Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pakistan-American Relations- Turning the Corner: ONION ACCEPTED

Only if the world had understood then, so much of mayhem and blood could have been avoided and so much money diverted to this impoverished region.

For the past two years, Pakistan’s gains have been eclipsed by more visible and pressing issues. There is national consensus on anti terrorism operations. Swat is fast returning to normalcy, lawless areas of Waziristan controlled and the strategic strip of Malkand, Bajaur and Mohmmand brought under civil administration. NFC award is a consensus document while the country is quietly reforming towards a parliamentary constitutional democracy.

However, economic management is far from effective. Pockets of poverty are broadening and steep. Consensus on upstream dams critical for future is still elusive. India’s overbearing control of rivers has resulted in water and power shortages tantamount to guillotine. All indicators are dangerously close to an implosion, but for the character of Pakistani people who unlike some elites realise that the country is at war.

After much suspicion, Pakistan-American-UK relations are undergoing a thaw on the contours presented by Pakistan as far back as 1990. Pakistan has played its role better than any other country and it is time that this great sacrifice of human lives and material losses is recognised and compensated by those who stand to benefit from peace. Only if the world had understood then, so much of mayhem and blood could have been avoided and so much money diverted to this impoverished region. At the helm of this change are the new vanguard of Pakistani leaders with self belief and mental resilience. They have turned cynic American and Indian think tanks on their heads.

At long last Pakistan’s policy makers are speaking and the world is listening. Slowly, the morphing of Shock and Awe to Mutual Trust and Cooperation is becoming visible and beyond circumspect diplomacy. Future rounds of dialogue supplemented with incremental cooperation will go a long way in resettling Afghan people and turning the tide on Pakistan’s economic recession.

Pakistan that housed Afghan refugees for more than 30 years must now play a crucial role in bringing peace, moderation and national consensus to a region torn with strife for two generations. It goes to the credit of Pakistan’s military leadership to have worked tenuously under guidelines from a civilian establishment from a point where hope was forlorn. As I had written in my grass series of articles for NEWS and NATION, “In politics, nothing is bleak forever and opportunities can be created from within the most hopeless cases. On the wide spectrum of US policy beginning with the strategy of cooperation and ending in the extremes of military intervention, Pakistan still lies in the zone between persuasions to coercion”. Pakistan has broken through that catchment.

Few agreed that this turnaround was ever possible. The young foreign minister has come of age as has the foreign secretary. The COAS commissioned in 1971 belong to a generation who were youngsters when Pakistan broke due to praetorian mindsets and exclusive politics. His Corps commanders and staff are all post 1971 and a breed far apart from the military dictators of the past.

As a subordinate, I had the privilege of candid discussions with General Kayani when he was the Director General Military Operations. In the context of the 9/11 crises, attack on the Indian Parliament and brainstorming on Pakistan’s Future War, one point came out loud and clear. He seemed convinced that if Pakistan could over ride its notional and internal contradictions, there would be no threat to security. It appears that at the fag end of his career, he is achieving this with his laid back approach, patience and deep thought. I see the article, ‘General in the Hood’ by Times of India as a tribute to a soldier, who despite tremendous odds has played his shots with precision, guile and effectiveness. Slowly and surely, he has created a space for consensus from where all routes lead to a prosperous Pakistan. His sure footed approach has helped him win the confidence of politicians in Pakistan and world over. Even more, he has restored the pride and prestige of the armed forces once seen waning.

But the road ahead for this new generation of politicians, generals and bureaucrats is laced with impediments and false starts. They have successfully turned the corner and must ensure that this engagement for peace is not derailed by narrow and short term agendas of the allies and the mindset of 1935 (Nation, 10 January 2010). Most importantly, India which feels excluded from the new initiative must never get a chance to disrupt the process through incidents like the attack on the Parliament and Taj Mahal Hotel.

For Pakistan, the massive military operations against militants are over. What remains are sting intelligence operations and limited surgical actions to target militants and their leadership. The nation can now concentrate on revival of the economy that includes energy, power, free trade, transfer of technology, investments and most, a workable plan for fast track socio economic development. The COAS has rightly offered to forego military assistance in lieu of economic revival.

Though nuclear cooperation will remain high on the agenda, Pakistan has to peg its negotiations with India. Pakistan must convince USA and its allies that henceforth Pakistan stands committed to non proliferation and counter proliferation efforts. Pakistan must remain cognisant of the fissile material protocols in which India’s Thorium Route (another fissile material) is always kept in focus.

Pakistan also needs to set up a panel of international lawyers for all international treaties and agreements, Indus Basin Water Treaty and Indian constitutional provisions relating to Kashmir. Once too often, Pakistan’s civil and military bureaucracy have been caught napping on these issues while the Indians have craftily played their cards and succeeded.

Commenting on US policy options in 2007, this seems an assessment almost prophetic. I had written this for a renowned daily that unfortunately refused to publish, deeming it unfit. This seems the blue print of the present US-Pakistan dialogue:

US Must Shift from a Coercive Military Posture to a Cooperative Strategy. Given the extremes of divide between the South Asian neighbours, Pakistan cannot be expected to make a unilateral policy shift. USA has to do enough to satisfy the Pakistani perceptions in this respect. To ensure that USA gets a whole hearted and valuable support from Pakistan, it must: -
• Dissuade India from any policies and actions that impinge Pakistan’s security concerns.
• Persuade India to exercise the principals of liberty, equality and freedom symbolised by the American Civil War on the people of Kashmir.
• Equip the armed forces of Pakistan with high tech reconnaissance and imaging equipment to monitor the lawless regions of FATA with the ability to engage in real time.
• Sharing of all intelligence with Pakistan related to operations on both sides of the international boundary and targets inside Pakistan.
• Formulate a joint and well enunciated strategy for fighting terrorism with the government of Pakistan at the highest level with the Pentagon and Joint Chief of Staff Headquarters/GHQ working within the political objectives.

Shift from a Predominantly Military to a Social Dimension of Strategy. The larger canvas will have to be built around the societal element. It is important that USA shifts its focus from military dominance to the forgotten social dimension of strategy (Michel Howard).
• Rather than individuals; establishment and strengthening of institutions, with a long term objective even if a short term gain has to be sacrificed. In this regard, strengthening of a performance driven democratic culture is most important.
• Modern education both at technical and higher levels.
• Fast track socio economic development in the deprived areas of Pakistan.
• Agriculture development and water management.
• Waiver of import barriers on value added goods from Pakistan particularly textiles.
• Foreign direct investments in the energy and water sectors.

Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


(A Call to American Policy Makers)

Brigadier ( Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf
Obama’s Third surge has reached its predicted conclusion (Obama’s Latest Surge: A Tight Balloon in Hot Air. Nation 17 December 2009). As the Afghan Taliban melted away, the coalition forces were left to celebrate and occupy a part of the abandoned town of Marjah. While the coalition, President Karzai and the local governor set about consolidating a new civilian led administration and buy enemies, the Taliban have lived to fight another day. The major advantage that the Coalition could derive is to squeeze the poppy cultivation, the main revenue of Taliban and force them to negotiate as weaker partners. The foreign press corps in Kabul, obscure from reality is already making big news. Media is bubbling with optimism while efforts are at hand to find a scapegoat if the good news turn sour.

But in the hidden corridors of State Department, this optimism is fast being replaced by scepticism. As the coalition withdraws from the area leaving behind two battalions, it remains a hunting trip that never was. Rather than reinforce another failure, the State Department needs to listen, carry out a realistic review and policy shift crucial for a lasting peace in the region and mutual interests of all actors.

Many in the State Department know more than they concede. “We ought not get too impatient,” Gates told reporters during his unannounced trip to Kabul. “We’re there to help, and how the politics play out in the end game will have to be an Afghan-led endeavour”. Grimly he said, “I don’t think we should read too much into specific, positive signs”. He hoped for defections at low levels and turn the corner in Kandahar later this year, He also cautioned against "bits and pieces of good news on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border” and said “it was too soon to say whether the momentum in the more than 8-year-old conflict had finally shifted”.

In contrast, Richard Holbrooke’s statements were more circumspect. Coming from a special envoy of the region, they also reflected a sea of differences particularly with Pakistan. Despite unprecedented arrests of Taliban leaders with varying claims of ownerships by USA and Pakistan, he remained "agnostic about whether Islamabad has actually turned decisively against the Afghan Taliban” and left open questions for Pakistan like “serendipitous collection of discreet events". He said, “I have no problems with the Lahore High Court's denial to extradite the Taliban commander to Afghanistan”.

Like an iceberg, the obvious in international geopolitics is always misleading. It is the unexplained that needs to be analysed.

It appears that the ambitious third surge had a multi directional approach towards a military exit from Afghanistan based on half facts and assumptions derived from institutional biases. The hypothesis was too simplified through exclusion of both hardcore Taliban and Pakistan. Based on a misleading premise, it led to the logical. With benefit of hindsight it is worth analyzing how this game unfolded.
1. Military operations in two phases. First, to alienate and control Helmand, and them move to Kandahar, the stronghold of Taliban.
2. Install a pro Karzai US backed administration capable of holding at its own and subsequently replicate the model elsewhere.
3. Backdoor negotiations with all vulnerable tiers of Taliban leadership excluding Mullah Omar and Hikmatyar (Good and bad Taliban Theory). Money was expected to play the placation role.
4. Induction of an international team of reconstruction experts for fast track socio economic development of Afghanistan.
5. Pakistan’s role was restricted to contend with the backwash of Afghan Taliban and home grown militants reflected in my thesis ‘Political Absolutism’ (Nation 19 November 2009). Logically, this would be the main battlefield for non state actors in future.
It appears that the strategy failed in all dimensions.

The departing UN envoy Kai Eide dismissed it as too military driven. The miserly reward of Marjah cannot be attributed a strategic success. The Taliban have retained battlefield initiative to emerge at the time and area of their choosing.

Taliban have shied away from a carrot and stick engagement. Surreptitious negotiations through fringe Taliban and militants are inconclusive.

According to the State Department Inspector General, the Obama administration's political efforts in Afghanistan are hampered by a shortage of qualified personnel, a lack of housing and other problems that could disrupt time lines.

Exclusion of Pakistan from the most important aspects of the strategy has had negative fallouts on the overall coalition strategy and operation. Pakistan’s mutual distrust of USA is obvious explained beyond doubt by the word AGNOSTIC by Mr. Holbrooke.

Money has always remained a big factor in Afghan warlord and tribal politics. Empirically, Afghan unregulated economy becomes stronger as conflicts expand. Already, USA is funding the conflict against themselves through Afghan sub contractors and transporters invariably sympathetic to Taliban. Taliban are no warlords. They are romantic revolutionaries who can be cajoled through a partnership but least through money they may accept as economics of opportunity.

There was a clear deficit in the cause and effect explanation. Had USA taken the opinions of social scientists rather than pseudo experts of the region into contention, and had the psyche of such romantics studied, evaluated and factorised, the handling of the situation would have been more conducive for a political settlement.

It also appears that the backdoor negotiation with fringe Taliban elements, loaded with stacks of cash was a na├»ve idea that backfired through the confusing arrests of Taliban in Pakistan followed by the Taliban-Hikmatyar fight at Kanduz. The contrast in statements of Gates and Holbrooke betrays the extent of ignoring Pakistan and how an ally of opportunity was kept in the dark about designs that raise security concerns in Pakistan (Pakistan’s Crossword Puzzle, Nation, 5 May 2009).

The irony of US propensity to construe titles is that though AF-PAK remains an aspersion on Pakistan’s Pride, in the social dimension (Michael Howard) it remains a forte. International borders are irrelevant to movements of heterogeneous tribes on both sides. They flow like water chooses it course. It has a binding and cohesive ideology that brought USSR to its knees and has resisted radical agendas.

USA must acknowledge the reality that in the final analysis, least likely the edge of military technology and logistics, it is the Afghan People, resistance to occupation dubbed as Taliban, and Pakistan that finally matter. If this statement is acceptable, then the quest for a long lasting peace in the region becomes the Grand Strategy. If not, Pakistan will also be put on a road to ‘Burn Out’ (Foreign Affairs July-August 1999) raising levels of insecurity in the region to exponential instability.

The need of the hour is to contain this damage, keep extremists out and galvanise diversity to positive political engagements. There is no room for failure.

Both Pakistan and USA have to accept this onion and unravel every parchment with sincerity of intent to devise a comprehensive and fruitful strategy. As Carol Ann Duffy writes:

Not a red rose or a satin heart. I give you an onion
It is a moon wrapped n brown paper. It promises light
Like the careful undressing of love
Here it will blind you with tears, like a lover, it will make your reflection a wobbling photo of grief
I am trying to be truthful, not a cute card or a kissogram
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips
Possessive and faithful as we are, for as long as we are
Take it. Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring, if you like, Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers, cling to your knife.