transit hub for the near and far neighbourhood and the force-multiplier effect it would have rather than what India or others might get out of the arrangement. Plainly, the new chief must know that keeping the region closed guarantees that India and Pakistan’s differential will continue to grow in New Delhi’s favour. [Dawn, The Chief’s Choice]

Alas, it’s is a tragedy that even major geoeconomic decisions of Pakistan need approvals of the army chief.

[Also read my post Thoughts on India’s approach to China’s 1B1R initiative on how India should look at CPEC]

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

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What India’s surgical strike achieved, and what it didn’t?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments.

In the wake of the attacks on the Indian army base in Nagrota, familiar uncomfortable questions have come to the fore: is it the lack of intelligence support that’s making such attacks recur? Has the fragile situation in the Kashmir valley helped rejuvenate terrorist networks? Or, are obsolete security mechanisms making military installations vulnerable to repeated attacks? Despite the recent spate of attacks on military infrastructure, these sticky, fly-papery questions still haven’t found responses that will make them dissolve away.

Nevertheless, the Nagrota attack throws up a completely new question: what did the “surgical strikes” of 29th September achieve — is there a need to replicate such strikes after the Nagrota attacks or should that option be dispensed with?

To answer this question, let’s assess what the surgical strikes achieved, from the lens of the three affected parties — the domestic Indian audience, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex, and the Pakistani civilian leadership.

For many Indians, a consciously coordinated action involving various parts of the administrative machinery — military, diplomatic, and political — was a signal that India will now respond to terrorism at strategic or operational levels, and not merely at a tactical level. Given that the earlier response — a carefully calibrated “strategic restraint” policy had failed to attenuate the attacks from Pakistan, a more forceful quid-pro-quo alternative became a cause of hope for some, and of aggressive chest-thumping for others. After the Nagrota attacks, some groups in this domestic constituency will demand similar strikes, with an aim of institutionalising this strategy.

Second, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex (MJC) was taken by surprise — it was anticipating a tactical response, but not a coordinated operational response. Moreover, the publicly declared cross-LoC Indian raids largely received a thumbs-up from the international community, weakening the complex’s narrative.  Within the complex, the jihadi node was specifically targetted. However, the shallow raids didn’t dent the terrorists’ capacity in any significant manner — there are no terrorist camps at such small distances from the LoC, merely a few launch pads to help terrorist squads in their transit. The operation also did not cause any major loss to the Pakistani army and hence it chose to deny the incident rather than escalate immediately. Overall, the surgical strikes served a signalling purpose against the MJC, rather than a concrete blow to its capacities; it flustered the MJC but hasn’t deterred it. It proved to the MJC that India is capable of maintaining a dynamic conventional threshold and that India is not just limited to the option of tactical retaliation.

Third, the Pakistani civilian leadership was able to utilise the surgical strikes against the dominance of the MJC. Unsurprisingly, a news report claiming that the civilian government has directed the military leadership to act against militants came out immediately after India’s raids. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership kept championing the anti-India rhetoric — such posturing continues to remain popular in Pakistan, regardless of who is in the driving seat. The army’s carefully cultivated image as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical frontiers took a dent, and the civilian leadership cashed in on the opportunity.

What will be the impact of another cross-border raid on the three affected parties?
Projected as a strong rejoinder to Pakistan’s use of terrorism, the Indian government will be able to garner domestic support from many quarters to a repeat strike. However, the border states of Punjab and J&K will have to bear the brunt of any further escalation, threatening livelihoods and economic prospects in these states.

The MJC and the Pakistani civilian establishment will now be better prepared in anticipation of another Indian strike. So, it will be very difficult for India to inflict any damage using the same level of deployment. Other options of this nature include using artillery against bunkers from a vantage point while avoiding collateral damage, or the use of air to surface strikes or using short-range cruise missiles to strike terrorist hideouts. But each of these alternatives is likely to result in significant escalation on both sides.

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments. Recommendations of the Lt Gen Philip Campose Committee, constituted after the Pathankot attacks, need to be implemented. There is clear indication that the MJC has altered its strategy over the last two years, focusing on high-value Indian military establishments rather than cause large-scale civilian damages. The sub-conventional warfare level, where terrorists operate, has clearly narrowed across the world. A conventional response to a terrorist attack having mass civilian casualties will now be seen as a necessity to curb terror. The surgical strikes have helped reinforced this viewpoint. A variant of the strikes can be used to target high-value terrorist infrastructure if Pakistan returns to its policy of causing mass casualties.

For now, it is better that India focuses on its defences. Ultimately, India is better off putting both — a grand rapprochement or a full-scale war — on the back burner, while expending available capacity to launch economic reforms, rendering Pakistan irrelevant.

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

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Book Review: Not War, Not Peace?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

[An edited version of this review first appeared in The Business Standard Newspaper on 4th October 2016]

A lucid and comprehensive account of India’s strategic predicament in countering Pakistan-backed terrorism

Not War, Not Peace? — Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism
Authors: George Perkovich and Toby Dalton
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 297
Price: INR 695

‘Prescient’ would be an underwhelming adjective to describe a book that claims to be “the first comprehensive assessment of the violent and non-violent options available to India for compelling Pakistan to take concrete steps towards curbing terrorism originating from its homeland”. The timing of this publication can perhaps be compared only to the timing of Virat Kohli’s strokeplay.

In this book, the authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton (both from the DC based think tank — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) provide some much-needed clarity to questions such as: how should India respond to Pakistan’s usage of sub-conventional warfare? and what are the costs and benefits for each of India’s options?

As a piece of analytical writing, the book avoids the trap of a recency bias—excessive jingoism calling for retribution in response to terrorist attacks such as Uri can lead to an error in decision-making, hurting India in the long run. Instead, the authors identify four objectives for any response by the Indian side to an act of terror: one, satisfying the domestic political—psychological need to punish the perpetrators; two, motivating Pakistani authorities to prevent the next attack; three, deterring Pakistani authorities from escalating the conflict in reaction to India’s punitive moves; and four, ending the conflict in ways that doesn’t leave India worse off than it would have been, had it responded with less destructive means.

With these objectives as the backdrop, the authors describe five strategies: a proactive strategy not very different from the surgical strikes deployed in the aftermath of the Uri attacks, limited airborne strike on terrorist targets in Pakistan, covert operations to take out terrorists and their infrastructure, a change in India’s nuclear force posture allowing India to punish Pakistan in ways currently unfeasible, and finally, non-violent methods involving alliances with other states to inflict costs on Pakistan.

The book proceeds in a structured manner: each chapter picks up one strategy and then assesses what the likely next steps on the escalation ladder could be. Authors also identify the benefits and costs of each stage of escalation. To borrow a computer programming terminology, the book picks up an option and passes it through several “nested, if then else loops” systematically.

Some other highlights of the book. One, the book is severely damning of the “tendency in India, verging on standard operating procedure to announce or publicly discuss operational concepts or weapon systems before they actually exist.” We have seen glimpses of this tendency recently as well: whether it was the case of the PM raising Balochistan in the Independence Day speech, the case of a possible review of the Indus Water Treaty or DRDO’s claims on programmes such as ballistic missile defence systems. Premature sabre-rattling without credible capacity only motivates the irreconcilable entities in Pakistan, while India is caught off-guard when these forces retaliate.

Two, the book incriminates the below par performance of India’s military-industrial complex, saying that this lacuna constrains many of India’s military options. Three, the two authors’ assessment of the US role in Pakistan is also noteworthy. They accurately cite that even today, the US remains Pakistan’s biggest export market and a substantially large provider of economic and military aid. Getting the US to stop supporting Pakistan, financially and militarily, still remains an unfulfilled task.

A few sections in the book however, are based on long disproved assumptions. For instance, the first chapter derives that India’s position with respect to Pakistan is undermined, at least partly, due to a lack of “strategic culture”. The proof for this claim are statements by retired and serving defence officers, who place the blame on political leaderships through the years. In any case, this strategic culture fallacy doesn’t hold water. Just because India’s strategic aims were not Alexander-like in nature does not imply that there was no strategic culture. In fact, India’s strategic aim for long has been the consolidation of markets and states in the subcontinent. The chapter does make a redeeming point: the lack of a “defence economics” practice in India. Questions such as — how much and on what basis should be spent on its defence? Would the armed forces agree to a reduction in manpower in favour of better hardware? — still remained unasked and unanswered.

The authors are excessively charitable towards Pakistan when they criticise Pakistan for its “unwillingness or inability to prevent cross border terrorism against India”. After all, Pakistan has been directly involved in several cases of cross-border terrorism. The “rogue actor” model, often used to bury this unsettling fact can’t explain the following: how is it that there is a high substitutability of labour between the army and the jihadi groups, and between jihadi groups themselves? And what explains the fact that any efforts of peace talks between Pakistan and India are promptly followed by acts of violence, terror and intimidation from and within Pakistan?

Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government. The second entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is the the military—jihadi complex (MJC): a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. Policies towards Pakistan will continue to be ineffective unless these two Pakistans are explicated and internalised.

The book also claims that “today and in the foreseeable future, the choice Indian leaders will face is between doing nothing and doing too much.” Perhaps, there is a space for a third option: Ignore Pakistan while building up defences, resolving the political issues in Jammu & Kashmir, and shaping international morality against states that support terrorism as a policy.

Finally, Not War, Not Peace is a must-read for anyone interested in the India—Pakistan protracted conflict. Long-time Pakistan watchers will enjoy the exhaustive nature of the analyses while new readers will find the language easy enough to grasp. One final regret: such a comprehensive and lucid assessment of India’s options was written first by experts in the US, and not in India.   

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

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Countering the two Pakistans

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Summary of an interview I gave to Channel News Asia.

The Indian Army claimed that it conducted surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to pre-empt another infiltration by terrorists. Before we discuss the impact of this claim, it is important to analyse the antecedents. Else, we’ll be falling into the trap of recency bias which makes us react emotionally to the most recent events on the ground.

The current Indian government, much like the earlier Indian governments, started off with the vision that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian establishment provides the best chance for peace in the region. Consequently, Nawaz Sharif was invited to the Indian PM’s swearing-in ceremony. Subsequently, the Indian PM also made a trip to Lahore in continuation of this policy. However, all this outreach ended with first, the attack on a bus and police station in Gurdaspur and then an attack on the Pathankot air base. More recently, the terrorists attacked the Indian army brigade headquarters in Uri. This cycle—rounds of talks ending up in retaliation coming from Pakistan has a long history. Hence we’ve previously advocated that:

it is futile to spend cycles on trying to engage Pakistan at all costs.  And that, only by developing and putting in place mitigation strategies can India truly hope to better insulate itself from the terror infrastructure that operates out of Pakistan [Discussion document: Sustained Dialogue Process as India’s Pakistan Policy].

Given that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian government has higher costs than benefits, India was on the lookout for stronger options after the attack in Uri. And hence the attack on terrorist “launchpads” across the border. One needs to remember that this attack was not against the Pakistani Army or the Pakistani people. It was explicitly targeted towards terrorist infrastructure. Moreover, the Indian Army claimed responsibility for the attack and conveyed that there are no intentions to carry on with further strikes.

Pakistan’s response
Pakistani news agencies have been denying that there was a “surgical strike” and tried to play it down as cross-border fire. The terminology doesn’t matter. What is significant is that this was perhaps the first time that the Indian army openly claimed that it had struck down terrorist camps on the other side of the LoC. Even though tactical operations across the border from both sides aren’t new, this explicit claim is meant to blow the lid off the lie that Pakistan has been peddling throughout the world: any Indian response against a terror strike will eventually lead to nuclear war.

India’s claim and Pakistan’s subsequent dithering shows that there are options for India to explore below the nuclear threshold. There will be pressure on the Pakistani military establishment to retaliate and we might see some firing on the LoC in the days to come. But if Pakistan chooses to escalate in response to an attack on terrorists, it will only provide further evidence to how the army and the militants operate in unison and are in fact a part of an organisational structure— a complex.

What about the diplomatic responses?
Diplomatic responses (like refusing to attend the SAARC meeting) and military responses are not mutually exclusive to each other. In fact, since Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two—the first a putative civilian state and the second a military-jihadi complex—two responses are needed to counter the two Pakistans.

