Protecting Pakistan’s nukes

I follow this timeline fairly obsessively, and the more you read the more worried you get [maybe the trick is to not follow the darn site?].

Last week, one of the stories I was editing for India Abroad related to a Brookings Institute conference on the Obama administration’s policy options in Pakistan — and it is perhaps a function of the times that the bulk of the panelists’ time appears to have been taken up by the question of Pakistan.

Representative Jane Harman, the California Democrat who heads the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment, trotted out the tired line that the key to Afghanistan and Pakistan lies in Kashmir — a theme Obama previewed during his presidential campaign and got considerable flak for.

That argument runs roughly thus: Pakistan sees India as its primary threat. Hence it focuses the bulk of its military/security infrastructure on its border with India. This leaves Islamabad lacking resources to adequately push its existential war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Ergo, solve the Kashmir problem and Pakistan will no longer perceive India as its main threat; hence it will be in a position to deploy its military/security apparatus to best advantage.

The naivete implicit in this line of thought is astonishing. For starters, Pakistan’s perception of India as the threat is a matter of political and military convenience, not a point of fact. As long as Islamabad can keep the India bogey front and center before its people, it can distract attention from domestic ills: a Balkanized country and a failed economy, with the over-arching threat of a fundamentalist takeover, being merely the most important of these. Similarly, as long as the military harps on India it can justify its enormous expenditure on hardware and, in fact, provide its own raison d’etre. And ‘harp’ is the mot juste: the state sponsors and actively promotes a steady drumbeat of programming aimed at convincing the ordinary Pakistani that but for the grace of the military and whichever political power broker is in office at the time, India would have swallowed Pakistan whole by now [more on that later].

Bottom line, the government and military need the India threat — which is why ‘solving Kashmir’ resolves nothing; Islamabad merely has to discover/invent another reason for feeling ‘threatened’. And it will. Too often, the military is accused of having created the India bogey for its own ends, but the fact is that successive prime ministers from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto on down have equally held up the India threat to rally its people behind the political process.

Incidentally, just how does Harman and her ilk propose to go about ‘solving’ Kashmir? The most commonly propounded solution is to make the Line of Control the new international border. Assume that is acceptable to us — does Pakistan have a government in place that has sufficient popular support to proselytize that solution and gain widespread acceptance for it? Does it, hell — the reaction to that will be that Pakistan cannot accept formalizing the LoC because to do so means ‘ceding’ Kashmir to India, and negating a decade-plus of ‘jihad‘.

Harman is not the first US lawmaker to propose the ‘resolve Kashmir, solve Afghanistan-Pakistan’ solution — but none, including her, have as yet been able to indicate just how the US, or anyone else, proposes to solve the problem in the face of Pakistan’s continued intransigence.

Bruce Riedel, the former CIA analyst who co-authored Obama’s review of the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation and thus paved the way for the formulation of the administration’s Af-Pak strategy, had a different view [Riedel’s writings on the region here].

He believes among other things that Pakistan’s India-centric threat perception is dictated by self-interest and not because of India’s actions [So one would hope — what act of India’s can Islamabad point to, to justify this ‘threat’? Hell, we didn’t even go to war when Pakistani nationals trained, funded and armed in that country waged war in Bombay a year ago] but because of its own self-interest. And, further, that while it is mandatory for the US to support Pakistan in its current struggle, the US should also begin showing some ‘tough love’ [his words]  by calling them out publicly when they go down the wrong road — such as doing deals with the Quetta Shura or other extremist elements, for instance, or using the ‘India threat’ to justify deploying less than the required resources to its battle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Riedel’s is, in administration circles, the unpopular line to take; for some weird reason, successive US administrations seem to prefer accepting — or at least, appearing to accept — Pakistan’s ‘concern’ about the ‘India threat’ as genuine, and even to feed that paranoia.

Maybe it is this paranoia — real, or a convenient creation — that Harman and her fellow travelers might want to try and ‘solve’. And fast. The October attack on the military complex in Kamra, which experts say is one of the storage points for Pakistan’s nuclear components, should have been warning enough [the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies had a think paper out on the theme]. More recently, Seymour Hersh has produced for the New Yorker a typically comprehensive effort on the safety — or lack thereof — of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that is required reading [the only reaction out of Pakistan, incidentally, is the suggestion that its nukes are safe, thank you very much so shut up already].

Harking back to the question of the ‘India threat’, Venkatesh Varadarajan in email pointed at the sort of official media manipulation that breathes life into this perception. The relevant excerpt from his email:

On another note, was watching a Pakistani music channel the other day – decent music actually. But I was a bit surprised at the anti-India obsession on it. They had this junta interview segment where they interviewed the ‘man on the street’ plus some musicians. Constant underlying theme: we are waay better than those guys across the border; they suck, they force you to compromise on your principles, yada yada yada.

I mean, come on!! Grow up! I’m guessing it probably was a state sponsored channel. But still … The only way they’re going to get over it is if they get something else to do with their time other than listening to the mullahs.