Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Conversation With Two South Asia Scholars

Over the last couple of days, I've had the pleasure of exchanging emails with two Political Science scholars of South Asia. Vipin Narang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Government at Harvard University, and a research fellow at the Belfer Center at Harvard University. Next year, he will be joining the faculty at the Department of Political Science at M.I.T. His area of focus is nuclear security in South Asia.

Paul Staniland is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Science at M.I.T, and a fellow at the Program on Order, Conflict and Violence at the MacMillan Center at Yale University. Next year, he will be joining the faculty at the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. His area of focus is militant organizations and their cohesion.

The three of us talked about South Asia broadly, the Indian offer of talks, Kashmir, terrorism, water, Afghanistan and where it's going, strategic depth, and China. Without further ado...

Ahsan: Hi guys,

First of all, my sincere thanks in taking the time out to do this. I'm sure our readers appreciate it as much as I do.

Let's get right into it. We've seen some pretty interesting developments in South Asia over the last week or so. The most important of these seems to be an Indian offer of talks with Pakistan, breaking the deadlock in relations since the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

What I don't really get is that there is nothing of substance that has changed on the ground between India and Pakistan since then. India still claims that Pakistan has done nothing to actually dismantle the networks of anti-Indian militants on its soil, which has always been its primary concern. On the Pakistani side, meanwhile, we have General Kayani once again pronouncing Pakistan's security concerns in decidedly India-centric terms, and politicians regularly blaming India for violence in Balochistan.

So where did this come from? What is pushing the two sides to talk? Usually diplomatic exchanges are a result, not just a cause, of relations warming. But I see no evidence of any thaw whatsoever. Is it a third party (the U.S.) or a third issue (Afghanistan)? What gives?

Vipin: Dear Ahsan, thanks for having us! Just to get right into it, it is important to note what India's offer is precisely. It is *not* an offer to resume the composite dialogue, which was suspended after the Mumbai attacks, and which covered a broad range of issues. Instead, it is an offer for a Foreign Secretary level meeting (whether several or a one-off seems to need to still be worked out) between India's Nirupama Rao and Pakistan's Salman Bashir to discuss what appears to be a limited agenda (India would likely want Pakistan's support for terrorism to be on the agenda, but without discussion of Kashmir, Pakistan might not be willing).

This particular move by India seems to be primarily motivated by developments in Afghanistan, according to both Indian reports and statements by Richard Holbrooke. In particular, India has been growingly alarmed at the prospect of a US and Pakistani Taliban appeasement--or the prospect of negotiating with, rather than defeating, the Taliban--particularly after the London conference, which seems to have triggered a significant change in India's posture vis-vis Afghanistan and Pakistan. In conjunction with SM Krishna's recent statement that India is potentially open to the idea of negotiating with parts of the Taliban if certain preconditions are met, the offer of a Foreign Secretary level meeting on the subject may reflect the reality that if India is to have any influence over Afghanistan's future trajectory and a regional security architecture where the Taliban may yet play a role, it cannot be frozen out of the dialogue and cannot ignore Islamabad, which has a tremendous amount of power in Afghanistan, and with the Taliban in particular. The scope and dates of the talks are yet to be determined, and although this is a positive step for two states that have an interest in Afghanistan's stability, their starkly different interests and views about what constitutes stability in Afghanistan combined with the probable lack of a full-ranged composite dialogue means that one should be very cautiously optimistic, if at all.

Paul: I think Vipin is right to highlight the dynamics in Afghanistan as a driving force in moving Indian policy. At least based on press reports and op-eds, there is a fear among the Indian strategic elite of being frozen out of Afghanistan by a deal cut between the US/NATO and Pakistan over how to divvy up favor and control within Afghanistan. There is concern of a return to the dynamics of the 1990s. Krishna's flexibility on the issue of talking with the Taliban is a major change from the previous line, which was viscerally skeptical of any such moves. I'm not wildly optimistic about the outcome but I don't think India has gotten much out of its current stance so it represents a reasonable strategic adjustment. I find it impossible to imagine a serious deal over either Afghanistan or Kashmir, but keeping tensions low and hopefully reducing the likelihood of further attacks is extremely valuable on its own terms.

Something else that I think we need to keep in mind is the Indian domestic political context. This UPA government is much stronger domestically since the 2009 general election, and no longer has to worry about knife-edge coalitions and votes of confidence. Manmohan Singh has consistently favored engagement with Pakistan and is in a better position to do so, especially since I imagine this initiative has the support of Sonia Gandhi. BJP attempts to hurt Congress on the terrorism issue failed both in state elections and then the general, so there is less domestic vulnerability. The BJP is dealing with its own organizational problems and so the UPA can move forward: if talks have some success it can take credit; if they fail, it will be able to say "look, we tried but the Pakistanis are being unreasonable" without fearing a coordinated and electorally-salient BJP onslaught unless there is another 26/11. Pointing to Vajpayee's past efforts gives the Congress cover for diplomatic engagement. And of course, assuming no further 26/11s, the vast majority of Indian politicians care *far* more about local battles for power and patronage than they do about grand strategy.

If there is another major attack, though, all bets are off and we enter a dangerous realm. An escalation of militant rhetoric or violence in J&K will also be bad for further dialogue. The recent meeting and statements by the United Jihad Council, Hamid Gul, and crew in Muzaffarabad will certainly raise hackles in Delhi, especially but certainly not exclusively among Indian hawks. Conversely, the Indian response to the mass protests of the last 2 years has been deeply unsatisfactory from the perspective of Pakistan. The politics of Indian-administered J&K are a mess right now, and Kashmir always has the power to surprise.

Vipin: Paul's point about domestic politics is spot-on. This renewed effort on the Indian side comes on the heels of Shiv Shankar Menon's appointment as the new National Security Advisor, giving Manmohan Singh a lot of diplomatic talent within the PMO that, in my view, is a major consolidation of Indian diplomacy into the PMO away from MEA. Given that Menon was Rao's predecessor, this whole initiative could be run from the PMO but with enough plausible deniability and firewalls if things don't go well.

Ahsan: "United Jihad Council" sounds like such a sanitized institution -- like the Rotary Club or something.

Let's turn the original question on its head then. Both of you seem to agree that diplomacy between India and Pakistan is relatively cost-free, and holds potential benefits for India. That's fair enough.

But what could Pakistan possibly gain from talks that, let's face it, aren't actually going to accomplish anything? The last time Pakistan wrought a significant concession from India on the negotiating table that actually stuck was...never. Moreover, there is the inherent risk of a military-civilian split on the issue -- the only time there was progress on a detente between India and Pakistan was under Musharraf, when he didn't have to worry about the military outflanking him. Any time civilians in Pakistan try to change the tenor of relations with India, they have their knees cut off by the military.

