Tag Archives: Pakistan

A Pakistan time-bomb?


Although the Obama Administration may well not recognize it, Pakistan is turning into the U.S.’ number one problem in fighting worldwide Islamic terrorism.
The massacre of 79, many of them children, by an Islamic terrorist group aiming at Christians on a community playground on Eastern Sunday – large numbers of Moslems were also killed and wounded – marks a new downturn in Pakistan. The suicide bomber’s choice of a target in Lahore, Pakistan’s most sophisticated and second largest city, marks a new turn in the two decades of terrorist activity. Lahore is capital of Punjab province with almost twothirds of Pakistan’s 185 million people. Noted for their pragmatism, Pujabis are widely represented in the Pakistan diaspora in the West and despite their religious differences, share much with their neighbors in bordering Indian Punjab.
It’s significant that the Jamaat ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban, which claimed credit for the attack, pledges allegiance to Daesh [The Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL].
Punjab is the power base of its native son Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother, the province’s chief minister and power broker. It had been largely spared ghowing terrorism over the last two decades and the military’s counteroffensive.
The Sharifs’ political success has depended on support from the more religious, and financial help from Saudi Arabia. Their civilian rule – Pakistan has spent more than half its existence under military rule – is now in jeopardy. The military has been battling a growing insurgency from Islamic terrorists it out in Karachi, Pakistan’s huge port city. [In December 2014, terrorists, massacred 132 children at a military supported Army school in Peshawar, in the northwest frontier province adjoining Afghanistan.].
. Pakistan’s losses, far greater than those of Western terrorist episodes in the West, have been largely ignored by the foreign media. But this new turn of events, a strike at the heart of the Pakistan civilian regime, signals an increasing a growing threat to what has always been an unstable country. From its creation, carved from Moslem majority areas in British India in 1947 in a bloody partition of the Subcontinent, Pakistan originally included two disparate areas at the extremes of the Subcontinent separated by 1500 miles of the new India. That was resolved with a brief war with India when Bangladesh broke away in 1972. But Pakistan was also bound by other contradictions. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founding leader of the country who died shortly after its creation, while basing his claims on the distinction of “two nations” in British India, one Moslem and the other Hindu, like most of Pakistan’s leadership including its military were not devout Moslems.
Fanatical Moslem groups have become more and more active despite a campaign by the military to curb their sanctuaries in the Pakistan-Afghanistan areas. Always keying their foreign policy to their Indian neighbors with whom they have fought three wars since independence, Pakistan has drifted in and out of an alliance with the U.S. since Partition. With the U.S.’ growing ties to India, anti-Americanism is on the rise in Pakistan.
Washington policy makers had generally seen Pakistan as a bloc to former Soviet – and even older Russian imperial – efforts to reach the Indian Ocean and as a counter to Jawaharlal Nehru’s alliance with the Soviets. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the end of 1979, the U.S. used Pakistan as a base to oust Moscow in 1980-82 with the help of NATO allies, and again, after the 9/11 [2001] attack by Osama Ben-Ladin from his base in Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime.
If the Pakistan military are unable to curb the growing terrorist movements, Pakistani fanatics could well become the most important recruits for Daesh and its attempt to create a worldwide Moslem terrorist network. Contrary to much that has been written, Daesh’s recruits are largely from relatively privileged disaffected Moslems, not the impoverished mass. With the Pakistanis’ large English-speaking minority and its large body of technical immigrants in the West – widely represented in Silicon Valley, for example – it could add immeasurably to Washington’s effort to curb growing international terrorism.
sws-03-31-16

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Pakistan’s shaky equilibrium


