US’ Af-Pak review will adversely impact India
Instead of joining heads to devise a bipartisan national security strategy to cope with the recently concluded US review on Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak), the Congress and the BJP are busy scoring brownie points against one another with the eye on the coming General Elections. The external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee wants the people to believe that Pakistan will bring the perpetrators of 26/11 attacks to justice and its army will dismantle terrorists infrastructure aimed at India. The BJP, on the other hand, talks of a ‘muscular foreign policy’, if it comes to power. The national security record of both national parties has been overstated; with the BJP doing a wee better than the Congress. What is worrying is that by the time the new dispensation settles in New Delhi, the US’ Af-Pak strategy would start impacting adversely on India with little room for manoeuvre.
The Af-Pak strategy has four fundamental aspects. One, it is Pentagon driven. The presence of the Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani in Washington for the review indicates that it is uppermost about safety of Pakistani nuclear weapons and how to beat al Qaeda. Two, the US has decided to focus on al Qaeda. It is unlikely to interfere in the deals between the Pakistan Army and Taliban. This is evident from the US President Barack Obama’s maiden address to the US Congress, where he said,
“With our friends and allies we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism.” Three, the US has concluded that to decisively destroy al Qaeda, the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan ought to be treated as a single battlefield. This means more US boots on the ground in Pakistan’s tribal areas. And lastly, to deprive the Pakistan Army of its favourite alibi, the US will do its utmost to restrict India’s role in Afghanistan as well as ensure peace on Pakistan’s eastern front.
Let’s take Pakistan nukes first. As the Pakistan Army will not permit the US to snoop into its nuclear inventory, and considering that Pakistan’s National Command Authority is a farce as its civilian members including the president and the prime minister are outside the nuclear knowhow loop, the safety of nukes is not institutionalised. This is US’ biggest worry. Controlled by a few army officers, the dangers of nukes’ proliferation, its falling into terrorist hands and its accidental or unauthorised use are real. The US is expected to take twin measures to make Pakistan’s nukes safe: increase its dole for nukes safety, and offer Permissive Action Links (PAL) to Kayani. Devised during the Cold War, PALs are the ultimate guarantee against unauthorised use of operational nukes, and interestingly under the US law cannot be given to Pakistan, a non NPT state. Kayani, however, will be delighted to get them as he would use them for better control over his tactical nukes should they ever be activated against India.
The US decision to target al Qaeda alone is good news for Kayani. US defence secretary, Robert Gates who provides Pentagon continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations had concluded by end 2008, months after the British had said the same that some reconciliation with the Taliban would be necessary for a political solution for Afghanistan. Kayani will be pleased to do his new job which is in three parts: help the US fight al Qaeda; make peace with the Taliban who are home-grown Pushtuns under a quid pro quo, in return for allowing them governance in Pakistan’s tribal areas to seek a partnership of sorts with them in running Afghanistan; and importantly to continue support to Punjabi Lashkar-e- Taiyyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad cadres for irregular war in Jammu and Kashmir and on homeland India. Thus, when Richard Holbrooke, who was recently in New Delhi, spoke about Taliban being a common threat to the US, Pakistan and India, he should not be taken too seriously. Under the new Af-Pak policy, India neither has a role in Afghanistan nor will it be allowed to threaten Pakistan for its continued machinations as it would distract Kayani from fighting al Qaeda. Worse, US aid to Pakistan has been increased manifold; few doubt that most of this will be used to build military capabilities against India.
This is not all. Kayani is his mentor’s creation and a past-master at double-game. There are reports that the US has not been able to persuade him to embrace serious counter-insurgency training for his army. The reason is obvious. An army trained in fighting a regular and irregular war simultaneously cannot be expected to do a somersault. All that Kayani has agreed to is counter-insurgency training for his paramilitary forces, the frontier corps. For this reason, as well as for the ISI’s dubious assistance to the CIA, Washington has decided to put more US boots on Pakistani soil. The wily Kayani will press for compensation for this as well. Armed with nuclear weapons, he has correctly assessed that the US needs him more than the other way round. Therefore, the US murmurs of India settling the Kashmir issue with Pakistan will grow shriller.