Saturday, 15 September 2012

Prospects for UN Peacekeeping
 in Afghanistan

by Ali Ahmed
It is fairly clear by now that a draw-down, not amounting to a withdrawal, of the US-NATO force ISAF from Afghanistan is underway. The exit is not to be a complete one since the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Obama and Karzai allows them to stay on till 2024. This is to keep the Kabul regime stable and the ‘Bonn process’ on course but also in connection with the strategic interests of the US in the region, namely, Iran, Central Asia, China and increasingly Pakistan. Also, precedence from the nineties suggests that a full exit is not an option. Since pulling out would reveal the superpower has lost the war, it certainly cannot be admitted in an election year. However, the cover of a rebalancing towards the Pacific against China is a useful starting point to help the superpower disengage.
Currently, what the US appears to be envisioning is continuing blood-letting. It hopes to outsource this to the ANSF. It will employ its special forces from the bases retained, provide air cover and keep up the drone attacks. The US staying on may not be useful since what it has not been able to achieve in a decade’s untram-meled military operations, it cannot be expected to do with a reduced military presence. Since the Taliban has managed to evade the intended effects of the ‘surge’, at worst the likelihood of a civil war exists and at best a manageable insurgency.
To this must be added prospects of spread of instability in Pakistan. Currently, the status quo is a hurting one for the US, not so for Taliban due to its sanctuary in Pakistan. To bring about a ‘mutually hurting stalemate’, it may be necessary to expand the conflict into Pakistan, at the risk of destabilising it. The US’ current policy thrust to rush Pakistan into North Waziristan is to finally wrap up. The region shall be a likely witness once again to another Pakistani military operation, leaving that state vulnerable yet again to terror attacks on rebound.
Superficially, it would appear that a mutually hurting stalemate that signifies the ripeness of a conflict for conflict resolution is not at hand. After all, a superpower can marshal resources, while the Taliban has shown itself to be a resilient actor. However, a realistic reading would be that both belligerents need a helping hand to extricate. The allies of the US are pulling out. The indicators—such as drug abuse among troops, green on blue attacks, violence by war veterans on return to mainland America, isolated instances of soldiers running amok etc.—suggest that the US too is exhausted. As for the Taliban, at least two members of its top-line leadership have been eliminated this month. Therefore, there is scope for measures towards a politically negotiated ending to the conflict apace with the drawdown.
This is especially so if the primary referents are taken as the people, and not the states involved. The desirability from a people’s point of view is also not self-evident. Some would argue that saving Afghan women necessitates killing some more Taliban. In any case, it is not a factor that can be expected to detain security bureaucracies or the Taliban unduly.
It would be difficult to convince either side to come to terms with the adversary in the light of the war-time propaganda indulged in liberally by both sides. Likewise, states may envision an opportunity for proxy wars, such as India and Pakistan. India, for its part, is not unhappy to see Pakistan’s disruptionist energy diverted to its western border. Some other states, such as China and Iran, may not be altogether unhappy to see the US in a spot of a bother. It is also not self-evident that an energised peace process can help prevent the most likely outcome of continuing conflict.
While peace initiatives have been in evidence, these have been tentative not having had the weight of the US behind them till recently. The peace prong of the strategy has progressed piecemeal with separate initiatives in isolation of the other by the Europeans, Arab states and also the UN mission in location, UNAMA. The ‘Afghan owned and Afghan led’ formulation has failed to impress the Taliban. The aim of separating the ‘good Taliban’ from the ‘bad Taliban’ has also fallen short. It is only lately, when it was evident that the military surge had failed, that the peace process has been privileged as a significant line of operation.
It is well-nigh possible that, like an iceberg, there is more to the peace process than meets the eye. It is possible that the extent and details are under wraps to keep off spoilers. However, what is certain that it is not yet the primary line of operation. It therefore needs a fillip. The question is:
‘How?’ Conventional balance of power ‘solutions’ have had their play in the discourse. The foremost one of ‘military surge’ not having worked and the so-called ‘peace surge’ not having occurred at all; others only have the limited aim of keeping the Taliban off balance. They are conflict management answers. Such answers are more hopeful than useful. Conflict management north of the Durand Line not being inspiring, there is little to guarantee that a conflict south of it can be better managed. The inadequacy of traditional strategy over a whole decade means that sticking to it amounts to strategic vacuity.