I guess my point would be that there is no sound strategic reason to talk to India at present, and plenty of risk, both domestically and internationally. Even the leverage that, as both of you intimate, Pakistan has at present -- that of being a prime player in Afghanistan's transition -- is slight: the U.S. doesn't trust Pakistan, India doesn't trust Pakistan, and Karzai sure as hell doesn't trust Pakistan, so Pakistan's role in the Afghanistan transition will be necessarily more limited than it was in the 1990s. In addition, India has expended a great amount of resources in trying to assure that we don't have a repeat of the 1990s, in that it has tried to embed itself in Afghanistan in ways that it hadn't previously, and have a serious presence there.

Assuming, then, that Pakistan's leverage with India vis-a-vis Afghanistan is limited, what can they possibly get out of talking? In terms of substance?

Is it simply the case that they don't want to look bad refusing an offer to have a chat, after having begged to talk for so long?

Paul: Well I think I'd start by questioning the assumption that Pakistan has only "slight" leverage in Afghanistan relative to India. India has put resources into Afghanistan, no doubt, but it lacks reliable(as opposed to sporadic and opportunistic) armed patrons, an indigenous co-ethnic population, or a serious foreign intelligence wing devoted to this kind of thing. IK Gujral killed off quite a bit of RAW's overseas operations capability in the late 1990s and I haven't seen much evidence that it has been re-built; RAW is a comparatively quite small organization with a checkered history at this kind of thing (1980s Sri Lanka for instance).

Whereas Pakistan has a huge intelligence apparatus that has operated extensively in-country, a long shared border, and historical ties to a variety of armed/political actors among the ethnic plurality group. So Pakistan has vastly more power in Afghanistan than India and my sense is that the Indians certainly see it that way. I think that's reflected in the renewed Indian offer against the backdrop of the London conference on Afghanistan. No one is lying awake at night worried about Delhi veto-ing an Afghanistan settlement, because no one thinks India can or will. But ask yourself the same question about Pakistan and you get a very different answer.

What can Pakistan get out of talking? As we've both said, probably not a ton. With the crucial caveat that I know the Indian perspective on all of this far better than the Pakistani perspective, there do seem to be some possible reasons. First, it would be pretty hard to explain if Pakistan turns down a dialogue after demanding its return. It would really sink Pakistani credibility with a lot of people in India and I suspect the US. Being willing to talk at least reduces the vulnerability to accusation and diplomatic pressure if another possible crisis erupts. The strongest (and most negative) signal to everyone else comes from Pakistani unwillingness to reciprocate. Whether you like it or not, Delhi views Islamabad with the deepest suspicion and a refusal to accept dialogue will be seen as stone-walling, obfuscation, and foot-dragging.

Second, while your point about the military is well taken, there is also the danger of the military growing stronger because of a siege environment in the face of a threatening, unresponsive India. It may be a damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don't scenario. Now isn't a particularly good time, but I'm not sure when a particularly good time will present itself. If there is a supportive international environment there may be more domestic room to maneuver, especially given the favorable turn in Afghan policy for Pakistan and if the Indian offer is portrayed as a Pakistani victory ("The Indians tried to isolate us, but we've forced them to talk").

Finally, Pakistani policy traditionally likes to internationalize Kashmir. If a dialogue occurs, you can bet Pakistan will at least raise the Kashmir issue and make sure that everyone knows about it. For better or worse, it allows Pakistan to keep the dispute in the public eye.

Now, will a comprehensive water, Kashmir, and Afghanistan deal realistically be struck? It's wildly unlikely. But I don't see what Pakistan loses from being willing to talk: it gets some credit and credibility, might be able to show civilian leadership with international support, and can keep the Kashmir issue alive, all against the background of having what I think is considerable leverage in Afghanistan. And who knows, there is a chance you could get some movement on something lower-level, whether it's cross-LOC trade or confidence-building in Afghanistan or further talks on water.

Vipin: I have little to add to Paul's response--I think it is largely on the mark. India does not have the assets or capability in Afghanistan to challenge Pakistan's influence. India's infrastructure projects might have generated a lot of goodwill with Afghans, but that goodwill may not be very effective when met by the business end of a Kalashnikov. Importantly, I think this perception of India's strategic disadvantage in Afghanistan is largely held by India's strategic elites. As a result, the Indian gesture and SM Krishna's revision of Indian posture on potentially negotiating with the Taliban actually smacks of desperation at this point. Indeed, Pakistan has a lot of incentive to at least entertain the possibility of negotiating with an India that approached *it* and which is desperate to not be frozen out of the unfolding Afghanistan-Pakistan security architecture. As Paul noted, Pakistan can shoot the moon and test just how desperate India is and attempt to link a whole host of issues to India's interests and role in Afghanistan. In fact, given the way the offer as unfolded, I would fully expect Pakistan to attempt to make this effort as close to the composite dialogue as possible and, if and (likely) when India refuses, it can accuse India of being unwilling to negotiate in good faith, thereby deflecting some of the international flak Pakistan gets for half-hearted measures to stem cross-border terrorism. So there may actually be much to be gained by Pakistan strategically by being initially receptive to India's gesture. Unfortunately, that gain might come by ultimately balking at the talks, so I'm pessimistic that much substantive progress will be made.

Ahsan: Let's talk about what "substantive progress" would actually look like, even if we're highly unlikely to reach it. My own view on this is that Kashmir (for Pakistan) and terrorism (for India) are no longer the stickiest issues between the two states. I say this because, as Steve Coll and others have documented, Pakistan and India weren't actually that far off from a permanent settlement on Kashmir -- making the Line of Control a "permanent but irrelevant" border, free exchange of people and goods, joint security management, and so on. Only Musharraf's domestic troubles in 2007 and 2008 prevented a deal. Similar almost-agreements were reached by the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Vajpayee, according to Owen Bennet Jones' book, before Kargil laid waste to those opportunities. I actually think a deal on Kashmir could be struck with two years of talks, which is a nanosecond in international diplomacy terms.

Similarly, these may be famous last words, but the type and form of support given by Pakistan to anti-Indian militant networks in the 1980s and 1990s is not forthcoming today. The trajectory of the relationship is away from cooperation and toward confrontation -- even if the actual measures taken are unsatisfactory to India, the long term trend is unmistakable.

My view is that the stickiest issue is now water. Am I wrong?

Vipin: This is not my area of expertise, so with that caveat: I actually still think Kashmir (for Pakistan) and cross-border terrorism (for India) are still the stickiest issues in practice, not because we don’t know what the broad contours of the deals might look like, but primarily because there are too many domestic stakeholders in both countries that have incentives to violently undermine a deal on Kashmir, and enough motivated armed actors that make it extremely difficult for Pakistan to act against erstwhile and present-day organizations that may still be viewed by some powerful parts of the Army and ISI as strategic assets of the state against India (e.g. LeT, JeM, LeJ etc). Even if the level of support for the anti-Indian militant networks isn’t as forthcoming as in previous decades, these organizations are still operating with some level of complicity from the Pakistani state (i.e. the state is either unwilling or unable to put them completely out of business).

Indeed, the reasons you cite for the breakdown of the so-called ‘backchannel negotiations’ and their very nature (highly secretive, no paper trail, etc) suggest that domestic opposition in both countries to a deal that both sides rationally recognize as the optimal solution to Kashmir is still strong enough to derail a permanent solution. On Kashmir for example, converting the LoC to an international border is clearly the sensible solution, but it would undermine Pakistan’s rationale for supporting Kashmiri Muslims for the past 60 years, and convincing the (sometimes very violent) organizations that have been battling the Indian state in Jammu and Kashmir that they should suddenly lay down their arms because their cause is no longer worthy may prove difficult and potentially extremely destabilizing for Pakistan. Furthermore, the Kashmir dispute is always a potential diversionary safety valve for an embattled Pakistani government, one whose resolution could redirect the ire of these militant groups back at the state itself. So it is not that the solution to Kashmir and cross-border terrorism is unknown, it is that it is­for domestic political reasons in both countries, but probably primarily in Pakistan­impossible to enforce without risking serious destabilization and internal violence. And, oh yeah, water rights/diversion is also a sticky issue….

It is a very good question, however, what “substantive progress” in talks would mean in practice. To my mind, the usual baby steps of re-establishing cross border flow of goods and people, normalizing relations, military-military contacts are substantive progress, if only because if there is a cross-border terrorist attack or an uptick in violence in Jammu and Kashmir, the risk of a major militarized crisis will be lower. But substantive progress on the big two, Kashmir and cross-border terrorism, will obviously be hard to achieve so long as there are enough spoilers­some deliberately cultivated by the state, at least in the past­in both countries that are willing to risk an extreme amount of violence to undermine the solutions that both sides have come so close to recently endorsing.

Ahsan: Strongly disagree with your first two paragraphs there, Vipin. Let me explain why.

On the dynamics of domestic politics and a prospective settlement on Kashmir, there's a bunch of issues you've raised, so let's deal with them one by one.

First, the claim is that because the back-channel talks were conducted in secret, we have evidence that there is strong domestic opposition -- domestic opposition with veto power, that is -- in both countries to any deal. I don't buy the causal logic there. I'm not an expert on Indian politics, so let me just talk about the Pakistani side.

My view is that Pakistan's body politic is ready for a deal on Kashmir. The military, if it is allowed to think that it is running the show, has shown to be behind it (Musharraf's time proved this). The two biggest political parties -- the only ones with a snowball's chance in hell of being the dominant partner in any ruling coalition -- are the PPP and the PML(N), and both would be open to a deal. The PPP is the most pro-India mainstream party in Pakistan, and the PML(N) might be right of center and increasingly nationalist, but it doesn't have a problem with India. There are other parties, such as the ANP (major Pashtun nationalist party in the NWFP) and the MQM (whose leader once called partition the "biggest mistake in history") who would rally behind a deal too. Really, across the spectrum, I think if a relatively fair deal is to be found, you'd find support. Civil society would be behind it. The new nationalist media, and the urban middle classes, might be a problem, but that's what Aman ki Asha is for, right? In all seriousness, I don't think selling a deal on Kashmir to a broad spectrum of Pakistani political society would be that difficult. It has to be done right, with a degree of adroitness, but it's not impossible -- not by any stretch.

The second point is the raison d'etre issue: that because Pakistan's foreign policy vis-a-vis India has been defined almost solely in terms of getting something more than the conversion of the LoC into the border, that it won't accept the conversion as a satisfactory outcome. I think this is wrong, for reasons I outlined above (and the NATO/collapse of the Soviet Union case shows that sometimes the raison d'etre logic is overblown). However, this still leaves the very sticky point of the actual organizations who have been instruments of state policy. How will they respond?

Well, as you mention, probably not too well, one would imagine. If there is a deal to be made between India and Pakistan, then yes, it goes without saying that these organizations would do all they can to bury it. But that doesn't mean that they exercise veto power over state policy. They can make it very difficult, to be sure, but they don't control the state. The war against the TTP and their local affiliates over the last few years is evidence for that.

The third issue you claim is that "embattled" Pakistani governments can make Kashmir an issue to ward off domestic opposition. Two problems with this. One, I don't know the last embattled government in Pakistan -- a redundant term if I ever heard one -- to have made Kashmir or India an issue in an effort to hang on; Zulfi Bhutto might be the last one, to be honest, and even then I'm not sure. The bogeymen raised by embattled governments in Pakistan tend to be within the state, not without. Two, it wouldn't work.

In sum, I would argue that in the process of making a deal -- were one to be made -- you would see the big players on one side of the equation and the militant organizations on the other. Pretty similar to the FATA/NWFP experience in the last three years, if you want to think about it that way. The question then becomes, obviously, whether Pakistan has the stomach for another fight. That's a question I don't have an answer for. Or maybe I'm too afraid of saying the answer out loud.


Paul: A fight - I like it!

Water will definitely be a major issue, but I disagree with you Ahsan because I think there are more opportunities for credible international arbitration than with Kashmir or terrorism. While Pakistan has not been enamored of the World Bank's take on the issue in past, it seems to be still be interested in WB participation and this strikes me as an area where international organizations and third parties can help to craft a plausible technocratic solution. Money and water can change hands in ways that leave both sides only mildly discontent - which is a pretty great outcome considering the history of the region!

So that does leave Kashmir and terrorism as the biggest issues. I have huge respect for Steve Coll and hope he is right about how close the two governments came. I don't disagree that India and Pakistan *could* come up with a reasonable agreement over Kashmir if they put their minds to it. But that's been true for a long time. A mix of electoral incentives, bureaucratic/security pushback, and simple lack of focused attention (in favor of elections, domestic initiatives, etc) have kept the bargain from being sealed. I would love to see that situation be solved but given the track record I'd need to know why this will be the time. Right now the Indian security establishment sees some of the recent attacks in Kashmir as signs of continuing ISI support for militancy, and has become obsessed with even simple rock-throwing and mass protests as "agitational terrorism"; there is a clear sense that J&K is on the boil and that it needs to be "normalized" (a rhetorical staple of counterinsurgent governments the world over) before anything further happens. JuD and the Hizbul Mujahideen using Kashmir Day to demand more militant flexing of muscles is being seen as Pakistan once again playing games with manipulating militancy.

So on the Indian elite side, who knows what the actual level of interest in cutting a deal now is; policy towards Kashmir has been disjointed, often counterproductive, heavy-handed, and at the higher levels almost apathetic the last couple of years ("Send in the CRPF to stop the riots, and then stop bothering me about the damn place"). The two major Kashmir Valley parties, NC and PDP, are at each others' throats rather than presenting a united front. Unless all the variables line up just right, India appears perfectly willing to continue taking consistent but low-level costs in Indian-administered Kashmir; it seems to be almost built into future calculations that there will be future unrest and so after the hand-wringing articles in Outlook when protests flare, nothing actually changes.

On the Pakistani side, I am made hopeful by your interpretation. But I think you need to take a closer look at how Benazir in her first term relied on the Kashmir card (a thousand years of war, anyone?) to try to hold off the Army. Her husband just talked about a 100-year ideological war over Kashmir. And these are the peaceniks. Maybe it's cheap talk but it's not exactly the opposite of diversion and hawkishness-for-domestic-politics'-sake. Now on to the various militants and militias. I have no great insights here beyond interviews and press reports, but my sense is that the security establishment has cracked down pretty hard over the last few years on most of the Deobandi militants (Jaish, LeJ, HuM, and their various splinters). Yet there are still curiosities like members of the "good" Jaish (Maulana Masood Azhar and some of his post-split loyalists) throwing huge rallies and maintaining presence in Bahawalpur (at least according to Ayesha Siddiqa). Journalists based in Pakistan have told me that significant parts of South Punjab see fairly close collusion between local police and bits and pieces of the Deobandi militant milieu. And these guys keep showing up in Indian-administered J&K. If lunatic RSS members started rolling into Sindh aiming to mix it up with the Pakistani security forces, you'd wonder more than a bit whether the Indian state was actually trying to keep them out or not. Pakistan has certainly reduced infiltration since 2003, and clearly reined in the Hizb, but foreign journalists and scholars are massively discouraged from wandering up to Muzaffarabad, infiltration continues across the highly-militarized LOC, and one wonders why.

And then there is the vexed question of the Lashkar. Which was the 64 bazillion rs. question when I was in the Delhi over the summer among the Indians, and floating around in the heads of the Americans too. I don't have an answer, but Ahsan do you see activities against LeT/JuD nearly as far-reaching as when Nawaz Sharif decided that the sectarian militias had outlived their usefulness? Or when the Army launched Operation Clean-up in Karachi, or (in an obviously different way) went after PPP activists in 1977-8? If press reports are right, the organization has had a few members locked up but otherwise is still fund-raising and recruiting away. Now, many very reasonable Pakistanis say "look, we're doing what we can in a very tough environment." But the historical legacy (and thus responsibility) remain in the eyes of international interlocutors. Sri Lankan Sinhalese still distrust India in part because of its support for Tamil militant groups over two decades ago. So the argument that (to mix bizarre metaphors) Pakistan's hand is mostly now out of the cookie jar doesn't solve the fact that a lot of cookies are missing (and if I wanted to push this further somehow, that said cookies have themselves spawned a new generation of heavily-armed paramilitary brownies. I'll stop now.).

I could be wildly mistaken about all of this, but while I think you are partially right on the crackdown, I also think you are partially wrong. It's not an either/or question (does Pakistan support militant groups?) but instead continuous - how much is Pakistan supporting militant groups? Less than before, which is good, but still to some extent, which leaves it as an open question and a sticky issue. My default on South Asia is that Kashmir and everything that goes with it are the major issues. Hopefully some day that will change, but it seems like the status quo is the safe bet right now.

Ahsan: Cookies and I'm hungry.

Let me clarify a couple of my points before we move on to something else. First, I am not arguing that there is a serious chance of progress on any of these issues at present. My point was only that should the two governments embark on a serious process of "solving" Kashmir, that (a) they can do it (because it's almost been done before), and (b) the domestic-politics-will-cut-it-
from-underneath argument is wrong because the preferences of the actors don't point that way.

Second, yes, the anti-Indian groups have absolutely been given more leeway and freedom to operate than the sectarian/Western-border-oriented ones. The terrorism issue is complicated and much remains to be done, obviously, but I do believe it' tackle-able IF AND ONLY IF the right things fall into place in an Afghanistan settlement. The road to Muzaffarabad might go through Kabul. It's obviously unlikely, but it's possible. What if the three (US, Ind, Pak) reach some sort of grand bargain on Afghanistan where the US promises to get out of the region if and only if Pakistan gets this idiotic strategic depth thing in Afghanistan if and only if India gets what it wants vis-a-vis Pakistan clamping down on anti-Indian groups the same way it has clamped down on others? By contrast, on water, my belief is that because it's a tangible resource (unlike, say, "influence in Afghanistan"), and because it's not going to be there forever (given climate change and the populations of the two countries) and because third-party arbitration will only go as far as the two parties let it, I think we're in for real trouble there. In short, it's possible (at least for me) to conceive of a way forward on Kashmir and terrorism, but it's not possible to conceive of a way forward on water.

Anyway, let's move on. I want to get both of your views on something I wrote about a few days ago, namely the Kayani sermon on strategic depth and the Indian "threat". My point was that "strategic depth" could be sold as a defensive and security-seeking strategy in a pre-nuclear era, because India's conventional forces dwarf Pakistan's.

But we're obviously no longer in a pre-nuclear age. What threat, exactly, does India pose to Pakistan if the latter has about 100 nuclear weapons? Why hasn't Pakistan's geopolitical thinking changed from the time it didn't have a viable nuclear capability to now? I see a few possibilities:

1. "Strategic depth" was never purely or even primarily defensive, it was about throwing one's weight around in a manner one of our readers called "imperialist" but I will call "offensive realist".

2. This whole "Cold Start" thing has gotten the Pakistan GHQ really, really spooked. Vipin, if you feel the need to plug your own research, please go ahead!

3. Organizations' preferences and actions are not perfectly calibrated to reflect changing realities on the ground. The Pakistan military is stuck in one way of doing things, irrespective of actual capabilities. In essence, it's the Barnett and Finnemore story.

4. Other (feel free to fill in the blanks here).

So which is it? Why is Pakistan behaving exactly the same way as it did before nuclear deterrence took hold? Why does it feel the need to have a presence in Afghanistan to ward off the Indian threat when its nuclear weapons were purportedly developed to ward off the Indian threat?

Vipin: Ahsan, the issue of Pakistani strategic depth in Afghanistan is an excellent million dollar question, one to which I unfortunately don’t even have a five dollar (or five rupee as it were) answer. Even in the non-nuclear age, it is difficult to understand how the Pakistan Army envisioned Afghanistan as a source of strategic depth. Was the Pakistan Army really going to use Afghan territory as operational *retreat space* in the event it was overrun by the Indian Army? How would that have worked exactly given the terrain over which they would have to retreat (and to where? the Southeast of Afghanistan?), regroup, and then attempt to go on the counteroffensive once, presumably, the Indian military had secured its rear and occupied the bulk of Pakistan’s population centers in Punjab and Sindh? I find that scenario difficult to believe. And in the nuclear age, it is patently absurd for the reasons you suggest; and even referring to Afghanistan as potential retreat space undermines the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent (since it suggests that the Pakistan Army would retreat first rather than use nuclear weapons on advancing Indian ground forces).

