Tag Archives: Manmohan Singh

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


Improving India-Pakistan relations 2 October 2013

India Pakistan


Picture from http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2013/01/19/india-pakistan_establishment_strikes_back_100473.html


Improving India-Pakistan relations                                            2 October 2013

Initially, I had a question mark at the end of the above heading. I had been asking myself if, given the recent Manmohan Singh-Nawaz Sharif talks in New York, India-Pakistan relations were, indeed, improving. After further thought, I removed the question mark and converted the heading into a statement. For me, the question is not whether India-Pakistan relations are improving, but how to improve India-Pakistan relations.

Overall, prospects are not fantastic. Despite both nations and their peoples having so much in common—shared history, geography, ethnicities, religions, cultures, development issues, even aspirations—India-Pakistan relations since 1947 have fluctuated from being very poor to freezing. To some extent, this is not surprising. Even before the dominions of India and Pakistan came into being on 15 August 1947, there was significant antipathy between their prospective leaders that foreshadowed future poor relations. The violence, mayhem and upheaval of the partition process also ‘encouraged’ feelings of hatred for the ‘other nation’ and its people. So too did some serious post-British issues over the distribution of money and assets, the accession of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, and water.

The 1965 India-Pakistan war entrenched a mentality—and a physical actuality—of separation and separateness among Indians and Pakistanis. The 1971 India-Pakistan war that resulted in Pakistan losing ‘its’ eastern wing of East Pakistan/Bangladesh consolidated this silo mentality. Since 1971, there has been little physical contact between ‘average’ Indians and Pakistanis. This is extraordinary, given both nations’ populations and shared geography. Nevertheless, there is only one land crossing between India and Pakistan, two rail crossings (the second of which seemingly only operates one day a week), minimal flights to limited locations, and no ferry service. All of these facilities also are subjected to being suspended by downturns in India-Pakistan relations. For example, the Lahore-Delhi bus service was suspended in December 2001 following a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. Services resumed two years later. A ferry between Bombay/Mumbai and Karachi has not operated since 1965.

Conversely, elite Indians and Pakistanis increasingly have connected with each other since 1965 through first and second-track diplomatic efforts, trade and travel, and sporting contests, including cricket. However, these people are atypical Indians and Pakistanis who generally are relatively affluent, plus they are well acquainted with, and may benefit from, the prestige and perquisites of international travel and international engagements. Unlike family reunions, their visit to the other nation is not necessarily anything special or enduring. Also, because their business is official or demi-official, such elites often avoid having to undertake the arduous task of obtaining a visa for/from the other nation. By comparison, many ‘average’ Indians or Pakistanis, who often are poor, must trek to New Delhi or Islamabad and beg, plea or suffer bureaucratic difficulties and/or delays in order to obtain a visa for the other nation. Indians and Pakistanis do not make it easy for perceived antagonists to visit.

While all of this sounds difficult and detrimental, poor-to-abysmal relations do not appear to have impacted significantly on either nation. Since 1947 and despite their militarily- and bureaucratically-enforced separateness, India and Pakistan have managed to function and develop reasonably well. Closer relations would have helped, but there has never been any great imperative, compulsion or need for Indian and Pakistani leaders to improve, let alone normalise, diabolical India-Pakistan relations. Indeed, there are hardline political and/or military forces in both nations that severely mistrust the other nation and oppose the development of such relations.

Similarly, and significantly, poor India-Pakistan relations have rarely directly impacted on ‘average’ Indians and Pakistanis. They generally do not suffer from deprivations, dislocations and death (unlike the people of J&K) because they cannot easily access the other nation and its people. This may explain why Indians and Pakistanis have rarely, if ever, developed ‘compelling constituencies’ that have mounted sustained political activities to force their leaders to fix the severely broken India-Pakistan relationship. Compare this with Bengalis/East Pakistanis/Bangladeshis’ response to being suppressed by West Pakistanis in 1970-1971. Other examples not involving the use of arms and force worth emulating are the anti-Vietnam war protests mounted by United Stated and Australian citizens in the late 1960s and early 1970s or the physical and political movement of East Europeans in the late 1980s that ended the Cold War and ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union. Significant people power movements work in resolving an issue about which people feel passionate, dislocated or embittered. However, we don’t see any such ‘bottom-up’ movements in India and Pakistan on the (passionless) issue of improving bilateral relations.

So, why would India-Pakistan relations improve now? There are still no compelling reasons for this to happen—or for this to need to happen. Yes, elite Indians and Pakistanis think that normalised relations would be nice. So too do world and South Asian leaders, and possibly many Indians and Pakistanis. But, as suggested above, improving India-Pakistan relations is not a vital issue. Additionally, the whole ‘top-down’ process is being pushed by each nation’s prime minister who himself is subjected to political processes and personalities. Thus, Nawaz Sharif, with the Pakistan Army breathing down his neck, may be waiting to see who will be India’s prime minister after next year’s Indian elections. India’s incumbent, Manmohan Singh, is subjected to opposition taunts that, in relation to Pakistan, he is weak, soft, ineffectual, complicit, or compromising Indian interests and security, etc. As the larger nation, India could be magnanimous and make a unilateral gesture that might encourage Pakistan, such as reinstituting the stalled Composite Dialogue process with ‘full vigour’. Conversely, Mr Sharif could grant India the long-discussed ‘most favoured nation’ status that would normalise trade relations. Neither gesture seems forthcoming in the short term—nor do improved India-Pakistan relations.

Christopher Snedden
2 October 2013