The diplomatic responses are meant to address the Pakistani people and the Pakistani putative state. They are meant to convey that the costs of supporting terrorists far outweigh the benefits. On the other hand, the overt military strike is meant to convey to the military-jihadi complex that India has options to strike back and that “tactical” nuclear weapons cannot be used as an excuse to target Indian people and the Republic of India.

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

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Look out for MJC’s reaction to India’s changed articulation on Balochistan

India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

For the first time in many years, focus of the India—Pakistan discussion has veered from the familiar topics—Kashmir and cross-border terrorism originating in Pakistan—to Balochistan. After PM Modi’s reference to “the people of Balochistan” in his 2016 Independence Day speech, two immediate effects are clearly observable: one, the Baloch nationalists dispersed across the world have received greater attention from a completely new set of audiences. This has added much-needed vigour to their waning campaign against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state in Balochistan. On the other hand, the intensification of the rhetoric has been met with one of the most brutal crackdowns by the Pakistani establishment within Balochistan—67 were killed and over 150 were reported missing in August alone.

The idea behind this post is not to gauge the wisdom or the folly behind the PM’s statement on Balochistan for such an exercise is futile.  Given that the wheels have already been set into motion, it would be worthwhile to ask: how will Pakistan react to this escalation from India?

To understand Pakistan’s reaction, it is critical to note that there will be two different responses because Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government and a civilian de-facto head of state, having its own flag and other paraphernalia that make it appear like a sovereign state. The competing entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures, which pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: what we call the military—jihadi complex (MJC).

The MJC and the putative state of Pakistan, both will react differently to India, depending on their own capabilities and intentions. My colleague Nitin Pai explains this duality of response through this analogy:

So when New Delhi engages Pakistan, it is like one batsman against two bowlers bowling simultaneously. Just when you think you’ve played a great shot—a solid defensive one or a flashy hit over the bowler’s head—you realise that you’ve been bowled by the other bowler before you’ve finished your follow- through. The doppelgänger is always there, even if you declare you aren’t going to face him. Even if you ignore him. Even if, as it turns out, you accept that he is a part of the bowling team.

Thus, India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan.

First, let’s see the response of the putative state: there are hardly any new tools in Nawaz Sharif’s retaliation bag. The first response will be: Kashmir. At international forums and at bilateral diplomatic meetings, the Pakistani state will try to make the Kashmir issue central to any discussion on India and Pakistan, once again. Internally, it might consider conceding some grounds to Baloch nationalist demands in order to negate the negative propaganda. CPEC will again be posed as a panacea for Balochistan’s problems. In what could be an indicator for times to come, a string of development projects were announced on 2nd September by Nawaz Sharif — a dam, Gwadar Free Zone, Business Complex and a University. 

The more interesting question is: how will the MJC react? the MJC will definitely see India’s act as a provocation and will be considering a retaliation to shift the focus off Balochistan, particularly when it is on the rampage there. The distraction can come in the form of: a terrorist attack on the lines of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Or in the form of heightened infiltration attempts in the Kashmir valley. Internally, there will be a campaign to highlight that the discontent in Balochistan is a result of Indian intelligence agencies. One can also expect the MJC to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back into the zeitgeist.

Regardless of the two reactions aimed against India, India’s pitch for the Baloch cause will have significant repercussions on the internal power play between MJC and the civilian leadership. And in the current scenario, the MJC will start with momentum in its favour. This is because a strong, shared culture is a cornerstone of the MJC—a powerful force that keeps the various nodes together. And perhaps the most important feature of this shared culture is a deep-seated antagonism towards India. With a wider set of options, covert and overt, available at hand, the MJC is always in a better position to project itself as the true protector against evil designs of the Indian state. 

The internal power struggle gets further convoluted when one brings into account the impending change of guard at the helm of the military, in two months time. While Nawaz Sharif would want to project that he’s in charge, the Indian angle in Balochistan will play to the advantage of the Pakistani military in particular. The next two months will help us gauge how the Balochistan issue affects civil-military relations in Pakistan.

Finally, a reaction there will be from the MJC. The question is, is the Indian government prepared to manage the consequences of MJC’s retaliation? Answering this question is critical for calculating the true costs or benefits of India’s escalation on Balochistan.

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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Why Pakistan might not head for a coup in the near future?

In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future

Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.

The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014.  A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.

The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.

Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.

First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.

 

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

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Danger of Militarism over Nationalism in current times

The use of military veterans to portray nationalism for achieving political objectives has dangerous ramifications for civil-military relations in a liberal democratic society like India and must be avoided at any cost  

The use of military symbols to project nationalism by the present government has dangerous ramifications. In trying to portray Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid (the case is still sub judice) and some other students as anti-national, the government, aided by a section of the TV news networks, unfortunately used Lance Naik Hanumanthappa’s heroic death due to avalanche in Siachen glacier. The obvious aim was to steer the discourse in a binary framework: national versus anti-national or simply, us versus them. Ex servicemen have been commandeered to be the torchbearers of patriotism and nationalism by inviting them to meetings at the JNU. Prima facie, there seems to be nothing wrong with inviting veterans to the JNU. What is wrong is the brand of competitive nationalism that is being imposed and exploiting our soldiers to do the dirty job. The social media has been actively used for trolls and counter trolls. In an event held in JNU by ABVP on February 24, senior veterans were invited  to speak to the university administration. Reportedly, they asked for a memorial to be built in the campus and also volunteered to donate a tank.  The latest to join the fray is a 2 minute video titled ‘Freedom of Action?’ directed by Vivek Joshi.

The title is quite provocative and asks probing question from the audience. Two soldiers are on guard with their guns trained at the enemy across the border when they hear some anti-national slogans coming from own side. At this, one of them turns around and aims his gun in the direction of sloganeering (although, no one is visible). The other soldier laconically tells his comrade that killing them is useless, as  he would be killing only the men and not the ideology. To which, the second one replies that a man who has broken his relationship with his mother has broken all his relationships. And then, goes on to take aim. The message is very clear. Army can be the symbol of extreme form of nationalism and it will be used to eliminate whoever is deemed anti-national.  Getting the veterans involved in student politics that is within the ambit of state is nothing short of absurdity.  This rings an ominous warning and brings us to the complex debate of civil-military relations.

The Indian armed forces are modeled on the British system. The civilian control and oversight over the military is taken for granted in such a set-up. The military in a liberal democratic society must remain strictly apolitical for it to remain professional. Towards this, the officer corps plays an important role, for they are the decision makers of an arm of the state which is capable of utmost violence.  Huntington, a highly acknowledged American political scientist terms this as the ‘objective civilian control’ which is the most desirable for effective civil-military balance of power. This maximises military professionalism, and hence security of the state. The military’s and as a corollary, the officers’ role in politics is non-existent. The civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. This is in stark to contrast to ‘subjective control’ where the civilian assertion has dangerous portends of deprofessionalising the military which might ultimately result in a coup.

One doesn’t need to go far in the subcontinent. Pakistan is a standing example where intrusive interference by Jinnah involved military in politics immediately after independence.  Within a decade, the military overthrew the civilian government. There has been no looking back since then. Bangladesh too has had an uneasy relationship with the military wherein the founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated in a bloody military coup within a few years of its independence.  Myanmar has been ruled by its military for the better part of its existence. The complex of civil-military relations becomes a dangerous cocktail when mixed with religion. A benign flirting with religion at the beginning, subsequently leads to massive inroads into the vitals of military effectiveness and competence.

From its inception, military has been associated with masculinity, valour,  and defending the territorial integrity at any cost. The trouble starts when these values get mixed with symbols of religious identity masquerading as nationalism in a politically charged atmosphere with passions running high. A large standing army can be a beast— it can be extremely powerful and strong enough in thwarting an external aggression.  By the same token, it is also used to quell internal strife and insurgencies by remaining purely apolitical and non-partisan.  At the same time, it should be subservient enough to the civil authority and not become a frankenstein monster. Till now, by all available evidence, only a minuscule section of retired personnel have visibly showed signs of aligning with the ideology of Hindutva and Hindu Rashtra.  In contrast, the police in uniform has demonstrated its partisanship by looking the other way when violence broke out in the Delhi High Court premises. It must be borne in mind by the political masters in charge that the military has an almost paternal relationship with its veteran community. The politicians are only playing with fire by involving the veterans to realise before long that the serving officer corps too is afflicted with this. To achieve their ends, the stormtroopers in the form of foot soldiers of ABVP are being released as trial balloons. Once this genie of ‘military in politics’ is out of the bottle, it will be dangerous to control.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar 

Featured Image : Military unit in training by Elizabeth Anderson, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

 

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India-Pakistan Rendezvous: Will terrorist attack destabilize the relation

 

Prime Minister Modi has called for a prompt and decisive action against those involved in the terror attack at Pathankot air base. Speaking to Prime Minster Nawaz Sheriff, Modi expressed his grave concern on the terror activities on the Pakistan soil and has called for an actionable response. Disrupting bilateral talks between India and Pakistan could be attributed as the key reason to this attack and a similar pattern has been sighted in the past.

A noticeable interface at the recent Paris Climate summit, on the sideline was the India-Pakistan Prime Minister talks that paved the way for a crucial Ministerial level dialogue. The rare meeting of the NSA (National Security Advisor) between India and Pakistan was described as cordial, open and positive. This was followed by the visit of India’s Foreign Minister Sushama Swaraj to the Heart of Asia Conference at Islamabad. Prime Minster Modi’s visit thereafter to Pakistan and meeting his counterpart Nawaz Sheriff, was seen as a significant bilateral development and an unprecedented progress in India-Pakistan relations. Interestingly this was followed several engagement like the cricket diplomacy and  the assurance by Modi to attend the SAARC summit to be held in Pakistan next year.

Despite the recent terror attack at the Pathankot Air Base and the Indian Consulate at Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan with several reports confirming the involvement of Pakistan militant outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the rendezvous between India and Pakistan continues. However, Prime Minster Modi has reiterated the fact that such a dastardly terrorist attack was carried out from the Pakistan soil and has insisted firm action. Normalization could succeed only if action on perpetrators are taken as promised by Pakistan. There is no ambiguity in the terrorist attack and India has provided specific information to Pakistan to investigate the strike. Prime Minster Modi has demanded stern action to be taken against the perpetrators.

On the face of hope, there is a movement for comprehensive bilateral dialogue as against a composite dialogue. The Foreign Secretary talks as of now does not stand cancelled. Instead of confrontation and antagonism there is an unruffled silence. There is a regional implication to this reticence, both India and Pakistan are competing for influence and stabilization in Afghanistan. Several common interest like trade, security, energy and terrorism underpins this relationship. Modi’s address at the Afghan Parliament dawned a ray of hope, positive spirt and an earnest effort to dispel the Pakistani notion of distress on India’s involvement in Afghanistan.

There are several drivers to this stabilization process and some of the key factors would be energy assets and viable Central Asian markets for both India and Pakistan. Afghanistan is a key promoter of regional stability and is looking forward to an era of economic and security cooperation. With an emerging India-Afghanistan-Pakistan triangular relation, each of them are exhibiting high level of maturity and commitment. The recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is yet another important strategic calculi.

Regional rapprochement has not been very successful and largely the South Asian politics have been dominated or clouded by India-Pakistan relations. Prime Minister Modi on assuming office has committed to sustain normalcy in the region. Earnest effort to adhere his commitment was seen in several of his initiatives towards the region. The recent   Modi’s visit enroute from Kabul to Pakistan is an important milestone in the process of regional stabilization.

Terror attacks and threats have been the key destabilizing factor in the area. Several terror outfits coexist and cohabit in the region and they have been supported largely by fundamental and fanatic groups. Countering terrorism has been a daunting task and several peace process to find a solution to this enduring problem has dominated the past years. Thus countering terrorism as a regional phenomenon would succeed only if there is a single peace process outcome in which both India and Pakistan are involved. Pakistan counter terrorism operation in the tribal region along Afghan border is underway. A step to regional balance and progress is on cards and India’s involvement is seen as positive step in this initiative. South Asian diplomacy has been advancing well in the past few months with several rounds of talks at the Government level and the impromptu visit by the Indian Prime Minister.

Balancing the regional stability is a daunting task, there are several glitches to this progress. It is not the very first time that peace process or normalization talks have been stalled. The question that remains is, will the recent terror attack at Pathankot air base set the clock behind in India-Pakistan Relations.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute.  She tweets@priyamanassa

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