A small bright dot on the bleak South Asian landscape is the recent progress in the log jammed relationship between India and Pakistan. They have taken the first tentative steps towards normalizing relations. The steps may not be significant but the signals they send are more important – the two nuclear weapon armed countries want to steer away from conflict of any kind between them and recognize the importance of trade and settlement of issues through diplomacy. A long standing Indian suspicion that Pakistan’s military calibrates the relationship and will not allow progress should have been laid to rest.
The India–Pakistan relationship exists in the long shadow cast by the US, China and Russia over South Asia – a shadow made darker by US policy that drives its relationship with India and the war in Afghanistan. Equally significant is China’s enduring relationship with Pakistan, its trade relationship with India and its evolving rivalry with the US. Russia has made no bones about its interest in the Central Asian States and opposition to US plans for missile defense. Russia and Pakistan are reaching out to each other in carefully choreographed steps. China, Russia and Pakistan seem to be on the same page on Syria, Iran and missile defense while India favors missile defense. The US-Pakistan relationship though important for both in the context of the present situation has developed a fragility that forces Pakistan to seek long term strategic stability. Pakistan and India can and should understand and learn to live with each other’s security concerns if their bilateral understanding grows and matures.
Afghanistan looms large on the South Asian horizon. The future of Afghanistan is critically important for Pakistan because in the final analysis its internal stability is linked to the stability within Afghanistan. Pakistan has serious concerns – the weakness being demonstrated in the Afghan National Security Forces, the political instability of the North dominated Afghan government, the continued US focus on military operations and the inexplicable delay on the reconciliation and political track that should have been the real strategic direction. The US blames the Haqqani network and Pakistan’s support to it as the main reason for US military failure but every time Pakistan gets ready to tackle North Waziristan a leak from the US undermines the venture. The latest manifestation of this was Mr Panetta’s statement informing the world that Pakistan was about to launch an operation in Waziristan just as Pakistan’s Army Chief was trying to muster political, media and public opinion support by a carefully worded statement. Mr Panetta’s statement stirred a debate of acting under US pressure against Pakistan’s own interests. Some in Pakistan even wondered if the US really wanted the Haqqani network ousted because then what would be the excuse for military failure? The first reaction from the Haqqani Network after its designation as a terrorist organization is a threat to direct 80% of all attacks to the US component of the NATO forces in Afghanistan!
The waves from Afghanistan drive radicalization in the Central Asian States especially Uzbekistan just as they do in Pakistan. Nobody wants Afghanistan to end with a zone of radical militants operating in the entire area. Pakistan is already feeling the heat because it’s economic and governance shortcomings give radicals space to operate and exploit several fissures in society through violence and kidnappings that threaten to overwhelm state capacity. The US should orchestrate a combined US, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indian effort to defeat not just the Haqqanis but the entire Taliban structure that threatens Afghanistan and Pakistan and not expect Pakistan to make yet another enemy by attacking the Haqqanis without an overall combined strategy that focuses on the end result sought – a point made by Pakistan’s Army Chief a year ago. Pakistan’s proposal of a “joint group” also made many moons ago was never really addressed nor was its earlier proposal of sealing the Pak-Afghan border. Instead Pakistan now finds that the US and Afghanistan have permitted sanctuaries in Afghanistan from where attacks are being launched in Pakistan—a sure recipe for a civil war situation in Afghanistan post 2014.
These considerations should lead to a conclusion that a combined strategy with support from all is the only way to long term stability in Afghanistan. The US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran all have stakes in a positive outcome; therefore a broad external framework should ring the core framework of military operations and political accommodation.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)
Spearhead Analysis – 11.09.12