I have two pieces up at Asia Times concerning China’s role in the post-bin Laden paradigm for South Asia.
Most everybody, especially Pakistan and China, would be happy with a Taliban-led or Taliban-heavy regime in Afghanistan and a little peace and quiet in the region, even if it comes with Islamist fundamentalist thuggery.
One point that I don’t think is realized in the United States is that there are only a handful of constituencies interested in the continuation of the US-led counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan.
One of them is the array of non-Pashtuns, political progressives, and opportunists who have thrown in their lot with the government in Kabul.
The other is India.
If, as expected, the US turns to Pakistan to midwife a face-saving compromise with the Taliban in order to draw down US forces prior to the 2012 elections, India will have to write off some geopolitical losses.
That’s why the first article is titled India left standing in Afghan musical chairs.
An alternate title could be “That buzzing sound you hear is the Taliban meatgrinder revving up to shred Indian interests in Afghanistan”.
I put little hope in the US strategy that says we’ll “win in Afghanistan” if the Pakistan nation overcomes its paranoia about India, converts its military posture to anti-extremism, shifts its forces from the Indian to the Afghan border, and we finally get to crush the Taliban between the twin anvils of NATO troops in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military in NWFP/FATA.
If India had been honestly committed to that strategy, they should have stepped up to acknowledge and protect Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. Perhaps even demanded an end to the overwhelmingly militarized counterinsurgency campaign as detrimental to the peace and security of the region.
Instead, New Delhi tried to play the Great Game, adopted the war on terror framing for its relations with Pakistan, and conjured up an alliance with the Karzai administration that seemed design to forestall the influence or triumph of pro-Pakistan Taliban forces in the government.
Delhi’s dithering and risible efforts to come up with a cultural and geostrategic rationale other than Pakistan-bashing for its ties with an overwhelming Muslim nation on the other side of Pakistan invite the whip of my scorn.
The symbol of the effort: that monument to India’s tutelage of Afghan democracy, the unfinished parliament building in Kabul. You can read about it in the article.
And the fact that it was done in the name of “soft power”—itself an acknowledgment that there existed no compelling strategic rationale for the alliance, nor the will and capability to pursue it, in other words, no “hard power”—does not, in my eyes, forgive India.
The resulting hot counterinsurgency war pushed the Taliban pus deep into the wounds of Pakistan. India has watched and benefited as the war on terror has turned Pakistan into something that’s pretty close to a basket case.
As for the response post-Abbottabad?
Secretary of State Clinton turns up in Islamabad with a list of more “targets” she wants Pakistan to go after; and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh goes to Kabul to advocate for the continuation of “anti-terror” operations.
No surprise that, post-Abbottabad, Pakistan is ready to throw itself into the arms of the Chinese.
My second article, China drops the Gwadar hot potato, concerns the always amusing situation of the port of Gwadar, a white elephant in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
I read somewhere that no legitimate cargo vessel has called at Gwadar in the last three years, unsurprising because a) there are no local markets around the port and b) there are no useful transportation links to anywhere else.
Pakistan’s secretary of defense announced that he wanted China to construct a naval base at Gwadar, eliciting a flutter of “string of pearls” vapors throughout the realm of geostrategic pundits.
The Chinese immediately issued a denial, for reasons I outline in the article and center on the way an instantaneous veiled threat by the US and India to use the Baluchistan independence movement often seems to appear whenever there appears to be an attempt by Pakistan and China to to advance their shared interests at the expense of…
…what’s that, Binky?
The US Assistant of State for South Asia made a statement about Balochistan? Right after the Gwadar flap?
Let’s see what he had to say.
WASHINGTON: The separatist movement in Pakistan’s Balochistan province is fuelled by the country’s domestic policies and not India, a top US official said today.
“I don’t think that the existence of a terrorist or a separatist movement in Balochistan is fuelled by Indian financing or anything like that,” US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake said.
“I think it’s fuelled by domestic issues that are internal to Pakistan,” Blake said in his interaction with Defense Writers Group here.
Moving into full Fisk mode, I can make the following points:
1) Everybody agrees that the Balochi independence movement is “fuelled” by Baloch resentment at the brutal Pakistani occupation. What Blake is doing is weaseling on the issue of whether Indian intelligence services are, to continue with the combustion metaphor, fanning the flames by providing assistance to the Balochi insurgents.
2) Is Blake making the assertion that he knows what India is doing in Balochistan? Of course not. Just the opposite. He’s trying to make the case that it doesn’t matter. So India is off the hook, even if RAW does get caught with its hand in the Balochi cookie jar.
3) What Blake is doing is edging closer to officially legitimizing the Baloch struggle as an indigenous phenomenon, whether or not it gets Indian assistance.
4) Call it another kick in the ass for Pakistan, and for China—whose personnel have already suffered multiple fatal attacks by Baloch insurgents while doing their economic and strategic penetration thing in the province–if it tries to do something in Gwadar.
It is, of course, rather ironic that we are providing at the very least rhetorical aid and comfort for aggrieved Sunni insurgents in Balochistan at the same time we are demanding Pakistan root out disgruntled Sunni insurgents in western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan.
Just another reason why our South Asia policy utterly sucks.