Pakistan’s 185 million people suffer a fragile combination of its military, probably the only viable national institution, its British Indian-descended civil Punjabi elite – and a growing body of Islamic terrorists. That balance may be coming unhinged. Chaos in Pakistan would threaten the whole 1.3-billion ummah, the Islamic world, from Zamboanga in the Philippines to Dakar in West Africa.
A secret trial has collapsed of 10 would-be assassins, originally charged with attempting to murder the then 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, a teenage advocate of female education in the face of Islamic fundamentalists. Only two have been convicted from a gang which mounted a student bus, asked for her to be identified, and then shot her through the head. That she survived to become a Nobel Laureate, a symbol of resistance to the Muslim fanatics [even though she dare not go back to Pakistan] is something of a miracle.
Conviction in April of the original suspects to life imprisonment [25 years in Pakistan] has been annulled, and only two have been sentenced. Reuter’s quotes Salim Khan, a senior police official, saying that eight suspects were freed because of “lack of proof”. Such trials are held in deep secrecy because of the possibility of retribution from “militants”.
Hardly a day passes without a terrorist attack, either against the civilian government or felled in sectarian conflict between Pakistan’s majority Sunni and its smaller but important Shia sects including the Agha Khan’s Ismailis.In western Baluchistan province where a violent civil war has gone on for decades, dozens of bus passengers from the minority Muslim communities have been killed in the last few weeks. Christians have been condemned to death for violating Pakistan’s outrageous blasphemy laws. Last December 145 students and teachers were killed by Pakistan Taliban terrorists attacking a military-supported school.
Pakistan’s deficit economy survives with major infusions from the U.S., the Saudis and, to a more limited extent, the Chinese. Washington began providing economic assistance along with military aid in 1947shortly after the country’s creation, a total of nearly $67 billion [in constant 2011 dollars] between 1951 and 2011. After abandoning Pakistan [and Afghanistan] in the 90s in opposition to its nuclear weapons development, Washington moved to authorize $7.5 billion FY2010 to FY2014, not always actually meeting the $1.5 billion annual commitment.
This swing and sway of Washington’s policies, and virulent radical Muslim propaganda has produced bitter anti-American hostility. And the U.S. has had a hard time facing up to terrorism, sometimes an extension and outgrowth of the Pakistani military and intelligence in its constant low-level support of pro-Pakistan and independence guerrillas in Kashmir, the Himalayan state contested with India. Pakistani military and intelligence officialdom, for example, shaded off into the 2008 Bombay Massacre which took the lives of 164 victims and nine terrorists, including a half dozen Americans.
It was, in part, Washington pressure in 2008 which ousted Gen.-Pres. Pervez Musharraf and his “civilianized” military government. The current weak, Saudi-supported administration, imitating the rule of law of much vilified British India, is constantly under threat of another military takeover – more than half of Pakistan’s history has been under military government. The hidden drama of the Malala trial suggests a breakdown under the increasing terrorist threat may again bring back the army – or worse.
The implications for the U.S., India [with more Moslems than Pakistan], Bangladesh, and the Pakistan diaspora [a half million of the total of 45 million Diaspora live in the U.S.] are ominous. Given the sorry record of the Obama Administration in the Near East, Washington’s ability to cope with a Pakistan implosion are at best problematical.
sws-06-06-15.

Waging war from the pages of The Washington Post


Whatever else he has done, Pres. Barack Obama has introduced new forms of warfare.

In Cairo, in what is likely to be the most forgotten seminal speech in history, he waged propaganda warfare against any concept that the world’s problem was a bigoted, backward and reactionary Islamic world.

Then we got Libya, where a tinpot dictator, tottering after 30 years of the most idiosyncratic regime in history, was falling of its own weight. But rather than offer a helping hand to our European allies — who for whatever reason — thought Muammar Khadaffi had to go, Obama decided to “lead from behind”. He almost got his what’s-it in a ringer when it turned out that as everyone else knew, the Europeans did not have the wherewithal to do the job.  So we led, shall we say, “from the left side”?

Now we are faced with an even more dangerous and difficult job.

Our on and off — the switch in Washington used as much as in Islamabad — alliance with the Pakistanis is in deep do-do. The army, which we helped usher out of power in order to restore “democracy”, apparently cannot control some of its echelons.

Someone, perhaps not the senior officials, knew Osama was there. Shamed not only by our successful raid to grab him, but by an almost hilarious — had it not been so bloody — virtually simultaneous invasion of its principal naval base in its largest city through a whore house operating on the premises, the army is fraught.

And there isn’t much to Pakistan institutions except the military, as corrupt and inefficient as it may be.

The Obama Administration has decided in this instance to wage war from the pages of The Washington Post.  Given its past record of service to the cause of stable government and its current seediness, somehow that doesn’t seem the way to solve the problem for this observer.

Ultimata are usually delivered through diplomatic echelons — that’s so, that when you or the other party has to back down, it can be done with a certain amount, of shall we say, finesse? Delivering ultimata on the front page of The Washington Post is a little like undressing in Macy’s windows — seduction it is not, more like exhibitionism.

Pakistan, with its more than half billion people, most living in ignorance and on the verge of constant disaster, are being run by a government lost somewhere in the pages of Kipling and Somalian anarchy. At any moment, the army may have to step in as it has always done to save drowning politicians.

Excoriation on the pages of The Washington Post wont make it easier.

But what can be done there and is being done there is to further diminish the prestige, the stature and the power of any Pakistan government — leading not only to anarchy but to the further radicalization of Pakistani Muslims ready to believe any cock and bull story about the Americans.

It could be helping to set up a factory for turning out jihadists with unlimited resources in manpower and with enormous resources among its diaspora communities in the West. And there are always the nuclear arms lying around for the pickup.

It may well be as several spokesmen, loud and clear, have enunciated that the attacks on the US embassy in Kabul are coming from the Haqani network, egged on by elements in the army’s ISI, the notorious and probably vastly overvalued intelligence organization.

But rooting out the Haqani won’t be done on the pages of The Washington Post.  Either the US will have to satisfy itself that this is the case and go after the culprits in some of the most difficult terrain in the world, or reach a compromise with the Pakistani army for information which would defang them.

Either way, the Obama Administration can not lead this war from the pages of The Washington Post in a critical and perhaps the most dangerous situation facing the world today.

India: a perfect storm


Pollyannas had looked to“the emerging economies” – China, India, Brazil, etc. — for growth to help ward off worldwide economic recession, as the Western economies and Japan stumbled.

It’s clear that isn’t going to happen. China is trimming its sails to dampen inflation, braking unlimited infrastructure expansion at any cost to produce jobs while trying to meet increasing constraints on its subsidized exports. Brazil, with a new administration enmeshed in traditional corruption, faces a commodities export crash while fighting off devastating import competition for its domestic manufacturing from its major customer, China.

But largely ignored — what with the dramatic Euro crisis and a threat of double-dip American recession –   is the more important emerging economy, India, now slipping back into its traditional morass. At stake was the hope 1.5 billion people, almost a quarter of the human race, could move with democratic values into a modern society. That possibility was long seen as counter to “the Chinese model” which economically successful, possibly temporarily, is essentially oldstyle Oriental despotism.

Heading the list of New Delhi’s woes is a leadership deficit. Italy-born, 64-year-old Mme. Sonia Gandhi, widow of a former prime minister and backseat driver to the ruling Congress Party, has been secreted away to New York for cancer surgery [if by a noted Indian émigré physician]. She leaves behind a power vacuum, not only in her ruling Party but in government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, increasingly is drowning in massive corruption, growing inflation and a flight of capital escaping crippling bureaucracy.

Rahul Gandhi, Mme. Sonia’s 41-year-old son, has yet to prove he has the charisma of three generations of independence leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s family who imperiously have dominated politics – if, arguably, preserving national unity. Caught in India’s worship of priestly figures, a traditional hunger strike by an anti-corruption hero, Anna Hazare, was mishandled. [Mr. Singh has had to backtrack from Mr. Hazare’s arrest.] The government, correctly, is terrified Mr. Hazare’s high-minded tactics could be appropriated by mushrooming anti-government, anti-business campaigns, further paralyzing governance and the economy.

India’s international role, too, is in jeopardy. Naïve Washington hopes for a U.S.-India alliance against Beijing’s growing aggressiveness have been dashed. American forgive and forget efforts have dawdled in extending nuclear and other advanced technologies after New Delhi defied the world to build atomic weapons — matched by Pakistan with Chinese and North Korean assistance. American vendors recently were shockingly left off the short list for a $10 billion fighter plane bid. There’s suspicion stricter American anti-bribery laws than notorious European “incentives” played a role. A 25-year-old case against Mme. Sonia’s deceased husband, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for a Swedish purchase was recently shelved, more or less indecisively.