The only plausible interpretation of “strategic depth” in my view is an Afghanistan that is politically closer to Pakistan than to India, so that Pakistan does not face the threat of political or military encirclement. Politically, a reasonable concern might be Indian efforts to destabilize Baluchistan from Afghanistan (but as Paul noted, RAW’s operational capability to do so has been severely curtailed since the Gujral Doctrine), or perhaps stoking the creation of an independent Pashtun nation. Militarily though, it really can’t be that the Pakistan Army is afraid of a two-front war, with the ANA attacking its rear while Indian forces engaged them in the East. That has to be a joke, since Afghan forces never have, and likely never will, have modern offensive warfare capabilities, certainly nothing on the scale that an extremely professional and well-equipped Pakistan Army would have to worry about. The one scenario that an extremely paranoid Pakistan military planner might consider is actual Indian forces being deployed in an India-friendly Afghanistan and imposing a two-front war on Pakistan with Indian frontline forces. But, there is no evidence to suggest that India has that kind of power projection or could operate in the Afghan terrain against Pakistani forces, even with its mountain divisions. That fear might have been more acute during the non-nuclear period, but given Pakistan’s relatively robust nuclear deterrent against an Indian ground threat from the East, it is difficult to conceive of this as a realistic threat to Pakistan now.

Since you brought it up, Cold Start is understandably spooking the Pakistan GHQ. For those readers unfamiliar with the Cold Start concept, it was designed after the 2001-2002 Operation Parakram crisis in order to impart India’s military surprise limited war options against Pakistan below the nuclear threshold (i.e. achieving objectives that don’t pose an existential threat to the Pakistani state). In order to achieve this capability, the Indian military hopes to break up its three massive Strike Corps into eight integrated battle groups (IBGs) which have significant maneuver and offensive capability, deployed closer to the international border to reduce mobilization times so that they can initiate offensive operations from a ‘cold start.’ This concept is far from being operationalized but, as I’ve written elsewhere, my own view is that this is an
extremely strategically destabilizing concept for several reasons.

First, it seems to have been developed in a strategic vacuum in an attempt to solve the following dilemmas: how could India execute limited war options under the nuclear threshold and avoid the long mobilization times of Operation Parakram which, in the Indian military’s view, enabled Pakistan to countermobilize and the international community to pressure both countries and gave India’s Hamlet-like political leadership too much time to deliberate and ultimately balk at authorizing Strike Corps offensives? Their solution was to consider breaking up the Strike Corps and predeploying the IBGs closer to the international border to reduce mobilization time from about 2 weeks to roughly 2-3 days. But it seems to have been conceived like one-man chess, without considering what Pakistan’s strategic revisions might be in response. Clearly, Pakistan would have to think about what changes would be required at the conventional and nuclear levels to deter potential surprise Indian offensives. Conventionally, that would likely mean placing Pakistan’s air defenses and interceptor forces at higher levels of readiness, and perhaps fortifying the international border itself with corps level forces.

At the nuclear level, Pakistan presently has a time buffer to operationalize its demated (but proximately deployed) nuclear forces as a crisis unfolds. That demated posture is presently Pakistan’s most robust safety feature and allows the SPD to defend nuclear assets in highly secure and (mostly) secret locations. But in a de facto continuous crisis environment in which India has the capability to execute offensive operations with little warning, that time buffer would get compressed. In the worst case, one can imagine Pakistan military planners abandoning its demated stewardship procedure and deploying nuclear weapons on aircraft and mating them with short-range ballistic missiles so that, in the event that they are caught by surprise by an Indian conventional assault, its nuclear deterrent would still be usable and thus credible against
Indian IBGs. This would likely entail predelegating both nuclear assets and authority to lower-level commanders who would have the physical ability to use nuclear weapons if they deem it necessary (Brig. Gen (Retd) Feroz Hassan Khan has done some excellent work on this subject). Securing a nuclear arsenal at this higher state of readiness would be more difficult, and the risk of theft and unauthorized or accidental nuclear use would increase sharply.

Second, in practice, the Cold Start concept combined with the inevitable fog of war could increase the chance of uncontrollable escalation, perhaps past the nuclear threshold. In India, the ability imparted by Cold Start to execute surprise offensives will place a lot of pressure on civil-military organs following a crisis, since the logic of military mobilization may outpace political deliberation, forcing the political leadership to authorize offensives without full consideration of the strategic alternatives and ceding escalation control to the military. Furthermore, the whole concept rests on the Indian military’s confidence that it knows precisely where Pakistan’s red-lines lie and that it can carefully calibrate its operations such that those lines are not crossed. If either of those conditions are not met, then India could trigger a conflict that might quickly escalate to Pakistani nuclear use against Indian forces operating on Pakistani territory. What the Indian military defines as “limited objectives” may not be perceived as “limited” by the Pakistan Army which might fear an existential threat to both it and the population centers in Punjab and Sindh (for Pakistan, given how close most of its strategic centers are to the Indian border, there is probably no meaningful distinction between limited and total war except perhaps around the LoC). This is a particularly acute problem since even the Indian military has ruled out limited strikes in the past (in the first phase of Parakram and after the Mumbai attacks) as militarily futile; thus for Indian offensives to achieve any meaningful objectives they would necessarily have to engage Pakistani ground forces and seize some significant piece of territory (presumably as a bargaining chip). To the Pakistan Army, those may go beyond limited objectives and appear dangerously close to an existential threat—particular if it is uncertain where Indian offensives intend to halt—thereby potentially crossing the threshold where Pakistan’s nuclear weapons might be used (either authorized by the NCA or by a Corps commander who, because he could not reach the NCA, and finding himself in a potentially ‘use it or lose it’ scenario decided to take matters into his own hands).

I’ve gone on too long about this and digressed somewhat from the original question, since I don’t think Cold Start generates any additional need for strategic depth in Afghanistan. Rather, it is destabilizing for a whole host of other reasons…

Paul: The only conventional/nuclear-linked strategic depth scenario I've ever heard seriously advanced (second hand from Rawalpindi to a journalist to me in 2008 or 2009) is that somehow Afghanistan can be used for airfields. So I guess the idea is to get away from Indian strikes on bases and thus to keep the PAF in the air. However, where said airfields will come from and how they will be equipped and staffed remains up in the air (as it were!) in epically bizarre ways. So unless the PAF is going to start relocating en masse to scenic Bagram, there's no remotely plausible conventional/nuclear depth that Afghanistan secures.

That said, I think it's pretty unsurprising in broader political terms: Pakistan is worried that Afghanistan may foster Pashtun nationalism, may provide staging for Indian/Russian/American/Iranian intelligence and military forces that could surveil and occasionally do nasty things inside Pakistan, may restrict access to energy and Central Asian markets, may stop the Fauji Foundation from becoming Mazar-i-Sharif's dominant breakfast cereal provider, etc etc. That's your offensive realist story, and there's probably a compelling if partial organizational story in which past capabilities and roles are oriented towards this policy and thus making it more likely.

This is Great Game stuff, and it's not so different from India keeping a very very close eye on its neighbors, or the Russians being pushy in the near abroad. Which means it's unfortunate but not so shocking. India wants Afghanistan open to it for trade, access to Central Asian markets, a hedge against the Taliban returning with their training camps for Kashmir-oriented militants, and to stop the Pakistanis from getting what they want. And India is definitely worried about a resurgence of Pakistani power in AFG. So the Northern Alliance will start to get more Indian attention and support.

