Tag Archives: Afghanistan

‘Good’ Taliban, ‘bad’ Taliban, and a need for stability 1 July 2014

‘Good’ Taliban, ‘bad’ Taliban, and a need for stability     1 July 2014

The Pakistan military has finally decided to confront anti-social elements located in North Waziristan, one of the seven tribal agencies of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This military action has been named ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’, which apparently means a ‘sharp and cutting strike’. This refers to the sword that Prophet Muhammad used in two significant battles while attempting to consolidate Islam. This historic term seeks to refute those hardline elements in FATA who consider themselves more religiously pure, or Islamic, than most Pakistanis, and who consider themselves above Pakistan law. They are now being ‘struck’ by a stronger, more capable, Islamically-inspired force. One hopes they see the irony.

To date, military activity has included air strikes against militant strongholds and ammunition dumps in North Waziristan. These actions follow a ‘convenient’ strike by a United States’ drone that killed a high-level Haqqani operative and which, while condemned by the Pakistan Government, was surely welcomed by the Pakistan military, and possibly done in conjunction with it. For some time, Pakistan has publicly complained about US drone strikes while privately welcoming their results that have eliminated some significant anti-Pakistan militants.

Ground forces apparently are waiting to move into North Waziristan once the Pakistan Air Force completes its work. However, to avoid the fighting, actual or potential, some 430,000 Waziris have fled to Bannu and other parts of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, or in lesser numbers—some 65,000 people—to Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces. Unfortunately, some of the elements that the Pakistan Army is trying to subdue or kill may have been part of this human exodus. It is very difficult for all security forces—Afghan, Pakistani or those in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)—to determine which men are actually hardline, anti-social elements. Most Pukhtoon/Pushtoon males, who predominate in FATA, dress in a similar way. They certainly don’t wear uniforms that identify them as ‘terrorists’.

The agitated human ‘collateral damage’ fleeing the military action hopes to return to North Waziristan once the Pakistan Army has cleared their region of ‘rebels’. Many of these refugees will likely have to rebuild their homes on their return. These displaced people add to the large numbers of Afghan refugees still located in Pakistan and to refugees from the 2009 military action in Swat. This is an enormous economic, social and emotional burden for Pakistan to bear, particularly as its economy currently is very weak. Afghanistan now has a similar problem, although not of the same magnitude as Pakistan’s.

In a positive development for both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistan military has finally decided that it will attack all anti-social elements in North Waziristan, regardless of whether they either are, or previously have been considered, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Generally, ‘good’ elements have been Pakistanis and other pro-Pakistan men allowed to live in Pakistan and who often have been used in Afghanistan, either against its government or against Indian assets. These armed elements include the Afghan Taliban (based around Mullah Omar and the so-called ‘Quetta shura’ that he leads), the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the Pakistan Taliban), al Qaeda, and the Haqqani network. Lesser elements include Uighurs from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement  and Uzbeks from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. China, particularly, will be happy to see Pakistan striking Uighurs, who have been causing it problems in Xinjiang. Similarly, Afghanistan and India will be pleased to see the disruption of the notorious, capable and long-lived Haqqani network.

Conversely, ‘bad’ elements comprise those Pakistanis who have been brutally and incessantly attacking the Pakistan state and Pakistanis. These elements now chiefly comprise the Pakistan Taliban, whose strongholds are largely in FATA. The military has lost control of this extra-legal element—its ‘good Taliban’ have increasingly been morphing into ‘bad Taliban’—as most recently highlighted by the attack on Jinnah Airport, Karachi. This is a problem that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate presumably did not foresee: when one creates or supports a monster, it may develop a life of its own and seek to devour its creator. Regardless of their characterization as good or bad, Taliban elements clearly have their own agenda. This overrides that of the Pakistan or Afghanistan governments and their militaries—which the Pakistan Army now has finally realised.

A further factor in the current operations is cross border relations with Afghanistan. In a complete reversal of roles from a few years ago, some Pakistanis now are blaming Afghanistan for not doing enough to patrol, control and conduct surveillance along the (notoriously porous) Afghanistan-Pakistan border in order to limit the ability of anti-Pakistan elements to obtain sanctuary in Afghanistan. To control, then destroy, the menace that groups such as the Taliban pose, both nations will need to genuinely coordinate their efforts. Should this occur, it will be good for both nations and their citizens—and bad for the Taliban.

While all of this activity is occurring in north-western Pakistan, some nearby developments pose some wildcards. First, India’s new government may choose to be assertive against Pakistan, although I think that Prime Minister Modi really wants India to develop economically before he becomes belligerent. However, given its current workload, the Pakistan Army’s ability to respond to any Indian provocations in Jammu and Kashmir, or elsewhere, will be limited. It could, however, deploy other proxies, such as the ‘good’ Lashkar-e-Toiba that still appears to be functioning largely unhindered in Punjab. Second, the result of Afghanistan’s presidential elections are still unclear—except that Abdullah Abdullah won’t accept any result in which he comes second. That, plus some resurgent Taliban activity, suggests there are plenty of issues yet to be resolved in Afghanistan.

The need of the hour in all three nations is stability—stability for India while it develops economically; stability for Pakistan while it deals with its unsavoury elements and an array of other issues; and, stability for Afghanistan as it enters its uncertain post-ISAF phase. This need might moderate the actions of the leaders in all three nations—except against their anti-social elements.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
1 July 2014



Pakistan: difficult times 20 February 2014

Pakistan: difficult times     20 February 2014

The current situation in Pakistan is disturbing. While delegates from the Pakistan Government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been negotiating, other hardline Taliban elements have been continuing to attack innocent Pakistanis. The Taliban’s latest victims were 23 kidnapped Frontier Corps soldiers executed on Monday in Mohmand Agency, one of the seven agencies that comprise Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These executions apparently were in revenge for operations undertaken by Pakistani forces in FATA. The killers’ intention also may have been to scuttle the Government-Taliban talks. They succeeded, with the talks now suspended, possibly never to resume.

The Taliban, which has some popularity among poorer, disadvantaged Pakistanis, has long used violent, illegal and non-constitutional methods to push for the imposition of an Islamic, Sharia-based Pakistani society. The Government-Taliban talks have empowered, and further emboldened, them. They mean that the Taliban has been formally recognised by the Pakistan Government as a ‘player’ of significance. They also suggest that the debate has now moved from ‘How Islamic should Pakistan be?’ to ‘How much Sharia law should Pakistan implement?’ (The old discussion of ‘Whether Pakistan should be a state for Muslims or an Islamic state?’ ended long ago.)

The current talks have also, to some extent, legitimised the Taliban’s methods of operation—and denigrated past excesses for which they have not been held accountable. For an organisation whose purpose supposedly arises from Islamic scriptures, teaching and practices, the Taliban’s tactics surprisingly have included murder, intimidation and destruction. Since 2007, they have killed some 40,000 Pakistanis, and maimed and injured thousands of others. Ironically and tragically, the vast majority of these Pakistanis have comprised innocent fellow Muslims. Some Talibs may see these people as ‘collateral damage’. Equally, others may have engaged in the practice of takfir, by which they piously and without compassion decide who is or isn’t a pukka Muslim, with Shias or Ahmadiyyas expendable as apostates and others insignificant because they are kafirs (unbelievers or infidels). (The word takfir itself is derived from the word kafir.)

The Pakistan Government’s talks with the Taliban show that it is unclear about how to deal with these serious, and de-stabilising, anti-social elements. Admirably, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appears to be trying to be conciliatory and inclusive by engaging widely with many Pakistanis, including the Taliban. Perhaps he did learn something from his time out of power in exile. Equally, it is far cheaper, and easier, to talk with the Taliban than to send in troops. Conversely, Mr Sharif also appears to be consulting the Taliban because he does not have the ‘stomach’ to fight and defeat these serious extra-legal elements who, we should remember, in 2007-2009 conquered and controlled Swat, then entered Bajaur, close to Islamabad. Even more seriously, since September 2013, the Taliban have killed a further ‘308 civilians, 114 military personnel and 38 police officers’ (www.dawn.com/news/1088104/army-says-over-100-soldiers-have-died-in-five-months-of-fighting). In other words, give the Taliban ‘an inch and they’ll take a mile’.

In defence of Mr Sharif, he has a lot to deal with. The Pakistan economy is struggling, with low growth, insufficient revenues, and serious shortages of energy and electricity. Pakistan has major political problems, especially with volatile Karachi and seriously disgruntled Balochistan. Relations with India remain poor, despite Sharif’s overtures, while events surrounding Afghanistan are deeply concerning. Sharif’s (silent) mantra seems to be ‘give me stability’, so that he, and Pakistan, can consolidate, deliberate, then deal with these major issues. Equally, perhaps Mr Sharif is being clever. Now is a bad time to fight the Taliban as it is winter in FATA. He may be stalling while the Pakistan Army, Air Force and paramilitary forces prepare to launch counter-offensives or targeted operations when warmer weather and better ‘fighting’ conditions return to this remote, backward and difficult-to-access area.

It seems inevitable that, given the Taliban’s inflexibility, brutality and sheer bloody mindedness, Pakistan will have to fight, and defeat, them. This will be difficult. More than once, I have heard Pakistan Army officers proudly and defiantly state that, since 2004, over 3,000 soldiers have been killed in anti-militant operations against the Taliban, al Qaeda and other such elements, in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. These soldiers know that their enemy is serious and that it operates in difficult areas. (Equally, the Pakistan Army’s losses could suggest that its counter-insurgency capabilities have been underdeveloped, partly because of its excessive focus on fighting a conventional war against India.)

It is difficult to know where, when and how the Pakistan Taliban will stop their ruthless attack on Pakistani society. Moderate Pakistanis—which is most Pakistanis—are feeling severely threatened by these anti-social elements. Particularly vulnerable are moderate people in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa bravely opposing the Taliban. Also vulnerable are non-Sunni Pakistanis, including Shias, Ahmadiyyas, Christians and Hindus, with some of the latter apparently feeling pressure to convert to Islam or to leave for India. Many other Pakistanis are moderating their behaviour to makes themselves less of a Taliban target.

In 2009, I suggested that Pakistan become a secular state as this would ‘reduce the volatility of the issue of Islam’ there (http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/southasiamasala/2009/07/19/is-a-secular-pakistan-the-answer/). One respondent suggested, correctly, that this would only occur when the majority of Pakistanis wanted it—something most unlikely. I also suggested that Pakistan’s battle with Taliban-type elements ‘will continue for some time, including for as long as neighbouring, and Taliban-infested, Afghanistan is highly unstable’. This remains so. Indeed, Sharif’s indecisiveness in quelling the Taliban is possibly because he is terribly concerned about what will happen in Afghanistan after ISAF withdraws and how this will impact on Pakistan. As noted, Sharif’s major desire is for stability in Pakistan so that he can address the major issues confronting this nation. This means that we may see further efforts to engage the Taliban in order to try to bring them ‘in from the cold’. However, the current trend suggests that Nawaz Sharif will need to deploy Pakistan’s powerful military to deal with this major menace. Given the Taliban’s intransigence, he has few other effective options.

Christopher Snedden 20 February 2014


Line of Control, Contention and Contestation 7 November 2013



Line of Control, Contention and Contestation               7 November 2013

Recently, the Line of Control (LOC) dividing contested Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has again become contentious. The ceasefire that Indian and Pakistani military forces declared in November 2003 has been essentially abrogated, while the number of cross-LOC incidents has increased to pre-ceasefire levels. The reasons for the increase in incidents are unclear, but there are a number of possibilities.

According to the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24700088), India claims almost 200 LOC violations this year. Pakistani counter claims of Indian violations are similar. (See http://tribune.com.pk/story/622293/loc-violation-indian-firing-injures-three-in-sialkot/). Even though the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan was established to observe and monitor LOC violations, it does not publicly report or discuss these. Therein, therefore, lies one of the great challenges of India-Pakistan relations: verifying exactly who did what to whom and when.

LOC incidents seemingly start for no reason, after which there is an equivalent response by the other side’s militarily. Exchanges involve small arms fire, artillery barrages and, lately, deadly sniper fire, including against civilians. Last January, my blog piece titled ‘A LOC-al affair …’ etc. (http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/southasiamasala/2013/01/25/a-loc-al-affair-and-india-lacks-a-covert-capability-for-use-against-pakistan/) discussed why there had been increased ‘aggression and hostilities’ over the LOC, including in relation to the alleged beheading of an Indian soldier. I predicted, correctly on this occasion, that ‘if history tells us anything, there indubitably will be more [incidents] in future’.

With the benefit of a further nine months of cross-LOC incidents, a number of factors appear to be promoting the current upsurge of violence. On the Pakistan side, a new Chief of Army will be appointed later this month. Possibly, some ‘rogue’ commanders either have been operating pro-actively or they are trying to impress leaders in Islamabad. Equally, the Pakistan Army may be trying to show Pakistan’s politicians, especially Nawaz Sharif, who is currently serving as the prime, foreign and defence ministers, that the military is the paramount power in relation to India-Pakistan relations. Sharif, who wants civilian control over the military, has a battle on his hands that he may win, but probably only on the margins. The Pakistan Army is too big and powerful to be tamed by Pakistani politicians.

Another factor may be Muslim Taliban-type militants, ‘encouraged’ by their Pakistani religious and military ‘supporters’. With Indian forces having made the LOC almost impenetrable, these men from south-eastern Afghanistan or north-western Pakistan may be proxies fomenting problems for ‘Hindu’ India on the LOC. This seems unlikely. Afghanistan is currently so unstable that Taliban-type elements need to be there to militarily advance their own group’s position, particularly as the bulk of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will leave Afghanistan next year. Equally, the Pakistan Taliban is under significant pressure, as Hakimullah Mehsud’s recent death shows. It has little spare capacity to operate outside north-western Pakistan. Only militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba appear able to do so, although they currently are keeping a low profile, possibly to help Pakistan appease the US. Equally, these groups’ leadership may be waiting to see how Pakistan fares under the new Sharif government or they are keeping their ‘powder dry’ in order to influence events in Afghanistan in 2014.

Increasingly, Islamabad is becoming anxious about the post-ISAF situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan is nervous about its neighbour’s future stability and about whether the Afghan regime will be sufficiently amenable towards Pakistan. A more pressing problem is whether the United States and other Western nations, such as Australia, will still be interested in Pakistan after 2014. Islamabad is realising that Pakistan may become strategically isolated and/or irrelevant. Such feelings are heightened as India-US relations converge, because India-Afghanistan relations are strong, and as India and China normalise their relationship, including via strong bi-lateral trade and, most recently, the signing of their Border Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Put simply, Pakistan is again feeling deeply insecure. Many Pakistanis have felt this way since 1947, particularly in relation to India. One cost-effective way for Islamabad to shore up Pakistan’s strategic situation and keep the world interested in this economically- and socially-troubled but nuclear-armed nation is to try (to again) internationalise the Kashmir dispute. This crude strategy worked in 1999 with the Kargil War, after which Washington sought to ramp down tensions in J&K. This time, the strategy seemingly involves creating incidents along the LOC. Thankfully for Islamabad, the active Indian (and foreign) media is happy to publicise such incidents. In response, Islamabad claims mis-reporting, Indian bias, or bellicose Indian nationalism.

Two factors drive India. Politically, next year’s national election is making both the Congress-led government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led opposition want to appear to be strong about defending the nation. With the BJP currently appearing to be the electoral front runner, Congress may be ordering the Indian military to be pro-active and respond strongly to all Pakistani provocations. Militarily—and this may be the most significant factor—after the beheading of the Indian soldier in January, India’s Chief of Army, General Bikram Singh, told his troops to be aggressive when replying to any Pakistani violations of the LOC. For Indian soldiers, this unacceptable Pakistani act was not just ’cricket’. It went beyond the pale of what was acceptable on the battlefield. Indian soldiers have taken Singh’s order to heart, as evidenced by the recent statement by Major-General V.P. Singh (photo above), who is commanding forces in Indian J&K, about giving a ‘befitting reply’ to Pakistan at a time and place of India’s choosing. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGaMejgcxE4&feature=c4-overview&list=UU6RJ7-PaXg6TIH2BzZfTV7w.)

Consequently, the Line of Control is now a ‘line of contestation’. This situation is unlikely to change until after India’s elections next May. Then, a new, more politically-secure, Indian government may tell the Indian military to tone down its rhetoric and LOC activities. This may partially help Pakistan deal with its anxieties of feeling isolated and left largely alone to deal with an increasingly buoyant and self-assured India.

Christopher Snedden
7 November 2013

Unleashing Monsters 29 October 2013

Unleashing Monsters                                                                    29 October 2013

It is interesting teaching undergraduates. My students generally are young—mostly under twenty-years old—with little knowledge about many world issues or events that I take for granted. One matter is the long finished, but strategically challenging, Cold War. Many young people do not realise that, in 1988, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had 45,000 nuclear warheads. Its competitor, the United States (US), ‘only’ had 22,000, although these apparently were technologically superior. Both superpowers could deliver these highly-destructive weapons using long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Surprisingly for my students, the USSR had probably targeted Australian cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. A certain target was the important Australia-US intelligence facility at Pine Gap, Northern Territory. Some Western strategists considered that, given the closeness of Australia-US relations, Moscow could send a strong message to Washington by ‘nuking’ an Australian city. The Soviets may have believed that such an act might not have provoked any US retaliation. Thankfully, this ‘monster’ was never unleashed. Nevertheless, my students’ unease continued when I told them that Russia, the chief inheritor of all things Soviet, still has 8,000 nuclear weapons. (The US ‘only’ has about 5,000 nukes.) Post-Cold War, a Russian nuclear attack against Australia is highly unlikely. Equally, Australia’s ability to deter any nuclear attack has not improved one iota. Australia still does not have nuclear weapons, while North Korea, India and Pakistan are now possible nuclear threats. Canberra still considers that Australia is under the US’s ‘nuclear umbrella’, and therefore is protected. What this arrangement fully entails has never been tested.

Another matter that my youthful students know little about is how some nation-states create organisations that come back to ‘bite’ them. Consider Al-Qa’ida (‘the Base’). Western nations, including Australia and the US, funded, armed and/or trained mujahideen fighters who fought, and ultimately defeated, the Red Army that the USSR deployed in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. In the context of the Cold War, Afghanistan offered Washington a great opportunity to use proxies to weaken its global rival. The US also may have been seeking revenge for its defeat by Communist forces, supported by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, in south Vietnam. Thus, the US used Pakistan as its chief conduit to funnel arms and ammunition to the vehemently anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen. Soon after the USSR withdrew its forces from Afghanistan, the ‘evil [USSR] empire’, as Ronald Reagan called it, collapsed and the Cold War ended. The resilient mujahideen had played an important part fighting the Red Army, draining the USSR’s exchequer, creating war fatigue among Soviet citizens, and in showing that the USSR was not as strong or benevolent as its propaganda suggested.

Interestingly, some mujahideen had been inspired to go to fight in the anti-Soviet jihad (holy war) Afghanistan by Muslims living there. This included two men in Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK; ‘Services office’), a group formed in 1984: Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian ‘father of global jihad’, and Osama bin Laden, a rich Saudi Arabian. Their intention was to garner funds and gather Muslims to fight the ‘Godless’ Red Army. More importantly—at least in the current context of world terrorism—MAK morphed into Al-Qa’ida. It benefitted from MAK’s network, contacts and skills, which have produced ‘kills’. This ‘monster’ was responsible for the complex and well executed—but terrible and tragic—terrorist incidents that stunned US and world citizens on 11 September 2001.

In explaining Al-Qa’ida’s motives, my students struggle to understand some things. First, that a small number of Muslims on the extreme fringe of this generally peaceful religion are so disenchanted that they plan and attack innocent civilians. Second, that these anti-social Muslims justify their stance because they believe that the West has long exploited, suppressed or denigrated Muslims and/or has excessively, unquestioningly supported Israel or repressive pro-US regimes in the Middle East/South-west Asia. Third, that the morals and activities of the West are not always superior to those of the terrorists. Indeed, the Wests’ pursuit of the ‘moral high ground’ is sometimes questionable, as evidenced by the current spying saga involving the US’s National Signals Agency’s spying on supposed US allies. (Equally, in the West’s defence, we know about such activities because Western citizens generally enjoy a free media, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.)

Al-Qa’ida is not the first organisation, or ‘monster’, unleashed on people that has come back to ‘bite’ its initial supporters. In the 1980s, a Sikh, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his followers who sought an independent Sikh state of ‘Khalistan’ in north-western India, allegedly were creations of Indira Gandhi—as Bharatiya Janata Party leaders again recently claimed. The Sikh bodyguards who assassinated India’s prime minister in 1984 did so because Mrs Gandhi had ordered the Indian Army to enter Amritsar’s Golden Temple and ‘remove’ Bhindranwale holed up there. Similarly, India may have trained dissident Tamils from Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. These Tamils, particularly those in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, nevertheless willingly killed soldiers in the Indian Peace Keeping Force sent by New Delhi to pacify northern Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990. Most significant is the Taliban. In the 1990s, Pakistan’s prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Army’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate ‘empowered’ talibs (religious students) in north-western Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent times, Islamabad has clumsily classified these men as ‘good Taliban’, comprising those who support Pakistan’s position in/re Afghanistan, and ‘bad Taliban’, who attack Pakistanis and destabilise Pakistan. The bad Taliban’s ‘successes’ possibly include the devastating assassination of Ms Bhutto herself in 2007. Most recently, they may have been responsible for assassinating Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Law Minister, Israrullah Gandapur. Unleashing brutal covert organisations whose members are loyal chiefly only to themselves can be dangerous.

Christopher Snedden
29 October 2013

Fluidity in South Asian matters 23 October 2013

Fluidity in South Asian matters                                                   23 October 2013

Currently, there is considerable fluidity in South Asian matters. Various South Asian nations, and their leaders, as well as other nations involved with South Asia, chiefly the United States, are considering the region’s future and their nation’s situation in this. Nations also are attempting to shore up their strategic positions in relation to their neighbours and other ‘players’. It is interesting times in South Asia.

Starting with Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been in Washington talking with United States’ Secretary of State, John Kerry. He also is scheduled to talk with President Obama. Discussion items include the US’s use of drones to attack targets in north-western Pakistan and the strategic and economic aspects of the US-Pakistan relationship. The use of drones is an emotive issue in Pakistan, with many Pakistanis disliking the ‘collateral damage’ that these unmanned, silent, indiscriminatory killers cause to non-combatants. One consequence is that disenchanted Pakistani youth have joined ‘fundamentalist’-type organisations that oppose both the United States and Pakistan. These extra-legal groups have mounted significant attacks throughout Pakistan. Pakistan would like these attacks, and drone strikes, to lessen.

No doubt, Mr Sharif also has been trying to ascertain what presence—actual and emotional—that US forces will have in Afghanistan after their drawdown next year from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This involves pondering how much the US will choose to engage with Pakistan. Mr Kerry recently had talks with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, with 10,000 being the possible number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan post-US drawdown. This will mean that Afghans will chiefly be responsible for ensuring Afghanistan’s security. Mr Karzai intends to call a Loya Jirga of senior Afghans to ratify any US-Afghanistan agreement, thereby spreading the political responsibility and possibly not impairing the electoral prospects of his elder brother, Qayum Karzai, who is one of ten remaining candidates for Afghanistan’s important presidential election next April. Already, however, Afghan security forces are confronting serious problems with the far-from-placated Taliban, with soldiers defecting in large numbers, and with an inability to maintain hi-tech equipment supplied by ISAF. Afghanistan also confronts an unstable political situation, a poor economy with limited prospects, and unhelpful meddling of outside nations in its affairs.

Pakistan hopes that, post-ISAF, US involvement with it will continue. Pakistan has significant troubles with its economy and with terrorism. For many Pakistanis, however, the US is a ‘fair weather friend’ unable or unwilling to proffer major support on an ongoing basis in the way that Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’, China, does. The US has its own budgetary difficulties. Equally, Washington first and foremost acts in the US’s best interests. During the ‘Global War on Terror’, this necessitated the US having a strategic relationship with Pakistan, chiefly to facilitate the movement of materiel across Pakistan to its remote neighbour, Afghanistan. Pakistan’s strategic importance will reduce dramatically after the bulk of ISAF’s forces leave Afghanistan next year. History also suggests that the US’s interest in Pakistan will thereafter diminish. Aggrieved Pakistanis point to Washington’s lack of support in Pakistan’s 1965 and 1971 wars with India and the US’s rapid withdrawal from Pakistan after the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Washington will have to work hard—and be generous—to placate Islamabad’s great fears.

Whether the US chooses to do so remains to be seen as there also is disenchantment in Washington with Pakistan. Some US policy makers consider that Pakistan has played a double game with the US: it has facilitated the movement of US materiel to Afghanistan while also supporting and protecting pro-Pakistan/anti-Afghan/anti-ISAF forces such as the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban (whose shura (leadership) allegedly has obtained sanctuary around Quetta), and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. For Pakistanis, these covert actions amount to Islamabad acting strategically in the national interest. Pakistan perpetually fears an unstable Afghanistan in which inimical forces, particularly Indian, meddle to Pakistan’s disadvantage. Islamabad therefore must shore up Pakistan’s position there, in whatever ways possible. The use of proxies has been reasonably effective and cost-effective. Similarly, however, Afghanistan, which seeks good relations with India, may have been using proxies in border areas against Pakistan.

For India, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is currently in China where he will sign an agreement to reduce tension along the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) separating both nations. Despite their complex strategic situations, China-India relations are good: two-way trade is burgeoning; LOAC tensions are being managed; rivalry is downplayed. Certainly, neither aspiring great power wants an economically-devastating ‘hot war’. Singh’s business in Beijing follows his visit to Russia, where he and President Vladimir Putin reiterated that India and Russia enjoy a ‘strategic partnership’ that should be enhanced in key areas such as rocket, missile and naval technologies. Depending on which political coalition wins next year’s Indian elections,* the India-Russia relationship should continue to be strong, if only because India chooses to have relations with a variety of nations rather than totally and unwaveringly aligning with one nation in the way that Pakistan has done with China or Australia has with the United States.

*(Bangladesh also is to have general elections later this year-early next year if the ruling Awami League government can agree to caretaker arrangements; the Maldives is to have presidential elections in early November if the Police allow these to take place; Nepal is to conduct its long-delayed constituent elections on 19 November.)

Despite a longstanding commitment to non-alignment, some Indians and Americans want their nations to embrace, or even align, economically and strategically. This chiefly is because of China, although this is rarely openly stated. Pakistan will be a major loser out of any Indo-US strategic arrangement, along with Russia, if only because India could obtain access to significant US weaponry and technology. Not surprisingly, therefore, both Pakistan and Russia have engaged in some high-level discussions in recent months to develop their relationship which, previously, has been cool because of Pakistan’s better relations with the US and India’s with Russia.

This relates to a further factor compounding South Asian matters: President Obama’s conversation in September with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and supposedly less hardline president. Any US-Iran rapprochement makes Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, and Israel, very nervous. Conversely, this may make things easier for Pakistan and India, both of which have high energy needs that Iran could partially supply via the Iran-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) gas pipeline. The pipeline has been built on the Iranian side, but not in Pakistan, which section Russia has offered to build. Because of US pressure, India had decided not to join IPI. However, given improving Iran-US relations and the desire to strengthen India-US relations, this might change. Such a move also might start to bring Iran ‘in from the (international) cold’.

In strategic affairs, anything is possible. There are (at least) three maxims: each nation acts in its own national interests; nothing stays the same forever; and, ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’.

Christopher Snedden
23 October 2013

Hizb-ul Mujahideen in ‘Kashmir’ 24 September 2013

Hizb-ul Mujahideen in ‘Kashmir’                         24 September 2013

The anti-Indian uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir has now been underway for a quarter of a century. Civilians began protests there in 1988; militants instigated armed activities the following year; things got really ‘hot’ from 1990. While levels of violence, the tally of ‘incidents’ and the number of deaths have all subsided significantly in recent years, an interesting interview in Al Jazeera with a ‘senior Kashmiri independence fighter’ in the ‘Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’, which ‘has widespread membership … [in] Indian-administered Kashmir’ suggests that, for them, the insurgency is not yet over. If I were a Kashmiri, however, I would not be taking a lot of succour, or inspiration, from this interview.

(See www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/09/2013920153418770798.html. I thank Michael Dwyer at Hurst and Co., London, for sending me this link.)

According to the ‘independence fighter’, ‘anti-US and anti-state fighters in Afghanistan owe Kashmiris “a debt”, … that he expects … will be paid “on [Kashmiris’] terms” after the planned US military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014’. Such support by these ‘anti-state fighters’, most of whom will be Afghans, is a distinct possibility, although it will not happen soon. Almost certainly, it will take them—if they can do so at all—some time to establish the type of hardline government that they may want in Afghanistan. One major reason for this is that the vast majority of Afghans do not want another hardline, anti-social government imposed on them. Nevertheless, should these Afghans succeed, this could free up ‘Muslim’ fighters to go to Kashmir to fight ‘Hindu’ Indians. Equally, in satisfying their supposed ‘religious duty’, these men may be inspired to go to Syria, Chechnya, western China, or other places where they perceive that Muslims are being suppressed—including in neighbouring Pakistan, which has a real, major and ongoing problem of its own dealing with hardline ‘anti-US and anti-state fighters’. Equally, if Indian intelligence and border security forces are operating effectively, they should be able to anticipate, and cope with, the arrival of such hostile forces.

Equally, as the ‘senior Kashmiri independence fighter’ acknowledges, it is now difficult to cross the Line of Control (LoC) with ‘this border-crossing activity [being] two to three percent of our operations. Now our real focus is on operating within [Indian-administered] Kashmir … [with] mujahideen in every [sic] district and sub-district of Jammu and Kashmir’. This almost certainly overstates their capability and operational strength. Interestingly, he also claims that the killing of six Indian soldiers ‘6km inside the LoC, in the Poonch area’ in August was the work of the ‘mujahideen’, not the Pakistan Army. This also appears to be an ambitious claim.

The article is interesting for a number of other reasons. First, the author, Asad Hashim (who is a Pakistani, I think), incorrectly refers to Muzaffarabad as ‘the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir’. It’s amazing how many people, including many Indians, would not baulk at this statement. However, Muzaffarabad is the capital of Azad Kashmir, which, together with the neighbouring Gilgit-Baltistan region to its north, comprises ‘Pakistan-administered Kashmir’. For some time, Islamabad has cleverly been trying to suggest that the Kashmir dispute does not include Gilgit-Baltistan—when it certainly does. Legally, this region was part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in August 1947.

The ‘senior Kashmiri independence fighter’ also states that ‘The UN resolution passed on January 5, 1949, speaks of … the Kashmiri people, and their right to choose between Pakistan, India and independence’. He is incorrect. Independence is not mentioned at all in any United Nations resolutions. Furthermore, he may need to come to grips with the following observation: in almost 30 years of researching and studying the Kashmir dispute, the only thing that I have found that India and Pakistan agree on in their entire dispute over Jammu and Kashmir is that neither J&K, nor any part of it, can become independent. This will make it exceedingly difficult for this ‘independence fighter’ and his ilk to obtain their aim of ‘Kashmiri independence’, whatever they mean by that concept. It also explains Hizb-ul Mujahideen’s difficult military situation—as he hints in the article—of not receiving significant military assistance from Pakistan. Islamabad has long favoured supporting insurgent groups such as ‘Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’ that want Indian J&K’s integration into Pakistan, not independence. Islamabad tolerates, and provides some support to, Hizbul Mujahideen because they are anti-Indian.

The ‘Kashmiri independence fighter’ also states that ‘Pakistan, India and Kashmiris are the three involved in this [dispute], and it is important that they sit together to find a solution’. By ‘Kashmiris’, I presume that he means the people of J&K, whom I call ‘J&K-ites’, as the terms ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Kashmiri’ mean different things in India, Pakistan and J&K. In India and Indian J&K, they generally refer to ethnic Kashmiris from the region of Kashmir, that is, the Kashmir Valley. In Pakistan and Pakistan-administered J&K, they generally refer to anyone, regardless of their ethnicity, from the former princely state of J&K, or ‘Kashmir’ as it was popularly known.

I agree with the independence fighter’s statement that there are ‘three [parties] involved’ in the Kashmir dispute. History, however, shows us that two of these parties, India and Pakistan, have not been able to resolve this issue. Equally, other third parties, such as the United Nations or the United States, either have been totally ineffective (UN) or have been uninterested or disallowed from participation by India (US). For too long, the legitimate and valid third party to this dispute, J&K-ites—who actually are the first party to the Kashmir dispute as they instigated it—have been ignored. Involving J&K-ites in resolution attempts not only is fair and important, but also it could lead, as I have argued in The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir, to the Kashmir dispute being resolved. Given its focus on the Kashmir Valley, the Hizbul Mujahideen almost certainly does not represent many J&K-ites. Equally, if its senior leader is to be believed, the militant group will be around for some time causing trouble, or trying to cause trouble, for India.

Christopher Snedden
24 September 2013

Changes in Australian Foreign Policy 11 September 2013

Changes in Australian Foreign Policy                           11 September 2013

Australia had national elections last Saturday. As a result, there is a new government, a new prime minister and a new foreign minister. These are the Liberal-National Coalition (LNC), Mr Tony Abbott and Ms Julie Bishop. Mr Abbott will announce his new Ministry next week, with him possibly creating a new Trade and Investment portfolio. Traditionally, the Nationals, who tend to be more protectionist, have provided the Trade Minister. It remains to be seen whether a National will be given this new ministry.

Under the LNC, Australia’s foreign policy is likely to move further to the right. While the LNC and the Labor Party (that formed the previous government) both agree that Australia’s relationship with the United States is of paramount importance, the Coalition is more unequivocal. Under the previous Liberal prime minister, Mr John Howard, Australia readily and rapidly joined the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’ formed to fight terrorists in the so-called ‘War on Terror’. Traditionally, LNCs have taken Australia into wars, with the most recent being Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam. Apart from Vietnam, these wars had general bipartisan support, although, arguably, the Labor Party has been less ‘gung ho’ in wanting to deploy Australian forces. Australia’s overseas engagements have been justified for strategic reasons. Chiefly, this has been to shore up the Australia-United States relationship.

Under the new government, trade opportunities will be pursued before human rights or other foreign policy concerns. This partly reflects the new incumbent’s constituency: it received strong support from Australian businesses, business people and primary producers, for whom trade is important. The new government probably will be more interested in a range of bilateral relations, whereas Labor governments tend to engage more multilaterally. It intends to pursue, first and foremost, ‘economic diplomacy’ and negotiate bilateral free trade agreements with an array of nations, including China and Japan, with which Australia already has strong trade relationships. Indeed, Australia’s top five two-way trading partners are (in order of size) China, Japan, United States, Republic of Korea, and Singapore.

Foreign affairs is not a strong suite for the new prime minister. All of his former government ministries had strong internal focuses. That said, Mr Abbott has stated that his first overseas visit will be to Jakarta. This reflects his stance that Australia’s foreign policy should have a Jakarta, not a Geneva, focus. This also reflects a peculiar phobia whereby many Australians (falsely) believe that Indonesia is a military threat to Australia. (See The Lowy Institute Poll 2013: http://lowyinstitute.org/files/lowypoll2013_web_corrected_p5.pdf, pp. 12-13.) For too many years, I have met Australians who fear that Indonesia wants to invade Australia, despite Australia being an island-continent that is difficult to reach, let alone successfully invade. These Australians believe that Australia, which has a small population compared with Indonesia’s, has land and resources that others desire. However, the only nation currently with the capability—but not the intent—to mount and sustain a military lodgment in Australia is its greatest ally, the United States.

Hopefully, the methodical Mr Abbott can allay these Australians’ fears, magnified and politicised by the dramatic increased arrival of some 25,000 ‘asylum seekers’—in Australia, they are often called ‘boat people’ or ‘illegal immigrants’—in the last financial year. (In 2011-2012, there were 8,000 arrivals; in 2010-2011, there were 5,000.) Many of the often-dilapidated boats transporting these human beings have left from Indonesian ports. Mr Abbott and his prospective Immigration Minister, Mr Scott Morrison, have promised to ‘stop the boats’ in the Indian Ocean. For them, and many Australians, this is seen, rather emotively, as a crucial national problem. It certainly is important, as some asylum seekers have drowned at sea. However, compared with Pakistan, which third world nation is still housing some 1.5 million Afghan refugees, first world Australia’s problem of dealing with some 60,000 illegal immigrants, the bulk of whom actually have overstayed properly-issued visas, is relatively small. Furthermore, some Australians see a strong need to address the problem much further away, such as in nations from which many of Australia’s ‘boat people’ come: Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. This will be difficult, given that Australia looks set to cut its aid budget (see below).

Foreign affairs also is not a strong suite for the new foreign minister. To date, all of Ms Bishop’s government ministries have had internal focuses. Unlike many of her predecessors, this very formal, almost coldish, lawyer does not display an instinctive passion for foreign affairs. She obtained this portfolio by default after doing poorly as shadow treasurer in 2008-2009. Since then, she has not become a high profile foreign policy advocate in Australia, or overseas. Rather, her high profile has arisen because she has been deputy leader of the Liberal Party and deputy Opposition Leader in the House of Representatives since 2007. In relation to South Asia, little is likely to change. Ms Bishop will pursue stronger trade, including allowing uranium sales, and the furtherance of a somewhat mythical strategic relationship for Australia with India; Afghanistan and Pakistan will remain important while Australia has military forces in Afghanistan, after which both will likely become peripheral; the other South Asian nations will probably be of minimal importance.

Ms Bishop has got off to a difficult start. The new government intends to slash Australia’s aid budget by $4.5 billion to help fund ‘essential infrastructure’ and to help the economy become stronger, after which, for Australia’s new leaders, Australia could be more generous in future. However, compared with those nations to which it gives aid, Australia already has a strong economy. Unfortunately, Ms Bishop has also strongly and consistently linked trade with aid, with makes Australia sound mercenary, rather than humanitarian. Hopefully, Ms Bishop, with the help of the capable Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will grow into the role. It remains to be seen.

Christopher Snedden
11 September 2013