Bait and switch

Am I the only one growing progressively tired of this Kashmir-Afghanistan bait and switch? [From Foreign Policy, the latest in a long line of examples].

Boiled down, the argument goes thus: Islamabad is unable to bring the full might of its armed forces to bear on the war on terrorism in the SWAT region and on its western border with Afghanistan.

Why? Because it is ‘forced’ to concentrate a sizable chunk of its army on its eastern border, to counter the ‘threat’ it faces from India.

Ergo, runs the argument, if India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir ‘dispute’ [with the US helping], Pakistan will be in a position to shift the bulk of its army into the terrorist hot zone on its western side. Ergo, too, India needs to go the extra mile to urgently resolve the ‘dispute’.

Very useful, for Pakistan to throw its hands up and excuse its less than 100 per cent participation in the ‘war on terror’ even as it seeks ever more funding to prosecute that ‘war’.

Also, very flawed.

Here’s the question that is not being asked and answered: What exactly is the ‘threat’ Pakistan faces on its eastern border, that requires it to station a large section of its army on that front?

No one responds, because the question is never asked. If it were, the answer would be, none.

There is no conceivable prospect, there never has been, that India will unilaterally invade Pakistan; with a notional mushroom cloud looming over the region in the event of conflict, that prospect is even less foreseeable now.

So, again, what ‘threat’ does Islamabad face to its east? None.

Why then does Islamabad feel the need to concentrate its army on our shared border? The honest answer is, to protect it from the consequences of the actions of its own principals.

The only time there has been talk of war was when terrorists based, trained, and equipped in Pakistan attacked India’s Parliament and more recently Mumbai, to name just two incendiary actions.

Equally, consider two recent news stories: (1) Intelligence sources speak of a build up of terrorists on the Pakistan side of the LoC and (2) Pakistan troops have been shelling Indian border positions. Taken together, the two clearly spell infiltration.

Clearly, the Pakistan army is concentrated on the eastern border to (a) make mischief and (b) protect Islamabad from the consequences of that mischief, and of the doings of its ‘non-state actors’. ‘Solving’ Kashmir [assuming the weak Asif Ali Zardari can sell any kind of solution to the people] has nothing to do with it — unless you buy the Musharraf argument that those who blast a bloody trail across India are actually ‘indigenous freedom fighters’ looking to overthrow the ‘Indian yoke’.

Stop using the ‘strategy’ of terrorism to bleed India and you have no reason to fear it, and to post your troops to ‘counter’ the ‘threat’. Simple, no?

From the Foreign Policy article:

It is quite striking that framers of the metrics have avoided the merest mention of Pakistan-India relations as a factor in understanding which way the wind is blowing in Pakistan’s security environment. While the Obama administration has every right to wish that Pakistan delink its rivalry with India in the Kashmir region from its policy towards Afghanistan (and consequently in Federally Administered Tribal Areas), one cannot ignore the prevailing ground realities. Rather than continuing to evade the relevance of the India factor to AfPak theater, the Obama administration must energetically facilitate and monitor the India-Pakistan peace process (which is lately showing some signs of life courtesy resumption of back channel diplomacy).

Actually, the reason the framers of the metrics avoided mentioning Pakistan-India relations is that they are not taken in by Islamabad’s bait-and-switch; they recognize that a ‘resolution’ of Kashmir has nothing to do with operations in the Af-Pak theater; they understand that Islamabad is merely using this as a fig leaf to cover its inaction or, at best, limited action taken under duress. [As Dubya would say, fool me once…]

In passing, there is one way to ensure the total breakdown of any India-Pakistan dialog — and that is for the Obama administration to be seen to ‘energetically facilitate and monitor’ the process. There is not much the various sections of Indian polity agree on, but they are unanimous on this: that they will vigorously reject any attempt by any third party, no matter how friendly, to inject itself into this issue.

While on the ‘war in terror’ and Pakistan’s role therein, here’s the NYT.

American officials say they believe that the Taliban leadership in Pakistan still gets support from parts of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military spy service. The ISI has been the Taliban’s off-again-on-again benefactor for more than a decade, and some of its senior officials see Mullah Omar as a valuable asset should the United States leave Afghanistan and the Taliban regain power.

Despatches from Pakistan

“Zardari was keen to make amends with India and went overboard in a sense as far as the Army was concerning in trying to bring peace. He said some things, which the army did not like.”

