Friday, November 9, 2001

Indo-US Relations and Afghan Policy

The Art of Foreign Policy lies in making other countries (in the current case the USA) believe that certain policies and actions that are in our (India’s) interest are also in its own (USA’s) interest (and vice-a’-versa). This involves two basic steps: Understanding and appreciating (yes!) the underlying, sometimes unprofessed & hidden, interests of the USA and secondly formulating our policy in such a way that it has a visible overlap with the USA’s own interests. Please note that this does not preclude India (or the USA) from pursuing any other interests and policies that do not have such a real or apparent overlap. I am assuming that we know what our own interests are, even though there have been times in the past when we seemed to act as if the interests of humanity in general had the same priority as that of Indians.
Many commentators have rightly noted that the events of September 11 have had a traumatic impact on the American public and that it will change the way the American people and their government view the rest of the World and America’s role in it. To draw useful conclusions for Indian foreign policy one must first appreciate the shocking lack of knowledge and interest that the American Public and even the US congress had in the rest of the World till September 10th. Any Indian living in the USA would have told you that even on US national television news (as against State or local TV) international news coverage is completely insular and focussed extremely narrowly on USA’s parochial interests or actions abroad. As a result general knowledge about other countries even among US Congress-persons, academics and intellectuals has steadily declined since the end of the cold war.
September 11 has changed all this and there will be a much greater interest in learning about Islam, Islamic countries and countries with minority Muslim populations. This will inevitably include an interest in and openness to learning about Islamic fundamentalist groups and Madrasas teaching hatred against non-Muslims. India is well positioned to be the source of information, knowledge and expertise on Islam in South Asia. India has been asserting for several decades that the Pakistan government since the time of Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq has fostered an Islam-based hatred of India in its schools and religious institutions; That Kashmir is just a symptom of the desire for revenge against “Hindu” India; That the objective of the Pakistan government has been to bleed if not dismember India by not just supporting but starting terrorist insurgencies throughout India. The facts as they have emerged since September 11, support most of the statements made by India. As the facts (once fully known) speak so loudly for themselves an over-emphasis on the anti-India bent of this phenomenon is likely to be counter-productive.
One important focus of our foreign policy in the next 5 years must therefore be to exploit the opportunity provided by the renewal of US interest in our part of the world. We must supply information to and help Americans understand the source and nature of Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan and other countries of S. Asia and also contrast this with Indian philosophy & religious culture, the determinedly non-violent religions (Buddhism & Jainism) that it has spawned and the syncretic Indo-Islamic culture of India. One concrete new initiative that should be launched immediately is to initiate joint study and/or research programs between Indian and US universities & research institutes on any and all topics of interest to the USA in the backdrop of its “War against Terrorism”.
The operational objective and effectiveness of the post-sept. 11 anti-terrorist strategy of the USA in Afghanistan is now becoming clearer. With every passing day it looks increasingly like India’s traditional approach to economic policy-making and implementation: In other words it is based on very little data or solid information (intelligence), given systematic downgrading of internal expertise (on Islamic fundamentalism, Afghanistan) it is unable to plan ahead and makes ad hoc changes usually in response to representations & petitions by private parties and interest groups (Pakistan & other frontline States), it has multiple and often conflicting objectives (over throw the Taliban, get the top leadership of Al Qaida, please Musharaf) because all manner of interest groups have to be satisfied before it can be approved (State & defence departments, Arab dictatorships) and it fails to achieve most of its objectives as it is based on the assumption of a selfless and honest bureaucracy ( Pakistan Army, govt. institutions & ISI loyalty to US set goals).
Because of all these reasons the US campaign in Afghanistan has been far from successful, with the two primary objectives of elimination of the Al Qaida terrorist network and the elimination of the terrorist Taliban regime unfulfilled and slow progress in cobbling together a “broad-based multi-ethinic” government. Fulfilment of both these objectives is in the interest of India. Can we then formulate a more concrete action plan that more effectively serves the interest of the USA than the current floundering campaign that has vacillated between over-dependence on a less than fully trust worthy Pakistan establishment and excessive belief in its own technological prowess and between the “moderate Taliban option” and the anti-Taliban Northern alliance.
