Tag Archives: Nawaz Sharif

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges 27 May 2014

India-Pakistan: changes and challenges   27 May 2014

The good news is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has attended the inauguration of India’s new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Apparently, the two leaders also met outside this significant event. This is a positive start, particularly as their nations are estranged with a poor-to-parlous relationship.

One of Modi’s greatest challenges will be managing expectations. He and his party’s massive majority have dramatically raised many Indians’ hopes and desires—even though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP; Indian People’s Party) only received slightly less than one third of the total national vote. (Nevertheless, India’s first-past-the-post voting system translated this into a massive electoral win.) Whether Modi can satisfy his euphoric victory tweet that “India has won! We’re approaching the good days” remains to be seen. However, given human nature and the nature of politics, his leadership and rule almost certainly won’t satisfy and please all Indians.

Some Pakistanis now have increased hopes or expectations of improved India-Pakistan relations. These are not well founded. Apart from new governments in Pakistan last year and India just recently, little else has changed in India-Pakistan matters. Both nations still have (at least) eight issues to deal with, as per their Composite Dialogue which essentially has been suspended, or piecemeal at best, since the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008. Some of these issues are particularly difficult, strategic and emotional, chiefly Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen Glacier, and terrorism and drug-trafficking. There is one further highly significant issue not part of any regular India-Pakistan dialogue: the little discussed matter of water and water-sharing, with Pakistan at a significant disadvantage because of its downstream position and suffering because of its burgeoning, now excessively large, population for which it can only blame itself. There has been increasing angst about this vital commodity, particularly in Pakistan. Arguably, this is the most serious India-Pakistan issue of all.

In terms of changes in either nation, ironically we appear to have gone ‘back to the future’. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) is again in power in Pakistan, just as it was when Pakistan came into existence in 1947. While Sharif’s PML (Nawaz) faction is less militant and driven to achieve than Jinnah’s original party, Pakistanis are still—and have been since 1947—dealing with the issue of how Islamic their nation should be and which interpretation of Islam is the ‘correct’ one for Pakistanis to adhere to—or be compelled to adhere to—via the imposition of Sharia Law, as hardline Taliban-type elements want. Conversely, with the BJP’s election, India is questioning what part religion should play, and seemingly is moving away from its entrenched and successful secularism. The BJP’s name arises from ancient Bharat (or India), with the party desiring more ‘Hinduness’ in Bharat/India, which geographic entity for some hardliners includes ‘lost’ areas like Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In some ways, therefore, we have reverted to 1947, with leaders and many people in both nations again trying to decide, both pacifically via political processes and violently via militancy, how Hindus and Muslims will cohabitate, and interact, on the subcontinent. In India, Hindus are feeling ascendant, with some acting accordingly, while Muslims, and sometimes Sikhs, are feeling nervous and considering their options. In Pakistan, Muslims are agitating, often violently, to impose their version of Islam, with some of Pakistan’s few remaining Hindus now fleeing for India or being forcefully converted to Islam. Publicly, people in both religious groups are using the other to shore up their own ideology and positions. Thus, religion used for political purposes is again dividing the subcontinent and its people—and stalling the improvement of India-Pakistan relations.

One major difference from 1947 is the current leadership. Nawaz Sharif is not of the same intellectual calibre as Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Similarly, Narendra Modi is no Jawaharlal Nehru. Conversely, Sharif seems more conciliatory than the often inflexible Jinnah, which aspect may actually assist India-Pakistan relations, as long as the Pakistan military agrees to any conciliation. Equally, Modi seems a less complex person than Nehru, with a clearer economic agenda for India that vicariously may help improve India-Pakistan relations if the two nations, particularly Pakistan, can agree their trade regime. Modi also will need to control recalcitrant states, such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu seeking to influence India’s foreign relations. Hopefully, neither leader will have to face any devastating partition-type divisions, upheavals and bloodshed that confronted Nehru and Jinnah. Rather, their task is to resolve how India and Pakistan can normalise their relationship and to decide how Indians and Pakistanis will re-engage and, to some extent, even partially reunify, via closer trade, cooperative actions and other day-to-day cross-border activities, particularly travel, study and exchanges that ‘normal’ nations engage in. While both leaders possibly want improved relations, each seems to want it on his own terms. Neither seemingly has much genuine interest in, knowledge about, or deep warmth for, the ‘other’.

