Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Engaging a Reluctant Pakistan

Pakistan's security predicament has been attributed to the definition of national interest being usurped by its Army. The Army in seeking to preserve its institutional interest has conflated its corporate interest with the national interest. This explains reluctant Pakistani participation in the GWOT as also its slovenly response to Indian entreaties. Despite this, the Army is failing in protecting these interests, namely nuclear assets, strategic space in Afghanistan, Kashmir and corporate cohesion.
The favourite Pakistani conspiracy theory has it that its nuclear assets are threatened by an Indo-US combine. This apprehension is only heightened by commentary in India by no less than the eminent strategist, K Subrahmanyam, that there is a 'mutuality of strategic interest' between India and the US in seeing that Pakistani nuclear weapons do not fall to Islamists ('The Clock is Ticking', Times of India, 14 January 2009). Its strategic space in Afghanistan is set to narrow with the 'surge' gaining traction under the tutelage of Gen. Petraeus, who carries the legacy of victory from Iraq. Obama has in his first days in office made clear his unmistakable resolve of holding Pakistan accountable and has appointed a tough interlocutor, Richard Holbrooke, to ensure this. In Kashmir, misplaced zealousness of the strategic instrument of its choice, the Lashkar, has backfired in Mumbai. Further, elections there have placed India in an unassailable position. Lastly, portents of failure in the forthcoming campaign against the Taliban-Islamist combine are on the Army's mind. Not having been bailed out of this predicament in face of India's mature reaction to 26/11, it has to risk running of losing corporate coherence. Thus all four core interests stand threatened. Superceding these is a more important threat to Pakistan - an existential threat to national existence. This emerges from the GWOT, which in enveloping Pakistan, promises to get worse without the promise of getting better. The proactive strategy calls for pressure by the US and India, with military threat in the background, for Pakistan to 'do more'. The understanding is that projection of a perpetually 'failing state' image by Pakistan is a ploy to preserve it against more demanding pressures. Attempting to second guess the Army carries the danger of taking cue from a policy favouring a proactive approach. This needs to factor in the possibility of 'undesirable outcomes'.The hard-line proving overly risky, opens up scope for reflecting on an alternative political approach. Pakistani strategic interests mentioned can be conceded in a strategic meeting of minds between the US, Pakistan and India. The quid pro quo on its part it would be to tackle its end of the bargain purposefully, one rendered simpler by complementing any military action with a more salient political one.
With respect to Afghanistan, this would entail getting the proportion of the negotiation-amenable Taliban on board. Pakistani good offices, rumored to maintain covert contact with these elements, can be taken advantage of. This may entail formulating an exit strategy and time schedule for foreign forces in return for cessation of violence by Taliban and compliance with anti Al Qaeda goals of the international community. Defining an inclusive end state and a time frame, instead of an expansive agenda, would pre-empt the counter, otherwise set to escalate and destabilize Pakistan. Second, with respect to Kashmir, India could reopen the autonomy issue with the newly-elected government, even if progressing the same is left to the next dispensation at New Delhi. The elections manifestos of parties should include their intent which the electorate can endorse at the polls. Were Pakistan to take credit for this would be small price to pay for a return to normalcy in the Valley. Third, nuclear assets figure as an issue with the hard-line school owing to its awareness that pressure could incite Pakistani recalcitrance. It is clear that an Islamist threat to these can only be tackled by the Pakistani Army currently in charge. US assistance can only be on invitation. US-Indian action can only lead to an avoidable threat to India. A political approach, to perhaps include a strategic dialogue, would instead reassure Pakistan on its nuclear assets.Lastly, by avoiding cohesion-sapping operations, the Army stands to retain its position atop Pakistani polity. While this may retard the pace of deepening of democracy, in preserving its Army, the political approach would help preserve Pakistan. The militarized approach carries the risk of tilting relative strength equations in favour of the Taliban-Islamist combine, as has been the steady trend over the past four years of Operation Al Mizan of the Pakistan Army.
Since American power has proven deficient and the Pakistani Army deterred, Obama's ascendance has era transcending portents. This is therefore the opportune moment to revise the agenda. Indian input into this should be through Indian interests as against those of the US or GWOT. These are predicated on a stable Pakistan with its core interests accommodated. It would be better for India, in fulfilling its role as a 'strategic partner', to sensitize Holbrooke - one known for a robust approach from his Balkans innings - along these lines.

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