writings of ali ahmed ...with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Views expressed are personal and may not be associated with any organisation. Follow on twitter: @aliahd66
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The agreement on strategic partnership with India signed by Karzai in his recent visit to New Delhi indicates a possible direction of the future. The apprehension in Pakistan is that the clause, ‘India agrees to assist, as mutually determined, in the training, equipping and capacity building programmes for Afghan National Security Forces’ may not be in its strategic interests. Pakistan has thus far leveraged its geo-strategic advantages to keep India’s profile down. However, the recent set back to its relations with the US and Karzai has witnessed New Delhi gaining ground. Is this then the time for the two states to arrive at the ‘grand bargain’?
The ‘grand bargain’ has figured among the possibilities for some time. It involves a trade-off between the two regional protagonists to mutual advantage. There is a ‘lose some-gain some’ whiff to it that takes their face-off beyond its zero-sum confines. The alternative is a future of power play the partnership agreement hints at, though taking care to proclaim, ‘The Strategic Partnership between the Sides is not directed against any other State….’
India has gained the position of advantage that has eluded it for over two decades. It is militarily on top in Kashmir. It has reached out to Afghanistan overtly. The high level visits following Karzai’s to New Delhi were from Myanmar and Vietnam, heralding greater Indian comfort levels in respect of China. With the European allies in Nato exhausted, the US is seeking partners to help strengthen the ANSF to enable its exit. A Task Force is currently reflecting on how to make its national security more efficacious, increasing its ability for and therefore the likelihood of its muscle flexing in future.
Pakistan is seemingly on the ropes. Backlash from the home-grown Taliban has deterred action in North Waziristan. Karachi has been restive. Balochistan and sectarian violence are ever present indices of ‘failed state’ status. Floods, dengue and electricity shortages serve as reminders of the governance agenda neglected in the attention accorded to high politics. With even Mullen abandoning kid gloves and his ministrations of the Pak-US relationship no longer available due to his retirement, there is a sense of foreboding. China has not given any indication that it can or will substitute.
India thus enters the end game in AfPak advantaged, one that could prove ephemeral. Pakistan will steadily attempt to erode it buoyed by a belief that it helped see off the Soviets, one set to be reinforced in step with the impending US draw-down. This will impel it to beat back Indian ‘containment’, which in its mind’s eye extends into Balochistan. It has kept its ‘strategic assets’ intact in order to up the ante in Kashmir. It can divert extremist energy away from the backlash it is experiencing back into the proxy war. Therefore even if Pakistan is down, it is not quite out.
But in view of the growing disparity in power between the two states, this time round it will not be ‘back to the nineties’. In other words, even if Pakistan has the capability to be disruptive, India has capacity to manage the cold war. The ‘hurting stalemate’ that helps end conflict will be in abeyance for longer. Ripeness for resolution is not evident. Pakistan will not bite from a position of weakness and India would like a self-sustaining position of strength. This is apparently not the right time for unveiling the ‘grand bargain’.
Such an understanding informed by traditional realist thinking is fraught. A power tryst will have crisis points. As past pattern suggests, these can eventuate in conflict. Despite best intentions to the contrary, conflict could escalate. The nuclear backdrop could inadvertently come to foreground. While Pakistan may end up paying a proportionately higher price, will India be able to thereafter retain its place and pace as a plausible rising power?
Having less to lose and with the military hijack of the decision, Pakistan may risk such an aftermath. But does India need to play along? As a regional power, it could demonstrate a capacity to shape the future. The understanding that in addressing its Pakistan problem thus, it is being ‘proactive’ is wanting. It is instead being reactive, with Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ setting the regional agenda. Instead, India needs to reset the region.
But this is not solely in India’s hands. Its political and national security establishment could do with some incentive. Pakistan holds the key and a gesture is all it takes. The qualifying acts are many ranging from prosecuting the perpetrators of 26/11 meaningfully to sending Pasha across for confabulations. The impending second round of talks can then be gainfully used to chalk out the grand bargain.
It would inescapably involve ‘give and take’. Elements of the end state in AfPak include moderation of the Taliban, cessation of combat operations by the ISAF and safeguarding Afghanistan’s ethnicities. While India does not take kindly to Kashmir being mentioned in the same breath, the pending settlement of the problem’s external dimension can be taken up alongside, if separately.
Surely, with an outbreak of peace, a SAARC-UN hybrid peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan cannot be too far behind!
Ali Ahmed is a research fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.