An ideal Afghanistan solution would allow India to continue trade and development work without being attacked, would alleviate Pakistan's concerns about the much-vaunted "Indian consulates" and Indian intelligence ops, and would pull some of the Taliban into power-sharing without turning the place back over to Mullah Omar. Who knows whether that will happen, but it's not a
surprise to me in the least that Pakistan takes a keen interest in Afghanistan.

Now what does that say about nukes? Vipin does that side of things so I'll let him take it away. But just because nukes do secure core strategic interests doesn't mean that Pakistan doesn't have other strategic interests that *aren't* settled by nukes. Now, some of these interests may be unreasonable or unnecessary, but if we learned anything from the Cold War it's that secure
nuclear arsenals don't stop countries from getting in nasty wars on the periphery. The Soviets and Americans mixed it up all over the place, even as defensive realists were arguing that the Third World didn't matter and that finite containment was the most rational strategy. No one was listening. And so while it would great to de-militarize Afghanistan, I can't imagine that happening and instead think the best we can hope for is a tenuous but enduring "ugly stability" (to borrow a phrase from a different South Asian strategic context) in which there isn't too much open warfare.

Ahsan: Paul, you win the coveted "Line of the conversation" award with the Fauji Foundation-cereal line. Kudos. Your t-shirt is on its way.

A reader of ours raised the same issue you did: that the US and Soviet Union still got their hands dirty all over the place, and so nuclear weapons are not necessarily an impediment to power competition. My rejoinder would be: that's the US and Soviet Union! Two superpowers hell bent on, literally, world domination.

But according to Pakistani strategic thinkers, we're just a poor vulnerable country, minding our own business, and this is defensive, and meant as a buffer against Indian threats. So my point would be: fine, if you want to treat Afghanistan as a playground for your little strategic adventures, go ahead. Be my guest. But at least be honest about it. Don't say "India threatens us, so we need to mess around in Afghanistan." Just say "we want to be a dominant regional player, we're not satisfied with our external security essentially being guaranteed, and we want more."

In other words, be more explicit about having regional-dominance aims rather than security aims. And then allow an honest conversation in the country about how that strategy has worked out so far. Give or take, about 10,000 Pakistanis have died in the last four or five years, as part of them cleaning up their last mess. 10,000! So let's just be open about the costs, open about the benefits, and have a conversation. The current stance is just plain disingenuous.

By the way, have you guys noticed that we haven't once used the word "China" in this entire conversation? Not once. And I don't think we're alone here. Very few people actually pay attention to China, for some odd reason. It's the second most powerful country in the world, and no one seems to give a damn. Okay, maybe some Indians give a damn. But generally speaking, we don't hear nearly enough about China.

With that in mind, what role do you foresee for China in the region in the next five to ten years? How, if at all, are they going to leave their imprint on a "solution" in Afghanistan? What is the trajectory of their relationship with India? And when are they going to abandon all pretenses and just declare Pakistan its 24th province (my understanding is Taiwan is the 23rd)? Hell, they already have a presence in the country that, were they American, would lead to 4 different revolutions in the country.

I went to the north of the country three years ago with a friend and his dad. Let me tell you, the Chinese are everywhere. They're building all the bridges. They're drilling all the holes in the mountains. They're laying all the roads. Hell, we've practically handed over Gwadar to them (if it was ever ours to hand over in the first place, that is). Personally, I don't really mind. Sovereignty is overrated anyway.

Paul: You're right about honesty. Pakistan seems to want to have it both ways: to be considered a major player who wants to have clout and influence, but without having to publicly face up to what that actually involves in terms of blood and treasure.

I'm the wrong guy to ask about China, but my two cents are that the PRC will increasingly occupy Indian conventional forces' attention along the northern and especially eastern borders. Hard to say anything with confidence about the future of Indo-Chinese relations: probably continued tensions popping up recurrently alongside inexorably increasing trade. Hard to imagine a serious war given the local terrain and theater conventional balance but border clashes
are within the realm of imagination. I wish the Chinese were building India's roads! I'd probably have fewer broken ribs if they were.

PRC will pump money into Pakistan like it is in Sri Lanka (where Hambantota is vaguely like Gwadar, though far less military) but frankly I don't know if Pakistan should take much comfort from China as an all-weather friend. The Chinese haven't shown any willingness to incur significant costs in order to help out Pakistan. It's really nice to have around, but not a strategic bulwark when things hit the fan. I just don't know enough about China to authoritatively talk about its motivations (economic, military, political) for expanding influence in South and Central Asia and what might alter the trajectory of that involvement. I don't hear much about China in Afghanistan either, but I'm sure it is interested in what is going on.

I will take this opportunity to lament the lack of regional cross-fertilization between South and East Asia. India has a really weak China expertise and my sense is that Pakistan isn't any better, while China doesn't seem to produce scholars or analysts of India in any great numbers. American academics aren't much help, since area studies centers and regional training tends to follow fairly strict South/Southeast/East Asia contours: which makes a lot of sense but also limits valuable comparisons. The US is a place where more of this should be happening.

Ahsan: Yeah, I don't know a single person who would qualify as both a China and South Asia expert, unless Vipin knocks my socks off with his response.

I agree with you on the China's-friendship-with-Pakistan-being-overblown thing. They've never helped Pakistan in any war. Even less ambitiously, they never helped Pakistan in times of economic or financial crisis. When Zardari went on his begging bowl tour in 2008 to obviate taking tough IMF loans, both of Pakistan's closest "friends" -- China and Saudi Arabia -- screened their calls and pretended to be not home, forcing an IMF bailout. China plays Pakistan better than anyone else out there -- they get a fair amount of access, without giving much (other than a few military hardware toys...oh, and the nuclear thingy, right).

Pakistan's relationship with China is like being married to Marge Simpson: they're super dependable, but honestly, other than forgiving your inanity on a regular basis, it's not clear what they really get you. On the other hand, the relationship with the U.S. is like going out with a batshit crazy chick on heroin, who happens to be very hot and great in bed: the good times are great (but short-lived in the larger scheme of things) but the bad times are really bad. It's also not clear if breaking up is better than staying in the relationship. Pakistanis who hated the Kerry-Lugar bill should really ask themselves if they preferred the Pressler sanctions instead.

But yeah, back to China. Vipin?

Vipin: I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to knock anyone’s socks off. On the Afghanistan strategic depth question, I fully agree—the lack of a military rationale suggests that the motivation for strategic depth in Afghanistan rests entirely on a political appetite for greater regional influence at the expense of India and Iran.

With respect to China, as far as some Indian analysts are concerned, the roots of all problems in the world lie with the (Chinese trained and supplied) ISI. Snowstorm in DC? Must be the (Chinese trained) ISI. Uber paranoia aside, clearly the China-Pakistan still figures as a significant concern for Indian military planners. On the Northeastern front, Arunachal has heated up recently with the deployment of several Su-30MKI squadrons to airfields in theater (aka nice targets of opportunity for China), and India has emphasized a ‘new’ two-front war doctrine which envisions offensive operations against Pakistan and holding operations around the LaC and around Aksai Chin (though there doesn’t seem to be anything ‘new’ about it, since this has been the aim since 1962, even if the capability didn’t exist). It’s true that China has never helped Pakistan in a war, but there are some prominent strategic analysts with whom I’ve spoke in Delhi that do believe (whether rightly or wrongly) that China was only deterred from intervening against India in the 1971 war by a (vague) Soviet threat to assist India. But a coordinated two-front war does seem somewhat fantastical at this point (there is no 'jointness' to speak of).

The bigger concern from the Indian perspective might be China’s continued proliferation of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan—-now I know Marge Simpson’s hair is blue but she’s probably not giving Homer nukes. In the 1980s it was allegedly the transfer of full blueprints for a missile-mateable HEU warhead (the so-called CHIC-4 design) and potentially 50kg of actual weapons grade uranium. Now it is the development of the four CHASNUPP nuclear reactors and associated reprocessing facilities being built with Chinese assistance, which will give Pakistan an increasingly powerful plutonium production capability. The significance of this shift for the nuclear balance is that Pakistan will then be able to develop warheads with greater yield-to-weight ratios, making the ballistic missile arm of its nuclear arsenal more powerful and potentially enabling the development of lighter tactical nuclear options. But this is all part of a continuous nuclear relationship that is pretty unique and, slightly disagreeing with Paul, could be costly for China though so far it hasn’t been.

There is nothing new or perplexing about this balancing relationship and though China has an incentive to continue to use Pakistan as a proxy against India, it benefits from the firewalls and plausible deniability so that the US and India don’t hold it responsible if, e.g. Pakistan ever lost any nuclear material and it were god forbid used against either country. So the present form of the China-Pakistani relationship seems optimal for both countries.

Ahsan: On that note, gentlemen, let me thank you for allowing me ruin your weekend. This has been a lot of fun and very enlightening. Hopefully our readers will feel the same way. Thanks again.

For those interested, I have had such email conversations before. Click here for my conversation with Cricinfo Pakistan editor Osman Samiuddin, here for my conversation with Dawn editorial writer and op-ed columnist Cyril Almeida, here for the one with political economist and The News columnist Mosharraf Zaidi, here for one with a Wall Streeter in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and here for one with an Indian foreign affairs blogger after the Mumbai attacks of 2008.


Umair Javed said...

Exchanges like this make political sociology students look like floozy wannabe's stuck in la-la-land haha...brilliant post nonetheless.

The point that interests me the most is the orientation of domestic actors (minus the army) on the Kashmir issue. Nawaz Sharif showed some mettle during his second tenure in trying to broker a deal with the BJP government, a good intentioned albeit surprising move considering the fact that both parties represented the nationalist-center-right position in their respective spectrum of domestic politics. Increasingly though, Nawaz's politics has become even more reactionary vis-a-vis the PPP whereby it has come to the point where the party seems to be content in simply negating the stance of the government on issues of domestic concern.

In the case where the PPP hypothetically goes for a peace deal with the Indian government, will the PML (N) use that as grounds for gathering up some good ol' nationalist votes on account of painting the PPP as sell outs? I recall Shahbaz Sharif giving a particularly vehement anti-India speech in Azad Kashmir during his recent tour to that place. More so the religious right has never been particularly inclined towards approaching India without invoking the issue of Kashmir (something that needs to be done right now for the sake of our water problems) you think the soft power of the right-wingers will de-rail the peace process at a domestic level (at least in urban Punjab)?

Ahsan said...


I don't think a deal on Kashmir can be under the purview of this party or that party. It can't be about the PPP or the PMLN. It has to be about the state as a whole. All the stakeholders have to be brought on board, through parliament. Again, I'm not saying any of this will happen. I'm saying that were it to happen this way, it would have a shot. And it's not implausible, in my view.

For the record, I think the PMLN is many things but stupid it is not. As you mention, Nawaz himself was the first civilian leader in a gazillion years to try detente. I think that were there an opportunity for a deal, they'd be behind it. But this is obviously conjecture, and should be taken with buckets of salt.

On the religious right, they don't matter. They never have and they never will. Electorally, politically, or geostrategically -- they're a waste of everyone's time, including their own. All they're good for is organizing a few protests against Danish cartoons or getting a religion column in the Pakistani passport. But for big boy stuff? They don't matter.

Umair Javed said...

I agree with you on the electoral and political insignificance of the religious right (and i hope that it remains so forever and ever)...and given the insulated nature of the decision making process in the country, domestic opinion hardly resonates at the policy making level...

my only concern is that even within a largely constrained democracy such as the one that we have right now, the actual number of important actors is significantly larger than it was during the Nawaz era or the Musharraf era. More importantly, the amount of contestable political space forces parties to pick up loose change wherever they can regardless of how their politics might collide with the conception of our national interests (our politicians have shown themselves to be extremely myopic till as recently as Nawaz's reluctance on taking a solid stand in favor of the operation or against the Taliban)....

More importantly, i think the first issue that needs to be understood is to gauge how receptive our population is right now to the idea of some long-standing peace with India. As much as i hate to admit to this, quantitatively speaking, the number of civil society activists aiming for peace with our neighbor are probably balanced out by rabid Zaid Hamid supporters who want to hear the voice of Radio Pakistan from New Delhi :s

If there is elite consensus on resuming the composite dialogue both within Pakistan and between the two countries, then its definitely a step forward. If at some point, one of the actors in our domestic setup decides to cash in on some perceived anti-India sentiment, it will be a lot more difficult to obtain a democratic agreement on the issue (which might mean a reversion to more authoritarian and autonomous decision making by other actors such as the army)

Sandy said...

Pakistan has not touched anti-India forces yet and United Jehad Council held open anti-India rallies calling for Jehad.

The obvious reason for that is Pakistan at this point of time does not wants to start another front against these militant when it is already fighting TTP. With their agenda being pro-Pakistan and anti-India, LeT and JeM enjoy much wider support in Pakistan and any action against them will provoke widespread backlash on a much larger scale.

By mid 2011 the US will withdraw from Afghanistan. Operation against TTP is also expected to be over. Will the Pakis really go after the LeT then? I don't think so.

There is no end until Pakistan mends its ways.

Brett said...

Good interview. The stuff on Chinese-Pakistani relations was especially interesting, particularly since you hear almost nothing about them in the US Press.

Riaz Haq said...

Much is often made of Pakistan's "anti-India security establishment" whenever India-Pakistan dialog moves them toward a peaceful resolution of their disputes.

But isn't there a similar anti-Pakistan establishment in India that wants to thwart any possibility of peace with Pakistan?

I often hear references to India's "shadowy security establishment" and "agencies" by Indian columnists like Siddarth Varadarajan in The Hindu newspaper recently, and politicians like Mehbooba Mufti after a recent Srinagar hotel attack.

Similar questions about "power establishment" other than the prime minister in India have also been raised by SM Mushrif in his recent book "Who Killed Karkare?"

Sandy said...

Comparison of Anti-India forces in Pakistan and Anti-Pakistan forces in India is ridiculous to say the least.

Anti-Pak forces do not openly can for Jehad, conduct training or collect money. RSS and its sister orgns do indulge in propaganda, call upon Govt. to attack and destroy training camps in POK. BUt beyond that there is nothing much.They do not capabilities to launch attacks on Pakistan.

Questions were raised and would continue to be raised. Even in case of Batla encounter, the questions were raised. Even NHRC gave a clean chit. The air on other cases would be cleared too.

In any case, controversy over Karkare cannot be used to justify what the United jehad Council. And as far as investigations are concerned, till date Pakistan has rarely done anything to investigate what all has happened in its own country. Starting from Liaquat Ali, to Zulifur Bhutto, Zia and Benazir all were assaninated, but till date nothing has been done to investigate any of it. Benazir's husband is the head of the state, still nothing has been done.

My simple suggestion is that worry more about ur own investigation processes rather than ours.

Jaydev,India said...

Awesome discussion...great fun reading too..Paul & Ahsan were so funny..Vipin needs to work on his humor lest ppl fall asleep reading phd dissertation..:-)


I am hearing more and more about "water dispute" lately.First it was only "K-dispute". Can you do a piece on India-Pak "water dispute". I have seen no substance or content in Pak newspaper articles other than just "India is stealing Pak's water..Period". No arguments or reasons given(checkout recent Dawn info-arguments)..There was a Dam construction issue which Pak took India to World Bank or something..and it gave some structural corrective instructions to Baghilar? Dam which was swiftly implemented by Indian engineers.

Sandy said...

The last comment looks like a spam to me.

Ahsan said...

Deleted it.

Rohan Venkat said...

That bit about few scholar crossing the South/East Asia bridge was particularly interesting to me (although certainly not the most important point in a conversation full of interesting stuff).

Even today in the West, India and China often get mentioned together (in the BRIC context), and yet they are rarely studied together.

Any insights on why that might be?

Anonymous said...

Thank You Very Much Ahsan for bringing this together, these efforts of yours makes you distinguished from conventional press, Thanks again!!

So what I take out of it is, its just a fight for *H*(Hegemony, regional/global) word?

Anonymous said...

with 'scholars' like these, who needs muppets...

all the education in the world can't buy you guys some good old common sense.

the repetitive verbal diarrhoea of pseudo-intellectualism indicates that while you can regurgitate journals and books, you cannot, for one second, put yourself in the shoes of ordinary people and really understand the issues at hand.

ahsan's blogs are usually a great example of this fallacy but you two 'scholars' take the cake!!!

Smci said...

Thx Ahsan for an enjoyable and thought provoking post.

Just a few passing thoughts.

While I get your frustration about the lack of forthcoming by the policy elites regarding their views on the threat India poses in Afghanistan, I think caveat is needed.

After all, WE'RE talking about it. Even though we detest the fact that Zaid Hamid is as popular as he is, HIS FOLLOWERS are certainly talking about it. And certainly those that share Kayani's 'strategic depth' outlook have it in THEIR minds.

Yes, it isn't a formal issue that's taken a well-defined place in electoral politics or civil/military relations, but we can't deny that it isn't openly available for people to discuss.

We can debate the reasons for this. Maybe people DO feel a wee bit of shame talking in the language of "hegemony over a neighbor's internal affairs." But I wouldn't go so far as to say that no one is willing to admit it.

Nor is any nation of Earth, EVER, willing to admit that "we want to be a dominant regional player, we're not satisfied with our external security essentially being guaranteed, and we want more." That's akin to stripping in public and running around like a lunatic.

You've got to let the realist in you shine bro.


For those lamenting the lack of scholars in cross-over between South Asian and China studies, I'm with you. Off-hand I couldn't name anyone. But there was an excellent policy paper put out by Brookings last month titled "US-China Relations: Seeking Strategic Convergence in Pakistan." That has some excellent factoids and analysis. For example that the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project poll has US favorables in Pakistan at 16%. While for China they're at 84%. I wonder why?

:Fair warning: Riedel and Singh's views fly in the face of the Ahsan's conclusion that they're only fair-weathered friends.


On the water issue raised by Jaydev. Obviously not a lot of materiel is available on it lately. But needless to say, as is the case with the Pakistani way of dealing with things, the higher-ups won't truly raise hell about it till it's already had some disastrous effects... and perhaps even a few years after that.

Here's a brief excerpt from Jonathan Paris' Legatum Institute report titled "Prospects for Pakistan."

Chief among the factors with the potential to introduce significant additional strain
into the India-Pakistan relationship is water. The Indus Waters Treaty, which governs the
sharing of water resources between India and Pakistan, has proven remarkably resilient.
But as the Himalayan glaciers which account for much of northern India’s water supply
start to melt at an increasing rate, India, which already has severe problems with the
availability and quality of water, may find itself under greater pressure to take account of
the needs of its own population at the expense of Pakistan. For Pakistan, a country which
by the admission of its own government is teetering on the brink of water insufficiency,
any disruption of existing supplies could have a devastating impact and would be seen as
an existential threat.
The problem with confronting Kashmir head on is that it is currently a zero-sum
situation. If, however, the Kashmir issues were subsumed under a broader regional
discussion on water and environmental issues, Kashmir by its location would play an
important part in non-zero-sum regional discussions between India, Pakistan, China,
Nepal and Bangladesh.

Add to that Stephen Cohen's writings from years ago about internal struggles between the lower Punjab and Sindh over water allocation and how that problem will be exacerbated in the years to come... and you've got the perfect cocktail for an immensely heated issue to add to Kashmir.

The Paris article above also delves shortly into the tie between provincial demographic trends and dam projects.

Sandy said...

As regards to the Water issue, the treaty was signed way back in 1960. Since then the population has increased enormously. So perhaps a new treaty needs to be worked on proportionate sharing of water.

Water is an extremly sensitive matter. There is no consensus even within Pakistan. Punjab-Sindh rivalry with respect to water is well know. Even in India, such inter-state issues do exist.

Nabeel said...

i'm a little late on this,and no expert, but

a) i was also wondering halfway through the post why China hadn't been mentioned yet, because it does come up frequently enough in the Pakistani blogosphere...many people seem to think that Pakistan simply a theater for china and usa to face off, which i don't really believe, but i would have been interested in your take on that.

b) also, the belief that india is involved in lots of unsavory business in balochistan and especially in the recent karachi blasts is gaining currency pretty quickly. yet it wasn't really discussed in the conversation. why-is it ludicrous or touchy? perhaps its just the people i'm in touch with,but i've come across several who think that india is taking advantage of the mess in pakistan to stir up an even bigger mess. i don't think they would, because their long term interest lies in good relations with pakistan, but aman ki asha is seen as a giant fraud by many too. thoughts?