Two points emerge: one is that the worst case scenario must be prevented; and two, that power-centric options are not the answer. The answers therefore are outside of the restricted confines of traditional strategic thinking—‘out of the box’. Such an idea will not come out of security bureaucracies; it can only emerge from elsewhere but would require to be taken forward by the state security establishment.
The ‘out-of-the-box’ idea here is the option of peacekeeping. The idea is in conversion of the enforcement operation underway there to a peacekeeping one. Peacekeeping presupposes a peace to keep. Currently there is no peace to keep. The stumbling block is the Taliban prefering to interface directly with the US and the US, for reasons of prestige, not allowing that. Both sides can be expected to project preparations for a post-drawdown Afghanistan as part of posturing and positioning. Such actions, being mistaken for or willfully misinterpreted as signs of ill-intent, prevent a peace process from taking off.
Peacekeeping, by enhancing the conditions of feasibility of the peace process, can midwife a peace process that can eventuate in peace. A precedent from the late eighties—of insertion of the UN Good Offices Mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan (UNGOMAP) to allow the Soviets to depart—exists. Only this time round the UN must play it differently.
Introducing peacekeepers into the scenario enables face-saving for both sides. The Taliban can claim it remains unvanquished. With security and space guaranteed, they would be more amenable to talks. The US, for its part, can have a neater exit. Since both gain something, there is common ground for arriving at consent for the mission.
The centre of gravity for such negotiations must shift away from the Kabul regime and the US Special Envoy towards the UN, supported by organisations in the region such as the SCO and SAARC. A suspension of operations agreement needs to be arrived at prior to troops getting into place. Peacemaking, with mediation by the UN, may be advanced alongside a comprehensive and inclusive peace agreement that is beyond the current ‘Kabul process’—the outcome of the London and Kabul conferences that were the political part of the ‘surge’ strategy of Obama’s presidency.
Peace monitors must deploy to oversee a ceasefire followed by a peacekeeping force on ceasefire. The UNAMA, that is currently a political mission in support of the state engaged in ineffective peacebuilding and protection of the civilians’ tasks, must graduate into an integrated peace operation. On the contrary, at the moment the UN’s thrust is towards a graduated disengagement and handing over to the Kabul regime. This is in line with the US’ aim of projecting an image of planned transition. This is a trifle premature.
If the talks prong of the strategy is to be energised, regional states must be ready to supplement, and if necessary substitute, the US. In particular, since who pays the piper calls the tune, funding may have to raised from within the region’s resources. This is where either the SAARC-SCO combine or the regional countries represented at the Istanbul conference of last year can assert themselves as regional arrangements taking on their share of the burden in accordance with Chapter VIII of the UN Charter.
The peacekeeping options broadly are: under regional arrangement, a regional organisation-UN ‘hybrid’ peace mission and the usual UN mission. The talk of Muslim countries sending in troops has been around since Bonn I. The force configurations include: a SAARC force; a joint SCO-SAARC force; a UN force comprising Muslim countries; a force sent by the regional states represented at the Istanbul conference; or a UN force from uninvolved countries.
What are the implications of this for India and China, the leading states of the SAARC and SCO respectively? As rising powers, they get a stage to showcase their power by turning round a situation in their backyard. They also create an opportunity for cooperation, which can over time avert the seeming inevitability of a clash between the two Asian giants. They can together save Pakistan from itself. What are implications for India? India’s self-interest is in seeing no spill-over from AfPak in Kashmir or on its social fabric in terms of majority-minority relations. Its reviving relationship with Pakistan can be taken to a new level. Its power aspirations can be better served. Its UN permanent seat campaign can be strengthened. The idea is in keeping with its strategy of restraint.
What are the prospects of this idea? To say that an idea requires political vision and will is to kill it at birth. However, little can stop an idea whose time has come.
Ali Ahmad, Ph.D, is an Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Do we need a Chief Warlord?

10 Sep 12

IN A recent article, former Chief of Army Staff,
General Deepak Kapoor, has weighed in against
the idea of a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of
Staff Committee. One among a series of selective
leaks of the Naresh Chandra Task Force report
suggests that the task force has recommended making the
appointment of the head of the cosc a permanent one.
The leaks are themselves trial balloons sent up by a
government unable to arrive at decisions on the merits.
Aware of lacking the political heft to implement these
even if it could do so, the leaks create a storm that it can
then point to for lack of consensus and consequently a
decision. It does not see its role as exerting to create the
consensus. In this case, Deepak Kapoor’s article, taken
as reflecting the position of his former service, will help
forestall decisions, since he would be seen as voicing the
army’s position. That would be a pity, since holding out
for a cds as Deepak Kapoor’s ‘all or nothing’ position has
it, is the worse option.
This owes to the nuclear context and the ever-present
possibility of war, brought home most recently in the foreign
minister’s remark on the eve of his meeting with his
Pakistani counterpart, ‘The consequences for Pakistan
would be disastrous.’ This was to reinforce India’s deterrence
of terror provocation. However, the problem is in
India being hoist by its own petard, which in theory is the
‘commitment trap’. To ensure that such disaster for Pakistan
does not also turn into a disaster for India, there is
a need to have a military bridge between India’s conventional
and nuclear capabilities.
Currently, none exists. The Strategic Forces Command
manages India’s nuclear deterrent. However, its C-in-C
has two masters. In theory, he reports to the Chairman
Chiefs of Staff Committee. It is hard to see how the Chairman
cosc, a rotating appointment that Naresh Chandra
seeks to make permanent, can possibly oversee the sfc.
While challenging enough in peacetime with the chairman,
double-hatted as boss of his service alongside, it
would be quite a tall order in war.
He would require conducting the operations of his
service, integrating those of the three services for a joint
campaign, and also overseeing the nuclear-conventional
interface. It is for this reason that Naresh Chandra perhaps
wants a permanent incumbent. At least he would not
be straddled with overseeing any particular service and
would, hopefully, be beyond its parochialism in order to
serve as a single point source of advice to the civilian master.
While the discussion could benefit by reflection, such
as General Kapoor’s, on the demerits of the organisational
reform, it would need to take on board the advantage. The
primary one is in monitoring impact on the nuclear level of
what is going on militarily on the conventional level in war.
Currently, it is possible that in practice the National Security
Adviser oversees the sfc in his capacity as head of
the Executive Council of the Nuclear Command Authority.
This is, to say the least, a strange arrangement. Nuclear
watcher Bharat Karnad, in a recent expose of the arrangement
suggests that the NSA relies on a retired head of sfc
for fulfilling his nuclear-related role. This arrangement
clearly calls for further institutionalisation. Naresh Chandra
possibly has an answer.
SM Krishna’s terse observation, if not threat, recounted
above suggests that India is preparing a military counter
to any major terror attack by Pakistan. In such a case, escalation
could occur depending on the Pakistani counter.
If this results in a conventional tryst, then limitation
needs being foregrounded. Advice on this, alongside
linked nuclear related reactions, would be required. This
has to be done at a mechanism one step removed from the
action, such as by a permanent chairman of the cosc.
He would be on the Executive Council to both advise
the Political Council alongside the nsa and work the nuclear-
relevant reaction as ordered by the Political Council
through the nsa. This way there is a military link between
the Nuclear Command Authority and the sfc. Secondly,
the headless hqs Integrated Defence Staff would gain a
leader and an agenda. It could provide the control staff for
the sfc since a line headquarter as is the sfc cannot also
be its own judge.
LASTLY, KAPOOR’S cds, imagined as a warlord
over all three services, has an underside. He would
not be in a position to advise the government since
it would amount to judging his own case. Such an appointment
has potential for a folly of Hindenberg-Ludendorf
proportions, praetorian figures from Germany’s
World War I past.
Therefore, to write off the task force report may not do
for the government. It will have to demonstrate it exists.
If it fears that push comes to shove as its foreign minister
thinks, then it had better emerge from somnolence.
Better still would be if it gives up threats and settles
with Pakistan through getting SM Krishna to talk meaningfully.
Then it would not manufacture a threat where
none need exist.
Ali Ahmed is Assistant Professor, Nelson Mandela
Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia