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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Asia Triangle

I'd like to call your attention to our latest theme issue over at World Politics Review, the Asia Triangle. In three deep analysis pieces (M.K. Bhadrakumar on India here, Jing-dong Yuan on China here, and Arif Rafiq on Pakistan here), we examine the balance of power on the South Asian subcontinent between India, Pakistan and China, and how that might impact the emerging consensus calling for a "regional approach" to turn the tide in, and ultimately stabilize, Afghanistan.

We've had this feature in development for a while now, and last week's attacks in Mumbai obviously underscore the importance of getting this right. To do so, we should start by accepting that we understand as a "regional solution" might not be the same thing as what the region understands as a "regional solution." It also seems obvious that any effort to address India-Pakistan relations has to include China, for a variety of reasons that the three pieces make evident.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pakistan and the Bush Doctrine

Yesterday, I linked with arithmetic snark but without comment to TX Hammes' Small Wars Journal post on the broadening of the Afghanistan War into Pakistan. It's a very important piece, because it points out the danger of seeing Pakistan exclusively through the lens of our own tactical needs in Afghanistan, while ignoring the fact that for Pakistan, managing the Taliban in Afghanistan or its own tribal areas is part of the broader strategic calculus of its rivalry with India. Hammes argues that until we develop a strategy for handling this broader regional architecture, our efforts in Afghanistan (which he also characterizes as lacking a coherent strategic framework) will only put pressure on the Pakistani government without resolving the problem.

That problem tends to be formulated Stateside as a failure of the Pakistani civilian government to rein in the rogue elements of the military and ISI intelligence agency that play the Taliban and the U.S. against each other in order to hedge against India. Today, Arif Rafiq at the Pakistan Policy blog fills in the contours of what's at stake in the civilian-military turf war:

Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military.† While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISIís political role, there is no support for tying the organizationís hands in other matters.† If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess.† Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).

And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistanís national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters.† He has, however, drawn a line in the sand.† The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain.† Given Zardariís consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistanís history.

Hammes points out the dual nature of our Afghanistan mission and the lack of strategic integration between NATO nation-building efforts and American counterterrorism efforts. He doesn't say so explicitly, but the fact that the needs of the former are increasingly leading the latter to target the Pakistani tribal areas makes it clear that the Casus Belli that initially led us to invade Afghanistan has essentially jumped the border. There's been some discussion lately about what exactly the Bush Doctrine is. But the question is increasingly becoming, Does it apply to what Hammes reminds us is "a nuclear-armed nation with 170 million people"?

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   India   Pakistan   

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Big Three

If it weren't for all hell breaking loose in the Middle East, the tectonic shifts going on in South Asia would probably be the decade's storyline. As it is, they still might be. In addition to China's rise and India's emergence, there's also all sorts of movement towards warmer relations between the region's traditional rivals that could smooth the way for further growth. Pakistan-India relations, while still prickly and marked by tit-for-tat missile tests, are more cordial than they've ever been. Same goes for China-India relations.

As for China-Pakistan relations, a couple of articles (one here at Asia Times Online, and another here at Jamestown Foundation) discuss how the tensions both countries have historically experienced with India make for a natural tactical alliance between them. Toss in the unstable nature of their recent relations with America and the logic is even more pronounced.

Nevertheless, the Asia Times article suggests China is exercising more caution towards Islamabad of late, in part due to Pekin's warming relations with Delhi, and in part due to its concerns about Muslim Uighur separatists on the Pakistani border with Xianjing province. And this Defense News article about India reinforcing and modernizing its military presence on its Chinese frontier shows that the old Reagan axiom, Trust but verify, is still the order of the day.

The takeaway is that the tensions and faultlines, both internal (Tibet, Xianjing, the Pakistani FATA) and external (Kashmir, Afghanistan, Taiwan), that run deep under the surface will continue to undermine these regional powers in their quest for global influence. With all the factors pointing to its eventual relative decline, that's still an advantage the U.S. enjoys over them, although we've mitigated that advantage by "Americanizing" the costs of the ethno-sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Monday, March 10, 2008

India Roundup

The Times of India reports that the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is unlikely to jeopardize its ruling coalition by greenlighting the US-India nuclear energy deal over opposition by India's Communist party. So it looks less and less likely that India will meet the July timeframe that three visiting American Senators (Biden, Kerry and Hagel) recently pushed for.

In other India news, the Center for Defense Information posted a brief piece last week by Todd Fine explaining why offering missile defense technology to a country engaged in a regional arms race (with a recent emphasis on delivery systems) is probably not very sensible policy. Which might explain the Bush administration's enthusiasm for the idea.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  India   

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Beat Goes On

Yesterday I mentioned that India had successfully test-launched an undersea missile. Today the head of Pakistan's navy declared that the test would trigger a regional arms-race. (There are some doubts as to whether China has already mastered the technology.):

"We are aware of these developments, and these developments are taking place with a view to put nuclear weapons at sea and it is a very, very serious issue," the state news agency quoted him as saying.

Of course, having tested three nuclear capable missiles in the past year, Pakistan is hardly in the position of pointing the finger.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  India   Pakistan   

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bling Bling vs. Sustainable Development

Via Secret Defense comes the news that India's defense ministry today announced the successful test-firing of an undersea missile, adding India to a very exclusive list of countries that have mastered the challenging technology. That the news coincides with Parag Khanna's WPR article on the challenges facing India's emergence as a modern economy strikes me as a poignant reminder of where so much of the wealth of the "second world" that could go into raising living standards and developing infrastructure will eventually be diverted.

The launch is the latest in a tit for tat sequence of test firings between India and Pakistan, which not surprisingly places a higher priority on countering India's strategic forces than it does on either confronting extremist insurgents on the Afghan border or alleviating a recent nationwide wheat flour shortage. I don't know if there's anything the U.S. can actually do to reduce suspicions between these two countries, but inasmuch as there is, it should really be high up on the priority list for our regional policy.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  India   

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

WPR Blogging

Today, instead of just reminding you that I'll be posting primarily over at the World Politics Review blog, I'll also call your attention to an article by Parag Khanna that just went up on the site. Khanna just made a big splash (deservedly so) with his recent NY Times Sunday Magazine cover story on the geopolitical transformations that are re-shaping the global strategic landscape.

In his WPR piece, titled "On the Road to Disaster in India", he uses a recent trip back to his city of birth to illustrate the very real challenges that are often obscured by the media narrative of India's rise:

India, like the majority of the planet's countries that I call "second world," is perpetually on a knife's edge: rising in status while dwindling in resources, growing richer in some places and poorer (as if that is even possible) in others, trying to build one nation while globalization and money empower narrow political and corporate interests to place their agendas above all else. In India all of this is playing out in what will soon be the most populous country in the world, with neither rules nor historical precedent to guide it.

It's an eye-opening piece that doesn't shrink from calling attention to the many ways in which India's political culture and society serve as brakes to its economic and strategic development. The article also gives me a chance to plug World Politics Review. It's a really solid outfit with great contributors, updated with new material daily. Click through and give it a look and you'll see what I mean.

Posted by Judah in:  India   Media Coverage   

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Not So Fast

I have to admit I was a bit surprised when I saw the news earlier this week that Israel had put a new spy satellite into orbit with the help of a rocket designed, built and launched by India. Apparently India's Communist Party was, too, and has demanded that the government -- which depends on its support to maintain its majority coalition -- explain the extent of the two countries' satellite cooperation. According to Defense News, India, which has been desperately seeking a military satellite capacity, is interested in leasing the Israeli satellite, which was reportedly launched to spy on Iran.

This isn't the first time that the minority Communist faction of Indian PM Singh's governing coalition has caused him problems. If you'll recall, they're also responsible for the US-India nuclear deal being stalled in the Indian parliament. There's something refreshing about the way a democratic system can screw up the best-laid plans of realpolitik strategic planners.

Posted by Judah in:  India   

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The End Of Deterrence

Recently reports surfaced that Pakistan had used huge chunks of American cash grants to procure military hardware better suited to a conventional conflict with India than to the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations the money had been earmarked for. The obvious conclusion was that as long as Pakistan feels more threatened by India than it does by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the problem on the Afghan border will remain a low priority in Islamabad. Another obvious conclusion was that a coherent American policy in the region would be to encourage to the greatest degree possible a detente between the two nuclear-armed countries, thereby progressively freeing Pakistan up to concentrate on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Instead, Lockheed Martin is in discussions with New Delhi to help the Indians polish off their homegrown ballistic missile defense system. The system, once perfected, would effectively counter the threat of both Pakistan's and China's strategic forces, destabilizing what's already a precarious regional balance of power and possibly provoking a nuclear weapons build-up. Of course, America could not very credibly try to dissuade India from developing its own missile defense system, given our own insistence on dismantling the ABM regime. But we shouldn't be helping them put the finishing touches on it either.

The issue brings into focus one of the less-covered developments of the past seven years. The attacks of 9/11 demonstrated how non-state actors could use assymetric tactics to render conventional deterrence useless. Simultaneously, the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to render conventional deterrence between state actors obsolete. The net result is a world in which the threat environment has dramatically proliferated and diversified, and the disincentives to using force have been dramatically reduced. Either one would be alarming. The two together are potentially catastrophic.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   India   Pakistan   

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