Meanwhile, decades of addiction to a Moscow alliance continues among India’s diplomats, illogical as it might be what with growing Russian arms delivery failures and Moscow’s massive military sales to China. Furthermore, India’s proposed huge overseas defense purchases may not meet its security requirements. Mr. Singh has called India’s greatest threat “Maoist” insurgencies in a dozen Indian states. New Delhi and state governments have passed responsibility for their suppression back and forth with little success. These social conflicts grew out of pro-Chinese proclivities of Bengal’s Communists whose 30-year hold on Calcutta, India’s second city, was recently broken, probably only temporarily.

After three and a half wars, negotiations continue fitfully to reach a compromise with Pakistan, the twin regime bloodily carved out of British India over half a century ago. With its own Muslim population as large as Pakistan’s, Indian leaders increasingly appreciate an implosion there would threaten its own breakup. But terrorists with tentacles leading from Pakistani military through the perennial dispute over Indian occupation of Kashmir are torturous, made even more dangerous by occasional clashes of regular forces such as took place in early September. Washington, after fitful attempts, has failed to mediate the feud, caught between aiding a bankrupt Islamabad and attempting to warm post-Soviet Cold War relations with India.

This picture is clouded further by New Delhi’s fishing in troubled ethnic waters in Afghanistan, and Pakistan itself. The Pushtoon terrorist hotbed on the Afghan border is where Pakistani, Indian and Chinese interests conflict. China, meanwhile, continues a campaign of seduction of Pakistan, a massive Tibet buildup, including missiles and probably nuclear weapons, as well as infiltration in the Himalayan border states of Nepal and Bhutan and at both eastern and western ends of the 1500-mile frontier.

sws-09-02-11

All-weather alliance has added a fifth season


“China pointed a finger at Pakistan, one of its closest foreign partners, as it blamed one of two deadly attacks over the weekend in the northwestern Xinjiang region on Muslim extremists trained across the Pakistani border.‬” — news dispatch

My enemy’s enemy is my friend goes just so far, even in geopolitics.  At some point, both Beijing and Islamabad will have to decide whether  just hating India is enough to bind two increasingly dysfunctional societies together. Even 16,000-feet passes [map below] are not always enough to separate countries.


The grim Arab summer


Among nations, as in private lives, there are self-evident long-term trends, often cataclysmic, but with unforeseen tripwires for timing the unpredictable denouement. At the moment notable among these is continued failure of modernization among the 1.3 billion Arab/Moslem world.

What a few months ago seemed an irresistible wave of rising expectations forcing a renaissance in Tunisia, Egypt, and other “moderate” Muslim societies, has stymied

But it has had economic and political consequences. Others, unforeseen, are bound to come along, but for the moment:

  • The bloodiest of all retrograde Arab dictatorships in Syria is doomed, its mostly reluctant advocates notwithstanding. Saudi Arabia, chief expositor of a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil foreign policy, appease [and fund] it. Washington and Paris cower, fearing Basher al-Assad’s demise might lead to something even worse than his purported secular tyranny. Damascus’ strategic partners — Iranian, Lebanese and Palestinian Islamicists – using it as a trampoline to Mediterranean power, can only wring their hands. Turkey dreaming of an alliance ushering in Neo-Ottoman glory is befuddled with an onslaught of refugees.
  • Egypt, long Islam’s cultural center, flops back into a new lap of corrupt if camouflaged military government. Collapse of tourism and crippled local industry threaten minimal growth achieved during the Mubarak era with a yawning, unemployed youthful demographic bulge. Army leadership, shrewd enough to continue a half-peace with a formidable enemy, Israel, nevertheless, flirts with populist anti-Semitism while enriching itself through protectionist, crony state capitalism rather than opening up to investment, technology transfer and rapid growth.
  • Pakistan, largest self-proclaimed Muslim state of 200 millions ironically conceived as an Islamic modernizing force in dying British Imperial India despite its confessional moniker, implodes. Its military, only Pakistani “national” entity, has suffered a lethal blow from the unilateral surgical American strike killing Osama Ben Ladin. The related perception of impotence and/or incompetence complements rising opposition to the generals’ corrupt incestuous relationship with greedy Punjabi feudal elite. Washington influence seeking to foster make-believe democratic parallel civilian government feeds anti-Americanism. Beijing siphons off massive U.S. aid to one of the world’ poorest populations through an anti-India alliance even as Chinese “aid” projects come under terrorist attack.
  • The Obama Administration, buying into Muslim victimization mythology reinforced by the President’s own pesudo-Marxian historical view, has no strategy for dealing with the energy fulcrum Persian Gulf powers wield however haphazardly on world economy. The Administration’s muddled “alternative energy” policies – not excluding the crassly politically motivated band-aid release of strategic reserve oil – is ever more irrelevant in the face of vast new fossil fuel discoveries [shale gas and deepwater drilling] and potential [e.g., Arctic oil].
  • Libya encapsulates Mr. Obama’s failing attempt to wind down Pres. George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism”. Refusing the full weight of American arms to NATO’s effort, initiated by the Europeans, risks temporary resumption of Muammar Qadaffi’s long history of terrorism against Americans. In the bargain, “Libya” dramatizes long ignored NATO inadequacies with its increasing dependence on American muscle.
  • Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal announcement touched all domestic 2012 electoral bases, but it offered no solution to the fundamental question: having taken on Islamic radicals, Washington has not struck the lethal blow. There is no Hitler bunker suicide, no Japanese militarists’ surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri, the Osama drama notwithstanding. Probably unconsciously, Pres. Obama has taken a leaf from old Sen. George Aiken’s rejected Vietnam playbook http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Aiken: “declare victory and come home”. Later modified by Pres. Richard M. Nixon and Dr. Henry A. Kissinger to “a decent interval”, it failed, demoralizing the U.S. military and undermining domestic self-esteem for a generation while sacrificing hundreds of thousands of American and Vietnamese lives without accomplishing its geopolitical goals of mollifying the Soviets or welding an effective Chinese alliance.

Leaked efforts to contain spreading Islamicist virus in Yemen with Special Forces drops armed with unmanned aerial vehicles, ipso facto, insures the fight will continue long after the highly publicized if incoherent Inside-the-Beltway “debate” over counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism is, again, out of fashion. Gen. David H. Petraeus, USA [Rtd.], a principal if scientistic participant, after all, soon will be charged with clandestine warfare. Whatever Mr. Petraeus’ success at Langley, Mr. Obama or his successor at 1600 Pennsylvania, can not long avoid the basic problem, election or no election: protecting the U.S. from continuing Islamic terrorism.

sws-06-24-11

The Pakistan conundrum


Everything about Pakistan from its very beginning has been anomalous.

It was dreamed up by romantic poets but survival has depended on a stolid military drawing on British Indian Army professionalism. Its parameters were defined by Islam but its secularist elite sought a nation-state where none had ever existed. Its ethnic and linguistic diversity matches the Indian subcontinent’s endless array of races and cultures. Originally it grouped noncontiguous areas – East Bengal [Bangladesh], 1500 miles across India, seceded in 1971. From the beginning disputed borders included the world’s bitterest dispute, Kashmir.

Pakistan survived the first decade’s chaos after the 1947 British Indian Empire Partition with a million deaths and 25 million “population swaps” and began to modernize. Laissez-faire economics and signing on American anti-Soviet military pacts contrasted sharply with India’s Moscow alliance and catastrophic Soviet planning. But grasping feudal elites intertwined with repeated military takeovers brought on by near breakdowns — plus three and a half wars with India — generated a descending spiral.

Still, although among the world’s poorest, Pakistanis have produced brilliant entrepreneurs and talented professionals, many prospering in a 10-million diaspora [now suffering jihadist infiltration, particularly in Britain.] They remit more than $10 billion annually helping keep the country afloat.

But now, for all the U.S.’s satisfaction and strategic and tactical gain in ending Osama Ben Ladin’s career, one outcome is further erosion for Pakistan. Whatever your favorite conspiracy theory, Islamabad looks weak, incompetent and conflicted to its own people and the world. A fanatical jihadist minority had already been murdering its most popular secular politicians – including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, wife of President Asaf Ali Zardari. Xenophobia arising from poverty and instability grows. [Only hours after the American raid, Karachi, Pakistan’s megapolis port-city of 20 million – and pivot for U.S. Afghanistan logistics — was paralyzed by political assassination only tangentially related to Ben Ladin.]

Nothing so characterizes these problems as “a victim syndrome” dominating Pakistan’s collective psyche — as it does the rest of the Muslim world. With some justification, Pakistanis see themselves used by Washington during the early Cold War [including as a base for U2 spy Soviet Union overflights], abandoned until time came to scotch Russia’s age-old drive to the Indian Ocean through Afghanistan, abandoned after the Soviet Union’s implosion until Islamabad’s cooperation again became essential to blowing al Qaeda’s Afghan Taliban sanctuary.

Current American withdrawal speculation feeds this old complaint and, although whispered, emphasizes Islamabad’s reliance on its “all weather” alliance with China. From Pakistan’s perspective, even the purportedly unofficial A.G. Khan nuclear proliferation network, a major friction point with Washington, bought Chinese missile technology [much of it “borrowed” from the U.S.]. That gives Pakistan at least a temporary advantage facing much larger, better armed India, always at the heart of Pakistan nightmares — and strategies. It’s reciprocated: before the Abottabad blood dried, Indian Chief of Army Staff V.K. Singh publicly claimed India could replicate the American raid. Pakistan’s Chief of General Staff Pervez Kayani’s immediate rejoiner: further American incursions would not be tolerated. Others threatened an Indian foray would be “catastrophic”; Pakistan recently talked of tactical nuclear weapons deployment.

Not only has Washington waffled, but it has fantasized. In the Bush II years, Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice announced henceforth Washington would treat each country separately without regard to their relationship. But when the Obama Administration named Amb. Richard Holbrooke as the essential coordinator for Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, Washington caved immediately after New Delhi demanded his purview exclude New Delhi.

These complications show why Capital Beltway blather about Pakistan is not only irrelevant but dangerous. Yes, it would be satisfying to end massive U.S. aid — $7 billion in non-military since 1951, $1 billion arms and training annually since 2005. But then what?

Conspiracy theories – ranging from top level Pakistanis having safehoused Osama Ben Ladin to complicity of those same officials in the raid – will continue to proliferate. Soon Pakistan’s vast population [250 million] could again retreat to the edge of the U.S.’s consciousness. Yet Pakistan would be sidelined only at the world’s peril as the long-arm of 9/11 and other terrorist events, many including Pakistanis, have proved. Washington policymakers must help formulate how to prevent a nuclear-armed Pakistan turning into a failed state, threatening everyone — not least India’s 1.3 billion and its own Pakistan-size Muslim minority.

sws-05-06-11

Petraeus’ day job


Whatever else oozed out of Washington’s recent Afghanistan flap, recognition that Pakistan is key to winning America’s longest war may be the most important. Both new Afghanistan Supremo Gen. David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen finally have got around to saying so publicly.

It is late coming.

Obviously, as in all wars, there will be a final political settlement. But in most wars that would come only when one side demonstrates overwhelming power. After a decade the U.S. may well be at the tipping point. That is behind Afghanistan Pres. Hamid Karzai talking of accommodation and frenetic shuttle diplomacy by Pakistan Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

But victory in Afghanistan – if only modestly denying future sanctuary for international terrorists who produced the 9/11 long-range attack – also will demand a truce among cantankerous neighbors. Yet willful ignorance of the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian incestuousness has dominated Washington strategies. “We will treat India and Pakistan’s interests completely separately”, went the Bush Administration’s mantra.

At this very moment, the relationships are entering new convoluted crisis:

Pakistan is clumsily shifting from presidential to parliamentary government. The changeover loosens ethnic rivalries and empowers more petty politicians. Meanwhile, figurehead Pres. Asif Ali Zandari fends off humongous corruption charges virtually everyone in the country believes. To compound the disorder, an activist judiciary is trying to establish paramountcy. The only virile national institution, the military, runs a parallel government after Washington helped ditch Pres. Gen. Pervez Musharraf — perhaps poised for comeback if his old alter ego, Kayani, leaves for scheduled October retirement.

Overall, always fragile Pakistan despite sharp internal divisions is unanimous in seeing a friendly Afghanistan as quintessential to its survival. Vast and intricate geographic, historical, ethnic and religious ties bind the two countries. But suffice it to say that current enemies for both Washington and Islamabad – and New Delhi — were a byproduct of American assistance through Pakistan in the successful anti-Soviet Afghan war.  Some of those “holy warriors” want to turn back the clock to a pre-modern regime such as the one which housed Osama Ben Ladin. It is no wonder then, that in Kayani’s former spy command, Interservices Intelligence Directorate, old individual ties to terrorists abound — for better and for worse.

But to put the argument in its crudest form, having fought three and a half wars with India, Pakistan’s largely secular political class constantly looks over its shoulder at New Delhi as it tries to fend off rising Islamic extremism. New Pakistani-Indian bilateral discussions toward settlement have regained momentum. But they come when Kashmir, keystone to their conflict, is seething with anti-Indian violence.

True, Pakistan in the past has fed that conflict. But that more than half a million Indian security forces cannot pacify an area the size of Minnesota suggests another political compromise is necessary. Uncharacteristically, India’s military chief just said so publicly. But India treads warily with its own Muslim minority larger and intimately related to Pakistan’s 156 millions. Furthermore, India’s dozen so-called Maoist insurgencies which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh designated the country’s biggest security threat, are increasingly attacking economic targets.

None of this has slowed New Delhi’s Afghanistan intrigues. For India, too, claims the country is vital to its security. From New Delhi’s viewpoint Afghan instability partially checkmates Pakistan and its “all-weather” ally, Communist China. With no real progress in the Tibetan border conflict – Beijing scored a short but decisive war in 1962 – this puts Afghanistan on the list of Indian strategic priorities.

New Delhi’s $1.2 billion in aid is deftly leveraged. And an appreciative Mr. Karzai’s flirtation with India infuriates the Pakistanis. Islamabad recalls New Delhi’s longtime efforts with its then ally, the Soviet Union, to exploit the same borderland Pushtoon tribals who now provide the terrorists’ sanctuary. [Mr. Karzai refuses to accept the 19th Century British India-Afghanistan border which slashes through these tribal areas, his own ancestral home.]

When Pres Barack Obama made a feint at this fundamental problem by naming boisterous Richard Holbrooke super-ambassador to all three countries, New Delhi demurred loudly. As the Bush Administration before it, Mr. Obama hoped to use massive aid to Pakistan — $10 billion over five years — as leverage along with emerging strategic ties with India [if unspoken, against expanding Chinese power]. But Holbrooke has been reduced to barking around the edges of the bloated U.S. ambassadorial network that Petraeus is likely to find his greatest headache. [It was injudiciously targeted by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s staff in the infamous Rolling Stone article.]

Furthermore, India rejects international arbitration in Kashmir after refusing a 1950s UN plebiscite which it might well have won. Hanging on is now not only seen as strategic militarily but retaining the Himalayan region’s 10-million mostly Muslims is “proof” of India’s claim to “secularism” – in a country where recent history records too many Hindu-led depredations against Muslims.

Some in Washington see Petraeus with political ambitions. If so, now here is a political problem to cut his teeth on which would make any Potomac River circus look like child’s play.

sws-07-02-10

The riches of the Indies goes on the bloc


David Cameron, the UK’s novice prime minister, couldn’t have expected to reestablish “the raj”. But he hoped to burnish the British commercial image during a summer doldrums India visit. He came loaded for the proverbial tiger – the biggest delegation since Indian independence 63 years ago including cabinet ministers, businessmen and sports stars. It would take all that to halt the slippage in UK trade and investment being displaced, in part by the U.S., and others [not the least, ironically, the Chinese].

But like other commercial [and diplomatic] hopefuls making the pilgrimage, Cameron ran into “The East Asia Company Syndrome” — fear investment will lead to untoward foreign influence. Not least, too, he walked into the India-Pakistan feud which dominates every decision. Despite elaborate apologies for “colonialism”, he committed a public gaff – as some of his American cousins too often have – criticizing, in this case Pakistani links to terrorism, before an Indian audience. Not only would it muddle his Pakistan stopover [where he hopes to talk eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan] but delicate ties to monitor the UK’s two million South Indian Muslims too often linked to domestic terrorism in all three countries.

Cameron could be excused for stumbling. The terrain is rocky with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh balancing a constantly shifting coalition, with the heir of the Nehrus, the widow Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, backseat driver as leader of his National Congress Party. She grooms her son, 39-year-old Rahul, for the fourth dynastic generation founded by his great grandfather, the sainted Jawharlal Nehru, followed by his daughter, Indira Gandhi [assassinated b y her Sikh bodyguard], her son Rajiv [martyred by a Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger suicide “black widow”], Rahul’s father. Cameron didn’t manage to see either.

Cameron was exploring abiding hope the massive 2009 win of Singh’s Congress against the Hindu-revivalist but business friendly Baharat Janata Party  would bring a major overhaul of the Soviet-styled Indian economy. Singh, a planning bureaucrat until his conversion to market economics on the road to the 1990 Soviet implosion, promised to sweep away the babu [British Indian clerks] and socialist protectionism in his own leftwing. But more than one foreign investor is still waiting – not least major retailers [such as Walmart] who have played an enormous role in China’s export onslaught on world markets. Over the past year Singh shelved opening retail, pension and insurance sectors, not able to play host to any and all investors which has been so much the key to China’s success.

Still, Asia’s third largest economy hasn’t done badly. The International Monetary Fund projects 9.4% growth for 2010, slackening to a still-impressive 8.4% for 2011. New Delhi, like Beijing, had hoped to escape the worldwide recession. But exports crashed; there was capital flight [not the least India’s oligarchic capitalists heading for secure Western investments, particularly in the UK]. The government went to stimulus to prop up the 6.7% in 2008-09. That has brought a growing inflation challenge now running at over 10% and even higher food prices.

But the return to growth points up overwhelming long-term geopolitical questions: is India the tortoise against China’s hare? Can its more modulated program – governed by minimum accoutrements as the world’s largest democracy – produce sustained long-term development now that China’s rickety high-pace structure is under increased pressure?  And, never stated openly, can an alliance between a rapidly industrializing India and the U.S. and its partners [Cameron out front] counter what is increasing suspicion of Chinese intentions?

Debate often ignores India’s problems, even though they are constantly ventilated by a free media and no surfeit of domestic critics. However, only a few note the backwardness of China’s vast majority in capital-starved rural areas. But the horror of India’s 650,000 villages, including 410 million Indians living at subsistence level [out of a population of some 1.2 billion, soon to surpass China’s 1.3 billion] is constant. Singh’s subsidies to bankrupt farmers [egging on the inflation] and the leap-frogging technology – well over half a million cell phones and 130 million TVs for villagers who often do not have safe drinking water – ameliorates but only highlights inequities of one of the world’s most skewed income distributions.

But that is only the beginning of India’s woes. Nihilistic self-styled Maoists — that the Prime Minister has labeled India’s greatest security risk, replacing the usual “Pakistan” – are building in a dozen Indian states with a confused government  alternately seeking federal and state solutions. A half dozen local independence guerrilla movements operate in the northeast – too close to Chinese-occupied Tibet where New Delhi had a short and disastrous war with Beijing in 1962. As China’s growing naval forces encroach in the Indian Ocean which New Delhi considers home grounds, a massive military buildup is underway. [U.S. manufactures hope to cop the $11 billion fighter plane ticket.]

Cameron’s old school try – Eton and Oxford, doncha know – probably wasn’t up to more than denting all this. But he did make the effort and is likely to be followed soon by others, the U.S. and the Germans.

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