“And then he tried to, in a sense, get a grip on the ISI, and the army didn’t like that either and he had to beat a retreat on all these fronts. So, his relationship with the army was a bit troubled from day one. And, then of course, having gotten rid of  Musharraf, he had to rebuild a relationship with General Kayani and that is still work in progress.”

That’s Najam Sethi, editor in chief of the Daily Times, speaking at a recent discussion on the challenges confronting Pakistan, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

“The army has lots of question marks about Mr Zardari’s ability to run government and also to deal with the United States. The Pakistani army thinks that Mr Zardari is soft on the US and the Pakistani army would like to take a harder line vis-à-vis these negotiating positions on Afghanistan and the war on terror, and Mr Zardari is more inclined to look at the money side of it.”

“He wants to put money into the budget, he wants money from the United States, he wants to get the economy moving, but the army has other priorities.”

The money is, as mentioned in my previous post, forthcoming, so Zardari can be happy — for now [Or not. The US largesse is to the tune of $7.5 billion across five years — peanuts for the Pak president, who says he would ideally like $100 billion, thank you very much].

Typically, whenever Pakistan needs something from the United States, it takes ‘stern action’, as with this ‘house arrest’ of Hafeez Saeed.

There is no official order to place Saeed under house arrest, according to Saeed’s spokesman.

“There are no written orders but he is not allowed to go out of his home,” Yahya Mujahid, Saeed’s spokesman, told Reuters. “He has been barred from performing his religious duty, it is against basic human rights.”

I just hate when the human rights of terrorists are violated, don’t you? Like, so:

Manish Vij points meanwhile to an interesting snippet in the leaked report of Gen McChrystal, who incidentally has threatened to quit if he is not given additional resources to fight the war in Afghanistan. [He might as well start typing out that letter of resignation, if this u-turn by the Obama administration does materialize.  Funnily enough, Afghan warlords are saying they will fight the Taliban if the US gives them weapons. Good luck with that — the last time the US armed locals to fight their battles for them, we got the Taliban and Al Qaeda].

From Manish:

While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter measures in Afghanistan and India. [McChrystal report]

By the dry phrase ‘encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India,’ I assume the report means ’suicide attackers with assault rifles, grenades and truck bombs.’

Right. India’s involvement in Afghanistan “encouraged” the ISI to mastermind the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, among other ‘counter measures’; recent times have brought reports of militants gathering in their numbers at the LoC while the Pakistan army repeatedly shells Indian border positions.

But I forget — all these problems will go away if you give Zardari $100 billion, no? The Acorn has more on the subject.

Speaking in tongues

Am I the only one who is getting a touch tired bored with Jaswant Singh’s recent epiphany?

Advani was present when the decision to free Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and Maulana Masood Azhar was taken. Advani master-minded the July 22, 2008 episode where during the crucial vote of confidence in Parliament, a bunch of BJP MPs flashed wads of cash around and accused the Congress of bribery and worse. Advani ordered the BSF into Bangladesh while India was fighting the Kargil war. And so on, in an endless stream of ‘revelations’ that are keeping the more apoplectic of our TV anchors happily occupied.

Advani was being an idiot not thinking clearly when, in My Country, My Life, he succumbed to the Parivar’s penchant for rewriting history and attempted to whitewash his own role in the December 24, 1999 hijacking of IA Flight 814 and the subsequent release of Zargar, Sheikh and Azhar.

He could so easily have explained the decision in this fashion: The Cabinet committee considered the situation and, keeping in mind the potential loss of 160-plus Indian lives, collectively decided to free the three terrorists.

End of story. Sure, the Congress would during the election cycle continue to hammer away at the BJP and at Advani for that incident — but much of it was due to the fact that the BJP unwisely [‘unwisely’ given that its tenure in office saw several major terrorist attacks, none of which were handled with remarkable elan] decided to make the 2009 election about ‘soft on terror versus hard on terror’; in other words, to make political capital out of 26/11.

In a misguided attempt to try and dissociate himself from that collective decision by saying that he was neither in the know of, nor party to, the decision to free the hostages, Advani went way out on a limb. This is the man who was number two in the Vajpayee cabinet; the man who held the Home portfolio. The Kandahar hijack was among other things a clear security threat to India and its interests — so how tenable was it that the man in charge of internal security was completely out of the loop while lesser ministers were intimately involved in the decision-making?

In trying to burnish his tough-on-terror image, all Advani really managed to do was to project the image that he was a bit of a dummy in the Cabinet, excluded from the really tough decision making. Like I said, in choosing  to distance himself from Kandahar, LKA was being an idiot not thinking clearly.

What I don’t get though is, why is Jaswant suddenly the hero? Why is he not getting his fair share of hard questions [Oh I know — if you ask him hard questions, he will get miffed and won’t talk to you and then your stream of ‘revelations’ will die up, and what’s a 24 hour news channel to do when that happens]?

“I tried to cover it. I treated it as part of my continuing sense of commitment and loyalty,” was Jaswant Singh’s comment that also suggested that his sentiments had not been reciprocated by Advani. Jaswant Singh said he did not regret doing so as that was the step he had taken during the election campaign. “How should I put it? I was very conservative with the truth,” he said.

Thus spake Jaswant. ‘Conservative with the truth’?! Only he could have come up with a phrase that — here we get into Humpty Dumpty territory again — means the exact opposite of what he intends to imply. And only we would allow him to get away with it.

In his book Engaging India, his good friend Strobe Talbott has some insight into Jaswant’s modus operandi. A clip, from page 103:

He was a master of public statements that made up in panache what they lacked in content and sometimes even in discernible meaning. Two of my favorites were “The totally moral has become the realistically moral” and “if strategic deterrence is not on the negotiating table, how can you have a missile-development program on the table?”

The journalists duly scribbled down these oracular utterances, never asking for clarification or amplification, and then reported them to their readers as though they provided insight into what was going on in the talks.

Indeed. In recent times, Donald Rumsfeld has been enshrined as the modern master of the use of words to obscure meaning and, in some cases, to substitute for meaning. Remember Rumsfeld’s justly famous riff on the knowns and unknowns?

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Or his equally famous number on evidence?

“There’s another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something does exist does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn’t exist.”

I would submit — and Talbott clearly believes as I do — that Jaswant belongs in that league. From the archives, here’s one of my all time favorites [When I first read this line some eight years ago, I filed it away with the care you would give to a particularly interesting and exotic puzzle, because I saw considerable medicinal value in Jaswant’s statement. They say mind games help ward off Parkinson’s; on prevention-better-than-cure lines, I’d recommend that once a week you read the clip below, and try to figure out what the man is saying. It won’t become clearer, but hey, maybe it will help with the Parkinson’s thing. Also, keep in mind that this is not extempore — the clip is from a carefully prepared text written by the master himself]:

We wished to talk. But in the process of talking, and it is the impression of anybody that India agreed to talk because it was out of any weakness, India agreed to talk, it was out of any fatigue, we agreed to talk, as has been suggested by somebody, because of the call- to my mind, it is completely an unsustainable call – that the Jihadis have now pressurized on India that we are ready to have a talk.

So much for his obfuscatory utterances. Jaswant’s revelations in recent times can in precis form be rendered as below:

1. He knew Advani was bluffing when as part of his ‘tough on terror’ image-building exercise he said he was completely in the dark on Kandahar. Worse — when then NSA Brajesh Mishra first called Advani’s bluff, Jaswant didn’t just chose to stay silent — he actively defended Advani by being ‘conservative with the truth’.

2. Jaswant, as then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, stayed silent when proceedings in Parliament were cynically stage-managed by his party leader who, for political reasons, chose to create a tamasha out of a crucial debate.

3. Jaswant, as a man who has held high constitutional office as Defense and Foreign minister chose to ignore, even hide, what he believes is a crucial lapse in national security at the time of the Kargil war.

Today he says:

“I tried to cover it. I treated it as part of my continuing sense of commitment and loyalty”

Commitment and loyalty to whom/to what? All of this happened when Jaswant was a minister; when he had sworn a solemn oath to put the country and its interests first. Now he says he was motivated by a far narrower, more self-serving notion of commitment and loyalty.

So, again, I wonder: Why does Jaswant today get a free pass? Why is he the hero in the passion play currently unfolding? Why is he not being grilled on his own sins of omission and commission?

This is a demonstration of sycophancy. Misuse of the party. It’s sickening.

That’s Jaswant on Advani’s use of the party machinery to promote his book. And his own actions, in being ‘conservative with the truth’ as long as he had a stake in Advani’s, and the party’s, prospects were… what?