To normalise India-Pakistan relations will be challenging, and will take time. There is significant, deeply entrenched mistrust between both nations’ populations—a factor made significantly worse because there is such a paucity of direct contact between them. It is almost impossible for an ‘average’ Indian to meet an ‘average’ Pakistani in any easy, meaningful or ongoing way. Resolving the Siachen Glacier issue is the litmus test. If India and Pakistan’s leaders can solve this issue, then all other India-Pakistan issues are soluble. The Pakistan militaries’ veto power on all issues is obvious and well known. Unusually, the Indian Army has been very political on Siachen, with its generals wanting ‘iron clad’ guarantees that, should Indian forces withdraw from Siachen, their mistrusted foe will desist from capturing these vacated positions. Therefore, to resolve Siachen Glacier will require both prime ministers asserting themselves over their respective militaries. Overall, to improve India-Pakistan relations will require vision, leadership and both leaders asserting themselves over their respective nations—and getting on with each other. It’s still too early to tell how they will fare.

Christopher Snedden
27 May 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


The two Sharifs and India-Pakistan relations; 5 December 2013



General Raheel Sharif with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (APP photo)

The two Sharifs and India-Pakistan relations; 5 December 2013

A number of events have occurred recently that have a bearing on India-Pakistan relations. First, Pakistan has appointed a new chief of the Pakistan Army, with General Raheel Sharif replacing General Ashfaq Kiyani. Concurrently, General Rashid Mehmood has become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, replacing General Khalid Shamim Wynne. While Mehmood’s position is superior in a titular sense, Sharif’s is the more influential as the Pakistan Army is still Pakistan’s most powerful and capable force ensuring national unity. Some people are speculating that General Sharif may not be a political threat to his namesake, Pakistan’s prime minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to whom the general is not related, although they apparently share a similar Kashmiri-Punjabi ethnicity. Given the Pakistan Army’s history of imposing its will on Pakistan, this remains to be seen.

Similarly, it remains to be seen how the new army chief will deal with the strategic, tactical and political issues that confront him. These include suppressing anti-Pakistan terrorism; enabling anti-Indian activities and terrorism, particularly in disputed Jammu and Kashmir; countering India’s military superiority; managing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal; and, ensuring that Pakistan’s foreign policy meets the military’s approval. This latter matter not only relates to India, but also to Afghanistan, where Pakistan’s interests are important. General Sharif’s predecessor appeared to act reasonably on these issues, particularly by allowing elected politicians to govern Pakistan, and in relation to India. Arguably, this was because Pakistan confronted serious internal issues that the Pakistan Army needed to assist with. These included the parlous economy, major terrorist threats posed by sectarian and Taliban-type elements and an uprising in Baluchistan. Tactically, Kiyani’s non-Indian-focused approach was sound. Despite some Pakistanis’ beliefs, India long ago accepted Pakistan’s existence, nor does it want its neighbour to fail, chiefly because India will have to ‘pick up the pieces’. Additionally, the United States’ presence in Afghanistan and its fair-to-good relations with Pakistan, plus its good relations with India, made the US a stabilising force in India-Pakistan relations.

This situation is changing. Next year, the US will reduce its forces significantly—perhaps even totally, if Washington and Kabul can’t agree a deal—in Afghanistan. Post-ISAF, Afghanistan will be highly unstable for some time. Next year, India is likely to have a new government, and almost certainly a new prime minister, with the possibility of a more belligerent foreign policy. Now, Iran has a new president with a milder foreign policy agenda and an improving relationship with the US that disturbs Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, with which Pakistan has a close relationship. Next year, US interest in Pakistan may quickly wane post-Afghanistan. These various circumstances may provoke an uncertain Pakistan, possibly feeling isolated, to raise its profile, and importance, in other ways, including by confronting India.

Perhaps the only thing that can be said with much certainty is that General Sharif’s loyalty will lie predominantly with the Pakistan Army. He is from a military family; he apparently has no great interest in politics; he may not be as politically adept as some of his predecessors. He will have to learn to be political, however, as senior generals will not want politicians lessening the army’s power or influence. This includes in relation to India-Pakistan relations, with there is not yet any indication that the Pakistan Army or its new commander (or the Indian Army, for that matter) wants these to improve.

Certainly, Nawaz Sharif would like the India-Pakistan relationship to progress, and for all outstanding issues to be resolved. Recently, he said that ‘If India takes one step forward, we will take two’. While seemingly a generous offer, it still ostensibly requires India to act first. This is disingenuous as Sharif, a businessman, could, if he was really interested in meaningfully advancing India-Pakistan relations, grant India the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status that would enable direct bilateral trade to grow, perhaps even flourish. Despite some Pakistanis’ fears, MFN does not grant India any special treatment or favours. Rather, it merely normalises India-Pakistan trade relations to reflect how other bilateral trade occurs. India granted Pakistan MFN status in 2006. Pakistan is seriously stalling on this issue.

Mr Sharif’s desire for improved India-Pakistan relations may be fulfilled if the recent opinion of Pakistan’s retiring high commissioner in India is any indication. Salman Bashir sees ‘light at the end of the [India-Pakistan] tunnel’ and is ‘personally optimistic that [relations] will be on the upward trajectory in the coming months’. This is contrary to many people’s perception that the Congress-led government is suffering from pre-election inertia. Equally, the India-Pakistan relationship confronts serious challenges: there are some longstanding, difficult and controversial issues to resolve; there is no urgent or compelling momentum to fix these; the relationship can sour quickly. Recently, Nawaz Sharif stated in Muzaffarabad that ‘Kashmir is a flashpoint and can trigger a fourth war between the two nuclear powers at anytime’. In response, Manmohan Singh said that he saw no prospect of Pakistan winning a war against India in his lifetime. Suddenly, India-Pakistan talk went from improving relations to fighting a war.

Interestingly, India is about to challenge Pakistan significantly in relation to their relations. New Delhi is to allow its National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has a counter-terrorism focus, to send a judicial request to Islamabad for Pakistan to arrest Syed Mohammed Yusuf Shah, alias ‘Syed Salahuddin’. Salahuddin is the leader of the anti-Indian Hizbul Mujahideen that operates in Indian Kashmir. He has been living in exile in Pakistan since 1989. The NIA alleges that he illegally sent money from Pakistan through NGOs to Hizbul Mujahideen operatives in Indian Kashmir. Like General Sharif’s stand on various issues, it remains to be seen how Islamabad will respond to this serious Indian challenge to Pakistan’s bona fides about wanting to improve relations. Islamabad will find itself ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

Christopher Snedden
5 December 2013

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

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

What’s happening in Kashmir? 12 August 2013

What’s happening in Kashmir?                                      12 August 2013

It’s hard to know exactly what’s happening in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), but two major events have occurred there this week. The first is some serious ‘communal violence’ in the Kishtwar District of the Jammu Division of Indian J&K. The term ‘communal violence’ is a subcontinental euphemism for Hindu-Muslim troubles. In Kishtwar, this has taken the form of Muslims chanting anti-Indian slogans, to which some Hindus, who invariably are pro-Indian, have taken violent objection. Another version claims that some Muslims confronted a provocative Hindu who was seeking to disrupt their Eid celebrations, after which things quickly got of out hand. Following two deaths, a curfew was imposed on the so-called ‘Land of Sapphire and Saffron’—and now of suffering. Some Indian and J&K politicians were prevented from entering this area, much to their respective chagrin. Since then, curfews have been imposed on seven of Jammu’s ten districts. Coming around the time of Eid, the situation in Jammu Division suggests that there is significant volatility there between pro-Indian Hindus and anti-Indian Muslims in communities where neither of these populations respectively numerically dominates—unlike the Kashmir Valley where Muslims almost completely dominate numerically.

The second event in J&K is some serious fighting across the Line of Control (LoC) by Indian and Pakistani forces using small arms, light machine guns and mortars, but not yet, it seems, heavy artillery. India has claimed that special Pakistani forces from a ‘Border Action Team’ killed five Indian soldiers on 6 August. Concurrently, Pakistan has claimed that Indian forces have been engaging in unprovoked firing across the LOC, with one soldier killed and a number of soldiers and civilians wounded or targetted. Ceasefire violations have increased in the last few years. These latest violations and incidents, plus the recent downturn in India-Pakistan relations, have jeopardised the ceasefire that came into place on the LOC in 2003. Indeed, they might suggest that the ceasefire is all but dead.

However, some people in both nations still seemingly are in favour of trying to improve relations. One such person is India’s new Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh, who recently suggested when she was appointed that she would like to see India-Pakistan relations improve. Possibly fortuitously, she knows her counterpart in Islamabad, Jaleel Jilani, as their tenures overlapped in Canberra briefly in 2007. Similarly, Jilani would like to see a ‘sustained and meaningful engagement with India that would produce mutually beneficial results’. In the same vein, Pakistan’s new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, expressed ‘sadness’ over the ‘loss of precious human lives’ in the LOC incidents and stated that it was ‘incumbent upon the leadership of both sides … to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence’. Concurrently, to ease the situation, the two generals who function as the Director General of Military Operations for India and Pakistan consulted via the ‘hotline’ on 8 August, although such meetings apparently are not unusual, nor about ‘hot’ matters. Arguably, the initially milder response to the 6 August incident by India’s Defence Minister, A.K. Antony, suggested that he didn’t want to do anything that might worsen India-Pakistan relations. However, when Antony became better informed—plus after he was severely chastised in the Indian Parliament by his political opponents—he took a much harder line against Pakistan.

It is impossible to determine exactly who did what, when and why. This reflects the competitive nature of India-Pakistan relations in which neither nation will ‘give an inch’ to the other militarily, diplomatically or politically. All one can do is speculate as to why these incidents are occurring. Seemingly, they are to do with internal politics. On the Pakistan side, the Pakistan Army may be trying to assert itself with the newly elected (civilian) government. Senior generals might be attempting to show Sharif and his political colleagues that the military can operate pro-actively and that it will not allow itself to be—and indeed is not—answerable to civilian politicians. There also may be some unease in Pakistan about post-ISAF Afghanistan in which India and Pakistan look likely to compete for influence in a nation free which will be free from United States’ involvement and moderation. The LOC ‘events’ may be some early shoring up of positions by the Pakistan side. Equally, it could just be part of ongoing LOC activities in which each nation’s military forces probe for weaknesses on the other side.

As for India’s responses to these incidents seemingly instigated by Pakistan, it is all about politics. An election is looming and strong responses to Pakistani provocations show that political parties are tough on Pakistan. Indian politicians perceive that this hardline and high profile approach is electorally popular. Certainly, they can’t appear to be weak or vacillating during an election campaign. Most likely, we will see more of such stridency until the election is completed next May. Equally, some Indians are genuinely disenchanted with Pakistani attempts, actual or planned, to cause mayhem in India. They want India to respond in kind to Pakistan’s attacks either across the LOC or as occurred in Mumbai in 2008, the so-called ‘26/11’. To this extent, Indian forces will likely respond across the LOC at a time and place of their choosing. Equally, India needs to be careful that it doesn’t disempower Pakistan’s civilian leaders with whom Indians might be able to do business.

The ‘bottom line’ is that such incidents reflect the ever parlous state of India-Pakistan relations. The big losers are the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It is impossible for me to understand what they have gone through since 1947—and still sometimes endure: communalism; wars; heavy militarisation; regular and sometimes heavy cross-LOC firings; excessive monitoring by intelligence agencies and secret services; disruptive internal protests; accusations that they are unpatriotic; trade and transport dislocations; insurgencies; poor-to-freezing India-Pakistan relations; political manipulation; little or no direct consultations about their international situations and desires; etc. Perhaps someone there might be able to tell me why these events are happening and how they impact on them?

Christopher Snedden
12 August 2013