Tag Archives | Afghanistan

Indulge, not abstain from Afghanistan

Sending troops to Afghanistan is a valid strategic option for India.

There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot. ~Steven Wright

In two separate op-ed pieces today, former army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury and defence analyst Ajai Shukla try to find ways for India to influence the events in Afghanistan. Roychowdhury suggests that India must guard its long-term strategic interests by undertaking massive training of Afghan National Army. Ajai, in contrast, opines that India should help the US win over large parts of moderate Taliban on to its side, even if it happens to be at the cost of  undercutting the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai.

Both decry the current Indian policy and the level of involvement in Afghanistan as insufficient. But they stop at expounding timid options for India to exercise in that country. Thus they betray a lack of boldness and gumption by refusing to explicitly acknowledge that Indian strategic interests in the region can only be secured by an Indian military involvement in Afghanistan.

As far as Ajai’s argument about arriving at a settlement with moderate Taliban — different from al Qaeda and Quetta Shura — is concerned, the answer comes from Robert Gates.

…Gates plead agnosticism as to whether al-Qaeda would move its headquarters from Pakistan to Afghanistan but said “what’s more important than that, in my view, is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda.”The Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, Gates said, represents the “modern epicenter of jihad.”  A place “where the Mujahedeen defeated the other superpower,” and in his estimation of the Taliban’s thinking, “they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower.”

Defining al-Qaeda as both an ideology and an organization, Gates said their ability to successfully “challenge not only the United States, but NATO — 42 nations and so on” on such a symbolically important battlefield would represent “a hugely empowering message” for an organization whose narrative has suffered much in the eight years since 9/11.[Danger Room]

The case for deploying Indian armed forces in Afghanistan has been made as a cover story in Pragati last year, well before Obama, McChyrstal and 26-11 happened. Nothing much has changed to alter the basic arguments but here is a slightly updated rhetorical version of the case made there.

The litmus test for putting a glass ceiling on Indian involvement is simple. Is India threatened less than the US by the return of Taliban to Afghanistan? The direct and indirect threats emanating from a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to India are far graver and greater than those to the US. If the US were to contemplate only providing infrastructural aid, or negotiate with moderate Taliban or only undertake training of Afghan army, it would be decried as having let down the comity of free nations. Why should India then get away by doing even lesser and then pontificating about playing its legitimate role in bringing stability to this part of the world?

If Taliban were to succeed in Afghanistan, the jehadis will again end up becoming a diplomatic and military tool of the Pakistani military-intelligence complex to be employed against India, and on the Indian mainland. The comparison between an Indian deployment in Afghanistan and maintaining the status quo thus could not be starker. The question that ought to be asked is: Between Indian soldiers and innocent, unarmed civilians, who is better placed to tackle the Taliban jehadis? Should India allow its civilians to be massacred by these jehadis in the hospitals, streets, railways stations and hotels of Mumbai or should our soldiers be pummelling these jehadis in the barren lands of Afghanistan?

As of now, US does have a strategy in Afghanistan and it wants to stay there, but it doesn’t have the troops to resource that strategy. India can help the cause only by providing the proverbial boots on the ground, not by restricting itself to developmental works.  Even if India were to run crash recruitment training programmes for the Afghan army, there will be a requirement for trainers, mentors and advisors to guide these newly raised units into combat during their initial tours of duty in Afghanistan. While that level of involvement is just a step short of sending battle-hardened Indian troops into that country, the difference in results on ground between the two will be significantly different in the short to mid-term.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, any level of Indian involvement will invoke a Pakistan veto. It will continue to raise a shindig irrespective of India’s indulgences or abstinences in Afghanistan. But who cares? From drone attacks in FATA to explicit calls about targeting the Quetta Shura, the US is dictated not by Pakistani sensitivities but solely by its own interests.

With the current media hype over the Chinese security threat, India will not be able to spare any military formations earmarked for the Chinese border. If these formations have to be pulled from the Pakistan border, it automatically takes care of the Pakistani bogey of an Indian threat on its Eastern borders restraining it from going the whole hog against the jehadis.

With the decreasing level of violence in J&K, it makes immense sense to move a couple of divisions of battle-hardened, specialist counterinsurgency force, the Rashtriya Rifles to Afghanistan. Besides meeting the internal political goal of demilitarising J&K, it will also shift the battlefield in this proxy war against Pakistan-backed jehadis from Kashmir to Afghanistan. India must not only choose its battles but also choose where and when it wants to fight them.

Finally, if the US is expected to unshackle itself from its traditional mindset of an Atlantic alliance and engage the rising powers of Asia, it is equally incumbent upon India to break free of its underdeveloped, third-world, non-aligned mindset of a previous era. The aphorism about power and responsibility is too worn out and clichéd to be repeated here.

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Pakistani countermeasures against India

McChrystal’s report warns of Pakistani retaliation to Indian influence in Afghanistan.

From the much-reported COMISAF initial assessment of the war in Afghanistan submitted by General Stanley A. McChrystal to Obama administration:

Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.[WaPo]

Countermeasures. Oh, what a politically correct term, an euphemism for terrorist acts perpetrated by the Pakistani military-jehadi complex against India. Incidentally, even if India were to pull out completely from Afghanistan, perceived grievances — from Kashmir to Baluchistan — and hallucinatory threats emanating from India would ensure that Pakistan would continue to hurt India with terror strikes.

What are India’s options then? Not in asking the US to leave Afghanistan, as some have suggested, but in providing all the support to the US to stay in the region, and fix Pakistan.

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Did Pakistan hear this?

US should warm up to implications of its South Asia policy.

Why do you say that India wants to help strengthen Pakistan?

India understands that it is not in its interest to try to destabilise or undermine Pakistan’s security at this very sensitive time.[Dawn]

This is Robert Blake, the new US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian affairs in his first interaction with Pakistani media. It is a very interesting read. He said a few other things that certainly wouldn’t be music to Pakistani ears: New Delhi was ‘playing a very important role’ in Afghanistan; Pakistan would have to punish the 26-11 suspects and stop cross-border terrorist attacks if it wanted the resumption of bilateral talks with India; the US sees India and Pakistan as different challenges and different opportunities; and he dismissed any chances of Pakistan striking a nuclear deal with China modeled on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

There is no reason to disbelieve that these aren’t the considered official views of the Obama administration, which includes the State department under Hillary Clinton, and the Special Representative on AfPak, Richard Holbrooke. While Indians ought to feel satisfied by what they hear from Mr. Blake, such clear enunciation of US policy is likely to provide ammunition to most hardliners in Pakistan. And it could even have some policy implications for that country.

So, be certain that the military-intelligence-jehadi nexus will survive — dormant for the time being — but ready to flourish when the environment is less concerned about the propriety of such a relationship and consequent actions. Moreover, Pakistan will do all that is in its power to ensure that US and NATO forces neither win, nor lose, in Afghanistan in the near future. Pakistan needs easy money via multinational aid, but does not desire a non-Taliban government in Kabul. Its best chances lie with US forces still embroiled in Afghanistan, while a moderate Taliban government can occupy the seats of power at Kabul.

If the Obama administration is so clear and certain about its policies and goals in South Asia and Afghanistan, it should seek a much stronger all-round partnership with India. A partnership that just doesn’t talk about selling military platforms,  WTO and climate change, but is more focused on the real challenges that both India and US face in the region — AfPak being the top-most among them.

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Retooling on the fly

Understanding how the US military reformed and reorganised during the Iraq war.

After initial successes, the US military suffered many painful years in Afghanistan and Iraq before undertaking the most significant retooling of any military while in active combat since the German Army in 1917. The change to a counter-insurgency posture was catalysed by a combination of junior leadership responding to the tactical problems that confronted them and senior institutional dissidents driving deep, controversial changes in doctrine and culture to meet the new requirements. Both components were necessary, but neither was sufficient on its own. They were the product of an institutional culture that strove to be self-learning, with varying levels of success.

This is the abstract of a must-read article in Survival Journal [subscription required], titled Learning Under Fire: Progress and Dissent in the US Military by Philipp Rotmann, David Tohn and Jaron Wharton. Here is an extract from the concluding paragraphs of this riveting piece.

The one thing that can plausibly be assumed about the next war is that it will require changes, perhaps even changes more fundamental than those required by the current conflict. An openness toward organisational change catalysed by institutional dissidents at both ends of the hierarchy needs to become the military’s standard operating procedure if it is to be ready to meet future challenges.

How does the military as an institution protect this dynamic of top-down and bottom-up dissent that was so crucial to recent successes on the battlefield? While bottomup change will almost always occur as long as a culture of junior-leader empowerment persists, it is a reluctant cadre of senior leaders who must embrace a readiness to turn the Army on its head. Ultimately, a relationship must exist between top-down and bottom-up thought, so that even if the military’s structure and operational culture at any point turns out to be ill suited to a given challenge on the battlefield, it will be able to adapt and harness its own intellectual capital to make progress. This internal capacity must transcend traditional doctrinal frameworks and be deeply embedded in the military’s institutional culture.

…Today, personal career development is in direct conflict with Army leader development and institutional learning. Officers must jump through narrow hoops of Army and joint assignments to remain eligible for advancement. While good for the officer, this means there is precious little time to commit to reinvesting back into the Army. Many knowledge-based organisations such as global consulting firms have made it standard practice to rotate their top performers between client work and internal think tanks. In contrast, the Army typically wants to rotate officers between operational assignments. We must get the right senior leaders in the right jobs to trigger the top-down dynamic that is ultimately required to support, protect and embrace bottom-up solutions. The next war may not afford the luxury of long-term adaptation.

The US military had the misfortune of retooling itself, while in the midst of two asymmetric wars. They were prepared to fight the last war — the Gulf War — while failing miserably in the current ones. Indian armed forces, however, have no current wars to fight (Kashmir is admittedly a waning insurgency, moving towards a political endgame) but they are still preparing themselves to fight the wars of the past.

The last conventional war that India fought was in 1971 (Kargil was a limited conflict, not a full-blown war). Then, Indian army’s failure to adapt led to a calamitous result during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. Even within India, Indian army has had a mixed record in its COIN operations — whether it be Kashmir or in the North-East. Most observers attribute this record of the Indian army to its failure to adapt quickly, because it simply isn’t a Learning Organisation.

Indian military planners must have wargamed and formalised their operational plans for the traditional adversaries — China and Pakistan. Even there, as the  old aphorism goes: the plan is the first casualty of war. With an unstable neighbourhood, a rapidly failing Pakistan and a continuing long war in Afghanistan — coupled with any imponderables like the 9-11 that landed the US in to unexpected military operations — no one can hazard a guess about what, how, when or where the next war for India will be.

Arie de Geus, author of The Living Company, described learning as the only sustainable competitive advantage. The answer to Indian military’s quandary thus lies in transforming the Indian armed forces into a learning organisation — the only assured response to an increasingly unpredictable and dynamic environment. The US military has set a brilliant example in this respect. Indian armed forces can do no worse than merely emulate it when they still have the luxury of time.

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Obama’s Pak-Af strategy

Some observations and what it means for India.

While most of us were waiting for the AfPak strategy from the Obama administration, what came out on Friday was more of a Pak-Af strategy. There were no major changes in efforts being employed inside Afghanistan. However the focus of the strategy was more on Pakistan. Gauging from the Obama speech and the White House white paper, Obama’s strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be summed up in two sentences.

We will fight in Afghanistan till we are able to develop the capability in Afghan security forces to effectively tackle the al Qaeda-bad Taliban threat. We will do all we can [more carrots than sticks] so that Pakistan fights the al Qaeda-bad Taliban inside their nation for us.

Rest is mere detail. But there are some observations that still need to be made on those details. This is clearly a counterinsurgency strategy designed to attain certain specific counterterrorism goals, the foremost among them being the avoidance of another 9-11 type attack on the US mainland.This can be best understood by the explanation for the two terms used by Obama against al Qaeda: disrupting and defeating. Obama’s NSC director for strategic communication explains that “disrupting” is a counter-terrorism goal while “defeating” is a counter-insurgency goal.

McDonough defined “disrupting” as “those plans not [being] further carried out.” So disruption is about planning, and the relevant measurement is a lack of further attacks on us. “Defeating” is about giving an alternative to “the violent, hopeless future” that al-Qaeda offers, though “different opportunities available to Pakistanis and Afghans and others.”

This strategy — and by definition, any strategy — just lays down broad contours of administration’s thought process and details will emerge only with its implementation. In that sense, the AfPak policy flowing out of this strategy is still inchoate and difficult to analyse.

Unlike Obama’s pronouncements a few weeks back, there is no mention of an exit policy. And if Holbrooke’s explanation that developing the Afghan security forces up to the desired level would be an exit strategy, then there is no similar exit strategy for Pakistan. Well, the US ground forces never entered Pakistan in the first place to plan an exit from there. But interestingly, defence secretary Bob Gates is not ruling out keeping ground forces out of Pakistan. So, committing US ground forces inside Pakistan must have been considered and still remains an option, but perhaps an option of last resort.

Obama said that the largesse to Pakistan is not a blank check and in fact labelled it as a down payment for the future. But Craig Mullaney, his would-be Under secretary for Defence(Central Asia) was much closer to the truth in describing the aid.

So this is like a stimulus package for Central Asia? “Kind of,” he[Mullaney] laughed. “Except the difference in Pakistan and Afghanistan is that the unemployed sign up with the Taliban and start shooting at American soldiers.”

But what exactly are the benchmarks to which this aid is tied? These benchmarks will determine how encumbered and effective this aid is. And if Pakistani army refuses to accept them or creates an untenable situation, will these benchmarks be dispensed with or slackened to seek Pakistan army’s cooperation. If there is another big terror attack in India, with proven links to Pakistan, which forces India to retaliate militarily, or if the US is faced with the prospect of the nukes falling into jehadi hands, then can the US still hold Pakistan army to those benchmarks.

For India, the most important takeaway from the policy is about the regional approach: Iran, Russia and India will be part of a Contact Group on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Obama did refer to the tensions between India and Pakistan [without mentioning Kashmir and which doesn't figure in the white paper either; Update - Obama's NSA confirms that US will not interfere on Kashmir] but the acknowledgement of India’s regional concerns reaffirms the dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Furthermore, the Obama strategy restricts military equipment and training to counterinsurgency and counterterrorist roles for Pakistan army and will not focus on conventional military equipment.

There is one major worry for India though which the strategic review has ignored. Admiral Mike Mullen and others of his ilk in the US have placed too much trust in the Pakistan army and the ISI. As Thomas Ricks warns,

Right now the Pakistani armed forces are part of the problem. Obama gave no indication of how they might be made part of the solution, and that worries me. I know it is difficult to say anything about this publicly — but he should have said something.

Even Dave Petraeus isn’t really convinced about the intentions and actions of the Pak army and ISI when it comes to their relations with the jehadis.

It’s a topic that is of enormous importance, because if there are links [between Pakistan army-ISI and jehadis] and if those continue and if it undermines the operations, obviously that would be very damaging to the kind of trust we need to build.”

On the basis of evidence of the past few weeks, it seems that the Pakistan army-ISI-jehadi combo is trying hard to reboot the militancy in Kashmir. These attempts at infiltration by large jehadi groups have little to do with LeT being under pressure inside Pakistan.

Pakistan is aware that there will be little international support for jehadi acts in the name of Kashmiri freedom struggle; and even Pakistan can’t provide the overt support of pre-9/11 era to these terrorists any longer. But Pakistan would be keen that the theatre that has been expanded by the US from Afghanistan to AfPak should at least include Kashmir, if not India. Pakistani military and intelligence establishment is also wary of the fact that India may eventually deploy the Indian troops being freed from counterinsurgency duties in Kashmir to Afghanistan. That is a possibility if the latest increase in US troops in Afghanistan is unable to turn the tide in the favour of the NATO forces. Indian army will thus have to be on guard in stalling these attempts at infiltration, while the political process inside the state has to boldly move Kashmir further closer to normalcy.

On balance, there are no major minuses for India in Obama’s AfPak policy. But there are no major pluses either. How it eventually turns out for India will be determined more by its implementation than by mere declaration of intent. India has to find ways to safeguard its own national interests. The foremost among them is to further push for normalcy in Kashmir, while simulatenously exploring ways to align US interests in the region with India’s national interests.

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Losing sight of the problem

The drama in Pakistan doesn’t concern India.

The obsession of Pakistani media with the happenings in their country is understandable. But a matching excitement, hype and hoopla in the Indian media — print and TV — about the political machinations, US interference and role of the Pak army, is well beyond reason. Let us be clear that the end-result of this fracas in Pakistan, whichever way it goes, will make no difference to India at a strategic level. Whether it is Zardari, Sharif, Gilani or some technocrat as a civilian front for the army chief, he will wield little actual power when it comes to India (or Afghanistan or the US, for that matter). The foreign and security policies, along with the nukes, will continue to be the sole preserve of the Pakistan army.

Actually, the problem runs much deeper, with that nation and its society. Jason Burke explains it rather well in The Guardian.

Recent years have seen the consolidation of a new Pakistani identity between these two extremes. It is nationalist, conservative in religious and social terms and much more aggressive in asserting what are seen, rightly or wrongly, as local “Pakistani” interests. It is a mix of patriotic chauvinism and moderate Islamism that is currently heavily informed by a distorted view of the world sadly all too familiar across the entire Muslim world. This means that for many Pakistanis, the west is rapacious and hostile. Admiration for the British and desire for holidays in London have been replaced by a view of the UK as “America’s poodle” and dreams of Dubai or Malaysia. The 9/11 attacks are seen, even by senior army officers, as a put-up job by Mossad, the CIA or both. The Indians, the old enemy, are seen as running riot in Afghanistan where the Taliban are “freedom fighters”. AQ Khan, the nuclear scientist seen as a bomb-selling criminal by the West, is a hero. Democracy is seen as the best system, but only if democracy results in governments that take decisions that reflect the sentiments of most Pakistanis, not just those of the Anglophone, westernised elite among whom western policy-makers, politicians and journalists tend to chose their interlocutors.

This view of the world is most common among the new, urban middle classes in Pakistan, much larger after a decade of fast and uneven economic growth. It is this class that provides the bulk of the country’s military officers and bureaucrats. This in part explains the Pakistani security establishment’s dogged support for elements within the Taliban. The infamous ISI spy agency is largely staffed by soldiers and the army is a reflection of society. For the ISI, as for many Pakistanis, supporting certain insurgent factions in Afghanistan is seen as the rational choice. If this trend continues, it poses us problems rather different from those posed by a failed state. Instead, you have a nuclear armed nation with a large population that is increasingly vocal and which sees the world very differently from us.

So, while Mullah Omar can agree with Obama on holding negotiations, Pakistani Taliban will still continue to torch NATO supply depot in Peshawar. And forcibly convert popular singers into Tablighi preachers. Swat has been lost to the jehadis and beheadings by Taliban will continue in Bajaur, which is ostensibly under the control of the Pakistani security forces. Take away this political drama in Pakistan from the news and nothing else has changed there. That should put things in the right context.

In India, let us not lose focus of the real problem in this fit of voyeurism and schadenfreude. The real issue continues to be the Pakistani state, underpinned by a military-jehadi complex, thriving among an increasingly radicalised civil society. Long March or no Long March, let us not forget what has happened in Kashmir since 1989, Kandahar hijacking, the spate of terror attacks in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Indian Parliament and other places, or the very recent Mumbai terror attacks on 26 November 2008. Rest is mere detail: extraneous and superfluous detail.

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Lacking capacity, will and willingness

Testimonies in the US senate highlight these about the Pak army.

From the testimony of US Director of National Intelligence[pdf], Dennis Blair to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Sustained pressure against al-Qa’ida in the FATA has the potential to further degrade its organizational cohesion and diminish the threat it poses. If forced to vacate the FATA and locate elsewhere, the group would be vulnerable to US or host-country security crackdowns as well as local resistance, and probably would be forced to adopt an even more dispersed, clandestine structure, making training and operational coordination more difficult. Without access to its FATA safe haven, al-Qa’ida also undoubtedly would have greater difficulty supporting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

From the Annual Threat Assessment [pdf] presented by the Director of US Defence Intelligence Agency to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Pakistan’s military has expanded paramilitary forces and deployed additional troops to the area in an effort to contain the threat. Pakistani military operations in Bajaur Agency have been met with fierce resistance by militants. While militants previously have been unable to sustain attacks in the face of a military response, militants in Bajaur maintain extensive networks and reinforcements, helping them remain entrenched. In the Swat Valley, a “settled” district of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the government recently agreed to militant demands to impose Shari’a law in the district, a move that could embolden militant organizations in other parts of the country.

Pakistani leaders stress the importance of national sovereignty and condemn crossborder military actions from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, while Pakistan has allowed limited U.S. assistance in counter-insurgency training, it is much more receptive to increased intelligence sharing, technical cooperation, and equipment and armaments to improve its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities. Although U.S. efforts to address Pakistani counter-insurgency deficiencies are underway, it will take years before meaningful capabilities are likely to be developed.

So, here are three simple conclusions from these official testimonies. First, the lack of capability in the Pak army to fight the jehadi terrorists  evident from the militants remaining entrenched in Bajaur (guided tours of foreign media by the Pak army to present a different picture notwithstanding). Second,the lack of will among the Pakistan security forces to undertake counterinsurgency operations as displayed in Swat. Finally, the lack of willingness in the Pak army to undergo counterinsurgency training.

If the US wants the al Qaeda to be kicked out of FATA (and Taliban out of Afghanistan), then it can not afford to bank on an army that singularly lacks the capacity, will and willingness to take on the jehadi menace. The solution to the Afghanistan problem does lie in solving Pakistan but the solution to Pakistan doesn’t lie in the hands of Pakistan army. Just because bringing back the army to power in Islamabad (whether full-on or through the proxy) is the easier thing to do, it does not become the right thing to do. International retainership for Pakistan is the hard thing to do. But that is the only way to go for an economically, socially and politically decrepit country, which boasts of a dangerous cocktail of nukes and jehadis, supported by a sympathetic institutionalised army.

While the West can afford to waste its time exhausting all other options, India, sitting in the immediate neighbourhood, does not have that luxury of time. Mumbai terror attacks have brought home the lack of military and diplomatic options with India against Pakistan. It has to per force bank upon the US, citing a strategic partnership and a confluence of interests. Can New Delhi do something to drum some sense into the Obama administration to solve Pakistan at the earliest?

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The difference

…between a modern and a feudal army.

The easiest and quickest path into the esteem of traditional military authorities is by the appeal to the eye, rather than to the mind. The `polish and pipeclay’ school is not yet extinct, and it is easier for the mediocre intelligence to become an authority on buttons, than on tactics. ~Captain Sir Basil Liddel Hart, in Thoughts on War, 1944

Reports have it that Craig Mullaney will be named as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence (Central Asia) in the Pentagon. Now, what is the significance of this appointment? Craig Mullaney is a former army officer, graduated from West Point in 2000, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar from there, served in Afghanistan as a platoon leader and quit the army after the initial engagement period. The Washington Independent notes the significance of his appointment–

Not generals or colonels, with decades of professional military experience, but junior officers leading companies in difficult and ambiguous wars, implementing decisions made by higher command, and improvising along the way. …It means a great deal, in other words, for junior officers to become senior Pentagon officials. Deputy assistant secretaries of defense shape policy.

Mullaney is a celebrated author now, with his book The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier’s Education receiving rave reviews and creating waves all over. Check out an extract from the book here. Incidentally, his wife is of Indian origin and Mullaney’s knowledge of Bollywood and pidgin Hindi/ Urdu did come in handy in Afghanistan.

Would a similar thing ever happen in India? While there is no provision of lateral induction into the executive in the South Block, that would be the last of the problems. As a serving star officer said in an off-blog conversation,

I think Indian Army can take the cake in its anti intellectualism. It has taken a vow not to read or encourage reading. Exceptions always prove the law!

And then there are other practical reasons. Rhodes Scholars from India are generally from colleges like St. Stephens in Delhi and one is yet to hear of a single one from the National Defence Academy. One isn’t even certain that the rules there even permit, forget about actually promoting, such intellectual indulgences for its officer cadets. Even if an Indian Mullaney would have gone abroad for two years on army’s expense, he would have signed a five-year bond with the army. Despite his best intentions, he would not have been allowed to hang the uniform (as many, even without such bonds, have realised in the last five years). An opaque, discretionary and outdated exit policy, which mistakes permanently commissioned to be a life-bondage would have dashed all such hopes.

Rather than being a fine ambassador for the armed forces in civvies, he would have probably ended up as a brilliant, but disgruntled and demotivated officer, still in uniform. Therein lies the difference between a modern army and a feudal organisation rooted in a colonial past.

If you are the same today as you were three years ago, you’re out of it. If you’re not going to be a lot different this year than you were last year, you stink. Don’t let anyone say, “Good old Harry. He hasn’t changed a bit in the last five years.” ~Jack Welch

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We are all hawkish now

Think through. Bolder options. Rich dividends.

In today’s Indian Express, Professor C Raja Mohan charts out the course for Indian engagement with Obama administration over AfPak, to coincide with Richard Holbrooke’s visit to Delhi starting today. Two points from his prescription merit special attention. The first one.

Short of sending troops, New Delhi can to contribute in a variety of other ways to stabilise Afghanistan — from large- scale training of armed forces to assistance in the creation of an Afghan air force, from supplying non-lethal military equipment to sending volunteers for local reconstruction in Afghan provinces. Instead of begging its feckless European allies for small, symbolic and ineffective contributions, the US could find in India a valuable partner to devising credible security structures for Afghanistan.

The Telegraph [HT: Nitin] reports that it was this threat of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan that led Pakistan to acknowledge that the terror attacks originated from Pakistani soil.

Qureshi’s unexplained reference to “irreconcilable elements” is said to be an effort by Holbrooke to hold Zardari to account on his statement to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New York last September that Pakistan would not object to Indian presence in Afghanistan if it is for stabilising that country.

India has so far made no public mention of Zardari’s remarks to Singh, but it is clear that New Delhi briefed Washington on the New York talks between the two leaders. It is most likely that Zardari did not mean what he said, but was trying to better the atmosphere at his meeting with Singh: Benazir Bhutto’s widower is famous for such tactics.

What Zardari told Singh will be red rag to the Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, but Holbrooke appears to have used it to get the Pakistani President where he wants him to be in order to secure concessions and easing tension with India. Sources here said the attack on Mumbai figured only in passing in talks between Holbrooke and Pakistani leaders, but the US envoy made it plain that he was not averse to greater Indian activism in Afghanistan as Zardari proposed and also in association with Nato.

This is the impact of merely some suggestions being made about increased Indian involvement in Afghanistan. Imagine, if India were to boldly enunciate a policy of sending its troops to Afghanistan. The reasons are self-explanatory and were well-articulated by the Pragati and INI team in this proposal in August 2008. Afghanistan desperately needs more soldiers on the ground and India has the numbers. It is disappointing that the idea of Indian troops being relocated from toothless UN peacekeeping missions to Afghanistan has not even been considered. The move of specialist counterinsurgency force — Rashtriya Rifles units and headquarters — out of J&K could have been easily anticipated by Indian government. Alas, all this when Indian armed forces boast of greater experience in COIN operations than any other armed force on this planet, and would be ideally suited for similar operations in Afghanistan.

This points towards the larger malaise gripping the policy makers (and analysts) on Indian foreign policy and national security. The Indian diplomatic and security policies are reactive, responding to events — whether it be the attack on Parliament or Mumbai terror attacks — hoping for fortuitous circumstances to succeed. It should not need a Mumbai terror attack to expose the real face of Pakistani military-jehadi complex to the Indian government and security analysts. Now it seems — to paraphrase a worn-out cliché — that all analysts in India are hawkish now.

A coherent Indian policy over AfPak is noticeable only by its absence. All self-respecting analysts, and mandarins sitting in South Block, should answer the following questions. What are the immediate or short-term goals for India in the region? What are the long-term Indian interests in the region? What is the strategy in the medium term that will bridge these short-term goals with the long-term aims? The answer to these questions will give out the options and the most effective course of action available to India.

There is another significant point raised by Professor Raja Mohan in his piece.

The most difficult regional task is about ending the army’s power to define Pakistan’s national security objectives towards Afghanistan and India and its more than three decade old alliance with extremist groups to achieve its aims.

While the Professor is absolutely correct in its diagnosis, there is more to it than merely defanging the Pakistani army. Defanging the Pakistan army by weakening them vis-a-vis Zardari will automatically lead to a rise of Taliban. If the Pakistan army loses its pre-eminent role in the state, it has an even lesser reason to fight the Taliban. It might eventually trigger a split down the middle in the Pakistan army with the possibility of nukes falling into the hands of the Taliban. So, it is a very tricky and difficult situation unless there is an alternative to keep the Taliban at bay. How do you resolve this? That solution is what the INI prescribed in the latest issue of Pragati – Pakistan needs a MacArthur.

It is immodest to blow your own trumpet and say – we told you so. At times like these, however, there remains little option but to show that bold prescriptions exist; only if the government mandarins and analysts would think the problems through.

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The Anaconda strategy

General Petraeus coins a new phrase for Afghanistan.

If General David Petraeus would not have been an intellectual-soldier, he would certainly have been a great pitchman. The latest catchphrase from his repertoire encapsulates the new US strategy in Afghanistan.

Petraeus is determined to apply his method to Afghanistan: living among the people, bringing them security, establishing a legitimate government, and creating a viable economy. He calls this the Anaconda strategy. Projected on a screen, the scheme resembles a fat snake nourishing itself from all possible elements, from special forces to propaganda operations to school construction. This will require, he says, “not unity of command with NATO, which isn’t possible, but unity of coordination,” which does not exist yet. “If we have the right ideas,” Petraeus says, “they will let us beat the extremists, who have taken advantage of the fact that we are still prisoners of archaic military methods.”[City Journal]

The article contends “that no American strategic decision gets made these days without hearing Petraeus’s advice”. That need for “unity of coordination” perhaps provides a clue to the official designation given to Richard Holbrooke — Special Coordinator of US policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For the other half of Holbrooke’s designation that clubs Afghanistan and Pakistan together, the British Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup explains the wider picture.

Today the “wider picture” means both countries. “The Taliban movement – and Taliban is now a catch-all phrase for ideologues, criminals, people with tribal grudges, people who are quite simply guns for hire to keep bread on the table – is on both sides of the border. It makes no distinction between one side or the other. Some people move across. Some are based almost exclusively in Pakistan. Some are based exclusively in Afghanistan. It’s impossible to distinguish between those two and actually, in my view, not necessary. The border is not relevant,” he says.[Times]

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