The most feasible and achievable objective in Afghanistan appears to me to be the setting up of a government in North and West Afghanistan consisting of the groups that are a part of the Northern Alliance. This is best done in the context of UN blessed Afghan Federation conceptually consisting of two sub-units, Northern and Southern Afghanistan. The latter would consist of the Pushtoon inhabited areas of South and East Afghanistan and contain about 40% of the Afghan population. The former would contain the areas inhabited by all other ethnic groups, which constitute about 60% of the Afghan population. At least in the medium term, each of the two constituent units would have complete internal autonomy, which for the time being would include their armed police/army. The Federal government could be headed by the former King and would eventually be responsible for external relations, external defence and currency. This division of powers would be reconsidered once complete peace is restored and stable & effective (non-terrorist) governments are functioning in both sub-units.
Once the broad outline of this interim solution is accepted, the “anti-terror coalition” must accelerate the defeat of the Taliban by the Northern alliance in all areas constituting “Northern Afghanistan.” This must be followed by aid, assistance and training in setting up an efficient administrative structure and social security net for the oppressed & starving Afghans in North Afghanistan. Such aid will also ensure that the coalition has a fair chance of winning the campaign for “hearts and minds” of Muslims all over the world. The fourth step would be to help this government track and eliminate the Taliban, Al Qaida terrorists and Pakistani ISI agents still living or operating within the territory of “Northern Afghanistan,” and to block oil & arms supply routes from Pakistan to Taliban controlled Southern Afghanistan that pass through (or close to) Northern Afghanistan. The formation of a functioning govt in Northern Afghanistan will ensure that both US and Indian objectives (as well as those of Russia, Iran, Uzbekistan & Tajikstan) are met speedily in at least 60% of Afghanistan. With secure supply lines to Iran and Central Asia, Northern Afghanistan will not be dependent on Pakistan and any contradictions arising from the USA’s geographical dependence on Pakistan can be confined to Southern Afghanistan.
By this time a Federal Government structure should be defined and agreed upon. A Federal govt can then be set up in Kabul under the aegis of the former King as soon as the Northern Afghan govt is securely in place. The US war effort can then be refocused on tracking and eliminating the Al Qaeda leadership in “Southern Afghanistan.” The first task of this federal government would be to facilitate the setting up of a non-Taliban government in Southern Afghanistan. The Pakistan government will inevitably play a role in the search for a non-terrorist government in Southern Afghanistan given that Pushtoons constitute 10% of its population. India may as well play a magnanimous role in the coalition by accepting and perhaps even proposing such a role for Pakistan and thus completely align Indian and US policy in Afghanistan. Once such a govt. is formed, the Coalition against terror can help it set up an effective administration and help it track down the terrorists and their Taliban supporters. The next step would be to set up a democratic decision making structure at the Federal level that gives due weight in decision making to the population of the two Afghan sub-units.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has reportedly adopted the words of Prime Minister Vajpayee that the US and India are “Natural allies.” He also stated that Pakistan is also an “ally” and US relations with the two countries are not a zero sum game. Given the greater identity of views between the new leadership of the Pentagon and India than has ever occurred in the past (when the Pentagon often lobbied for Pakistan), we should take Secretary Powell at his word. Senator Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign relations committee reportedly admitted that the greatest worry of the US govt. is that Pakistani nuclear weapons may fall into terrorist hands if Gen Musharraf is overthrown by Pakistani fundamentalists. I would suggest that India propose the setting up of a joint Indo-US planning group to deal with such an eventuality. This will help in aligning US and Indian interests in Pakistan and reassure India that Pakistan will not again pull the wool over US eyes by extracting major concessions while continuing to breed hate filled fundamentalists & Jehadis. We must on our part recognise that at the current time peaceful rhetoric coupled with hard-headed anti-terrorist action in Kashmir serves India’s interests much better than the opposite. This will reassure the US that we do not intend to do anything to make their task more difficult.

No comments: